Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week three

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

JUPITER’S LEGACY by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely, JUPITER’S CIRCLE by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres, ZENITH PHASE THREE by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell, REBELS by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti and the return of STRANGERS IN PARADISE VOL 1 by Terry Moore. News, as ever, underneath including a new comic from Brandon Graham and Marian Churchland!

Strangers In Paradise vol 1 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Edition) by Terry Moore.

There is no comic I am fonder of than STRANGERS IN PARADISE.

I may have declared THE NAO OF BROWN by Glyn Dillon to be the finest work of comicbook fiction, and I have pronounced that the best body of comics anywhere in the world to date is the autobiographical ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS by Eddie Campbell, but there is no comic I am fonder of than STRANGERS IN PARADISE. It means the world to me, and I know the same goes for our Dee.

We have history, you see. We have a lot of history. We also have a lot of love, but nobody I know has as much love for his fellow human being as its creator Terry Moore, and it shines from this series as radiant as any sun in the heavens.

You can buy all 2128 pages of this epic, heart-warming, heart-cleaving story in the STRANGERS IN PARADISE OMNIBUS BOXED SET EDITION reprinted in two slipcased softcovers restored as nature intended them without several slices of self-censorship. Not only that but at Page 45 all of our copies come with its retailer print signed by Terry himself. Plus we have unbeatable UK and European shipping prices.

From the creator of RACHEL RISING and ECHO plus TERRY MOORE’S SKETCHBOOK: HOT GIRLS & COLD FEET and TERRY MOORE’S HOW TO DRAW – and, boy, does he know how to draw! – here we go!

“I don’t know what to feel anymore. You confuse me.”

Rarely am I allowed the luxury of re-immersing myself in our one my favourite series of all time: there are so many new comics and graphic novels each week which demand fresh reviews. But occasionally a window appears and I defenestrate myself immediately. And that’s very much akin to what the cast experience here: free-falling in love and experiencing one hell of an emotional turbulence.

Twenty years ago there was a relative paucity of comicbook fiction in the US and therefore UK readily accessible to women. Of course there were exceptions – LOVE & ROCKETS, EXIT, SANDMAN, CONCRETE – but exceptions they were and I could show you one hundred women I know personally whose first experience of comics, followed by an immediate love affair with the medium, was STRANGERS IN PARADISE.

Drawn by an artist who loves women as women and not stick insects, who can see the beauty and grace in a curvaceous thigh, and written by a man unafraid to be kind (I’ll put that into context with volume two), it had a heart of untarnished gold, embracing love as the one thing worth living for – and, if necessary, dying for – when so many play games with affection instead. Don’t get me wrong: there are those who play games here, there are those who are proud and stupid and nasty. And what one tends to forget is that actually Terry was really pretty damn saucy. Seriously: lots and lots of sex jokes. Do not denude Terry of his naughtiness!

Indeed the first three-issue mini-series was very much a slapstick burlesque in which we find the main protagonists Francine and Katchoo renting a house together. Katchoo is quite evidently in love with Francine, but Francine is in love with Freddie. Freddie is in love with no one but himself and only after one thing: sex. Francine knows that, Francine tells him that, which is why she won’t sleep with him. Instead, aghast at Freddie’s philandering, she spends most of her time in the fridge. Katchoo meanwhile is so fractious that she shoots alarm clocks. Imagine what she will do to Freddie Femur when she finds out he’s cheating on the absolute love of her life? It’s really quite cathartic.

But what arrested me on re-reading this is that I had forgotten how utterly shocking it was when the real story first kicks in and the comedy is buried under the weight of the protagonists’ past. I’ve typed twelve sentences here already, but I just don’t want to spoil it for you. Instead I will simply tell you that the following scene takes place round a bed nursed by nuns as Katchoo visits the one person in the past that showed her kindness while they both worked as high-class call girls for a certain Mrs. Darcy Parker. Emma is dying of AIDS.

“How you doin’, Chewy? You okay?”
“I’m fine, Emmie. Looking forward to seeing Canada with you when you get out of here.”
“Then you better grow wings.”
“Shhh… don’t talk like that.”
“Really. It’s okay. I talked to God.”
“…”
“I’m worried about you, Chewy.”
“Me?”
“So much… anger. It’ll eat away at you till there’s nothing left. You need to let somebody… in here.”
“You’re there, Emmie. You’re there.”
“I mean somebody who’ll stay with you..”

Katchoo has boundaries and they’ve been built pretty high. The only person she’ll let in is Francine who, let’s remember, is slightly distracted by a) Freddie Femur and b) the fridge. She has no idea how Katchoo really feels. Then along come David; sweet, doting David; puppy-dog David with whom Katchoo has a little fun. They meet in an art gallery and then in the rain (always, always in the rain) and no matter how many times he’s rejected he won’t go away, he just will not give up. He’s fallen head over heels in love with Katchoo, and he believes.

Which brings us to another of this series’ exceptional qualities: the arguments are long. They’re played out in all their confused complexities then exhumed later on, whereas in so many other series they’re merely nodes in a simple plot device. And they almost always end in rage, remorse and tears. Nothing is linear here. When is life ever that straightforward? Here’s David and Francine when Katchoo suddenly sends herself straight off the radar.

“So what was the deal?”
“I don’t know! You tell me! You’re the one who was with her! You’re the one she’s buddy-buddy with these days! You’re the one she talked to about that whole Emma thing! I’m just her best friend! She doesn’t tell me squat!”
“Francine, the only reason Katchoo talked to me’s because I was there and she really needed someone to talk to.”
No sir! I’m not buying that! I’ve been here all along! She can talk to me!”
“She’s afraid to, okay?! She’s afraid if you find out what she’s done, you’ll hate her or something.”
“That’s absurd! I mean, we’re best friends! I could never…”
“I think that’s the whole point, Francine. Whether you want to admit it or not, what you two have goin’ on here is more than just friendship!”
“Of course it is! We… wait a minute! What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“I mean I’ve tried to fit in here and believe me, there’s no room!”
“I told you Katchoo wasn’t interested in men! She’s gay! You idiot!”
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that, but I definitely know why she’s not interested in men or anybody else right not… She’s in love!”
“With who?!”
“With you, of course!”

So when I so casually used to type that David is in love with Katchoo who is in love with Francine who is in love with Freddie Femur, it never did justice to this title. Francine is jealous of David’s place in Katchoo’s life, and wonders for a while if she may even be in love with David herself. Katchoo is absolutely dedicated to Francine but David is like no other young man she’s ever met. He’s kind, he’s considerate and sensitive. But David… David is not who he seems. Which brought about what was quite possibly the finest-ever cliffhanger in comicbook history.

“RUN!! FRANCINE! RUN!!”

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise vol 1 Pocket Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Rebels #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti…

“Hold still, or I’ll shoot.”
“My father told you about crossing our fields, you spook the cows and the milk comes spoilt.”
“Come off it, Mercy Tucker. That’s just famers’ superstition.”
“So, what? We’re famers, ain’t we? We’d know, wouldn’t we? You two just gonna stand there like a pair of jackanapes?”
“Mercy, your Pa knows what’s at stake. He knows the militia is what’s keeping this farm out of the hands of the thieves down in Albany. Your Pa would let us pass freely. Your Pa wouldn’t point a musket in our faces.”
“Redcoats came up the big house three days ago, Ezekiel. Pa signed the grant papers over to the Sheriff. Made us tenants, didn’t they? I’ve been out in these fields since, ashamed to see my Pa, knowing he’d be ashamed to by seen by me.”
“Mercy… tell your Pa, we’ll be back with those papers.”

Young Seth Abbott has a lot to learn about the different ways war can be waged. He might be a member of the local militia sworn to achieve independence from the British and their hated occupying armies of Redcoats, but not all battles are fought with a gun.

I suspect this is going to be a fascinating series for anyone interested in history, and particularly this period, which I will fully admit is not one I know much about, probably partly because given the British ultimately got booted out, it doesn’t get taught much in UK schools!

I do however clearly remember inadvertently instigating a full-on cowboy style barroom brawl in Alabama one 4th of July, when asked by a smartarse local what we called Independence Day in the UK. My somewhat alcohol-aided throwaway riposte of it being known as the Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish Day provoked a wild swing from my outraged non-compadre which I fortunately dodged.

Unfortunately for him, it smashed the orneriest nutter in the bar squarely on the back of the head, whom, delightedly taking offense with the idiot in question, after eyeing the pair of us up and deciding my best “it wasn’t me, honest guvnor” face was clearly one to be trusted, went at the haymaker like an out-of-control combine harvester. Suffice to say, before you could utter “Four score and seven years ago…” there were Stetsons being knocked jauntily askew left, right and centre as a group of about thirty locals started going at it en masse, settling old scores. I just inched my way through to the edge of the melee somehow unscathed, picked up my Heineken which was perched on the bar and propped myself up to enjoy the scene. Good times.

Anyway… digression done with, Brian Wood has commented he intends this to be a NORTHLANDERS-style title. By which he means that each arc will be self-contained thus allowing him to tell various different colonists’ stories, not just the famous figures of the time. For let’s not forget that ultimately, that is what all the non-indigenous inhabitants of North America were at that time really, not natives, but relatively recently arrived pioneers, who for the most part, actually didn’t wanted to secede from British rule until the British government caused such dissent and consternation with their taxation policies. Then their rather heavy-handed attempts to crush any dissent didn’t help.

I can see how this everyman concept – which I think worked extremely well in NORTHLANDERS in allowing him to explore the very diverse elements and traditions, plus the varied political and social structures of the Viking world, in addition to some major events of course – could translate very nicely to this milieu, even though it was of course considerably briefer and more geographically condensed. Because actually, that’s what I’m interested in: what was life like for the settlers during this incredible period of upheaval? Inevitably sides had to be chosen, stands taken, and many a heavy price paid. Just not tea taxes…

This first arc then deals with young militia man Seth and his bride-to-be Mercy Tucker, and their trials and tribulations in trying to protect what was rightfully theirs. Well, obviously it was stolen from natives probably not too long before that, but you get my point.

Lovely delicate art from Andrea Mutti, he does like his line shading. Not sure if he is on for the duration of the run, or just this arc. Also, I wish Vertigo would hurry up and recollect NORTHLANDERS into chunkier trades like they have been doing with other material. I do hope they are going to. I know Brian did moot continuing that elsewhere when it came to an end at Vertigo, but I haven’t heard any more about that.

JR

Buy Rebels #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely.

“I’ve trapped you in a psychic construct, darling. My favourite little trick… You’ve been busy fighting optical illusions while the kids were out there hammering away at your physical body. Care to see the damage?”
“Oh my god…”
“Aneurysm.”

The full-page panel between the assailant’s self-congratulatory gloat and his victim’s moment of traumatised realisation is more brutal than you can possibly imagine, even from the artist of WE3. “Aneurysm” is then uttered right in her face and eye to eye with the most malevolent triumphalism I’ve ever seen in comics.

The entire bloodbath, however, is preceded with such a shockingly abrupt instance of eye-popping kinetic energy – when a daughter is ripped from her mother’s tender, conciliatory embrace in the hall of their home – that you will physically jolt or recoil.

The gored dénouement is all the more horrifying and incongruous because the mother has her hair tied up in a bun, wearing an old-fashioned nurse-blue smock with a white, domestic apron.

I mention all this not to impress upon you how brutal the book is – there are also many tender moments and much mirth to be gained from following a twelve-year-old boy trying to maintain a secret identity at school when he’s on the power level of Superman – but to impress upon you the thought behind its creation. There are lightning-fast changes of pace throughout.

From the creative team of THE AUTHORITY VOL 2 comes a truly great graphic novel reprising ideas from THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 as well, in which those with the capacity to do so – those with meta-human abilities – seek to make the world a better place whether we like it or not. In this instance the protagonists’ original intention was to tackle not tyrannies but the crises which have crippled our global economies both in the past during the Great Depression after the Wall Street Crash and during the more recent banking collapse and Euro-zone implosion whose knife-edge teetering endures to this day.

If you want a searing, non-fictional account of that fiasco in comic form, we commend to you Darryl Cunningham’s SUPERCRASH which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and whose sales have taken us by storm. It’s gratifying that such swathes of readers care.

Although it merely acts as the backdrop, please don’t think that this treats the subject any less seriously, however, for Millar masterfully links the two eras of austerity using language so carefully chosen to shame our the present need for food banks with the lessons we should have learned from the past.

At the time of the Great Depression a young man called Sheldon Sampson was determined to do something for his country. An unchartered island appeared in his dreams and called to him. His wife Grace and brother Walter believed in him unquestioningly and travelled in search of the island along with a small group of friends. Much to their local guide’s astonishment they found it, exactly as it appeared in Sheldon’s dream. It turned them into superheroes, giving America something to believe in when its people needed it the most…

Eighty-one years later and the next generation appears to have other priorities in life. Grace and Sheldon’s daughter and son, Chloe and Brandon, often fail to answer emergencies. Instead the chic social celebrity and media darling Chloe is building up a portfolio of advertising endorsements which Brandon sneers at even those some are for charitable institutions. True, Chloe does love her cocaine kicks, but bitter young Brandon’s a binge-drinker like nobody’s business. Of course, maybe there’s a reason he’s bitter.

Meanwhile Sheldon’s brother Walter is as committed to the good fight as ever, using the power of his mind to manipulate perception, but he wants to do more: he wants to take on the failing economy.

“America’s collapsing, the Euro-Zone’s bleeding to death, the global economy’s hanging by a thread. And we’re still just out there wrestling like children. Don’t you think we could help more directly? Doesn’t this give you a horrific sense of impotence?”
“You’re not an economist, Walter. What are you going to do? Just because you can fly doesn’t mean you know how to balance a budget. You need to accept that we’re public servants and have a little faith in the government we’ve elected.

Walter’s argument goes on: it was the politicians who let the banks run riot and started wars we couldn’t afford so that now America is back where it started in 1929 with food lines! He’s not wrong. But Sheldon is adamant, Sheldon is used to being obeyed, Sheldon is used to having the last word and he might have, as usual. But however righteous and right-minded Sheldon may be, he isn’t half holier-than-thou: lofty, didactic, dismissive and dictatorial. The worst reason ever…?

“Because I said so.”
“And you wonder why your children are a disenfranchised mess?”

Ah yes, the children…

Many of the elements may put you in mind of KINGDOM COME in which a subsequent generation of superheroes is fair less altruistic and so things go horribly wrong, but the relationships here are all far more acutely balanced as are the arguments and you may start ticking recognition boxes on all sides.

Don’t think the arguments are going to be restricted to those between Sheldon and Walter about economics and democracy, either.

Millar arranges his pieces on the chessboard meticulously before going for check. Some move in most unexpected directions because individuals are neither as white nor as black and therefore as predictable as some other writers make out. The family dynamics are going to grow a lot more complicated than they are now following three key moments, some manipulative mind-games and a life-changing revelation for one.

More years than you expect will have passed by the time this first book is over, and children have the power to surprise you.

Also, for another startling abrupt moment – this time hilarious – wait until someone you’ve yet to meet murmurs:

“Shark-infested waters.”

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jupiter’s Circle #1 (£2-75, Image) by Mark Millar & Wilfredo Torres.

“How do you know Danny?”
“We used to be in the marines together. He’s hooked me up with a few tricks before, but none of them were as handsome as you. Did you know he hooks up all the movie stars at that gas station? I saw Tyrone Stars out there and Walter Pigeon gave me twenty bucks just to give him a hand-job.”
“Oh yeah?”
“So what line of work are you in?”

The look on Richard’s face, post-coital cigarette in hand, wondering what would happen if anyone found out that one of America’s greatest heroes was into men…

This is 1959 and cinema’s greatest heroes were all in the closet – because, umm, box office…? But also: illegal…?

Yes, it was illegal to love if you were a bloke and your loved one happened to shave too. Love, illegal: bonkers.

Imagine the power that gives others over you – strangers, employers, employees and so many other parties: if they found out it was blackmail for life or trial, public humiliation, ostracism, disgrace then prison. There are movies about it.1961’s ‘Victim’ starring Dirk Bogarde for a start.

Here’s Kathryn Hepburn giving Richard her take at a very private party:

“I have to say I find the whole thing ridiculous, Richard… Sure, half of Hollywood’s in lavender marriages, but at least we’re handsomely paid to be hypocrites. You’re out there saving lives every day. Why should you have to lie about who you’re snuggling up with every night?”
“It’s like politicians and preachers, Katie. The public just hold us to a higher standard. People want their superheroes to be whiter than white.”

Quite literally back then.

“Well, I’m just worried what it does to your health, darling. I’ve seen what living a lie can do. We’re a queer town selling the world a heterosexual ideal. Haven’t you ever wondered why we’re all on pills and booze? A double life is a terrible strain and you’re living a triple life. The stress must be unbearable.”

The other secret, of course, is Richard’s secret identity, but he seems to be holding up rather well. Torres can capture a perfect likeness, which will come in very handy on the final page!

From the writer of SECRET SERVICE: KINGSMAN KICK-ASS, CHRONONAUTS, SUPERIOR, NEMESIS, Marvel’s CIVIL WAR and WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN, all of them recommended, comes the prequel to JUPITER’S LEGACY.

So far it is a very different beast, but equally deserves your attention.

The art for a start is far more innocently, clean-lined and evokes the period perfectly. There are a lot of clean smiles and big, broad grins.

The colours are softer, plus the monsters are mental: giant cephalopods, just like those in the comics back then. Of course, there weren’t any gay superheroes, were there? Probably not the publishers’ fault: those heroes were all in the closet.

In JUPITER’S LEGACY, following the Wall Street Crash, Sheldon Sampson set about giving America something to believe in, people to give them hope: superheroes. So far they have done their job admirably and seem much respected by all.

Sheldon’s brother Walter thinks they should make the role more official by allying themselves with the FBI who’ve reached out with an offer. Sheldon’s dead against it on principal’s sake – they need to remain above politics, autonomous. It’s George Hutchence who elaborates:

“Hoover’s an asshole. Don’t you get it? He’s got dirt on everyone from coast to coast and now he’s trying to get you too. He can’t control us and it’s driving him crazy. He’d bug these headquarters given half a chance.”

Of course it is Walter wanting ties to the government – that’s what he wants to do later. But evidently others are going to change their spots at one point or another.

Bravo for Mark Millar and the post-coital bed scene: if you’re going to do this, do it properly with no shying away or emasculation. Bravo for later scenes too, [redacted]. You’ve never seen that in a superhero comic before, even in his AUTHORITY!

I liked the prologue set in the future. That’s interesting given events in JUPITER’S LEGACY. As for George Hutchence, I will be following him closely for the very same reasons!

SLH

Buy Jupiter’s Circle #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Zenith: Phase Three h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell.

Socio-political pop satire with superpowers from 1989 of which we are so very fond.

“Zenith! Zenith! We still haven’t had a chance to talk…”
“I know. Isn’t it brilliant?”

Zenith’s back!

(As they once proudly proclaimed on the back of 2000AD, above a picture of… Zenith’s actual back!)

Yes, Zenith is back and his ego and quiff are bigger than ever. One of Britain’s slickest black and white artists, Steve Yeowell, has now reached his apogee and he’ll stay there for a very long time. Zenith’s individual hair strands whooshing away in the wind now have a life of their own, often dangling down, segmented like fine crab’s legs with two or three points of articulation.

Yeowell’s deploying his shadows with increasingly instinctive confidence to maximum expressionistic effect. On the very third page there’s a shot of speedster Jimmy Quick from the back, breaking the sound barrier and positively bursting the black background in his wake, shouting, “Go!” The exhortation is mirrored by a second “GO!” this time much, much larger, printed on the front of Jimmy’s t-shirt as he charges towards us and almost out of the page. The two panels are divided by a third slim shot of two silhouetted miscreants hovering above him: “Oh, look. Let’s kill it.”

They’re determined to stop the speedster dead in his tracks and prevent a message from Alternative Earth 666, devastated by conquest, from reaching another. We first see one of the possessed on the opening page, and dang if she doesn’t look like a young Siouxsie Sioux.

Previously in ZENITH: Britain came under attack from the many-angled ones, the dark gods called the Lloigor, bent on possessing all and eradicating choice. They were prevented by the only active metahuman: an egomaniacal, perpetually preening pop star called Zenith. A rather reluctant hero, he thankfully found back-up in the form of the few surviving superheroes from the previous generation who’d been keeping their still-glowing lights hidden under their bushels. Also: Richard Branson tried to bomb London.

This time Zenith seems a little more keen on making an effort but only to avoid having to lip-synch on kids’ TV.

“Miming in front of a crowd of brainless pre-school brats… Is this what my career’s come to?”
“Well, get them while they’re young.”
“My last two singles have been total disasters, Eddie. I mean, what’s it going to be next? Singing carols with the Blue Peter dog? Opening the new branch of Tesco in Hartlepool?”

Zenith stairs into the existential abyss…

“Blankety Blank?”

That’s when Archie, the “mad mental crazy” anarchist robot bursts through Zenith’s front door screaming “ACCIIEEEEEED!” and you can almost hear the soundtrack.

Before we continue, there’s another element of Steve Yeowell’s art which shines through here (the reproduction on glossy, bleed-free paper is infinitely better than then last attempt at a reprint over twenty years ago): the erosion of form by light. Subtle things like only the shadows under Spring-Heeled Jack’s boot laces showing, their tops remaining lineless. Oh, and Zenith’s studded, black leather jacket.

Archie, Mantra, DJ Chill and Domino from Alternative Earth 68’s Black Flag have been dispatched by Maximan to fetch as many superheroes from Earths not yet enslaved by the Lliogor to a base of operations on Alternative 23 called the Axis Mundi, a tower Maximan has created by the power of his will. This is not the Maximan you may have encountered before, but a hermit-like sage in a robe, his eyes blindfolded by cloth. His speech flutters, qualified with synonyms and “thank you”s. He declares that The Alignment is imminent: a precise arrangement of alternate worlds to form The Omnihedron. What will happen then he doesn’t claim to know but the Lliogor seem keen so it’s bound to be catastrophic. To prevent this the hundred or so heroes must destroy two Earths crucial to this Alignment which have already been conquered by the Lliogor. Their singularly powerful superheroes have been possessed, blasting the world into post-war ruins, leaving corpses cluttering up the streets and creating people farms – concentration camps. One of those two is Alternative 666, which is where we came in.

I don’t want to take you much further, but Morrison lays the groundwork for so many of the twists very early on, then hides them under distractions, often comedic like Zenith encountering his own much more considerate counterpart, Vector (the only visual difference is the V rather than Z on his black t-shirt) and taking and instant, dismissive dislike to the poor chap’s kindness.

“… That was horrible…”

With 25 chapters first published over a half-year period in 2000AD, it’s longer than you might imagine and some of those chapters climax with such breath-taking timing you’d be left mind-blown for the whole seven days, desperate to know whether what you had seen was as final as it looked.

SLH

Buy Zenith: Phase Three h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Street Dawgz (£5-00, Lame Duck) by Lizz Lunney

Street Dawgz Sticker Pack (£3-00, Lame Duck) by Lizz Lunney

Cerebus: High Society Signed Gold Foil Edition (£22-50, Aardvark-Vanaheim) by Dave Sim

Cerebus: High Society – The Digital Audio/Visual Experience DVD Set (£34-99, IDW) by Dave Sim, Gerhard

Girl In Dior h/c (£19-99, NBM) by Annie Goetzinger

100 Bullets Book 2 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson

Bee And Puppycat vol 1 s/c (£10-99, kaboom) by Natasha Allegri

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 2: I Wish (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Christos N. Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Cliff Richards, Karl Moline, Richard Corben

Gunnerkrigg Court vol 1: Orientation s/c (£12-99, Archaia) by Tom Siddell

Last Of Sandwalkers (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Jay Hosler

Men Of Wrath s/c (£10-99, Icon) by Jason Aaron & Ron Garney

Prometheus: Fire & Stone s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & Juan Ferreyra, David Palumbo

Queen & Country Definitive Edition vol 4 (£14-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Rick Burchett, Brian Hurtt

Stumptown vol 3 h/c (£22-50, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Justin Greenwood

Top 10 s/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Zander Cannon, Gene Ha

Translucid s/c (£14-99, Boom) by Claudio Sanchez, Chondra Echert & Daniel Bayliss

Vacancy (£6-50, Nobrow) by Jen Lee

Astro City: Dark Age Book 1 s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight s/c (£9-99, DC) by Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola, Eduardo Barreto

Fear Itself (UK Edition) s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker & Stuart Immonen, Scot George Eaton

Marvel Universe All-New Avengers Assemble Digest vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Joe Caramagna & various

Moon Knight vol 2: Dead Will Rise s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Wood & Greg Smallwood

Claymore vol 26 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 3 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Vagabond vol 12 VIZBIG (£12-99, Viz) by Takehiko Inoue

News!

ITEM! Oh yes, please! By Brandon Graham (MULTIPLE WARHEADS) and Marian Churchland (BEAST), these preview pages of 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT look startling different to anything in comics right now! Please add to your standing orders here as soon as possible or pre-order 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT #1 from Page 45 online now! We ship worldwide!

ITEM! AGE OF REPTILES is back with AGE OF REPTILES: ANCIENT EGYPTIANS #1. Never saw that coming – it’s been ever so long! Read why Page 45 loves Richardo Delgado’s dinosaur driven AGE OF REPTILES OMNIBUS EDITION! The colours and choreography are astounding.

ITEM! China at war with Japan. NANJING: THE BURNING CITY preview pages! If you could voice your interest early that would as always be awesome!

ITEM! Brilliant, one-page, seasonal, Spring-time garden comic by Joe Decie!

-   Stephen

Page 45 Graphic Novel & Comic Reviews April 2015 week two

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Beautiful books by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan; Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis & Brooke A. Allen; Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larsson; Alex de Campi & Carla Speed McNeil; Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta, Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard; Lisa Wilde; Miki Yoshikawa; Charles Soule & Steve McNiven; Rick Remender & Jerome Opena! NEWS, as ever, underneath!

Demo s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan.

Twelve self-contained stories which readers of LOCAL will love, for each of which Becky Cloonan selects a specific tool from her seemingly infinite art box.

For a start, the strangest of dating games with the boy breaking in to leave Polaroids for Megan in LOCAL is reprised here as a young woman, driven to writing herself proscriptive post-it notes for each and every aspect of her life then sticking them all round house and outdoors, suddenly discovers notes that aren’t hers.

“Who are you?” and “Can we talk like this?”

Initially perturbed, she misses a bus which breaks her routine and triggers a panic. But there on the bus shelter is stuck another note: “I love that this is who you are.”

She smiles, a tear welling up. “…Really?”

That’s a beautiful panel. Cloonan’s thought long and hard about body language, in particular the posture of hands. It’s all so tenderly done, with a superb sense of light.

 

It’s also a story driven creatively on Brian’s part largely through the post-it notes themselves, for what follows is a playful coming together of minds followed by a breadcrumb trail of messages which finally lead to a café; but we never do see who brings her coffee, only that she’s charmed.

The advantage of a long-form narrative as opposed to short stories is that you only need one knock-out punchline, yet here a good nine or ten are electric whilst the stories themselves are dazzlingly imaginative. In addition to light, Becky’s ability to convey the sweaty claustrophobia of being caught on a gridlocked highway choked with exhaust fumes during a heat wave in ‘Waterbreather’ is matched only with the blessed relief of diving into a river below. After a flashback to the man’s unusual childhood sub-aquatic experiences, the resolution is surprisingly serene given where it leads him.

However, you’re going to need a much stronger stomach than the protagonist’s in ‘Pangs’ for which ‘unsettling’ is merely a starting point. Here Cloonan’s art is as bleak as a derelict bathhouse as a young, nail-biting loner rations himself on carefully parcelled frozen food then tries one last time to reconnect himself with those around him by dating a girl at a restaurant. It doesn’t go well so he returns home alone and resorts to measures so drastic they will make you wince.

There’s also a tale about a couple who repel each other like inverted magnets yet can’t stay apart because it destroys their physical health – the ultimate in “Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em” but working both ways. There’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy and then a time-travelling story which addresses the eternal question of what you would say to yourself in your early teens, and whether in fact you would listen.

“That’s me. That’s dinner every night. That’s my Mom, pretending my Dad isn’t calling me, his daughter, every filthy and demeaning name under the sun.

“How do you explain away something like that?

“How do you survive something like that? I should have an answer, but I don’t. Honestly, it’s a blur. But it’s an acutely painful blur. I can feel her pain, the embarrassment, the panic. I can hear her heart pounding from here.”

Whatever Elisabeth planned to say to herself, in whatever way she hoped her life would be changed, it’s when she bumps into her best friend waiting loyally outside for that dinner to be over, hiding behind the car, that she recognises the one fatal error she made.

It seems to be a book about relationships, be they friends or lovers, some of whom understand and look out for each other, whilst others don’t. Two of my favourites are where they don’t, but with very different results.

In ‘Mixtape’ a young man listens to the tape left behind by his girlfriend who’s committed suicide, although in actual fact she’s either communicating from beyond, or he’s coming to an understanding himself. The understanding is that he never understood her. She asks him to take her to their favourite places, only they turn out to be his. It’s not confrontational at all – she just wants him to learn, move on, and then use his fresh self-awareness.

‘Breaking Up’, however, couldn’t be more confrontational as Angie ditches Gabe in public. Interspersed between the present argument are problems from the past, but it’s not as straightforward as it first appears (are these power struggles ever?), nor is it all one-track recrimination. I particularly enjoyed the complexity of that one. You almost forget about the elements of the fantastical after the first few stories, since those elements become less and less obvious.

Even in the earliest episodes originally published a decade or so ago, Becky Cloonan startles one with an extraordinary variety of art styles from hard and dark to wide-eyed yaoi, with bits of O’Malley and Paul Pope in between. At no point does she seem to lose confidence or the ability to submit the art to the task of telling the story clearly and with sympathy – something many corporate comicbook artists find themselves incapable of.

SLH

Buy Demo and read the Page 45 review here

East Of West vol 3: There Is No Us (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta.

I love the lie.

The lie at the end, discerned only if you interpret the visuals. And that’s what comics at its brightest does best.

This is comics at its best and I beg you to now come on board!

I wonder if the title doubles as there is no US; as in, there is no United States…? Because there isn’t, you know: this is an 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.

Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he’d fallen in love with a woman of stature who, he discovers, has born him a child and the hunt is now on for that son.

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

Death wants to save the whole world.

Whenever I write reviews of second, third of fourth volumes I’m actually trying to sell a series I love to completely new readers. Rarely, therefore, would I have given away so much of EAST OF WEST VOL 1, except that in this instance it will help you enjoy the first book which is written with such fierce intelligence and such scant hand-holding that I didn’t grasp what was happening until I’d reached its last chapter. When the various parties and their interests finally fell into place, I was in awe.

As the series progressed and I began to comprehend how individualistically ruled were those nations, and the complexities of their allegiances and machinations, I was thrilled because I was reading something completely new, fully fleshed out, yet created from scratch.

Why do creators of science or speculative fiction get such a hard time from the crusty and entombed establishment that cultural cartoonist and satirist Tom Gauld can sum it up so succinctly as YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK?

That’s a rhetorical question, obviously. Remember, one of Britain’s greatest artists, Hogarth, used to be pilloried for his paintings (like The Rake’s Progress which were, parenthetically, comics, telling a single coherent story in a sequential series of paintings which were then converted to line drawings, engraved, printed then sold as a portfolio set) simply because satire was considered too base a genre for the high and mighty Fine Art cognoscenti. And drama as a medium was once considered so infra dig that theatres in England were closed down.

Comics isn’t the first medium to be sneered at by reactionary fuckwits like Tom Paulin (see our review of Chris Ware’s ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY containing Paulin’s condescending and culpable dismissal of the same creator’s JIMMY CORRIGAN, winner of the Guardian First Book Prize). But the genre of science fiction like the medium of comics will win the day and we’re now well on our way!

Straight, non-genre, contemporary fiction lauded by the establishment as What Is Best is far easier to write than speculative fiction in this regard at least: its authors don’t have to invent its backdrop, its environment. Contemporary schools exist, as do traffic habits, current means of communication, things you buy at the shops and those shops themselves.

How much more difficult it is to create a world from nothing with brand-new methods of living, power structures, laws of nature, new rules of science and the appliance of each to a coherent, convincing whole! Yet that’s what Jonathan Hickman has invented in EAST OF WEST and my hat’s off to him.

My Stetson’s also off to artist Nick Dragotta for the same level of visual invention is required. We’ve seen the Four Horsemen depicted so many times in their obvious, cadaverous, flying-steed iterations that this is quite the departure and they’re even more unnerving for their relatively innocuous appearance and conversational calm.

He’s erected edifices and monuments from nothing, a tag-team of Death’s two closest companions out of nowhere, and transformed what could otherwise have been a daunting war of words into a slick and sleek, action-packed thrill-athon of noon-day duels at the far from O.K. Corral.

He’s essentially made it personal, and his art and action has all the accessibility of Lee Weeks at his best.

Dragotta’s rendition of the Endless Nation’s representatives finally coming to The Chosen’s table was arresting. Consider distilling Native American culture as you know it – its beliefs, its practices and its dignified deportment – then projecting where it might go logically next in a more technologically driven, grave new world.

Then consider America and its austere, almost vampiric Madame President rendered like Disney’s Creulla de Vil. I don’t fancy the population puppies’ chances.

“Madame President. His name is Peter Graves. Graduated at the top of his class. Thirty years of public service. Beyond reproach, really. An excellent choice.”

“Wonderful. He can carry the bags.”

SLH

Buy East Of West vol 3: There Is No Us and read the Page 45 review here

Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware The Kitten Holy (£10-99, Boom) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis & Brooke A. Allen.

“What did we learn today?”
“That our worst nightmares are real and we should totally be afraid of them because they are coming to get us.”

Hardcore Lady Types!

Friendship To The Max!

That’s what the Lumberjanes’ Camp’s all about.

Also: extreme exploring and v sassy hair. Mal has a haircut just like our Dee’s: shaved on one side then dyed black and whoosh!

You’re not really supposed to sneak out from your cabin at night in pursuit of a shape-shifting Bear-woman only to be ambushed by a savage pack of three-eyed foxes which combust upon contact and project a mystery message like “Beware the kitten holy”. Not even as a posse. You run the risk of “stranger danger”.

But that is precisely what Mal, Molly, April, Jo and Ripley have done and now they must answer to cabin leader Jane who takes them to camp leader Rosie who’s whittling out of wood the most intricate eagle claws – so dainty – with an axe. Curiously, Rosie’s not cross; she’s intrigued. And what’s that glowing crystal doing in her toilet? I don’t think it’s an air freshener.

Highly animated art – positively hyperactive in places – with lots of lovely background laughs, my favourites including Mal in pursuit of a fox, mouth wide, arms flailing and young, sugar-buzzed Ripley dancing with glee when one of her friends starts dancing with glee. Watch Ripley throughout: she is hilariously excitable.

Magic foxes are just the beginning. There are rapids to ride, river monsters to not ride, a Tomb Raiding expedition complete with problem solving skillz, a pack of Yeti but – most frightening of all, the boy scouts’ hairy-legged leader, bounding into their cabin in muddy boots and wielding an axe:

“WHAT THE BEJABBERS IS GOING ON HERE? I THOUGHT I HEARD A TEA KETTLE. PATHETIC.”
“But – but – but we’ve got company.”
“GIRLS? EW. WHY ARE YOU IN OUR CAMP, WOMENFOLK?”
“We fell into some poison ivy.”
“THAT WAS STUPID.”
“NO, YOU’RE STUPID.”
“IT IS YOU WHO ARE STUPID! COOKIES ARE FOR THE WEAK. REAL MEN SHOULD BE SPLITTING WOOD AND SMOKING PIPES.”
“But I like baking cookies…”
“I AM GOING TO CATCH A FISH BY WRESTLING IT AWAY FROM A BEAR.”

This is full of life, full of fun and full of individuality, as are the lady types themselves.

Also, what’s not to love in a comic that deifies Joan Jett?

“Al, Molly, what in the Joan Jett are you doing?!”

Getting into trouble.

SLH

Buy Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware The Kitten Holy and read the Page 45 review here

No Mercy #1 (£2-25, Image) by Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil.

From the creator of FINDER and the writer of SMOKE / ASHES, something completely different lobbed lovingly onto our shelves.

Princeton University sent out a call to its hyper-achieving new students for a pre-freshmen trip to build much needed schools in Central America. After four years struggling to be model Ivy League applicants they were practically preconditioned to accept. Now they have landed, it is a bright, sunny day and they are texting, tweeting and grinning away excitedly.

“So here we are, all present and accounted for. (Though Tiffani hasn’t been totally present anywhere since she got her first iPhone.) … Tiffani?”
“Squeeee! Nun!!!”

Consider the Num pic.twitter’d!

It’s so well set up, De Campi nailing late teenage interaction and its naivety when it comes to the presumption of safety and recourse abroad, engendered by American or British citizenship. Some of them seem to have issues with one other but on the whole it is big, broad grins with Carla Speed McNeil lighting up their eyes as these young strangers get to know and enjoy each other’s company. A nun is exotic – a nun abroad, more exotic still.

The nun is far more concerned with practicalities and her reaction to the unexpected arrival of a tenuous relative is ever so slightly ominous.

But this is truly an adventure and the prospect of bus trip meandering high above this undiscovered countryside – although painfully long – is just another part of that thrill! One amongst them, Travis, is more worldly-wise: a seasoned traveller in India and he’s impressively eco-friendly, resourceful when it comes to money and admirably “freegan” in that he cares about excess and waste.

But even Travis is going to find what comes next almost impossible to grasp and – fuck – those smiles are going to be wiped off their faces in a catastrophic instant which is agonisingly teased out across two tense pages as time expands before…

And now they’re in trouble – more trouble than they can conceive of.

“This is – This is – not good territory. We have, we have to leave here at once.”

Straight fiction so contemporary it will cut you.

SLH

Buy No Mercy #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look At High School (£9-99, Microcosm) by Lisa Wilde…

“Yo, miss – the way Oedipus flipped out on his pops, even though he didn’t know it was his pops, wouldn’t you call him a real O.G.?”
“A what?”
“O.G. – ‘Original Gangsta’!”
“Huh… class, what do you think? Was Oedipus acting like an O.G.?”

Who doesn’t deserve a second chance? We all like to think we are, by and large, a caring, inclusive society, prepared to offer people the opportunity to be educated and thus thrive. But what about those students who can’t or won’t succeed in mainstream education? How do we go about supporting and encouraging those children to help them achieve their potential?

Lisa Wilde spent fifteen years teaching at John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy, a ‘second chance’ high school in New York City where all the students have ‘dropped out, been kicked out, or flunked out’ from at least one other high school, several in some cases. The kids range from those in social care due to serious family issues through to those on probation for serious criminal offences and gang-related activities. The sort of tough-skinned, street-wise kids that would eat the Breakfast Club for err… breakfast, basically. Which makes the process of trying to educate them a daily grind of extreme determination and incredible patience. Discipline is obviously a major issue, needless to say.

Perhaps surprisingly, therefore, Wildcat Academy has an excellent record of getting kids that all-important US high school diploma. Indeed, it’s not unknown for pupils to be referred directly to Wildcat by other schools. Undoubtedly a lot of these kids do want to learn, and better themselves, they just need the right environment – and teachers – to do so. YO, MISS tells the fictionalised (purely due to the need to protect the identity of minors) story of eight students, albeit based directly on Lisa Wilde’s experience, and using, with permission, the written work of some of her students.

Inevitably, there is as much drama outside school going on in their markedly different lives, in addition to the not inconsiderable amount inside the classroom, which affects their educational chances just as much as their desire, or lack of it, to learn. YO, MISS is a very sensitive look at the real challenges these kids face in attempting to graduate high school, before the legal cut-off point of twenty one years old. People who presume that ‘problem’ kids just don’t want to learn, and that teachers in this type of institution just don’t care, will find those assumptions rightly challenged in this fascinating, insightful look into a world that is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking. Not everyone will succeed, some won’t even come close, but it’s those who are so near, but ultimately so far, which will really affect you. I would agree completely with Alison FUN HOME Bechdel’s quote on the front cover: “It’s riveting”.

One of the most profoundly moving passages for me was when Will, back in school after a night in the cells, recounts to Miss Wilde about talking to one of the many other prisoners in the holding cell who, upon learning he was a high school student, asked him what he was working on…

“He wants to know what I’m studying, and I tell him Oedipus.
“And he doesn’t know the story, so I begin telling it.
“And I’m getting into Oedipus and Thebes and Tiresias and the corruption, and all of a sudden I notice the whole cell is silent – everyone is listening to me.
“So I keep talking… and now I’m getting to the part where Jocasta’s trying to front on Oedipus, acting like she doesn’t know, and the whole cell is into it… and there’s this giant commotion… C.O.s come in to take guys out, they bring new guys in, doors slammin, yellin’… and the story’s lost.
“Finally things settle down, and I’m thinking maybe I’ll try to get a little sleep. So I’m moving to the back of the cell to see if I can find a corner where I can sit down, and this whole group of guys turns to me. Now, I’m not stupid, so I’m watching my back. But then they say to me, almost in one voice: “What happens next?””

Perfectly illustrating that in almost any conceivable circumstance, with the right person communicating interesting content, of course people want to be educated. It’s human nature.

Finally… my opinion would be that no, Oedipus was not an O.G. because he didn’t get out of the game intact. Yes, he might have achieved a position of power (King of Thebes), amassed a fat paper stack (royalty not usually being short of a few bob), probably wore vast quantities of regal bling, was undoubtedly a hit with the ladies (his mother, granted, but clearly a playa), but ultimately going mad and gouging out his own eyes…? Decidely not O.G. behaviour in my book.

JR

Buy Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look At High School and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Ages (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard.

“Never have I asked the Lord our God for much, for I never wanted to owe him.”

Very wise, very wise.

“I feel his disapproving eyes on me, most days, and I fear his wrath.
“For it is sudden and it is awful.”

My headmaster had a temper on him too.

Still, there are worse things in the world and indeed off-world as Captain Hawkherst and his not-so-merry men are about to find out.

It is early winter, 1333, in Europe, four years before the 100 Years War. The Captain’s cadre are tired and hungry. Being war profiteers, right now times are tough and food is thin on the ground. What they desperately need – and are tempted to pray for – is for hostilities to erupt. They don’t particularly care on which frontier for their loyalties lie only to each other. Be careful what you wish for.

Up in the sky they spy brand-new heavenly bodies: five oddly shaped stars dancing like diamonds in the night. They appear to be in formation. They are. But they are far from heavenly.

From the creators of NEW DEADWARDIANS which we loved so much we made it a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month comes another historical mash-up, this time medieval in nature: aliens versus chain-mailed, human predators. I have my money on the aliens every time.

Crucially the aliens are indeed suitably alien in aspect, their otherness truly terrifying to Hawkherst, Galvin, Aelfric and co. The hardened veterans actually turn tail and run. They run and seek sanctuary in a mountain-top monastery, but its resident monks prove equally unnerving. Their faces hidden under cowls with but silver beards shining through, they say nothing. They talk to no one. And up in the evening’s cold, obsidian sky something even darker approaches, blotting out the stars. Something darker and much, much bigger.

There’s a stupendous final, full-page flourish from Ian Culbard (BRASS SUN etc.) after an already-chilling opening chapter, while Dan Abnett will put the fear of God into you. On so many levels as well.

Its dialogue is suitably sparse and direct, his superstitious soldiers pragmatic all the same. The language has been chosen carefully and lavishly laced with “bloody”s, plus there’s a satisfying cadence to sentences like this, particularly its final clause:

“There are too many princes and kings who want a war won, but are coy with their purse strings when the bill for that bloodshed draws due.”

As to his monks, one at least has a tongue as well as an ear and to one wall, for he has been waiting a while.

“They’re here.”

Whom do you think he is talking to?

Culbard has craftily based other elements of the alien invasion on medieval woodcuts of the devil and the opening shot to the final fourth chapter when those “demons” begin the final assault screams Steve Ditko at his most otherworldly, including the weapons they wield.

I confess that they final three pages currently confound me but the fact that I’m still left pondering them several days on says it all.

SLH

Buy Dark Ages and read the Page 45 review here

A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel s/c (£10-99, Square Fish) by Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larson…

“But how could we have gotten here? Even travelling at the speed of light it would take us years and years.”
“Oh, we don’t travel at the speed of anything. We tesser. Or as you might say, we wrinkle.”

Nice to be completely unfamiliar with the original material for a comics adaptation for a rare change, as I don’t recall even hearing about the prose version of this as a kid, which is a little surprising given how much sci-fi and fantasy I read in my childhood days. The story itself actually reminded me of Philip Pulman’s more recent Dark Materials Trilogy (for several reasons, and I would be very surprised if he hasn’t read this work) plus also the works of C.S. Lewis given some of the Christian references and allusion to the real identities of certain characters, but also children’s books like the Captain Cobweb series and Milo And The Phantom Toolbooth for their vast sense of surreal adventure.

Originally written in 1962 – and rejected by about fifty publishers before someone picked it up, primarily because they felt the time wasn’t right to have a female lead character in a science fiction work (really) – the central plot revolves around feisty young Meg Murray and her search for her missing father, who apparently vanished whilst researching something mysterious for the government. That mysterious something turns out to be instantaneous travel across space by means of bending space-time using the tesseract principle, or ‘tessering’ for short.

Unfortunately for Meg’s father it seems that there is a dark force abroad in the Universe, seeking to enslave whole planets at a time, and during an early explorative tesser he has been captured. How, precisely, has Meg found out this extremely top secret information, given the government haven’t been willing to tell them anything for months? Well, by means of her super-intelligent younger brother Charles equally mysterious friends, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which who, initially at least, appear to be witches, but in fact may be rather more than that. Fortunately for Meg and her brother, the three W’s also have the power to ‘tesser’ them and thus launch an expedition to find and rescue their father.

Okay, that’s probably enough of a synopsis to give you the general idea of what to expect plot-wise, so let’s talk about the adaptation itself, because that is for me the highlight here. This is an exceptionally beautifully illustrated book which is, I feel, Hope’s finest work to date. I get the impression from the art that this was certainly no chore, but probably rather a labour of love, such is the consistency and fluidity of the illustration. CHIGGERS, MERCURY (and the subsequent SOLO) are absolutely wonderful works in their own rights, but in terms of the art A WRINKLE IN TIME has that little something extra, the sense of touch that someone who had already fully realised and harnessed their exceptional talents has, however improbably, been inspired to surge one step further. I found an almost seamless sense of continuity from panel to panel, page to page, the whole work moving onwards with an almost animation-like quality in my mind’s eye. In other words, near perfection.

There were in fact several pages where I almost unconsciously slowed down my reading pace to better take in all the exquisite background details, which always gently embellish the scene, adding real depth and warmth. And without question Hope has completely succeeded in capturing every nuance of the emotional wringer that Meg is put through on her quest, and indeed her whole family at the anguish they feel over the continued absence of Mr. Murray. Just flicking back through looking at the art (again!) you could easily get a complete sense of the story without even needing to read the speech bubbles, just from observing the myriad expressions on the various character’s faces, particularly that of Meg and her brother Charles who go on such an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows during the course of their travels!

Definitely one for fans of Hope, absolutely one for children who love action-packed adventures, but also a great all-ages read in the vein of AMULET and MOUSE GUARD as adults will also be captivated by the surreal world that Madeleine L’Engle has created and which Hope brings so vividly to life to furnish us with a genuine magical mystery tour.

JR

Buy A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Yamada-kun And The Seven Witches vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Miki Yoshikawa.

Yay for gender swapping! Yay for secrets and furtive glances and embarrassed body jokes!

Ummmm… There’s no hint of any witches so far. And inside bears no resemblance to the cover whatsoever – it’s much more fun than that!

Teenage Ryu Yamada is far from the ideal student. He is notorious for turning up late, leaving early, sleeping in class and his grades set likely to fail him. He’s simply not interested.

One morning he spies beautiful, blonde and high-achieving honour student Urara Shiraishi clip-clopping up some school stairs and his jealousy / resentment is instinctual. Pride, however, goes immediately before a fall and they crash down upon each other and Ryu passes out. When he wakes up he has large breasts and nothing between his legs. Which is pretty disconcerting for a lad. He’s swapped bodies with Urara and doesn’t handle it well!

Urara, meanwhile, has calmly returned to her studies in Ryu’s body and everyone’s rather curious about his new, feminine, knees-closed posture. When they meet up Ryu’s still freaking out while Urara dispassionately observes…

“I don’t like having something strange between my legs.”
“Y-YOU LOOKED DOWN THERE?!”

Hilarious! The very first thing Ryu did when he woke up in Urara’s body was take a quick gander under her garments but the very idea that Urara’s looked down his boy-pants and seen what he’s got – eeek! There appears to be a slight-subplot about what Ryu’s packing down below. She’s not going to be the last one to assess his credentials: stud-muffin Toranosuke’s going to take a good look when he swaps bodies with Ryu.

I think I’d better explain:

It seems that Ryu has the ability to trade places with others simply by kissing them – when he fell on top of Urara they accidentally kissed. The reason he’s only just found this out is that he’s never actually kissed anyone before. Aww. Now he’s going to be doing a lot more kissing whether he likes it or not – and it’s actually “not” every time, although he does discover its uses.

What he also discovers is that being a blonde bombshell or an honour student isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and the once dismissive drop-out begins to discover he does actually care about what Urara has to put up with from boys and girls – enough to do something about it.

This is far from the finest example of Japanese comics and although I did admire Yoshikawa’s use of body language – Ryu as a girl is thoroughly ungainly; he doesn’t know how to comport himself in a body he’s unused to – it was signposted almost every time in the script unnecessarily. On the other hand it wasn’t as obvious as it could have been and its publisher Kodansha has quite the pedigree (AKIRA, ATTACK ON TITAN etc) so it’s almost certainly going to go somewhere.

(I so would, by the way; and so would you!)

SLH

Buy Yamada-kun And The Seven Witches vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Uncanny Inhumans #0 (£3-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven.

Ah, what a lambent surprise!

The cover doesn’t half soak up all light in a room, but inside this shines under its clear blue skies, crackling temporal energy and the sound of a whispered word. No clues as to whose required.

This seemed on the surface to be an oddly low-profile book for the high-profile creators of the DEATH OF WOLVERINE but, haha, I suspect it will prove key on the other side of the tumultuously anticipated SECRET WARS series beginning in May.

If you are unaware of what’s imminent, events first brought to light in motion in NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 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 survives.

Now, how would you ensure someone survives the end of the universe, do you think? Who are you going to call on? The major Marvel villain will seem so obvious in retrospect but I’m sure not going to spell it out here.

Sorry…? Yes, of course I’ve left clues: I always leave clues.

The Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee INHUMANS hardcover comes highly recommended as an introduction to the family but also to all as a very clever, considered and beautiful self-contained work about society. Some of it smacked of Neil Gaiman. No lie.

SLH

Buy The Uncanny Inhumans #0 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Rage Of Ultron h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena.

“Earlier you pondered if there is a God.
“There is now.”

Ooooh, Ultron’s got himself into a right old tizzy.

He’s got a total strop on!

Feel his rage! Raargh!

Actually, he hasn’t. The title seems to be no more than a convenient pun on the other year’s AGE OF ULTRON event. Ultron’s far more calculated than that. If anyone’s bellowing the loudest it’s The Vision, one of whose chief appeals used to be his complete dispassion! I don’t follow the fate of these people so slavishly that I have a clue what’s changed him so drastically, but here he’s miffed at the guilt-ridden creator of Ultron, Hank Pym, as insecure as ever but dispassionate enough to simply switch his enemy off like any other malfunctioning toaster burning the bread.

Good call, if you ask me, but that’s what’s got The Vision – also a machine – pretty grumpy even though Hank has taken pains to ensure The Vision is immune to his Automatic Neural Inhibitor. Cue a great deal of hand-wringing amongst all while millions die.

If they’d listened to Hank it would have been a much shorter graphic novel and things wouldn’t have gone so disastrously wrong that, umm, well it sure doesn’t end well for everyone, I’m afraid.

Instead this is a very, very wordy slugfest which doesn’t have any of the defining parameters / limitations required for a sense of tension. No one is using any particular skill sets skilfully except artist Jerome Opena who serves up two particularly terrifying spreads of the face of Ultron carved into Titan’s lunar, city surface like a malevolent deity.

 His angles and figure work throughout are impressive, increasingly so as this original graphic novel – it’s not a reprint – throws itself forward to its unexpected, game-changing end.

Before that there’s some soul searching about whether parents’ love for their children is unconditional and who is more disappointed in whom as a parent or child.

FYI: Avenger Hank Pym created the artificial intelligence that is Ultron, Ultron immediately went homicidal and created The Vision as an agent of the Avengers’ destruction, The Vision overrode his own programming and earned himself a spot in the Avengers.

This was all back when I was paying attention… in the 1970s. For Ultron’s and The Vision’s first appearances please see MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE AVENGERS VOL 6.

SLH

Buy Avengers: Rage Of Ultron h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Jupiter’s Legacy vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely

Lulu Anew h/c (£20-99, NBM) by Etienne Davodeau

Zenith: Phase Three h/c (£20-00, Rebellion) by Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell

Behind The Curtain (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Andrzej Klimowski & Danusia Schejbal

Crossed vol 12 s/c (£18-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & Francisco Manna

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

Deathstroke The Terminator vol 1: Assassins s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marv Wolfman & Steve Erwin

Harley Quinn vol 1: Hot In The City s/c (£12-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & various

Harley Quinn vol 2: Power Outage h/c (£18-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & various

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gail Simone, Gilbert Hernandez & Ethan Van Sciver, Phil Jimenez, various

Captain Marvel vol 2: Stay Fly s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Marcio Takara, David Lopez

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 22-24 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Naruto vol 69 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

Strangers In Paradise vol 1 Pocket Edition (£13-50, Abstract Edition) by Terry Moore

News!

ITEM! OH YES INDEED! From the creator of ALEC which I’ve declared to be the single finest body of work in comics, finally the first half of Eddie Campbell’s BACCHUS has been announced with Neil Gaiman exhorting you to relish this mischievously modernised mythology for yourselves! Do you trust us? Do you trust Neil? You can pre-order BACCHUS VOL 1 of 2 for worldwide dispatch or collection in-store! We’d be terribly grateful!

ITEM! The magnificent Mr Culbard has generously declared that every copy of THE KING IN YELLOW ordered from Page 45 before it is published will be signed and sketched in for free! Pop “Culbard” in our search engine and you’ll see why he’s the perfect choice to adapt this prose so influential both to H.P. Lovecraft and to Neil Gaiman.

ITEM! Learn how THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’S creators Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie first met and more in this Emerald City Comics Con interview.  Intrigued? Our reviews: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, PHONOGRAM, YOUNG AVENGERS.

This is PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB, by the way:

ITEM! Andy Waterfield takes the time and trouble to write about what makes a great comic shop.  Cheers, Andy!

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2015 week one

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Contemporary fiction, crime, sci-fi and spookiness fromTed Naifeh, Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini, Mark Millar & Sean Murphy, Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri, Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert and another Andy Poyiadgi gem! News as ever at the bottom!

Low vol 1: The Delirium Of Hope (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini.

“Without optimism for the future how can we hope to shape a better one?”

Swoon!

The crisp yet soft and lithe-as-you-like strokes here smack of the sort of 1960s’ / 1970s’ fashion and romance line art which Posy Simmonds was referencing in her MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS where the secretary loses herself in daydreams. Feed it through a futuristic filter then add more than a little John Bryne at his loose-pencil best in the figures, smiles and eyes and you have a very attractive package.

Early on Greg Tocchini delivers six pages of classy, unsensationalist and quite natural nudity, modestly portrayed with deftly deployed holograms and colours for modesty’s sake, all drawn in life-class poses then artfully arranged so they communicate with one another.

Plus there’s one panel in which Johl Caine playfully pokes his son Marik in the ribs and young Marik positively dances in response, one arm raised, his leg leaping up and away.

Oh yes, the first chapter is bursting with joy!

It’s very, very beautiful, with subaquatic, man-made leviathans which might put you in mind of Sean Murphy’s THE WAKE. Not only that but spectacle-orientated sci-fi should make you gasp and there are panoramas here which will take your recycled breath away – flourishes which don’t constitute a punchline but a moment of irresistibly prolonged awe before the drama resumes.

This is a book about maintaining hope in the wake of barely conceivable adversity.

Over and over again astronomer and loving mother Stel’s determined optimism isn’t just challenged by those who have given in to despair or feckless, ineffectual resignation but brutally contradicted by events outside her control. Up and down and up and down, the family’s fortunes undulate from the highest crests to the lowest troughs: the second chapter climaxes with Stel’s moment of wholly unexpected, delicious triumph juxtaposed with another’s fall from grace so far that it is devastating.

So it has come to this:

In the future our sun will expand then go supernova, at which point the Earth itself as well as its inhabitants will need more than Factor 500. We will be engulfed. Obliterated. And that will be the end of our story. This isn’t speculative, it is a scientific certainty.

Long before then the radiation levels on the Earth’s surface will have exceeded intolerable, so if we haven’t already escaped this solar system we’ll have needed to move underground or deep, deep, deep underwater.

In LOW humanity hasn’t yet found an alternative, habitable planet but Johl’s wife Stel remains optimistic and focussed.

Johl is focussed but more on the immediate: feeding the subaquatic city of Salus by way of hunting using vast, submerged vessels and personal, watertight exoskeletons keyed to family DNA. His son Marik has followed in his mother’s footsteps so Johl is keener than ever for his two daughters, Della and Tajo, to follow his and become pilots. Tajo is dubious but Della’s all for it and keen to take her first helm, so Stel reluctantly – yet with good humour – agrees: today will be the first family outing!

The problem is, the problem is, the future is not what it was. The problem is, the problem is, if you’ve killed their cat, they’ll kill your dog. And there is someone out there in the freezing, oceanic depths with a long-held grudge.

Ten years on – ten long years take place between chapter one and the main event – the enormity of the challenge gradually becomes clearer and clearer: probes were first sent out in search of habitable planets over 13,000 years ago. 13,000 years without success, 13,000 years of failure! Can you imagine maintaining hope in that terrible knowledge? Few others have and, now that less than a year’s supply of air remains for Stel’s deep-sea colony, its leaders have caved in to drug-fuelled, let’s-take-what-we-can-get hedonism. They won’t assist or in any way enable Stel’s action, even when she believes she’s successfully retrieved a probe at least to the Earth’s toxic surface.

As to her family, I’ve deliberately left the various other members’ plight alone, but that lolloping, grinning son isn’t doing much grinning now. Nor are any of the others.

The scope of this first instalment I’ve barely touched on for Stel is resolute and won’t take no for an answer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and this is a book for those like me who believe there is always a solution even if it means discarding your comfort zone in favour of getting out there, going it alone and forging your own way forward.

Tempestuous.

SLH

Buy Low vol 1: The Delirium Of Hope and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 3: The Dead And The Dying s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“I’m not afraid. This city already killed me once.”

I love a good structure, and they don’t come more cleverly crafted than this.

As with all six CRIMINAL books and the new CRIMINAL SPECIAL (also available at the time of typing as a CRIMINAL MAGAZINE EDITION complete with a fab faux letter column), this is completely self-contained but for regular readers it’s time for a history lesson because, as Jake ‘Gnarly’ Brown says right at the start, “If you want to understand the truth about anyone, about who they are and where they came from and what they might do, good or bad… you have to look back.”

And so it is that we turn back a whole generation to 1972 to discover how bartender Jake ‘Gnarly’ Brown became childhood friends with Sebastian Hyde, son of the city’s crime boss, through an act of faith on the part of Brown Sr..

We see him fall for beautiful Danica Briggs, step aside for Sebastian, and then lose his temper when he realises how Sebastian bragged his own way into losing a stash of $50k with fatal consequences.

In the second story we see Teeg Lawless (ah yes, that Teeg Lawless) return from Vietnam in body if not soul and you bet that Sean Phillips can do “haunted”.

Haunted, angry and out of control, drinking his way into blackouts, smacking his wife around in front of his son, being called on a debt he took out before the war, and making a single mistake which impacts on them all.

Lastly it’s time for Danica Briggs – she at the very centre of it all – and her own account of the power of her pussy. There’s a brief burst of monologue there which is so specific I wonder if it consciously or subconsciously paved the way for Brubaker and Phillips’ FATALE. This she discovers after you learn what awful means Hyde Sr. used to scar her soul, kill her inside and abort her relationship with Sebastian. I warn you, that chapter’s even nastier than the others.

I’ve talked about this before – though maybe it was on the shop floor – but I also love how Sean does “period”: subtle touches like sideburns and television sets. There’s never too much in a Sean Phillips panel. There is precisely what you need to stay focussed on what the cast is doing, what the cast is saying and tone in which these hard-pushed people are saying it. Everything is in service to the story.

The colours by Val Staples keep it period too, no more than a couple per sequence in various tones: brown and yellow, green and yellow, purple and yellow, blue and yellow or just plain blue. Between Phillips and Staples there is a discipline and orderly restraint letting the protagonists’ lack of either speak for itself. Then when a watercolour dream sequence kicks in it is startling.

As to the structure, each of the three stories informs the other like PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB: you think you know the score until each new perspective reveals a previously unseen aspect. I have a flow chart here (well, a series of criss-crossed arrows and some fifty names and incidents they link together) showing just how tight this is, and the central role that The Undertow bar plays.

Well, it’s where Gnarly winds up, after all.

He’s serving pints of bitter.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 3: The Dead And The Dying s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Swords Of Glass h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri…

The best slab of Euro-fantasy I have read for some considerable time.

The world is ending, the start of the death of its sun over a relatively rapid thirty or so year span is causing untold environmental catastrophes. Virtually everyone is oblivious to what is happening, but a select few people, such as mystics, scientists and astrologers are aware. There is also a prophecy that the disaster can be averted, a window opened to another world, allowing escape. But only if the prophecy, involving the reuniting of the four swords of glass, comes to pass, of course…

Enter Yama, the tomboy daughter of village chieftain Achard threatening rebellion against the yoke of local warlord Orland. A magical sword falls from the sky like a flaming meteor and embeds itself in the local sacred stone. One of Orland’s men, commanded to retrieve it, is instantly turned to glass, and then promptly shattered by his irate leader, incensed that he can’t get his hands on this shiny new bauble.

Then, sensing the ferment Yama’s father is trying to incite, Orland informs them he will return that evening to take Achard’s wife as tribute, simply to teach the villagers the lesson of what happens if they even think of challenging his rule. The villagers immediately fall into line and kill Yama’s father to prevent him trying to escape with his family.

Distraught and vowing revenge, Yama runs crying into the forest and thus the glass sword remains there for years, those who try to remove it sharing the same fate as the hapless soldier. Yama, meanwhile, is adopted by a mysterious man, a former general in exile, who trains her in the art of swordplay, and raises her as his daughter. He too knows of the swords and the prophecy.

I have to admit not being familiar with either of the creators. The writer Sylviane Corgiat has done various things for Humanoids before, but nothing that has been translated into English, I think, plus some prose books and also high regarded French television crime drama. Similarly the artist Laura Zuccheri has done loads of acclaimed work in Italy, and it is a constant source of frustration to me how little from that country gets translated into English.

Obviously, with a Humanoids book, much is always expected of the art, and whilst the writing of this work is wonderfully strong, the art is simply spectacular, ligne claire of the highest quality. I can see why Laura Zuccheri has won numerous European awards. Expansive, diverse landscapes, huge fortified cities, elaborately armoured and costumed characters, it’s all just so beautifully illustrated. When you see art of this quality you can’t help but admire the talent that’s produced it, and also be delighted that they’ve decided to work in the field of comics.

This work collects the four original albums into one lovely hardback and would be highly appreciated by anyone who enjoys well crafted high fantasy or just gorgeous artwork.

JR

Buy The Swords Of Glass h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Lost Property (£6-50, Nobrow) by Andy Poyiadgi.

Have you ever wondered where your childhood treasures have ended up?

Maybe you or your parents gave them up to a charity or a car boot sale?

Maybe you let them go reluctantly – oh so reluctantly! Or perhaps during your teens you felt them embarrassing or redundant before regretting their abandonment later in life. Buying back your childhood on ebay is far from unheard of, you know!

Maybe you simply lost stuff. I once left behind a cushion which was the equivalent of a comfort blanket in a caravan on an Isle of Anglesey holiday one early year. A sentence which I immediately regret typing like almost everything I say on Twitter.

Well, imagine that suddenly all those lost lovelies turned up, en masse, in toto, in a Lost Property Department…

From the creator of THE TEA COLLECTION which Page 45 popped together from its constituent parts comes this new Nobrow publication in its 17X23 imprint, so called after the comics’ size in centimetres. They’re all one-off spotlights for new creators to help kick-start their careers and hopefully herald longer works which is a clever and constructive strategy that I pray pays dividends.

This comes with the same “quiet” cartooning and soft, almost old fashioned colours – lots of sage greens and browns – so that when the really rich colours kick in at two key moments they stand out a mile.

Poyiadgi’s very subtle like that, and satisfying. He’s one of those creators who demand you linger longer and it invariably pays dividends.

His use of the beard in THE TEA COLLECTION’s ‘On Reflection’, for example, was so very clever, differentiating the man from his doppelgänger. The beard’s introduction, however, was equally sly and made sense.

Here all the connecting elements including the lost and found items are arranged carefully and ingeniously so that the final revelation in the form of a last lost item – an unopened letter – comes with maximum impact. And when one realises how they’re connected, one cannot help but smile.

Gerald Cribbin is postman, a job whose duty is to safely deliver items to their correct destinations. One morning, however, he accidentally drops a letter knife engraved with his name in a garden. Thankfully the resident repays Gerald’s diligence by handing it into a Lost Property Office down the road. When he goes to collect the knife, Gerald spies a boat in the office’s window which seems oh so familiar.

“I used to have one just like that.”
“It’s one of a set. Quite beautiful, really. Would you like to see?”
“Only if it’s no bother.”

And so it is that down in the basement it gradually dawns on the unassuming Gerald that every single item once belonged to him, from the boats which he would build with his uncle and which Gerald would then paint right down to the hat knitted by his mother who had sewn his school name tag inside. And when Agatha, the office’s assistant, sees the tag which reads “Ged Cribbin” rather than Gerald she realises she knew him at school. She can see he’s bewildered – it’s that same worried look on his face he used to have at school – but since the office is due to close she suggests he comes back the next day. When he does so, he learns that his old belongings had been handed in on various days over the last eight years and that another item had materialised that very morning: his old tool kit.

Now, I’m going to have to leave it there for what happens next must come as a surprise. But I can assure you that everything is connected – the school, his worried look, even the way when he receives the initial phone call that Ged idly arranges his fork, cup,coin and condiments into a lost, flailing man.

SLH

Buy Lost Property and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.

“Did you bring anything to defend yourself with?”
“I’m not helpless, sir. See?”
“Hmph. My pop had an old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.””

Yet you are breaking and entering into a warlock’s domain. What do you suppose the warlock will be fighting with, mate? Probably not bullets.

Have you noticed how Ted Naifeh’s characters in COURTNEY CRUMRIN have only three fingers? Three fingers and a thumb. I hadn’t. Their fingers curl, all elfin-like. It’s incredibly cute.

The saga of Courtney Crumrin herself runs for six volumes with a beginning, middle and somewhat emphatic end. It’s quite the emotional rollercoaster, highly recommended to those who love a little of the other side without the safety net necessarily of happy endings for anyone.

In COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 1, insatiable curious Courtney moves home. Her new classmates are snobbish and superficial bullies, her parents are clueless and indifferent… only the initially austere Great Uncle Aloysius breaks the spell of utter isolation Miss Crumrin feels now that they’ve moved into his creepy old mansion. Gradually, though, young Courtney finds she rather likes creepy, and although she has a knack for biting off more than she can chew she has a few key qualities on her side: resilience, pluck, and a practical approach to problem solving.

This is set decades early and stars her Great Uncle Aloysius as a young gentlemen, infiltrating a secret society dedicated to eradicating those who wield magic. He’s teamed with his employer’s daughter who falls under Aloysius’ spell and therein lies a conflict already.

 

There will be plenty more especially when the society sets its sights on his home town of Hillsborough, specifically Aloysius’ own mansion.

Now, do you think it’s likely to prove that straight forward? What’s the society’s true agenda?

Loved the moment when one of Aloysius’ grand portraits comes startlingly to life. Regular readers will be well rewarded by that!

This series is perfectly suitable for Young Adults as well as Adult Adults and we adore COURTNEY CRUMRIN so much we’ve reviewed every book. They’re luxuriously designed with silver inside and out, coloured with a hauntingly restrained palette and some of the darker entities within are pretty forbidding.

I’m particularly fond of Ted Naifeh’s brows and eyebrows which curl quizzically, tenderly and quite vulnerably in places and I’ve always been a fan of floppy hair so both Alice and Aloysius pleased me enormously here.

Expect transmogrifications and that gun to be useless.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Chrononauts #1 (£2-75, Image) by Mark Millar & Sean Murphy…

“How old did you say this was?”
“The temple? It predates Stongehenge by six thousand years. The oldest place of worship anywhere on the planet.
“But that’s not the interesting part. It’s what the megaliths have been built around that’s causing all the excitement.
“You have to remember this predates metal tools, Doctor Quinn. This was before man even had pottery…
“I told you it was worth the trip.”

As prologues go this one packs quite the punchline delivered by Sean Murphy to eye-stopping effect.

For what were those megaliths were built around, perched atop ornate columns inside that temple… is a fully armed F-14 Tomcat: a fourth-generation, supersonic, twinjet, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft first introduced in 1974. And, funnily enough, one of those did go missing back in the 1970s.

How did it end up in South-East Turkey six thousand years before Stonehenge was built?

That mystery – along with the fleet of sports cars found under Mayan temples and other strange temporal anomalies – convinces Doctor Corbin that he’s on the right track, that time-travel is possible, which is just as well because his prototype satellite equipped with a television camera is about to be bent through a time-stream tunnel to transmit 1863 AD live to a frankly astonished worldwide audience.

It’s quite the success.

Do you think it would have you attention?

 

Good, because Corbin Quinn and Danny Reilly are planning their first manned mission in eighteen months time with their hi-tech – and indeed high-fashion – time suits. No point in travelling through time if you can’t look suave whilst doing it.

That our intrepid duo intend to take man’s bold first steps backwards through time, becoming the world’s first chrononauts in the process, all whilst televised absolutely live to the watching billions, possibly suggests an element of foolhardiness that doesn’t bode well for their smooth passage. Inevitably therefore, like in every good time travel yarn, something immediately goes awry, and with Corbin Quinn seemingly lost in time, there’s only one man up to the task of trying to retrieve him.

So given Danny Reilly seems like an egomaniacal jack-ass of the first order, again whilst raising our amusement value considerably, it doesn’t suggest his rescue mission is going to be remotely straightforward. Indeed, the spectacular climatic double-page spread leaves us absolutely no doubt as to where Danny finds himself. Deep in the proverbial temporal doo-doo, that’s where! The when is the siege of Kabul in Samarkand, 1504. Right slap bang in the absolute middle of it…

I can’t really imagine where, or indeed when, this is going to go next. Obviously there’s an extratemporal extrication that’s of paramount importance first and foremost, but how on earth do the misplaced modern day items factor in? Clearly there’s a high fun factor in what is basically a buddy caper, and whilst I certainly don’t think Millar is intending any hard sci-fi exploration of the nature of time, I think there’ll surely be a few crazy plot twists to come too.

Superb art from Sean THE WAKE / PUNK ROCK JESUS Murphy as Millar continues his own personal Pokemon quest to collect all the best artists in the comic industry for his Millarworld imprint before he expires. Fair play to him in that respect for it’d be very easy to stick with a winning formula, but I think given every yarn he writes is pretty distinct, they actually benefit from having very different artwork styles. That’s my theory anyway.

Note: being a retailer with common sense we still have stock of this issue at the time of typing. Let’s hope we still have some by your time of reading…

JR with SLH

Buy Chrononauts #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wolverine: Origin II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert.

“This is a story of wolves and bears. And animals…”

It really is. You won’t meet a single human being during the first chapter other than Logan himself, now entirely feral following the events in WOLVERINE: ORIGIN.

Instead in a breath of fresh mountain air the initial cast consists of a wolf pack which has adopted Wolverine, its new litter holed up in a den on the snow-swept Canadian Rockies, a prowling lone wolf and a gigantic polar bear which has strayed far from its natural habitat, so finding itself at a predatory disadvantage.

“It seemed to believe that covering its nose would disguise it from prey. It didn’t grasp fishing in the rivers, waiting for prey to emerge and being disappointed when it didn’t…”

Fish, unlike seals, don’t need to come up for air. Yes, it’s a long way from home. A very long way. Don’t you find that curious?

Image-driven, that first chapter was magnificent: sweeping landscapes, ferocious battles and some monumental, full-page flourishes all coloured to delicious perfection by… hold on – that isn’t Isanove?! I can assure you that colour artist Frank Martin is every bit as good.

What follows marks Logan’s first contact with the world he and we will come to know well: one in which man uses and abuses man, cages him and tortures him in the name of personal pleasure, medical research and military power. That polar bear itself was an experiment, the sinister Dr. Essex releasing a new alpha predator into the Canadian Rockies and in doing so snagging an even bigger one – Logan – who in turn attracts yet another: a lupine wildlife hunter called Creed who jealously guards his beautiful but disfigured companion Clara.

Memory plays an important part, Kubert’s silent snap-shots flashing through Logan’s mind like blood-stained daggers; but the more he experiences, the more he will want to forget and, as we all know, ultimately he does so.

One of the most pleasurable elements of the original ORIGIN was Paul Jenkins’ slight of hand, leading you up the (secret) garden path when it came to Logan’s true identity. Wickedly, Gillen has reflected this in his own game of powerplay and presumption, leaving it right until the epilogue to pull the rug from under you, but it all makes perfect sense, I promise.

Hahahahaha!

SLH

Buy Wolverine: Origin II s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware The Kitten Holy (£10-99, Boom) by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis & Brooke A. Allen

Dark Ages (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & I.N.J. Culbard

Demo s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan

A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel s/c (£10-99, Square Fish) by Madeleine L’Engle & Hope Larson

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look At High School (£9-99, Microcosm) by Lisa Wilde

Brody’s Ghost vol 6 (£5-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor vol 1: Revolutions Of Terror s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Elena Casagrande

Empowered Unchained vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Adam Warren & Adam Warren, various

My Little Pony: Friends Forever vol 3 s/c (£13-50, IDW) by various

The Goon vol 14: Occasion Of Revenge (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

DC Comics Zero Year s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Superman: Doomed h/c (£37-99, DC) by Greg Pak, Charles Soule, Scott Lobdell & various

Wonder Woman vol 5: Flesh s/c (£12-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman vol 6: Bones h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang

All New X-Men vol 6: The Ultimate Adventure (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mahmud Asrar

Avengers: Rage Of Ultron h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 4: Original Sin (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Ed McGuinness

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Blade Of The Immortal vol 31: Final Curtain (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 8 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Yamada-kun And The Seven Witches vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Miki Yoshikawa

News!

ITEM! “The world is our oyster!” “Our oyster full of cats!” Dreamy comic by Carson Ellis, sadly abandoned.

ITEM! Swoon at the new CEREBUS print by Gerhard, comics’ greatest landscape artist! (Pictured above.) Look to the right at that link and there are some similarly gorgeous prints available to buy right now! *unfurls wallet* *watches moths fly*

ITEM! Fully, physically interactive create-your-own-adventure comics created by Jason Shiga – mind-boggling! Obviously those are ridiculously limited editions but we can sell this piece of Jason Shiga genius – MEANWHILE – which is also a create-your-own-adventure comic with genius use of interconnecting tubes.

ITEM! Did you enjoy JUPITER’s LEGACY by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely? Now would be a very good time to pre-order its prequel, JUPITER’S CIRCLE. A very good time! Before it swoops in and sells out. We haven’t transferred orders automatically because the art is radically different. Preview of Mark Millar’s JUPITER’S CIRCLE along with an interview. Includes men canoodling in bed! *gasp*

ITEM! Out now is NO MERCY #1 by SMOKE / ASHES Alex De Campi & FINDER’s Carla Speed McNeil. Have a NO MERCY illustrated interview. We have free badges to give away at the counter. Ooooh!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is running an under-17s art competition! Paint Poblin! Draw him! Make him! Cuddle him!

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week four

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

All my reviews are sales pitches for series’ first volumes even if I’m reviewing book three. No spoilers, but a new angle which I hope will intrigue. For  current comics I rate LAZARUS by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark right up there with SAGA, VELVET and THE FADE OUT. LAZARUS VOL 3 below!

The Tea Collection (£12-99) by Andy J. Poyiadgi.

Such colours, such craft and such a surprise!

This demure yet decorous package Page 45 has popped together from Andy Poyiadgi’s two fold-out stories ‘Teapot Therapy’ and ‘On Reflection’ plus all three of his ‘Teabag Theory’ minis. Each of those – I kid you not – will need to be prised from a teabag threaded with string.

You see? You’re smiling already! I’m an absolute sucker for packaging.

You won’t need to tear them, just tease open at the top betwixt the twine then lift the mini-comic message out with two fingers! Or tweezers. Or chopsticks. Sugar tongs would be deliriously apposite but who even owns sugar tongs any longer outside of those serving Cornish Cream Teas? Actually one of my Aunts does. I think they’re silver, just like that spoon I was born with.

‘Teabag Theory #2: The Primordial Brew’ discusses Charles Darwin’s famous proclamation in 1871 that the ideal conditions for the origin of life were those of a “warm little pond” or – as Andy would have it – a slowly stewing pot of tea. You’ve got your receptacle and your geothermal juices then “Infuse with a combination of local minerals and organic compounds” is the tea leaves’ role. I hate to spoil a good punchline but “Allow to cool before evolving into millions of unique, self-sustaining organisms” takes the true bravado biscuit.

The other two I’ll leave you to discover yourselves but before we move on we’ve also added on of Andy’s various postcards to each pack, like ‘The Fine Art Of Facial Acting’. I’d be inclined to kill the director.

And so to ‘Teapot Therapy’, the largest component standing tall at just under A4 and folding out twice into what would make a smashing framed print on your wall. With its subdued farmhouse colours and plenty of pristine white space surrounding diversely clustered panels, it’s far from cluttered and not a million miles for Chris Ware in the classy department.

In it kindly Mrs Peartree, perhaps a little past middle-age, relishes the opportunity to share her love of tea time and all its traditions and trimmings – including her homemade cake, biscuits and more biscuits – with the man who’s come to fix her boiler. Of course that’s not all that’s happening because traditions have to come from somewhere, don’t they, and this is pure Alan Bennett ‘Talking Heads’ material.

‘On Reflection’, however, was cleverest of all. Folding out accordion-style it is a little like Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS (adapted by David Mazzucchelli for comics) in that it’s about the loss of self. A young man moves into an unfurnished apartment and buys an antique, full-length mirror. And a bed, table and two chairs, but that seems about it. His life appears to be very spartan. It is only gradually and subtly that Poyiadgi introduces the oddities.

“One day, I thought I saw my reflection fall asleep.”

Andy could have chosen any discrepancy of movement yet chose the one thing you cannot ordinarily do in front of a mirror.

The next is a faint “?OLLEH” coming from the mirror although Andy has reversed the shape of the lettering as well as its order into a true reflection. Fortunately for the longer pronouncements I can read backwards. (And I can recite the alphabet backwards within 3 seconds, but I digress.) Unlike the protagonist who is so drained that he’s pretty much lost the will to live, his reflection – now afforded the opportunity to make himself heard, does so. Because think on this: you can choose to stare at your reflection in the mirror any time you want; or you can choose to stop doing that any time you like and look at an infinite number of other things in books, in comics, on TV, out of the window, down your street, in the city, in the countryside between our cities, across the seas which separate our countries or up and down those foreign countries instead. Your reflection can’t.

All your reflection has to stare at is your ugly mug.

Very few mirrors face a window because, you know, lighting, so your reflection has probably never even glimpsed the outside world behind you.

So what do you imagine your reflection wants most?

SLH

Buy The Tea Collection and read the Page 45 review here

Pablo (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by Julie Birmant & Clément Oubrerie.

“I need a goddess for 10:30.”

You won’t get a line like that in most prose biographies!

You’ll get hardly any of this delirious dialogue.

Drawn with infectious animation by AYA: LIFE IN YOP CITY’s and LOVE IN YOP CITY’s Clément Oubrerie then coloured in predominantly sombre, sandy hues, unlike the other recent entertainment VINCENT (Van Gogh), this cover is the only visual element imitating Picasso’s own.

It’s also rather misleading in that the period covered here stretches from Picasso’s arrival in Paris from Spain in 1900, through his Blue Period, Rose Period then finally his African-influenced Period which ended in 1909.

The completion of ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907) is a key moment kicking off that African-influenced period but otherwise you’re rarely given a glimpse of what Picasso’s painting, Cubism barely gets a mention bar a staggered Picasso receiving news that Georges Braque had invented it, and the cover’s much later Surrealist style of the late 1930s is obviously nowhere in sight.

Still, that’s marketing for you.

The climax / culmination is in fact Le Banquet Rousseau with Picasso threw with much mirth and excitement in 1908 for the elderly Henri Rousseau whose brilliance he recognised even those Rousseau had been the laughing stock of the Salon des Indépendants for two decades.

Still, that’s the art establishment for you. Picasso wouldn’t exhibit there, even though his friends did.

And that’s what this graphic novel is actually about: Picasso’s life, love and friendships. It boasts quite the stellar cast! Henri Matisse, much lauded as The Master, is the most establishment figure, André Derain pops by long enough to tantalise Pablo with an African mask, but other than that it’s the more boisterous or non-conformist likes of Gertrude Stein (so entertainingly scripted here!), Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob who apparently had the most almighty crush on Picasso and with whom Picasso moved in briefly. The apartment was so small that they even shared a bed, just not at the same time of day.

No, unlike the rest of the cast who seem to have been promiscuous bed-hoppers, Pablo had eyes only for artists’ model Fernande Olivier otherwise known as Madame De la Baume, née Amélie Lang. And it is an elderly, long-forgotten Fernande who is the narrator.

That Fernande ever escaped to Paris from her loveless marriage to a seedy, abusive reprobate who’d even steal away with her shoes to keep her at home is a minor miracle. Meanwhile Picasso’s wealthier, pretty-boy childhood friend Carlos Casagemar whose family funded their move to Paris falls too far in love with a woman with whom he has a tempestuous relationship exacerbated by drink and, after being rejected, attempts to shoot her before putting a bullet in his own brain at a public dinner.

This is a key moment in Picasso’s life and development as an artist because (I know I said he was relatively monogamous) he cheats on his own girlfriend with dead Carlos’ femme fatale and one big bust-up and a bucket of booze later one guilt catalyses an earlier, more deep-seated one also rooted in death. Et voila: the Blue Period which rendered him a commercial leper.

The other main character (!) and focal point of the narrative is the legendary dingy, dank and dirty Bateau-Lavoir mini-mansion in Montmatre where Pablo and Fernande spent most of their lives living during this period along with fifteen other tenants. There are moments of bed-bug-ridden squalor but Clément Oubrerie pulls out all the colourful stops when Picasso finally succeeds in courting a reluctant Fernande and first introduces her to his studio there.

Oubrerie’s occasional half-page interiors and Parisian exteriors are a space-filled marvel.

Same goes for the Catalan landscapes which provide a thrilling contrast to the city they spend most of their time in.

I learned loads and enjoyed myself thoroughly while doing so: I had no idea that they’d briefly (so briefly!) adopted a young girl.

It is, however, not what I was expecting so, to avoid the possibility of disappointment, I would remind you that this doesn’t do what it says on the tin – or in this case the cover. It does, however, leave you desperate for more as Max Jacob – in his role as part-time astrologer and tarot-card reader (an invention?) – warns Fernande of what lies ahead for them all post-1908.

SLH

Buy Pablo and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus vol 3: Conclave s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark with Tyler Boss.

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

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

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

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

It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat.

Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Lazarus vol 3: Conclave and read the Page 45 review here

Giant Days #1 (£2-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Lissa Treiman…

“Do you think, if we hadn’t been given rooms next to each other, that we’d have ended up being friends?”
“Yes!”
“No.”
“Oh.”

That most incongruous trio of university chums Daisy Wooton, Esther De Groot and Susan Ptolemy return in this six-issue series! Just not quite as you remember them from their first three outings (all reviewed: GIANT DAYS, GIANT DAYS 2 and GIANT DAYS 3) simply because John has concentrated on the writing duties this time around and handed the pencils over to the talented Lissa Treiman.

I was, probably like a few people will be, puzzled by this passing of the artistic torch, so promptly went in search of answers. What I found was an excellent interview with John Allison that explains all: basically he wanted to cut down on his workload, and also the revelatory fact that John is 38!!?! Now I do think I’m looking reasonably well preserved for my beginnings-of-hoary old age of 42, but for those of you who have never seen John in the flesh, let me assure you that he does not look his years whatsoever. I met him for the first time late last year and I just assumed he was a whippersnapper in his mid-twenties, such was his fresh-faced demeanour. Granted, if I had thought about it, I would have realised that meant he started his comics career when we was about 5, but still, it does make me wonder if whilst researching the rum and uncanny antics that frequently beset the residents of Tackleford in his excellent BAD MACHINERY series, he hasn’t discovered the secret of eternal youth.

Anyway… I can’t imagine it was an easy decision to let someone else bring his creations to life, but John made a very wise selection in Lissa Triesman, for whilst she does have a decidedly different style to John’s – and that particular thought did arise a few times during the course of this first issue simply because I loved the his first three GIANT DAYS so much – she imbues the characters with just the same sense of madcap joy and energy, and crazy hair. It’s not an exact comparison, but I can see a distinct similarity in style between Lissa and Adrian Alphona, who has been doing such an excellent job pencilling MS. MARVEL. Actually, if John is going to continue his writing-and-not-illustrating career, now that is a title I would love to see him have a go at!

So, for those utterly unfamiliar with GIANT DAYS, who are Daisy Wooton, Esther De Groot and Susan Ptolemy? They are three students thrown together in the glorious chaos of Fresher’s Week who have already…

“…helped Esther fight off the head girls of four snooty private schools. Then we helped Esther get over a painful break-up and crushed the gross lad ruining her good name all over town. Then there was the whole incident where Esther joined Black Metal Society and accidentally got a weird mystical tattoo and…”

Yes, Esther De Groot is prone to the odd bit of drama. As Susan Ptolemy remarks, Esther radiates a ‘drama field’, which seemingly has sufficient gravitational mass to suck in all those around her. Not that Susan and Daisy haven’t got their own intriguing foibles and indeed… secrets, but there is no doubt who is their resident drama queen, despite her protestations to the contrary. In this opener, though, it’s a mysterious moustachioed and smouldering stranger called McGraw from Susan Ptolemy’s closely guarded past which reluctantly forces her centre-stage.

There’s a story there for sure, not that Susan’s sharing yet. And for those long-term GIANT DAYS readers wondering on the whereabouts of Esther De Groot’s doe-eyed devotee and most wishy-washy man on campus, Ed Gemmell, rest assured, he’s here. He’s just had the misfortune to be made roommates with McGraw…

Anyone who read the first three GIANT DAYS should definitely keep reading for this is a fantastic continuation, but I also suspect this six-issue series is going to win John legions of new fans, which is great news for him, because repeat prescriptions for the elixir of youth can’t be cheap.

JR

[Editor's note: GIANT DAYS #1 has gone to second print after just one week on sale. But we have 20 copies left which you may avail yourselves of like so...]

Buy Giant Days #1 and read the Page 45 review here

United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming.

I don’t know about you but few things terrify me more than the mafia or its equivalents: the IRA and even the CIA etc. I don’t want to get sucked into worlds which leave me impotent and exposed yet from which there is no hope of escape. People with power who are way beyond accountability who can use you and abuse you and demand your submission.

From the creative team who brought you POWERS comes something equally dark but completely free from capes. In a power struggle between some very dangerous men it is so, so tense. I highly recommend it to readers of CRIMINAL.

Here the mafia were never subdued in America. Instead a considerable portion of the country was conceded to them to rule semi-surreptitiously and with impunity as long as they left the rest of the politicians alone.

Handsome young Valentine is sworn in as a Made Man long before his few years of service would generally merit it. But his father – and his father’s father before him – was of such stock that he was effectively fast-tracked. And Valentine is equally committed to the family.

His first duty is to deliver a message to a Senator in Washington DC. The message was in the form of a briefcase and that, however cryptic to others, would speak for itself. Valentine asked for his cousin to accompany him and reluctantly that was agreed. He didn’t ask for hitwoman Jagger Rose to accompany him but she was persuasive, effective, so reluctantly he agreed.

The message was seemingly delivered but another was sent in its place: the detonation of a bomb, blowing up said Senator. Nobody knows what it means. Or at least, no one will admit to knowing or to being its messenger.

The hunt for the truth behind the bomb blast is on and it’s a race against time because Valentine and Jagger Rose – although caught in its path – are the most obvious prime suspects. They’re wanted more dead than alive by the government, the families in general and their very own family in particular who claim to their faces that Valentine and Jagger have betrayed them.

Whom do they trust? Whom do you trust? Who has set whom up and why?

Oeming and Soma have delivered something dark, stark, brooding and sweaty: claustrophobic and unsettlingly lit. The colours are far from naturalistic and occasionally venomous – I’m thinking the intrusion of Valentine’s Ma on her son and Jagger Rose – while the first page’s flashback in chapter two was a wee bit Hernandez. Lots and lots of silhouettes. Quite a lot of crimson.

It’s jagged and nasty and grotesque. The faces are like masks when you can see them at all. So often all you get are the eyes, burning with bitterness or hatred. So much of this is instinctively delivered, expressionistic, like lines of reverse silhouettes or tiny side-panels offering background chatter, the rolling of dice and the cocking or firing of guns.

I haven’t told you everything. Valentine has been set up, I can assure you of that. But was it by his own don, another family, Rose herself or another party? Because in the very first chapter immediately after being sworn in to the mafia family and its innermost circle whom Valentine has been raised to love with all his heart, he is called to one side by his mother.

And she tells him a secret.

I’ve never known a series with so many reversals so early on then repeated throughout right to the very last page. I rate POWERS. I rate it very highly. I am big fan of Bendis to a degree that is almost unseemly. Pop him in our search engine and see for yourself!

But this is on another level completely.

SLH

Buy United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Jake Wyatt, Adrian Alphona…

“I see. Well, if you’re not very good at it… helping people that is… perhaps you need a teacher.”
“A teacher? Wait… you’re not going to tell me to be a good girl, focus on my studies, and do istaghfar or something?”
“If I told you that, you’d ignore me. I know how headstrong you are. So instead I will tell you to do what you are doing with as much honour and skill as you can.”
“I can’t believe it. I thought you were going to warn me about Satan and boys.”
“I’ve been giving youth lectures at this mosque for ten years. If I still have to warn you about Satan and boys, I should lose my job. I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect. Do we have a deal?”

Ha, I am pretty sure that the sort of teacher the Imam had in mind wasn’t Wolverine or, indeed, Lockjaw. Yes, the Inhuman dog. But, those are exactly the first two teachers who appear to Karmala in her hour of superheroing need.

Also, despite the Imam’s words of wisdom, there’s no way of avoiding all the hard learning in Superhero 101 that needs to be done on the job, taking it quite literally on the chin. Much like real life, really. Still, having someone who’s the ‘best at what he does’ pro-offering a few tips can’t be too unhelpful, I suppose. And after their little team-up Logan obviously felt Karmala needed a watchful eye on an ongoing basis, so he dropped a hint to Captain America, who in turn then had a quiet word with Medusa, resulting in Karmala getting her very own teleporting watchdog!

Great to see this title sustaining the effortless sense of nonsensical fun that should be everyone’s teenage years which began in MS MARVEL VOL 1.

Meanwhile, battling the bad guys is only marginally less troublesome to Karmala than staying one secret-identity-in-perpetual-peril step ahead of her well meaning family, her strict, traditional dad in particular. He means well, but he’s clearly no idea what it’s like to be a teenage Muslim girl growing up in modern day America, much less a superhero. Karmala is in many ways a Peter Parker for her generation, an outsider looked down upon by the so-called cool kids.

It’s still very early days for this title obviously, but it’s perhaps not understating the quality of the writing to say it feels as wittily relevant to our time as the original puny Peter Parker, high school version, was back in the day. G. Willow Wilson certainly captures the whole “With great power comes inordinate personal danger and perpetual destruction of social standing” schtick perfectly.

JR

Buy Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Kill Giants (£14-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Nimura.

Visually it’s Sam Kieth inked by Tim Sale.

There’s a little Sam Kieth in the script too as a feisty geek of a girl who insists on wearing bunny ears at home, in class and round at her friends’ house equally insists that she kills giants. Nor will she back down in the principal’s office. She thinks her kind, older sister patronises her, she hates her peers’ obsession with Britney Spears…

She’s an outsider, basically, hopelessly deluded and living in a fantasy world of her own.

Or is she?

SLH

Buy I Kill Giants and read the Page 45 review here

Oink: Heaven’s Butcher s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by John Mueller.

“Things are put in holes to be forgotten… The deeper the hole, the darker the truth… Until one day they realise the hole be not deep enough.”

I wish I could have found you that particular hellish hole online. Shot with such an acute perspective that it’s vertigo-inducing, a thick iron chain draws your eye down storey after storey of square, rusted-metal walkways into what seems like a bottomless industrial pit.

Thankfully I did light upon the vast and equally formidable exterior to Public Slaughterhouse 628 which used to be a school, it seems, complete with all the battlement barbed wire I remember so well from my own.

In case you haven’t gathered yet, you’re not here to have fun.

I can only assume that John “meat is murder” Mueller is a vegetarian. Originally published twenty years ago when we were still talking about factory farming, animals’ cramped conditions and the sheer horror of the slaughterhouse, this grotesque anthropomorphic horror story stars two distinct breeds of pig: those that have been bred to eat, so stuffed that their legs can no longer support their weight and so stuck in a truss on a trolley, and the slave race cross-bred with humans to breed those pigs which they’re then served up as dinner.

The consequent mad pig disease comes in the form of insubordination: questioning authority and the temerity of asking for answers. The punishment young Oink is dished out with in retribution is repulsive.

As the story opens he’s no longer young but locked in a cell about to confess his “sins”. The rest is all axe-flashing flashbacks.

Fleshed out with a great many extra story pages, pin-ups and process pieces (I’m not even trying to pun this one out), it is immediately evident how much hard work and painterly skill has been sunk into this. Admittedly you’re going to need to love the Simon Bisley school of painting (thick, muscular and positively oozing testosterone), but it’s as accomplished as any I’ve seen. Obviously the overall message I’d also agree with: can we not treat people like animals, please, and can we not treat animals the way we treat animals, either?

It is, however, somewhat blunt.

Also: I’m the first one to throw stones at organised religion’s mind-control and hate-mongering but I’m not quite sure how it’s a viable target in this instance!

I don’t think anyone really relishing horror will be disappointed, though. Includes mouths and eyes sewn shut.

SLH

Buy Oink: Heaven’s Butcher and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Swords Of Glass h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri

Criminal vol 3: The Dead And The Dying s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Lost Property (£6-50, Nobrow) by Andy Poyiadgi

Low vol 1: The Delirium Of Hope (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Greg Tocchini

BPRD Plague Of Frogs vol 3 s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis

Reflections s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by David Mack

Big Hard Sex Criminals h/c (£29-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Ziggy Chooch

Morning Glories vol 8 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

Wayward vol 1: String Theory (£7-50, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Superman Wonder Woman vol 1: Power Couple s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Tony S. Daniel

Inhuman vol 2: Axis s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Pepe Larraz, Ryan Stegman

Runaways: Complete Collection vol 3 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Brian K. Vaughan, others & Stefano Caselli, Mike Norton, Michael Ryan, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa

She-Hulk vol 2: Disorderly Conduct s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Javier Pulido

Wolverine: Origin II s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert

Neon Genesis Evangelion vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

UQ Holder vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

News!

ITEM! Colour in Comics: LIGHTEN UP by Ronald Wimberly – such a wittily rendered and cleverly constructed comic on colour. As in those of the spectrum and as pertaining to race. You’ll see, you’ll see!

ITEM! Sean Phillips curates ‘Comics Go Pop!’ – A Lakes International Comic Art Festival exhibition in October of music sleeve art created by comicbook artists.

ITEM! Funny! Artist Steve Pugh on getting so carried away with drawing that you forget what you’re drawing

ITEM! “When your lover may be dead, how long can you hold on to what remains? To whatever is left of you? A plane crash, a package, her dog, her voice. A notebook, his writer’s block, and heat-distorted summer memories of a search for Jumbo the Elephant and an absent father.”

That’s the synopsis for Kathryn & Stuart Immomen’s RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING arriving in May. Please click on that link to pre-order. Because this also intrigued me: RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING previewed. Then I saw this beautiful Border Collie and extraordinary quality of light…

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week three

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS by Raymond Briggs, new Dylan Horrocks plus Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky, Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon, Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, Ales Kot & Langdon Foss, Warren Ellis & Colton Worley, Mark Millar & John Romita, Peter Milligan & Jordan Crain.

Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen (£14-99, Knockabout) by Dylan Horrocks…

“One day he hears a word that sticks… “Anhedonia.”
The absence of pleasure, of joy.
He tries to remember the last time he really enjoyed something…
After all, what’s to enjoy?
Comics feel like work.
Novels feel pretentious and contrived.
Movies are all the same.
Food tastes stale.
Music palls.
As for writing and drawing…
That’s where I live now (thinks Sam)…
ANHEDONIA.”

Given that HICKSVILLE was published back in 1998 (can it really be that long ago?) and the main character in this work, Sam Zabel, is credited with having published a comic called Pickle (in which Dylan first serialised HICKSVILLE), I wonder to what degree the aspect of this work pertaining to writer’s block is auto-biographical? Possibly not at all, but I am intrigued nonetheless. I mean, HICKSVILLE in part was a karmic missive on the perils and pitfalls of someone enriching themselves through plagiarism and I’m not aware it’s something Dylan has ever suffered from, or indeed indulged in!

Indulgence. Now there’s a word that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of the fraught emotional mindset of Sam Zabel, either, but in one sense that’s precisely why he’s in the fragile state he is. Having taken the cushy number of the regular corporate paycheck to write and illustrate the adventures of Lady Night for a large publisher, he’s gradually lost his creative spark, even the will to work on his own projects. Indeed he’s reached the stage where he doesn’t even feel he’s honouring the spirit of the original classic Lady Night comics from 1954 drawn by Lou Goldman, which were existential, metaphysical musings by a character with genuine emotional depth, as opposed to the repetitive beatdowns by a buxom babe in a skimpy outfit Sam’s now peddling. It’s a situation which has caused Sam to drift into a spiralling self-defeating loop of guilt and ennui.

Dealing with the topic of writer’s block alone would be sufficient material enough to make an extremely compelling graphic novel, but Horrocks takes it considerably further with the titular conceit of the magic pen, in essence a wish-fulfilment device which enables the holder to draw comics that become realities it is then possible for people to enter, and indeed characters to switch between.

Now comics, being comics, are occasionally written with, perhaps putting it unkindly, a certain audience in mind, thus Sam, having begun an epic odyssey to locate the pen, and solve his particular problem, finds himself experiencing the fantasy realms of other people’s minds. Some of the characters of certain realms, are, shall we say, somewhat predisposed to removing their already skimpy clothes and indulging in carnal acts.

I have to say, bravo to Dylan for tackling such a thorny issue within our beloved medium. I was actually slightly uncomfortable reading it when the story started to go in a certain direction, which is probably exactly the sort of response he wanted to engender in his readers. It makes perfect sense in the context of the story, and it neatly foreshadows a rather dark turn in the plot later on, highlighting a particularly unwholesome sub-genre of manga, which gives the topic a certain sense of gravity, and indeed perspective. But you can’t tackle wish fulfilment in comics without heading into the murky world of sexual gratification, which at the thinnest edge of the wedge rears its head in the typically insalubrious form of the female superhero costume…

Thus bringing us neatly back to Lady Night, for the original was penned by Lou Goldman using the magic pen, allowing Sam to meet the character who ought to be his muse. It’s a pivotal, touching scene, which ultimately allows Sam to reconnect with himself, and in turn what’s most important to him, his family and his art. It also provides a comment on what comics, even superhero comics, can be at their finest. Food for thought, even nourishment for the soul. Not that they need to be, not all of them, obviously. Not even the majority. It’s perfectly fine for them to be merely entertaining too, even purely about wish fulfillment perhaps, provided they fall within what’s morally acceptable.

I’m not making the call about what is and what isn’t morally acceptable, by the way, and ultimately that isn’t what this story is about, but it is extremely clever to weave that discussion into the fabric of your graphic novel in a manner that’s both intelligent and humorous. This is definitely one of those works that stays with you for a little while after you put it down, pondering a few things, having a reflection pop into your head about it unexpectedly.

Art-wise, you can see Dylan has moved on since HICKSVILLE. It is very interesting flicking back through it now, how relatively raw that work looks in comparison. I don’t make that observation pejoratively, but this is certainly the work of a far more accomplished, experienced professional. Yes, you can tell it is the same basic style, but he’s clearly put a few hours in drawing over the years, real or fictional writer’s block or not! He’s certainly learnt a few compositional tricks too, and obviously this work is coloured, very nicely as it happens, which is I think is a pre-requisite for selling the somewhat considerable suspension of disbelief conceit that is required for us to accept that a magic pen is taking a grown man on an adventure through the pages of various comics.

I am delighted to say it was well worth the long wait for this, and I am quite sure SAM ZABEL AND THE MAGIC PEN is a work that would even get included in the legendary Hicksville town library for posterity!

JR

Buy Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen and read the Page 45 review here

When The Wind Blows (£8-99, Penguin) by Raymond Briggs.

“Do you have to dig a hole, like the old Andersons in the war?”
“Oh no, dear. That’s all old-fashioned. With modern scientific methods you just use doors with cushions and books on top.”

Jim and Hilda have just heard the Prime Minister warn of an imminent nuclear attack on the radio. Fortunately Jim’s found some leaflets from the Council on how to make ready. There’ll be perfectly safe, then – it’ll be just like The Blitz.

Did you ever watch The War Game by Peter Watkins? Originally scheduled to be screened on BBC1 in 1965 on the anniversary of Hiroshima, the chilling pseudo-documentary depicted the derisible domestic preparations for – then the horrific repercussions of – a nuclear strike on Britain. It was brutal, and I don’t just mean people at the epicentre being vaporised or the slower necrosis of those further out: I mean socially. It was banned for 20 years. Self-censorship, press pressure or a government which knew it would cause a countrywide mental meltdown?

I saw it in 1985, two decades on from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I still wet myself.

All of which means that this graphic novel, published in 1982, hit the public first.

A scathing diatribe on “govern-mental” advice on how to prepare for a nuclear attack disguised as a tender comedy, this was the first time that the British Mainstream Press had been confronted by a comic they weren’t sure was for kids. Okay, which they were pretty damned sure wasn’t for kids. MAUS wouldn’t be collected and then hit some headlines for many years to come and in any case, you could simply ignore that if you fancied. But the British Press could not ignore this because Raymond Briggs was a household name and I defy you to think of another British comicbook creator to whom that applies. Not even Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman are household names, nor Posy Simmonds. To make things more problematic for them Raymond Briggs was a childhood favourite (FUNGUS THE BOGEYMAN, THE SNOWMAN, GENTLEMAN JIM) and it would be many years before he released something so obviously adult-orientated as the biography of his parents, ETHEL & ERNEST.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the British Press reacted spectacularly well from the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph right now to the Daily Mail. And I’ll bet you being a childhood – and so sacrosanct – favourite made all the difference.

It begins with a relatively large landscape panel with elderly Jim being dropped off on a quiet country lane in the heart of the British Countryside with rolling, green-grass hills and big fluffy cumulus clouds. The sun is out, the sky is blue, nature is in full, colourful bloom. Colours are very important here.

He’s greeted by his wife Hilda in a clean white apron and headscarf tied in a knot.

“You do seem a bit down, dear.”
“Yes, well – been reading the papers in the Public Library all the morning.”
“Oh those things! Full of rubbish. I never look at them. Except The Stars.”

Now, I want to make one thing clear before we go any further: what is not being poked fun at is Jim and Hilda’s class; it is their age and their particular generation, increasingly bewildered by the world shifting so fast around them. You’ll see exactly the same thing throughout Briggs’ ETHEL & ERNEST. As you’ll discover they simply don’t get the scale of an atomic detonation. Nor is it that Hilda’s a woman; because Jim for all his reading hasn’t quite understood what he’s read and what he has understand he’s got the wrong words for. Here he is building his bomb shelter in the living room:

“It says here “The-Inner-Core-or-Refuge-should-be-place-at-an-angle-of-60º-for-maximum-strength.”
“I should place it up against the wall if I were you, dear.”
“Yes, but which are the degrees? We haven’t got any angles… unless it means in the corner… I think we did it at school… with degrees in… only I can’t remember properly… I’ll ring our Ron. He’ll know.”

He rings their son.

“Yes, Ron says I need a protactor. He says I can get one at Willis’s. He was killing himself laughing. I can’t understand it. I think it’s nerves. He’s gone a bit hysteriacal.”

To me it reads like Alan Bennett.

Jim’s optimism – his complete and unfaltering faith no matter what in Doing The Correct Thing as directed by The Powers That Be in order to achieve The Best Results – is as touching as it is painful. And I do love the A.A. Milne use of Capital Letters. Jim goes through lists and lists of emergency items they’re supposed to stock up on but nobody has any and so they make do. They improvise. If any exchange demonstrates the conspicuously wretched inadequacy of the UK government’s official instructions released purely to placate – to fool the populace from comprehending the futility of it all – it’s when Jim starts painting the glass in the windows white:

“It’s for the Radiation, I think. Like you do greenhouses to keep out the sun. It’s the correct thing.”
“It won’t be that hot, surely?”
“Well, I don’t know – they say the one at Hiroshima was equal to one thousands suns. So it is quite hot…”

As Jim busies himself being the motivator and practical man-about-house, Hilda is all about propriety and the paintwork. We don’t want that getting scratched in all the kerfuffle of an atomic bomb!

The panels are dense with dialogue and the pages are dense with panels: seven tiers of them with up to four panels per tier. And yes, there is the sense of them being boxed in and unable to escape what’s coming, but also Jim and Hilda are just little people going about their insignificant little lives in their tiny little panels and doing so ineffectually for every few pages there are, in the starkest of contrasts, giant double-page spreads in bleakest blue and murkiest brown:

“Meanwhile, on a distant plain….”

“Meanwhile, in the distant sky….”

“Meanwhile, in a distant ocean….”

And then, unexpectedly, halfway down a page as Jim and Hilda discuss which shirts would be best to wear (“You’re not going to wear that nice new one I gave you for Christmas! I don’t want that spoiled. You can wear your old clothes for The Bomb and save your best for afterwards.”) the consistently, reliably, small and orderly, densely packed panels cease being so orderly or densely packed.

As I read this again for the first time in thirty years I was as sure as I was confident the first time round that half the humour was going to be how unnecessary Jim’s preparations had been. That he had made his missus go through the rigmarole of it all only for it to be yet another false alarm! A closer shave than most, to be sure, but kind old Uncle Briggs would not make you care for such a loving if dotty couple then actually put them through a nuclear strike, would he?

Remember what I said about colour.

SLH

Buy When The Wind Blows and read the Page 45 review here

The Surface #1 (£2-75, Image) by Ales Kot & Langdon Foss, Jordie Bellaire…

The children turned off their lifelogs.

“…our war against the hackers and digital pirates… the true heirs to the damaged brand of terrorism perpetrated by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS… has reached its final stage..”

People don’t usually do that these days. Turn off the lifelogs, I mean.

“… it is true that most of their leaders are locked up… but new, even more cunning, cold-blooded worshipers of terror stand in their place…”

The popularity of lifelogging exploded fast. Wear a few tiny unobtrusive camera chips and microphones at all time. Log your life.

“… as we know, most of these hacker terrorists are… known spies…”

The ‘share’ buttons became the ‘no-share’ buttons. Privacy as an opt-in. Sharing as default.

“…I refuse to give them but an inch of our civilisation… our land, our data, our capital…”

Embrace interconnectivity. Have a memory you can access any time, a complete account of your life, and more than that.

 

Best bit of cyberpunk I’ve read for a while, this, combining as it does cutting-edge technology and a chaotic society either on the brink of dystopian collapse, or evolving apace in ever more unpredictable ways, depending on how you look at it. And all the while the great and good try and cling on to their power and wealth through whatever nefarious quasi-legal means are at their disposal.

I think we can agree that the premise of lifelogging is almost certainly going to come to pass en masse in some form or other in the not-too-distant future. It’s not that far a remove from how some people seem to use Facebook right now, frankly. In THE SURFACE, the people in charge would have you believe it’s only a boon, after all, how you can you ever be accused of a crime you didn’t commit if your entire life is documented for all to see? Or looking at the flipside, how can you ever get away with doing anything at all they don’t like? Particularly something that might upset the status quo.

Which is where our main characters Gomez, Nasa and Mark come in.

Mark, by the way, is the disowned son of the President of the Three State Union, that chap who was spinning bile about hackers and pirates above on television, whilst Mark provided the counterpoint narrative. Mark has some rather interesting ideas about the nature of reality itself – dangerous ideas, some like his dad might argue – and he’s decided it’s time to test his theory. Believing that the universe is a holographic  projection which we inhabit, he’s posited a VERY BIG question. If that theory is correct, then precisely where is it projected from?

Which is where the title of this comic and the quote on the rear cover of this issue… “A surface separates inside from out and belongs no less to one than the other.”… comes in presumably. That’s from Don Delillo by the way, an American author who has himself been referred to as the ‘chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction’. But as Delillo also said, not quoted here… ‘Writers must oppose systems. It’s important to write against power, corporations, the state, and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments… I think writers, by nature, must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us’. He’s got a point. I think it’s a school of thought Ales subscribes to.

I am intrigued by where this opener is going to go. Much like Ales’ previous works (WILD CHILDREN, CHANGE, ZERO) it’s chock full of current scientific theories and ideas, designed to make you stop and think. Plus there’s a lot going on in this first issue even on top of the incredibly rich plot itself, from the infovercial on the interior cover (love the three seditious lines in tiny yellow type right at the bottom of the page), the mysterious prologue, fake adverts, the odd page of scientific concept presented in essay form, and a three-part interview with the ‘elusive writer’ which may or may not be a real interview with Ales himself.

Whilst this is no way the same sort of story as TRANSMETROPOLITAN, it does have the archetypical idiotic corrupt politicians, which combined with the technological shenanigans did bring it to mind. Also, there is great a little nod to Spider Jerusalem in the background of a panel which made me chuckle. I can well imagine fans of that title might get a kick of this.

Where is it going? I have no idea. None at all. I do like that about Ales’ writing. To whatever or wherever ‘the surface’ is I would hazard a guess. But precisely what Mark and his friends will find when they get there, well, your guess is as good as mine at this stage, it really is.

Nice art from Langdon Foss, which reminds me of Brandon Graham, particularly KING CITY (and I think it is probably the speculative fiction context driving that connection), which combined with the lurid colours employed by Jordie Bellaire (whom Ales has worked with before to great effect on ZERO) serve to create a real sense of a future permeated with data feeds and flows, bursting to capacity, headed somewhere, probably not the right direction, at breakneck speed.

[Editor's note: not actual cover. Another reason variants suck.]

JR

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

Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky…

“So we ran like hell and didn’t look back.
“We stopped having sex and robbing banks.
“We stopped worrying about the Sex Police after a while.”

Hmm… almost certainly a bad idea, that.

SEX CRIMINALS VOL 1 is still available if this is your first time.

Volume two opens up with Suzie and Jon having just got away from Kegelface and the Sex Police. Given they’ve worked out they’re not the only ones who can manipulate time through the power of orgasm, you might think they’d be a little more paranoid about their criminally charitable funding of the local library, ensuring a stay of execution on its foreclosure through the cash they appropriated from financial institutions. Once Jon has a not-so-chance encounter in real time with Kegelface however, which he keeps to himself, his paranoia kicks in with a vengeance, rapidly turning in him into a dribbling mess, necessitating some serious medication which in turn doesn’t do much for his libido. Oh dear.

Suzie on the other hand is just feeling relieved that they’ve seemingly got away with it, and reconnecting with best friend Rachel. She’s clearly concerned for Jon and what he’s going through but perhaps also a touch relieved to get away from the madness their lives had become. Jon meanwhile in his deranged state decides it would be a good idea to indulge in a little breaking and entering of Kegelface’s house. Given Kegelface’s response is to arrange the demolition of the library they’d worked so hard to save, it’s not surprising Suzie is a teensy-weensie bit upset. So, as you do, they decide to enlist the help of a former porn star turned professor who also shares their peculiar ability, to try and take the fight to the enemy. I’m not entirely sure if they could get away with it, but I am half expecting volume three to be subtitled Fuck The Sex Police.

That brief synopsis barely scratches the surface of the contents of this second volume, by the way. Every issue is just non-stop conversations and inner monologues recounting the most bizarre scenarios, frequently sexual, of a hilarious nature from our various characters to drive the plot along. It is just so, so much fun to read. For a title based on such a ridiculous single premise it’s amazing what comedy gold Fraction is managing to craft. For example, the sequence where Ana (the porn professor) is recounting her first time-stopping orgasm just so happens to be on the set of a porn shoot… a WICKED + THE DIVINE-themed porn shoot… Really.

 

Chip Zdarsky, meanwhile, continues to draw, colour and letter this title to climax-inducing perfection. Beautiful panel and page composition, tremendous design work, amazing delicate and detailed lines, brilliant colouring. This title is actually my current monthly favourite both in terms of storytelling and the artwork at the moment. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for Zdarsky to visualise and render such an unusual story. He really does contribute just as much as Fraction to the success of this unique title. Indeed as Matt comments in his heartfelt and touching dedication…

“To Chip’s mom and dad
Thank you for fucking
And making my Chipper
He is my everything.”

JR

Buy Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop and read the Page 45 review here

Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon.

On the surface this looks like a full-colour crowd-pleaser about a pride of lions set in the war-torn wreckage of modern Baghdad. Awwww, they so cute!

And to a certain extent it is – apart from the “cute” because if the blood on the cover didn’t give the game away then the bolted, industrial iron should have. Much of this actually happened. As Brian K. Vaughan (SAGA, EX MACHINA, Y- THE LAST MAN) wrote in his original proposal for Vertigo (reprinted in this new deluxe edition along with later, fleshed-out additions and dozens of original thumbnails by Henrichon including over 30 designs for the cover):

“In April of 2003, a pride of starving lions escaped the Baghdad Zoo during the American bombing of Iraq… only to be shot and killed by U.S. soldiers.
“Surprisingly, this dramatic true story was hardly covered by the American media.
“Then again, few Iraqi casualties were.”

So yes, on one level it is about the pride’s sorry fate.

But beyond that and man’s ill-treatment of animals, this book is about all innocents caught in a conflict not of their making, and – more specifically – this is about the people of Iraq who were catapulted into civil war following the vacuum left when we broke Iraq’s back then failed to fix it fast enough. It’s about the individual factions who may well have cooperated if they had created their own freedom but, having it had it thrust upon them by outside forces, used it instead to settle old scores or fight for control for themselves.

Here Noor, the mother of the lion pride – strong and passionate and burning for freedom – tries to engage with a Cantaloupe long before the sky fills with noise and bombs up above them:

“You, me, the camels, the mountain goats, all of us… we’ve spent too long bickering with each other when we only have one real enemy — the keepers. If we work together, I think we can take them.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Here me out. The keepers know that if they ever set foot in our pit, my group would slaughter them. But the humans are foolish enough to lower their defences around your kind. It would be a simple matter for one of you to gore a keeper, take his keys –”
“And do what with them? Assuming we’d be willing to risk our lives for something so insane, what would we do with the keys?”
“That’s where the monkeys come in.”
“Monkeys? You’ve been sitting in the sun too long, Noor.”
“They’re already on board! They’ve even promised to open both our cages first.”
“And why do I get the feeling that the first thing you’d open would be my jugular?”

The Cantaloupe’s proven wrong about Noor, but she is right about the monkeys who break their promise the second they’re free and steal Noor’s cub.

The parallels are so poignant it’s painful, and if you think this is going to be cloyingly sweet or twee your first rude awakening will be the giraffes’ necks exploding in a bloody spray of pulped flesh and shredded bone.

Maybe it’ll be the second, actually, for the lions each have a different perspective on all this. Old Safa, for example, remembers her life before the zoo when she was raped in the wild, and Vaughan manages not so much a balanced perspective on “before and after Saddam” but instead a catalogue of “before and after and after that” horrors (wait until you discover what lies within the palace), whilst in order to keep your attention firmly on the animals’ perspective, you don’t encounter any living humans until right at the gut-wrenching end.

As to Niko, his creatures are fierce, lithe and muscular with the anthropomorphism kept to a minimum. When they reach the deserted, inhospitable city centre the air fills with a lung-choking, deep orange dust. But around the leafier outskirts across the Tigris a bright sandy light is cast by the far from obvious choice of hazy sea-green sky and it dapples the path, lions and turtle’s backs to the extent that you can almost feel the difference in temperature when padding from full shade into sunlight, however patchy.

Also, he draws the most frightening tanks I’ve seen, erupting over a listing horizon and splintering the tree trunks in their path.

I think this is going to surprise you; it certainly surprised me, and it’ll upset any young children no end so please do be warned. It has all the power and beauty of an early piece of feature-length Disney animation, but none of its sentimentality – just its heartbreak and suffering.

SLH

Buy Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Nemo: River Of Ghosts h/c (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill…

“Mr. Coghlan, do you think you could assist me in seating myself? This pile of slain enemies will suffice.”

Thus completes the Nemo Jr. trilogy, with a high body count of buxom blonde robotic Nazis and the satisfaction of scores finally settled. After the events of volume two set in Berlin, Nemo is chasing Nazis, and the apparently dead Ayesha, to that traditional holiday hidey-hole of Swastika-abusing idiots, South America.

Much like the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY material I have personally found this run a bit up and down. Or more precisely yet again I’ve loved two volumes out of the three and been considerably less fussed about one. This volume I thought was great fun, with Alan once again working in various parodies of classic 20th century literary characters, which has always been a key facet of the appeal of this material.

 

This storyline of this particular volume just felt much stronger than the previous one, but taken as a whole I do concede the two together do form one excellent story. Wonderful art from Kevin O’Neill as always, crammed full of lovely conceits, such as Nemo’s octopus-sucker-styled armour. Overall I have enjoyed this trilogy, but I think if Alan decides to return to the League again, I would prefer him to do another team-based romp: I have missed the relentless verbal jousting and interplay between a wider cast of characters that raised the original two books (now compiled in this OMNIBUS) to its considerable heights.

JR

Buy Nemo: River Of Ghosts h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Southern Cross #1 (£2-25, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger.

Congratulations to artist Andy Belanger: he made me stare into Alex’s eyes on pages one and two for a good 15 minutes, trying to find the precise right words to describe the look of not-love she is giving the officious pen-pusher at customs.

Combined with an arched eyebrow which puts even my ceiling-scraper’s to shame, it’s this: contempt, cool-steel rage, come-on-then-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough and you’ll-never-know.

He’s stopped her before boarding the Southern Cross tanker flight 73 to Titan currently docked at a space ring. That’s space ring’s scale is pretty impressive but you wait for the Herb Trimpe space-tanker in hyperdrive just before the staples!

Oh yeah, Belanger has got to be the most enormous Herb Trimpe fan (and there aren’t that many about these days): look at those faces – the hair and the eyes from afar!

Megacorporation Zemi’s bought a lot of billboard advertising around that space ring. Zemi’s also bought some ships, like the one Alex is about to travel on. If you’re not sure why that’s worrying then let me explain…

Titan is the Saturn’s largest moon, second only to Jupiter’s Ganymede in the entire solar system. It’s the only one to have an atmosphere though it isn’t quite comparable to ours. It does, however, have a whole lot of ice. And oil – that’s what Zemi’s interested in, although drilling for it is dangerous.

Alex’s sister Amber used to work for Zemi but Amber’s now dead which is why Alex is flying to Titan: to collect her sister’s effects. She’d also like some answers because the thing is, however dangerous the job drilling for oil, that’s not how Amber died. Amber worked in admin.

I was as immediately suspicious as Alex of almost everyone I met here. I wouldn’t let my guard down, not even for affable Doctor Lon Wells or over-accommodating Captain Mori Tetsuya. He has a fulsome beard and that Herb Trimpe look in his eyes, but still I don’t know. First mate St Martin I can at least empathise with because she’s bloody busy and doesn’t have time for this.

The interesting one is the cabin mate Alex has been lumbered with. Fractious Alex is not a people person at the best of times but I think Erin McKenna’s 2013 successful revival of the ‘80s asymmetrical haircut is getting on Alex’s wick because she’s gone for the bouffant-flopping-over-headband look and that was always wrong! I don’t think it has anything to do with discovering that Erin’s in ***** of the ******* into *****’* *****.

I have idea what the panel above’s all about!

SLH

Buy Southern Cross #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Blackcross #1 of 6 (£2-99, Dynamite Entertainment) by Warren Ellis & Colton Worley.

“Please. I don’t want to do this.”

It’s very early evening as the clear blue of the sky behind tall, craggy mountains becomes tinged with a pale yellow. A young, unshaven man drives to the silent shore of Lake Nedor. There’s not a soul in sight to see him strip naked, soak himself in gasoline then take a flare from his bag.

“Please,” he repeats.
“Do it.”

Some great textures over the next three pages as the man soundlessly erupts like a human torch before sleepwalking slowly into the water aflame.

 

 

Cut to a crime scene in a forest where the few leaves still clinging to the trees appear to have been transmuted into fragile, ultra-thin slithers of something crystalline, brittle. The body of a man lies in the centre of a scorched-earth circle, his shirt torn open, a representation of the Stars & Stripes carved into the flesh of his chest. He’s not the first.

They called the killer The American Spirit. “Do we always have to give these bastards names?”

A fraudulent medium is drinking alone, at least when her old man will let her. Three nights she’s been at it, this self-styled Lady Satan, knocking back the booze and staring into the mirror. This evening the mirror stares back. First it’s a woman, then something else.

“I am you and you are me. And this is how we escape.”

Supernatural crime-capes, the cover suggests. I really don’t fancy any of the remaining cast’s chances.

Speaking of covers, there were Q of them for this. Q!

That’s 17 if I’ve countered my fingers correctly (some more than once, I’ll have you know). What sort of series needs 17 covers and what sort of publisher prints them?

SLH

Buy Blackcross #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Kick-Ass 3 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

“There’s a prisoner in the east wing goes by the name of Schutz. I understand he’s been dealing heroin to some of the other inmates when I explicitly forbade all forms of drug abuse in my prison.”
“Your prison?”
“Tell him he’s new and that buys him one warning. But if he makes another sale I’m going to slice his junk off. I run a nice, clean joint since taking over the gangs. Drug abuse, like molestation, is now a capital offence.”

That’s Hit-Girl talking from her maximum security prison cell to her state-appointed psychiatrist. She’s, like, fourteen or something.

This is the fourth and final volume of KICK-ASS (don’t forget the KICK-ASS 2 PREQUEL, HIT-GIRL) in which everything by now should be thoroughly predictable. It couldn’t be much less predictable had it been published as a liquid and guest-starred the colourful cast of MY LITTLE PONY.

 

Previously in KICK-ASS (and I’m going to do this without any spoilers, I promise you): a school boy called Dave Lizewski decided it would be cool to emulate his favourite comicbook heroes, dress up in a green gimp suit and fight crime on the streets with two truncheons, no powers and zero hours of training. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to suggest that if you attempted that in real life things would not go well for you.

Then he met Hit-Girl who was even smaller but had been trained by her somewhat driven Dad in almost every combat discipline known to man, the use of every weapon in every imaginable environment etcetera. She would have been turned down by the SAS as overqualified. The contrast between this dispassionate, foul-mouthed, ruthless and relentlessly efficient underage weapon and meticulously polite, compassionate and considerate Dave (even when trying to intimidate gangstas) was part of the comedy, as was the whole tender age / extreme violence marriage.

Still things did not go well. I mean, Hit-Girl is being marched into prison on the opening page in the pouring rain and in serious need of some surgery; and although Dave has access to all her resources the bravado of his fellow crime fighters is as fragile as a freshly boiled egg. Essentially they’re all cosplayers, living out their idols’ stories as close as they can, even if that includes the emotional indulgence of taking photos at a parent’s graveside like a recently heartbroken teen playing their favourite power ballad.

“It’s so much cooler when you’re brooding in a big, black coat. I tried this in my jeans last week, but it all just looked so inappropriately casual.”

Specifically:

“I want to try some shots of me kneeling down with my head bowed like a Batman cover. Does this look good?”
“Dude, you look spectacular.”

Anyway, with Hit-Girl in prison and the police in his pocket, mafia boss Rocco Genovese returns from Sicily to take command not only of his own family but everyone else’s and merge every gang from Maine to Florida.

Nothing about that scenario will play out as you predict, not even the police on the take, and Rocco Genovese’s particular predilection will only dawn on you slowly, at which point his remarks to a young, unfamiliar policeman will prove even more chilling. Millar seems to have found a new angle for almost everything. When was the last time you saw things from the perspective of a supervillain’s mother? Here’s Angela, mother of the last book’s brutal little bastard being stopped in the street by a woman:

“My brother was one of the people your son murdered last year when he and his friends shot up our neighbourhood. Now my sister-in-law doesn’t have a husband and my two little nephews don’t have a father… all because you shat out the Antichrist.”

That’s perfectly played by Romita: Chris’ mum has a very lived-in face from having had to move house over and again after her photo was published in the papers. She looks genuinely appalled for the woman, then broken when spat on. Ideally she’d like to move much further away, but feels she cannot while Chris is in prison. She is, after all, a mother.

And if you think at least that part will prove predictable… wrong!

As to John Romita Jr, while looking for interior art for my BLACK PANTHER review the other day I did wonder what it must be like to have drawn so many spectacularly beautiful pages of comics – ten thousand or more – and know that they wouldn’t have existed without you. Because no one does John Romita Jr: it’s the representation of physical mass and weight rather than the photorealistic depiction of it. Not everyone could have pulled off the tender age / extreme violence marriage like Romita. Others would have audiences baulking and I think the representational short-hand of his style is key: when I caught 30 minutes of the film on TV I winced because, umm, it doesn’t get more photorealistic than photography!

Having Dave’s blonde hair flop out from under his mask was a defining, amateur-hour touch: imagine it without and it’s oh so generic and not at all what this book’s about.

So yes, this is it, it’s emphatically the end but you’ll have to discover why for yourselves. But at least before then Dave is afforded some genuine happiness for once in the form of his first-ever girlfriend, Valerie.

“I take it all the fantasy busts are yours?”
“Yeah, my guilty secret. I started out reading Harry Potter and then graduated onto anything with elves or vampires. You know, all those big, global franchises the internet hates because it makes female writers rich?”

SLH

Buy Kick-Ass 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Matteo Lolli, Jacopo Camagni.

There was quite a funny joke in here but it took three issues to set up, all from the improbable notion that someone requiring a hearing aid wouldn’t put it in when they had plenty of opportunity to do so. I don’t wander round the shop with my glasses off when I’ve no contract lenses in!

In between there were approximately 100 other attempts at humour which failed.

So let’s nail our colours to the mast!

We adore the current series of HAWKEYE (three books so far, one on its way) to the improbable extent that it’s the only superhero series we have ever let in our window. The other week’s ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1 was equally chic and contemporary with some watercolour flashbacks which merged with the present panes at the climax. So that was clever.

And we are enormous fans of the sales of DEADPOOL. We are so grateful and if you’re having a riot we’ll be the last to bring water cannons.

But it’s a title that has seemed to suffer during each of its incarnations from some sort of editor’s edict commanding that Deadpool himself crack a joke or issue a rejoinder in every single panel. What are the chances of them all being funny unless your name is Evan MILK & CHEESE Dorkin? In fact what are the chances of any of the jokes being funny if you’re commanded to be funny at such a rapid rate of knots?

Oh wait, I’ve just realised: this is Jim Carrey’s The Mask done badly.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Venom Vs. Carnage s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Clayton Crain.

Paternal instincts aren’t all they should be when you’re an alien symbiote.

If I’ve got this right then Carnage (white-eyed, crimson monstrosity with very sharp teeth who looks like he’s made up of multiple, prehensile entrails) is the offspring of Venom (white-eyed, blue-black monstrosity with very sharp teeth who used to be bonded to Spider-Man), and Carnage is currently pregnant. He cannot abort or stop its gestation, but is determined to kill his child the second it’s born. First he needs to find it a host then kill the host, so he pops it into a policeman whose wife is pregnant and then tries to off said policeman.

I’m not sure I understand this at all; it wasn’t covered in Biology A Level.

Milligan (HUMAN TARGET, ENIGMA) fills the dialogue with punning reversals (“Carnage, I’ve loathed you like a son.”), Crain fills the pages with the slick-as-you like, computer generation protagonists (humans look wonky, but the creatures look cool), and together they cash-fill our till. Hurrah!

Not what Mr. Milligan was born for, though.

SLH

Buy Venom Vs. Carnage s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Lazarus vol 3: Conclave s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark, Tyler Boss

Criminal Special Edition #1 Magazine Sized (£4-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Tea Collection (£12-99, ) by A. J. Poyiadgi

Ant Colony h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

Baltimore vol 5: The Apostle And The Witch Of Harju h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting, Ben Stenbeck

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 10 -  The Devil’s Wings s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell, Joe Querio, Tyler Crook

Courtney Crumrin vol 7: Tales Of A Warlock h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Deadly Class vol 2: Kids Of The Black Hole s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig

Fables: The Complete Covers h/c (£37-99, Vertigo) by James Jean

Oink: Heaven’s Butcher s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by John Mueller

Pablo (£16-99, SelfMadeHero) by J. Birmant & C. Oubrerie

Prophet vol 4: Joining (£13-50, Image) by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Ron Wimberly & various

United States Of Murder Inc. vol 1: Truth h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol 2 (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

Justice League Of America vol 2: Survivors Of Evil s/c (£12-99, DC) by Matt Kindt & Doug Mahnke, various, Ken Lashley

Deadpool’s Art Of War s/c (£9-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Scott Koblish

Guardians Of The Galaxy vol 4: Original Sin h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Ed McGuinness, Valerio Schiti, David Lopez

Ms. Marvel vol 2: Generation Why s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Jake Wyatt, Adrian Alphona

Attack On Titan vol 15 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

News!

ITEM! Preview of Mark Millar & Sean Murphy’s CHRONONAUTS #1 on Page 45’s shelves! Also on our website: CHRONONAUTS #1. There’s an optical illusion embedded in the CHRONONAUTS cover – Sean Murphy explains.

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival announces new Canadian Guests for October 2015! Includes Kate Beaton (HARK! A VAGRANT), Seth (PALOOKAVILLE, WIMBELDON GREEN, GEORGE SPROTT, THE GREAT NORTHERN BROTHERHOOD OF CANADIAN CARTOONISTS – that’s emphatically fiction!) and Stuart Immonen (SECRET IDENTITY, ALL-NEW X-MEN, NEXTWAVE etc) and more! Also, some Brits there are off to TCAF and I am not remotely jealous. *cries*

ITEM! The ART SCHOOLED graphic novel has gone down so well here! OFFLIFE interviews ART SCHOOLED’s Jamie Coe about that and future plans.

ITEM! New Page 45 interview about the British Comics Industry conducted by Sophie studying at Lincoln University. She’d certainly done her research and makes me sound far more eloquent than I am!

ITEM! Colourful Kickstarter for BEAST WAGON by Owen Michael Johnson & John Pearson. Black comicbook comedy set it a zoo. Love the performance of it all! Owen Michael Johnson wrote RAYGUN ROADS which was a sort of Grant Morrison, Brendan McCarthy TANK GIRL car crash.

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week two

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Comics! Graphic Novels! Chester Brown interviews, James Jean postcards! What other buzzwords shall I play with? Oooooh, Young Adult Literature and we have two first issues! SCOTT MCCLOUD SIGNING PHOTOS underneath!

The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow.

There is something so moving about seeing a comicbook legend long-lost and lamented return at the very top of their game. That’s what happened in the original SHAOLIN COWBOY book which no one seems overly keen on distributing now.

Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow was the artist on Frank Miller’s HARD BOILED, a series so ancient, pre-Page 45, that it was never reviewed. His clean line and detail rivals even that of the great George Pérez, but with far, far, far more gore and a much wider sense of space. I used one of the panels from HARD BOILED in the Page 45 15th Anniversary Booze Bash quiz, so high is my admiration for the man and so long has his art endured in my memory.

So what is this?

This is the comicbook equivalent of one those enormously enjoyable and equally improbable kung-fu flicks starring the likes of Jackie Chan, and that ingenious acrobat is referenced here. I, however, would contend that any cinematic version of this virtually silent, stop-and-gawp slice-and-dice-athon is more likely to star the dour Beat Takeshi. It’s that left-field.

Forget the insane, two-page prose introduction (funny, though), and ignore the fact that a frog – being an amphibian and therefore inherently quite partial to water – is highly unlikely to be sitting on a menhir in the middle of an oh-so-arid desert! Relish instead the resurrection of the Shaolin Cowboy who has clawed his way back through the earth from Hell, bringing with him hundreds if not thousands of persistently single-minded zombies.

Good job he has a bamboo pole handily enhanced with a chainsaw at each end! Shame there’s a car full of carelessly bigoted wastrels heading in his direction. Or is it? *smirks*

What follows is some of the finest choreography ever in comics, and a concrete lesson warning you against using the word “gay” as a lazy pejorative. Seriously: don’t do it. The Shaolin Cowboy will show you why.

Can I just interrupt myself for a moment to mention Dave Stewart? Dave Stewart is the colour artist. When something’s this detailed it takes a lot of keen thought and just-so judgement to create clearly defined clean space from clutter. Keeping the sky lambent is a great start both during shots looking up as our hero descends and also throughout the whole of Act 2 which is a) landscape b) viewed from just above knee-height, meaning there is sky to be seen between limbs for a colourist clever enough to pick it out properly. Foreground depths (plural) are equally important, answering the sky’s blue hues with appropriate and increasingly dark shades of brown which is a tradition going back to Claude Lorrain if not further.

It’s a book in four acts with a certain degree of symmetry. Acts two and three are quite specific in their corpse-culling procedures but equally, hilariously relentless. The only equivalent I can think of is sonic: Wiseblood’s ‘Motorslug’ extended remix. But those last six minutes repeat precisely the same bludgeoning refrain whereas here Geof nimbly and fluidly fashions variation after variation of meat-cleaving mutilation in what I can only describe as the ultimate chainsaw massacre before the juice runs dry and our Cowboy quick-foots it across his quarry instead, deftly dispatching the beetle-bearing shamblers on the stepping-stone hoof. You’ll see what I mean.

The fourth and final act is a rip-roaring, wear-tearing, jaw-flooring finale before “Praise be to Buddha” and BLAM! You won’t see that coming.

But Darrow throughout is having a laugh and the last laugh follows “The End”. You just know to whom it will belong.

SLH

Buy The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Julius Zebra – Rumble With The Romans h/c (£8-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield.

Oh my good god, Captain Stoopid had expelled himself!

La la-la la-la….

Oh wait — excelled himself!

*considers carefully* Eh, the jury’s still out.

Emperor Hadrian is very much in. He’s in his amphitheatre and judging the mood of the Roman Colosseum’s blood-craving crowd.

“Zebra! Zebra! Zebra! Zebra!”

Uh oh. I don’t think they’re vegetarians.

How did it even come to this?!?!

Julius Zebra (do not call him Debra!) had been striding the African plains with his mother and brother Brutus, head held high but nose held by hoof because, boy, those waterholes stank! I cannot think why.

So Julius defied his mother and all common sense and struck out on his own, only to fall into the trap of a Roman expeditionary force along with a long-winded warthog named Cornelius with an encyclopaedic knowledge (which was more than mildly irritating) and a lion called Miles WHICH WAS FRANKLY TERRIFYING!

A sea-change in fortune and geographical location later and our brain-dead bewildered beast finds himself in Rome, on death-row and about to go into four-legged combat against gladiators with a grudge because he’d called them “juggling monkeys”! It’s time for our zebra to seriously earn his stripes!

More bog-eyed bananas from the comicbook creator of GARY’S GARDEN, TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS and contributor to that bonkers TINY PENCIL package, this is isn’t strictly comics nor is it illustrated prose; instead it’s a skilfully integrated hybrid with comic panels bursting bombastically out of the prose and furthering its narrative before sinking seamlessly back in. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it!

Think of Gary Northfield as a delinquent Posy Simmonds and JULIUS ZEBRA as TAMARA DREWE with every dog in town let out.

There’s at least one illustration or elaboration per page, some breath-taking double-page landscapes (on the preceding page the port of Leptis Magna is heralded by a bleary-eyed Julius as “the most amazing sight he’s ever seen…” before Gary lets rip with one of the most amazing sights you will ever have seen!) and for educational purposes Professor Northfield also offers up some perfectly objective lessons in comparative anatomy. Clearly a zebra is not just a stripy horse!

I love the way the zebras’ stripes throughout are scribbled and scratched across their flanks in a flurry and frenzy: Gary could have made these distinctive markings as bold as Mother Nature intended but Mother Nature can’t half take her time getting things done (humans, for example, took millions of years) AND WE ARE IN A HURRY HERE!!!

It’s over CCLXXV pages long but with lots of short chapters for the attention-span challenged like me, plus there’s a logic-lesson in Roman Numerals (neat!) and a handy four-page glossary which is every bit as entertaining as the main event.

“Jupiter: One of the favourite Roman gods; the god of thunderbolts. You would usually call out to him when you stubbed your toe or sat on a pin or something.”

“Palus: A big wooden pole stuck into the ground and used for sword training in the Roman army. The poles were supposed to represent your enemy, which would have been even more useful if the enemy were trees.”

“Poena Cullei: A bizarre punishment where the condemned were sewn up in a leather bag with a snake, a dog, a cockerel and a monkey, then chucked into a river to drown. No doubt Jupiter got a few name calls along the way too.”

Is it just me or is the river sort of superfluous there?

“Show Me The Monkeys!”

Oh, do!

SLH

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

Descender #1 (£2-25, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

Such beautiful, bright light and vast sense of space that I’m immediately reminded of Jon J. Muth’s MOONSHADOW.

The opening shot looking out and over one of the nine Embassy Cities of the planet Niyrata – the technological and cultural hub of the nine Core Planets – and its fume-free traffic criss-crossing on multiple tiers is an almost electrical thrill, while the “cars” themselves are the sleekest and juiciest that Matchbox never made.

And then there’s Dr. Quon’s grand, clean and-oh-so chic bedroom with glass floors, glass doors, glass open-air balcony and big glass tanks full of bright little flecks that are fish! Love the cherry blossom floating in from outside.

I’m imagine Dr. Quon is held in very high esteem. After all, he practically invented modern robotics in The United Galactic Council.

It all seems pretty idyllic and I can quite clearly see how culture could thrive even if not everyone is relaxed.  There’s one director or delegate striding through a crowd bellowing about her right to exploit resources in spite of the Gnishians’ complaints. Her baby’s begun crying in spite of its android-nanny’s best efforts but big business comes first, does it not?

And then it appears in the heavens above them… and everything changes forever.

It appears to be a celestial machine, humanoid in shape and roughly the same size as Niyrata itself. There is one above each of the eight other planets and when their blank eyes flare red it looks as though they are about to communicate…

10 years later and young Tim-21 wakes up on the mining, moon colony of Dirishu-6. No more than 10, maybe 12, he’s puzzled to find himself alone, although “current population: 1” suggests that he is. Bodies litter the sealed lunar walkway and the gangways below that. He can’t find Andy and he can’t find his Mum but he does find the Communications Hub and manages to access its database. Looks like rather a lot’s happened in the last ten long years…

 

There’s a lovely moment when Tim finds his robot “dog” whose bark has gone wonky and backwards.

“You must have been so lonely. It’s okay… I’m here now.”

So what’s the connection between Tim, the monumental Harvesters as they came to be called, that which their “communications” caused across each planet they spoke to… and Dr. Quon no longer looking quite so young or half so handsome, but unshaven, paunchy and consigned to a bunk bed… on a Niyrata looking a lot less cultural or technologically hub-like?

I’d be a rotten reviewer if I told you, though I have left clues.

In the back there’s a brief breakdown of each of the nine planets so you can perhaps hazard a guess as to the identity of Tim-21’s guests, what each species has been up to over the last game-changing decade and what they may be planning now. Jeff’s left you plenty to puzzle on, and if his name rings a bell then SWEET TOOTH, ESSEX COUNTY and TRILLIUM etc.

I’m in!

SLH

Buy Descender #1 and read the Page 45 review here

All New Hawkeye #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire and Ramon Pérez…

“We’re really sorry, sir. It was my idea.”
“I don’t care whose damn it was! I want the damn grass cut!”
“Then why don’t you cut it yourself you lazy #$%#…”

<WHAP>

“That the best you can do, old man?”
“You mouthy little #%$!”

<WHAP>

“Get your bike!”
“Wha…?!”
“We gotta go now, Clint!”
“Where we gonna go, Barn?”
“I don’t know. Just keep biking.”

Well now, this was an unexpected delight. I mean, I probably shouldn’t have been remotely surprised given how highly I rate Jeff Lemire, but let me tell you, if you were perhaps also worried this title was going to take a dip following the departure of Messrs. Fraction and Aja (and let us also not forget Pulido and Wu on VOL 3 art duties) I can most emphatically assure you that will not be the case based on the evidence of this first issue.

On the other hand I do think that Marvel’s current penchant for renumbering back to #1 at even the  change of a creator’s underpants, is possibly going to have precisely the opposite effect that it is supposed to have in this particular instance, as people may see it as an ideal opportunity to exit a title at a presumed peak, rather than transitioning seamlessly onto a new creative team. Indeed, those people may well turn out to be completely wrong about that – this title hitting its peak with the Fraction / Aja run, that is – but I do realise that is a very bold statement to make at this point.

Okay, so what’s different and what’s the same? Well, we still have some elements of the dual narrative structure, but not just through the eyes of current-day Clint and Kate, wise-cracking and one-upping back and forth whilst bulls-eyeing bad guys, but also a young Clint as the issue switches between a typical high-octane all-not-exactly-going-to-plan Hawkeye-Hawkeye team-up taking down a Hydra cell, and what is possibly the beginnings of a retelling of Clint’s origin story. Also, I may just have broken my own record for most hyphens in a sentence there.

The two time periods are rendered with dramatically different art styles, but by the same artist, Ramon Perez. In fact for the modern Hawkeye Sr.&  Jr. double-act he’s gone for a style not entirely dissimilar to David Aja’s, so much so in fact that I had to check it wasn’t him! I can only presume this is to (subliminally) part-reassure readers that whilst much will be different about this title going forward, the panel-by-panel fun and frolics element is going to remain largely unchanged, visually at least. I think this is an entirely wise decision on Lemire’s and Perez’s parts, given Lemire’s own comments in his afterword about the humongous size of the scarlet booties they are filling.

What is radically different, though, are the dreamy sequences featuring a young Clint and brother Barney finding themselves unwelcome at yet another foster home, largely due to their own inability to conform, behave and obey like good little boys, it must be said. Well, perhaps also Barney smashing their new foster father over the head with a baseball bat this time… These are produced in a water colour style, with a palette entirely composed of myriad hues of purple, minus any panels or gutters whatsoever, giving the effect of recalling long forgotten memories of a misspent youth.

I suspect it’s this era’s portrayal which is going to provide the real heart and emotional depth of Lemire’s run, given how much poignancy he manages to encapsulate in barely more than half an issue here. But I also doubt – especially as how the two time period’s stories and art styles begin to intercut and interact and eventually collide towards the end of this issue, before culminating in two emotionally polar opposite but equally dramatic finales which share the final page – that events in the modern era are going to be mere spurious fun, either. No, I don’t think they are going to be light and frothy throwaway frippery at all…

An intriguing, beautiful opening which only serves to prove that Lemire is a brilliant writer and this title may finally give him the right outlet on which to showcase his undoubted storytelling skills in the superhero genre, and that Ramon Perez is an excellent choice of artistic foil to assist him in this endeavour. I suggest therefore that you either remain on board, or indeed, jump on. A change of underwear with a big glossy purple #1 on, though, is entirely compulsory…

JR

Buy All New Hawkeye #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Menu – 100 Postcards Box Set (£16-99, Scholastic) by James Jean.

So tasty I tried licking one.

Sadly the experience was like chowing down on a cherry-flavoured Chapstick: disappointment followed by revulsion.

Try doing what God intended with these postal poppets (scribbling sweet sentiments on their backs then sending them with a stamp – that’s where the licking really ought to come in), and you’re in for a much more rewarding experience, as are your friends.

And let’s face it: 17 pence per postcard is probably the cheapest you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Of the James Jean REBUS art book I wrote:

“Strange fruit hatching, butterfly-brilliant petals, mythological beasts, quizzical encounters, children at play with hammers and scissors and staves (there’s some pretty macabre shit going down), and one boy chewing a wax crayon as his head buzzes open in a frenzy of sexual imagery scribbled in that very same medium. The whole book is bursting with desire. Huge Chinese influences too.”

 

And that seemed to sell a few dozen copies so I thought it was worth trying it again.

James Jean rarely draws comics but he did have a sequence in FABLES: I001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL which I found surprisingly tolerable.

SLH

Buy Menu – 100 Postcards Box Set and read the Page 45 review here

Chester Brown: Conversations (£22-50, University Press Of Mississippi) by Dominick Grace, Eric Hoffman.

Given that Canadian comicbook creator Chester Brown was heavily into porn in his younger days (see THE PLAYBOY) and has more recently explored his relationships with prostitutes in print (see PAYING FOR IT), you can expect sex to be quite high on the conversational agenda.

Fortunately Chester is very good as discussing sex and sexual relationships along with the Christian Church and wider society’s counter-productive shame-game in a mature, even-handed and exceptionally well considered manner, at times doing his interviewer’s job for them when they kind of miss the point.

Here he talks about a panel from THE PLAYBOY in which he confessed that, with one particular girlfriend, he had to imagine having sex with a Playboy Playmate in order to keep it up:

“That panel was flawed because I didn’t give the reader enough information to understand what was going on in it. I had made the mistake of going out with a girl that I wasn’t sexually attracted to. I was attracted to her for other reasons – she was very intelligent and enormously talented. She was – probably still is – an artist. She was good-looking but “not my type”. But I thought I should be above base physicality and that I should be willing to disregard the fact that she wasn’t my sexual type.”

Bravo! Doesn’t that sound noble? It really does! One slight snafu:

“In hindsight I can see that if you’re getting sexually involved with someone, it might be a good idea to be attracted sexually to them.”

The arguments and counter-arguments which he then proffers without prompting to different attitudes towards different sorts of relationships, sex and sexual relationships are as thoughtful, detailed and eloquently expressed as any I’ve read.

I promise Chester does talk about comics as well. This is the creator of THE PLAYBOY, THE LITTLE MAN, ED THE HAPPY CLOWN, LOUIS RIEL, PAYING FOR IT and I NEVER LIKED YOU, and these interviews took place at different points in his career, some long before he had a graphic novel on any shelves and had only just found a publisher for his periodical YUMMY FUR after years of printing and distributing his own mini-comics via local shops and mail order in multiple print runs.

Those practicalities are all covered along with the lead-up to their production including a childhood love of superhero comics (which so many share – what he has to do with his childhood comics will make you weep) and (improbable, I know, if you know Chester) a fervent and dedicated desire to get his foot into that specific part of the industry’s door to the extent of taking his portfolio right to Marvel’s and DC’s doors and getting first-hand, in-person critiques from both Vince Colletta and Jim Shooter… just like Scott McCloud did this Sunday for a young lady who came to our signing.

SLH

Buy Chester Brown: Conversations and read the Page 45 review here

Tales Of Telguuth: A Tribute To Steve Moore (£18-99, Rebellion) by Steve Moore & Simon Davis, Clint Langley, various.

Steve Moore you may have heard of from Alan Moore’s UNEARTHING s/c or indeed the whopping great UNEARTHING h/c, both of which blend prose and photography into a passionate, eloquent but above all witty evocation of Alan’s mentor Steve Moore and the suburb of Shooter Hill where he has lived, in the very same house, for all but three months of his life.

And it is Alan who provides the extensive introduction to this 2000AD collection of full-colour short stories, some painstakingly painted in vein-popping, muscular Bisleyvision. Each is set on or even in the planet of Telguuth, “a planet of perverse wonders, lost amid the whirling suns of the galactic hub”.

Steve had nailed that descriptive distillation pretty much from the word go and used it as an introduction almost verbatim throughout the tales’ intermittent appearances.

Here we are sword-sheathed and sandled firmly within the realms of fantastical horror; each salutary salvo warning its readers about the importance of rules, the danger of deceit and the direction you’ll be heading in if you insist – against all advice and your very best instincts – on laying some good intentions upon the road you travel. Be careful what you wish for and knowledge is a dangerous thing etc. Cruelty seems Telguuth’s default setting and its demons are manifold.

There’s a real love of language on display, not restricted to the elaborate, gutturally named gods, seers and cities which are visited, although you will find the collection infused with at 3,000% more ‘k’s, ‘g’s and ‘z’s than most contemporary fictions.

The swapping of a tiny preposition can shift a sentence significantly.

“Come closer, boy. Closer… So I can get my hands in you.”

SLH

Buy Tales Of Telguuth: A Tribute To Steve Moore and read the Page 45 review here

Y – The Last Man Book 2 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Paul Chadwick, Goran Parlov.

From the writer or SAGA, EX MACHINA and PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, this is another Vertigo title receiving the chunky treatment, reprinting the slimmer volumes 3 and 4 exactly.

In Y – THE LAST MAN BOOK 1 all the men on the planet dropped dead apart from escape artist Yorick. It happened in an instant and because we remain such a patriarchal society the effects were devastating. The long-term forecast is far from friendly, either, for what transpires suggests that a world populated and run exclusively by women might be just as fucked up as the one we currently live in.

We don’t know what happened to wipe mankind off the metaphorical map, but the doctor Yorick’s travelling with believes she may have been responsible through a scientific act against God and/or nature.

Of course, not all men were on the planet when it happened: two were in orbit. Now they’re coming down in a rickety Soyuz capsule. If they survive that experience – and it’s by no means guaranteed that they will – then they’re going to find themselves in the middle of a ruthless international power struggle for what is now the most valuable commodity on earth: male human beings.

Relatively plain art makes this a strangely accessible read to the Real Mainstream. And whilst the dialogue takes a few books to hit the quality we’ve all come to love in his EX MACHINA, Vaughan does manage to keep everyone on their toes, successfully sneaking in surprise twists and turns, most of them decidedly unpleasant.

For example, when Agent 335 leaves Yorrick in the protective custody of a fellow member of the Culper Ring, instead of protecting him, she strips him naked, straps him to a bed and pumps him full of chemicals. Whose side is she really on? What is she up to? And what secret complexes does Yorick harbour?

SLH

Buy Y – The Last Man Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Pride Of Baghdad: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

I Kill Giants (£14-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & JM Ken Nimura

Lenore vol 6: Pink Bellies h/c Color Edition (£12-99, Titan) by Roman Dirge

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

Batman Beyond 2.0 vol 2: Justice Lords Beyond s/c (£12-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins, Christos N. Gage & Thony Silas, Dexter Soy

Justice League vol 5: Forever Heroes s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, various

Avengers & X-Men: Axis (UK Edition) s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson, Jim Cheung

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 2 (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Deodato, Kev Walker, Szymon Kudranski

Deadpool vol 7: Axis s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan & Mike Hawthorne, Mirko Colak

Kick-Ass 3 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Venom Vs. Carnage s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by Peter Milligan & Clayton Crain

Bleach vol 63 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

News!

ITEM! Here’s a cool Kickstarter with some gorgeous images which I was introduced to via Andi Watson: “Eekeemoo – Black Sun Rising” by Will & Liz Morris-Julien. Scroll down!

ITEM! Have a YouTube trailer for Gary Northfield’s JULIUS ZEBRA, reviewed above!

ITEM! 17 Sex Scenes In (very) Graphic Novels!

ITEM! Kickstarter for second comicbook creator photo album. Also, excerpts from the first. See which comicbook creator has the hairiest chest in the world!

ITEM! “I was designed to save the world. People would look to the sky and see hope. I’ll take that from them first.” Avengers: Age Of Ultron film trailer. Slick!

ITEM! Preview of Alex De Campi & Carla Speed McNeil’s NO MERCY #1

ITEM! Paul Gravett on the death – and life and work – of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Pop him in our search engine: we not only have but have also reviewed almost everything published in English.

ITEM! While Scott McCloud was over signing copies of THE SCULPTOR (we have signed copies for sale, yes!), he mentioned Banksy’s intro to The Simpsons which I’d never seen. Bloody hell, it’s dark. Wait until after the couch…!

Scott McCloud signing at Page 45!

Would you like to see some photographs? These are by that demon D’Israeli:

 

 

 

 

“Quick! Everyone grab a book from SelfMadeHero!”

Left to right: the legendary Nabiel Kanan (responsible for all our website illustrations), till monkey me, D’Israeli, Ivy, Scott, J-Lo and Sam from SelfMadeHero. Isn’t Sam a hottie?! He really is!

I even remembered to take some photos myself. Impromptu half-hour Q&A (crowd to right, facing Scott, honest!):

 

Richard Chaney asks Scott to sign page 45 of UNDERSTANDING COMICS whence we derived our name.

BEYOND meta!

I challenge comicbook creators Luke Pearson and Nabiel Kanan to a Shy-Off!

Scott, Ivy and Sam at the station. I like the light.

It was very cold. Sam was very hot. I was very sad.

Thanks to everyone who came to our Scott McCloud signing.

Especially Scott McCloud.

That was a relief, I can tell you.

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2015 week one

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Wildlife painted by Federico Bertolucci; brand-new CRIMINAL plus THE FADE OUT by Brubaker & Phillips; lost SERAPHIM manga from anime’s Satoshi Kon; Meredith McClaren’s doe-eyed, dreamy HINGES and far, far more. Remember, there’s news underneath!

Love vol 1: The Tiger h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci.

Beautiful, beautiful, album-sized book following a day in the life of a tiger.

And you know how David Attenborough can get all rip, tear, gouge, growl and predatorial on your Sunday evening ass…? (I don’t mean David personally, I mean his wildlife documentaries and the blood-thirsty cycle of life they portray.) This will too because a tiger does not spend its day perched on your window sill, idly gazing at your neighbours heaving heavy furniture into the removal van, furiously following a leaf buffeted by the breeze or hissing at next door’s cat.

No.

A tiger wakes, stretches and yawns (which is perfectly good manners if alone in the jungle and not listening to yet another of your lame holiday anecdotes), then immediately sets off in search of a snack. And, once again, that doesn’t mean pit-pattering down your carpeted stairs to the kitchen-floor cat bowl which you have filled to the brim with prime kitty nom-noms.

No, it does not.

It means tearing the throat out of whatever poor poppet is closest, assuming it can catch it first.

It then means defending that kill from other top predators and I’m just trying to warn you that this will pull at your heart strings just as the carnivores within will be pulling at tendons, muscles, fat, cartilage and sinew. Tigers aren’t invulnerable, either.

I have but one problem with this silent scenario in that there is – just occasionally and in this specific context – a wee bit too much anthropomorphism for my taste. As in, any at all: in this context there should be none. GON is burlesque so that’s perfectly fine. Here it shatters the illusion and kills the mood but the effects are mercifully brief.

 

Instead the rain, it will pour down. Lightning will strike, flamingos will fly and an owl will stir. There will be snail sex as well. Mmmm!

I don’t even need animals; the landscapes alone are to die for.

 

This is as lithe as lithe can be then – OMG! – sketch pages, folks! Just one look at the jaws and the haunches will show you that Bertolucci knows how these beasts are put together.

It is ridiculous that there aren’t more graphic novels which offer themselves up to the nature-loving rather than obsessing about the human condition (which is worth exploring) or hitting each other in the face with guns (not).

I will leave you with a reminder that THE RIVER exists.

SLH

Buy Love vol 1: The Tiger h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal Special Edition (£3-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“I wasn’t done reading that yet, you fat fuck…”

If you don’t want to sneeze tea all over your keyboard then either remove the keyboard to a safe distance before reading that page or try going dry for ten minutes.

A perfectly representative, accessible and self-contained introduction to the twilight world of CRIMINAL in which we finally get to meet Teeg Lawless, the often referred-to father of Tracy.

He’s not the smartest con in the can having landed himself there – en route to collect what would have been some considerable cold cash from an armoured-car stick-up – over failure to appear in traffic court. He stopped off for a beer then beat up a biker who didn’t press charges but, yeah, Teeg got sent down instead for a failure to appear in traffic court.

So he’s stuck on the inside instead of keeping his commitment to Sebastian Hyde – whom you do not want to piss off – to take down a councilman blocking a construction contract Hyde’s set his heart on. And Teeg’s trying to keep his head down, he surely is, by reading the latest instalment of ZANGAR, THE SAVAGE but he doesn’t half get interrupted every five fucking seconds.

“You Lawless?”

Which is a funny thing to ask a criminal.

Seems there’s a price on Teeg’s head and Hyde swears it ain’t him but he won’t offer protection, neither. Almost immediately they’re coming at Lawless from all directions – in the canteen, the laundry room and showers – and  Teeg is trapped in there with them. It’s relentless. So what, as they say, is actually up?

 

I wish every comicbook artist would make reading as easy, as fluid, as accessible and addictive as Sean: monologue or dialogue across the top. Also, there’s an immediate time and place: I love Teeg’s hair.

For long-term readers there’s the not inconsiderable satisfaction of seeing Tracy from Teeg’s point of view, especially after Tracy’s reminiscence about the car pedals in CRIMINAL VOL 2 and it’s at this point I should point out to readers of the collected editions that this is almost certainly the only format you’ll be able to read this in for some time to come given that FATALE‘s Brubaker and Phillips are currently working on the long-form FADE OUT. We’re talking years!

As ever Brubaker has something to say about human behaviour – not rash generalisations but specific tendencies or patterns within individuals. With Teeg it’s that this sort of structure in the slammer or army actually serves him quite well. Too much freedom gives him too many choices and too many opportunities to choose wrong. He really is Mr Bad Decision.

As to ZANGAR, THE SAVAGE, Phillips provides a dozen or so pages emulating the magazine-sized black and white barbarian adventures printed on paper so low-grade that they’d yellow and brown before you got them back home, and I can only imagine how much easier it has been to apply computer-generated zip-a-tone than it used to be using a scalpel.

I warn you right now that Phillips has pulled no punches and that the art is as battered and brutal as the inmates themselves and you will find within the dreaded Injury To Eye And Almost Everything Else Motif over and over again.

Still, he wasn’t done reading that yet, you fat fuck…

SLH

Buy Criminal Special Edition #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Fade Out vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“This was just how it was here… something in the air made it easier to believe the lies.”

Los Angeles, 1948. Hollywoodland, to be precise, where the art of selling lies is its hugely successful business.

Acting itself is a form of lying – creating the semblance of someone else – but there are also the myths spun to make actors more attractive to their idolatrous fans. Take the profile of dreamboat actor Tyler Graves, concocted by bright publicity girl Dotty Quinn, playing up his years as a ranch hand in Texas.

“Dotty, you’re a riot… I’ve never ridden a horse in my life.”
“I know, I still prefer the first one we came up with…”
“Oh right. I was a mechanic Selznick discovered when he broke down in Palm Springs.”
“It was your own little Cinderella story.”

But there’s a telling line in Posy Simmond’s British classic TAMARA DREWE from the horse’s mouth of successful crime novelist, Nicholas Hardiman:

“I think the real secret of being a writer is learning to be a convincing liar… I mean, that’s what we are: story tellers… liars…”

He should know: he’s a serial philanderer.

Screenwriter Charlie Parish is already lying. He’s a good man at heart, though he does like to party, by which I mean he drinks much more than he should. He’s prone to blackouts: not just passing out in the bath – which he did, last night – but to alcohol-induced memory blackouts. He’s not as bad as Gil Mason, the former writer now blacklisted for supposed Communist sympathies.

That man is a full-time drunk and a bar-room bore, badgering all and sundry before being thrown out on the street:

“Can you get up, Gil?”
“Not just this second… I threw my back out trying to deck Bob Hope.”

Charlie and Gil used to be friends before Charlie shopped him. Now it’s common knowledge that they hate each other’s guts.

That’s a lie for a start – a dissemblance to cover a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But this morning Charlie has woken up in one of those little bungalows set up in Studio City to keep people close to the set. The night before is a mystery to him, but there’s a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminds him of a smile, the smile leads to a face, and that face belongs to the woman lying dead on the living room floor.

It’s Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie’s working on. She’s been strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie begins to remove all trace of his and anyone else’s presence. But that’s nothing compared to the cover-up the studio’s about to embark on, and it’s going to make Charlie sick to the stomach.

Anyone who’s read CRIMINAL knows of Brubaker’s unparalleled ability to immerse readers in the minds of others and make those troubled minds utterly compelling. Anyone who’s read CRIMINAL VOL 6 knows he’s so good at it that he can make you root for a prospective murderer. You’re certainly going to want Charlie to get away with his role – however circumstantial it may be – in Valeria’s death and his complicity in the subsequent cover-up, even though the studio is going to smear the poor girl’s name.

“He felt sick. Because he knew exactly what they were doing.
“Studios had been covering up murder and rape and everything in between since at least the Roaring Twenties. That’s what men like Brodsky were there for… to prevent scandals.
“And he’d helped them this time. He’d helped them.”

Charlie is yet another man trapped by his own act of fear, plagued by his guilt and about to do something else he knows he really, really shouldn’t…

Oh, and if readers think they will miss the horror of this team’s FATALE, wait until you see what Phillips pulls off for the nightmare.

It’s a period piece, the period being rife with tight-knit nepotism, closed-doors studios and overtly voiced bigotry. Wisely Brubaker has refrained from redacting that. Some people are shits – they just are – and there is such a thing as the non-authorial voice. So much here is tied to the Congressional Hearings just before McCarthyism really hit its stride including a role for Ronald Reagan.

Thankfully Sean Phillips is a dab hand at likenesses for Reagan is joined in this fiction by the likes of Clark Gable. There are also a few neat new tricks from Sean like the ethereal memories of Val’s replacement Maya Silver which again reminded me of Posy Simmonds, this time specifically the Janice Brady sequences in MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS. Makes sense when you think about the subject matter.

As for colour artist Bettie Breitweisser she leaves it until the open-air daylight hours of poor Valeria’s funeral in chapter two, but on that very first page – wham! – she’s invented yet another colouring technique which is in its own way both impressionist and expressionist concerning the colour and quality of light not as it actually falls or what it falls on but as it might dance on the brain. It’s rendered in free-form, fuck-you panes of light and slabs of colour with scant regard for the line on the page and every regard for your eye.

Anyway, back to the acting, the lying and back to the slight-of-hand rigmarole involved in marketing commodities (actors and actresses) to their adoring, lap-it-up public. We’re not necessarily quite talking beards here, but Tyler’s manliness needs boost-merchandising and Maya proves the perfect accessory. Plus she needs to be introduced to her soon-to-be-adoring public.

“So good old Dottie found a way to kill two birds with one photo op. After dinner, Tyler and Maya dodged the press just badly enough to be followed to Ciro’s… where a drunk in the crowd got too friendly with Maya… [Hey!”] … and Ty knocked his block off.”

Oh. In the process of typing this, I think I may have solved a substantial part of the puzzle.

SLH

Buy The Fade Out vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Seraphim 266613336 Wings (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mamoru Oshii & Satoshi Kon.

A global pandemic of bubonic proportions has wiped out the world as we know it. Whole countries have succumbed to the plague itself or the mass migration of refugees that followed.

Certainly Japan’s air force failed them, while China has ruptured under the stress and scant resources, the World Health Organisation having thrown a protective Cordon Sanitaire around what’s left. A Cordon Sanitaire, yes, keeping the plague contained through military means, for infection rates range from 60% to 80% and WHO has acquired combat-ready status, armed as it is to the teeth right now with weapons from multiple states. It was also been infected with a religious fervour turning its leadership into a cowled cabal of those who call themselves Magi.

But perhaps this is understandable given the nature of the plague.

Early stages show twin shoulder blade growth, bone pushing itself to the surface. As to the terminal stage of Seraphim, it is a hideously emaciated, ossified corpse with sunken cheeks, protruding hip bone and wings like an angel’s – except scruffy and scrawny with far too few feathers.

It bears a harrowing resemblance to the Jewish prisoners in WWII concentration camps.

The comparison doesn’t stop there for there are both ad hoc ghettos of victims and medical facilities sanctioned to use eugenics in search of an explanation or cure. You should see the cages of the Angel Hunters, hounds of the Holy Inquisition who rule a lightless and otherwise lawless Shanghai.

Cages feature heavily here: there’s another designed to keep humans protected from the birds outside, which is a turn-up for the books.

It is at this key stage that The Magi dispatch Three Wise Men into the Cordon Sanitaire with a silent young girl called Sera. The first is Professor Erasmus, rechristened Balthazar, a former Magi who resigned; the second called Melchior was originally named Yacob and known as the Killer of Countries; the third is a basset hound called Caspar.

As to Sera, only Professor Erasmus knows who the legendary Silent Girl is and why she is known also as Time Stopped. Only Professor Erasmus knows their true mission to unstop time. And only Yacob knows why he is injecting himself.

This is strong stuff. Fans of AKIRA will be disappointed neither by the politics nor the art by OPUS and TROPIC OF THE SEA’s Satoshi Kon who was heavily influenced by Otomo, and worked with him on the ‘Memories’ anime film. While not as far down the photo-realistic road as Ikegami, his characters are as sturdy as Otomo’s and Taniguchi’s while his skyscrapers and gigantic, walled fortress compounds are as detailed and precise as an architect’s projections.

It is also quite grim stuff as you’d expect from totalitarianism, eugenics and the cauterisation of entire populations to purify and conserve resources.

I’ve already alluded to the terminal stage of Seraphim itself which Satoshi Kon presents starkly with the same sort of thin-lined hatch which Moebius used in THE EYES OF THE CAT, but if you thought it comical that the third of the three was men was a basset hound, you wait until you see it gets its teeth stuck in.

Satoshi is best known for his anime, of course, like Perfect Blue, just as Mamoru Oshii is better known for his. Indeed he was adapting Shirow’s GHOST IN THE SHELL and injecting its cutesy heroine with a little more grit at the same time as writing this. It was originally serialised in Animage Magazine until, abruptly it wasn’t. Yes, like Satoshi Kon’s OPUS, this was never finished and there is much speculation in the (substantial!) afterward as to why. I’m actually all for the cover treatment element but also the increasing strain of two such formidably creative minds attempting to keep a mutually cooperative peace without busting out into fisticuffs, verbal or otherwise. A similar schism occurred between Claremont and Byrne resulting in the material collected in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST being the last they ever worked on together. (I am emphatically not ranking them up there with Kon and Oshii but that X-MEN run was a tremendous run and it was immediately clear how much Byrne contributed to its direction the very second he left.)

I swear to goodness, however, that even without a conclusion (I’d say they were halfway in at the most) the journey in this instance is as rewarding as any destination could prove and in some cases conclusions really do fail to live up to their promise, don’t they?

Oh yes, the title: divide 266613336 by the number of wings worn (2, traditionally) and you have a very specific group of angels.

SLH

Buy Seraphim 266613336 Wings and read the Page 45 review here

Hinges Book 1: Clockwork City (£11-99, Image) by Meredith McClaren.

When I first clapped eyes on this ethereal beauty I was immediately transported back to Joshua Middleton’s SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES prelude. Sadly, that came to nothing, but here, have this instead.

The colours are cool, calm and as easy on the eye as Optrex: far from primary, there are never too many at one. Image-driven, the pages are predominantly silent because so is our heroine throughout. One’s not entirely sure to begin with how much of what’s going on around her she fully comprehends. She needs to… acclimatise.

We first find her kneeling on the bare-boarded floor of a town hall with the most gigantic clock up above her. There will be another laid into the stone square outside. And then there’s her pocket watch which will attract some her attention, inscribed with what assumes is her name, Orio.

She’s also found by Senior Orderly Margo who wears a nurse’s uniform, is held up by strings and makes the same assumption. She speaks in white boxes which appear worn or overexposed like very old film strips. To me this suggests ancient radio / recording crackling as in the video game Bioshock.

 

She sends Orio downstairs to select her Odd. There are shelves and shelves of odds: animals plushes and figurines. The one that stands out – because it helped her choose a jacket upstairs and now saunters across the floor with a sorry-I’m-late shrug – is Bauble.

Bauble is beautifully designed: the sort of thing LENORE’s Roman Dirge might come up with if working in porcelain. It’s a smooth, bipedal, cat-like creature with a satin sheen and an extra carapace segment forming its forehead, nose and upper jaw so that it appears to have little, fanged mandibles. Its eyes are the most enormous orbs except when its cross when they narrow under the weight of a furrowed brow, and the inky spots around each eye morph according to mood.

When it skritches and scratches at a door it leaves little ghost-outlines of itself behind. I’m telling you, the art throughout is exquisite.

Bauble appears to come with a reputation for trouble which precedes her / him / it. I’m afraid it turns out to be very well earned.

Out on the Eastern European country-town street Orio and Bauble are met by Alluet and Bristle, Bristle being a blue bird made out of felt – Alluet’s Odd.

“As your adjustment liaison I’ll be your tour guide, temporary roommate, friend, confidante, career advisor, cook, counsellor, and all around handler until we’ve settle you here in Cobble.
“Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
“It does, doesn’t it?”

It does.

“So then. Shall we go?”

It’s only then, when Alluet offers out her hand, that you finally notice her hinged wrists.

I like that there is no info on the back cover. None whatsoever. You’ll need to discover this for yourself, just like Orio. It depends on how much time you’re prepared to put in, whether you’ll spot things like the big fluffy beast curled up by the bread oven, basking in its heat. It has a centre seam running up its back.

Everyone Orio’s introduced to seems friendly enough – until Bauble grows bored and buggers things up over and over again. And this first act is, as much as anything else, about Bauble learning to trust and appreciate Orio rather than make things messy for her, lead her on a goose chase or into danger.

 

Because late at night something in Cobble is stirring. There are CRICKS and there are CRACKS and there are shadows on the move. There is a silhouette of a feral skull in profile with the most enormous jaws and thick, thick fangs. Then it moves out of the shadows and into the daylight between deserted market stalls. I’d probably run.

SLH

Buy Hinges Book vol 1: Clockwork City and read the Page 45 review here

Suiciders #1 (£2-99, Vertigo/DC) by Lee Bermejo.

Okay, you know the drill:

1. Natural or Nuclear Disaster (check!)
2. Government cuts city loose (check!)
3. City builds a quarantine wall (check!)
4. Everything’s a bit paramilitary (check!)
5. Wives are all cheaters ‘n’ liars (check!)

It’s at this point that some ultra-violent variation on an already brutal entertainment like boxing or roller derby or Come Dine With Me is televised to a TV-crack-craving audience (check!) while someone attempts to break in or out of the quarantined zone (check checkity-check!).

I could not find a single original element or angle within, although the city wall was indeed Chinese in scale.

From the artist on Brian Azzarello’s THE JOKER, then, I give you muscles on muscles, a combatant with an uncanny resemblance to The Midnighter, and arena whose deathraps are so lo-fi they resemble those last seen on clunky combat boff-o-thon Robot Wars, though sadly not used on Craig Charles.

SLH

Buy Suiciders #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther? s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & John Romita Jr.

Very different from Christopher Priest’s socio-political approach, this is more geo-political but just as sassy and sharp.

Quality art from John Romita Jr. depicts one specific instance from the history of Wakanda – the African nation ruled by the Black Panther – oh so elegantly illustrating why it was the only such country that has never been invaded by another.

As Reginald Hudlin has written elsewhere, it has been firmly established that African humans were far more advanced far earlier than their European counterparts, so it stands to reason that if one nation had continued to develop unimpeded then they would have the technology to defend themselves against European imperialism without even breaking a sweat.

There’s an immensely satisfying sequence in which one such arrogant, nineteenth-century would-be conqueror, devoid of any humanity whatsoever, is humiliated then dispatched. The Wakandan chief is the epitome of fearlessness and strength: a warrior of few words which, when delivered, are no idle threats.

Cut to the present and Wakanda has reacted to America’s current, Iraq-invading neo-imperialism by declaring a no-fly zone over their country.

So, how do you like them apples?

“There is no way a bunch of waffle-makers are going to play us out of position in Wakanda! We need to send in support troops to aid our Wakandan allies right away!”
“And where are those troops coming from? Our troops are spread too thin already. We just don’t have enough bodies.”
“Oh, that’s the one thing we have plenty of.”

Ouch!

“We’ve got more than enough bodies to inva — I mean, assist Wakanda!”

Standing in front of row upon row of coffins, each laid out under the Stars & Stripes flag on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier off the African Coast:

“I think it’s time you found out what kind of special cargo we’ve got on this ship. These brave men and women died for their country. All that training and manpower wasted. The military hates waste.”

The dead rise, cybernetically enhanced.

“We’ve found a solution to our manpower problem. They’re tougher, stronger, fearless, take orders exactly and don’t write sad letters back home.”

This contains the first story arc of the last politically pointed series before it all went unnecessarily tits-up during a crowbarred in crossover with The X-Men and readers fled faster than stoats from a boat that’s been set on fire.

Boats are infested with stoats. It’s a modern epidemic.

SLH

Buy Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther? s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rocket Raccoon vol 1: A Chasing Tale (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young & Scottie Young, Jake Wyatt.

“Ok, well, it looks like you’re wanted for murder.”
“What? That’s crazy!”
“Is it really? Are you murdering someone right now?”
“What? Maybe. That’s not the point!”

*GURGLE!*

Quick-fire stupidity and hyperactivity done well. To begin with.

Rocket Racoon is the anthropomorphic ladies’-man member of Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, although let us not forget Groot, its walking, talking tree-trunk. Groot indeed guest-stars in a wrestling match to which Rocket Racoon has taken his this-minute’s lady-love on a date. He so romantic!

The epitome of the sort of careless and callous, self-centred male about whom so many of my lady-friends used to complain until they wised up and found someone infinitely more sensitive and so suitable instead (ah, youth! ah, maturity!), our resident raccoon even attempts to secure future dates while on a date in front of his date. Brilliant!

He’s also in trouble. One gleaming, fang-faced smile into one too many cameras and his status as a wanted man is flagged planet-wide. Now who could possibly want him?

Everything I’ve typed up so far links up by the first chapter’s punchline and makes perfect sense. Also, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY sub-plot about a second sentient raccoon (when Rocket supposes he’s the last of his race) is reignited. Ooooh!

The cartooning is gleeful with big, broad grins with flashing canines, showing the show-off to maximum advantage whilst keeping you all screaming “Yay!”

Obviously some episodes are more successful than others. The chapter book-ended round a cub-scout camp fire at story time sees Rocket Racoon refusing to tell them The One With The Map. You’ll see why if you buy this book, for Groot has no such reservations. Unfortunately the root of Groot’s humour lies in the running joke that, regardless of what key information he seeks to impart, all he comes out with is “I am Groot!” It’s not easy to keep that gag going successfully, though Bendis has done improbably well so far.

Here, however, the entire story, whilst told visually, is punctuated over and over and over again with “I am Groot!” no matter who is saying what because of course it is Groot telling the story. A whimsical idea on the surface but, oh my god, talk about a point belaboured…

Never mind, all is forgiven for a prison cell scene opening with:

“Nope.”
“I’m good.”
“I’ll pass.”

Very wise.

SLH

Buy Rocket Raccoon vol 1: A Chasing Tale (UK Edition) s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 1 s/c (£9-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela.

Aimed at younger readers with its animation-style Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Teen Titans, this teams those evergreen meddling kids with DC superheroes to decloak monks, defrock vicars and pull the masks of phantoms and werewolves alike.*

There’s one scream of a scene here where they go through the traditional process of pulling off masks only for more masks to be revealed underneath. And then more, like Russian nesting dolls. When there are superheroes involved that really works.

It was a cause of constant disappointment to me that Shaggy, Scooby, Velma, Daphne and whatever that bland blonde jock was called never discovered anything supernatural: that everything was explained by trap-doors and lever mechanics. I don’t know why that was important to me, but it was.

Also, I blame American obesity on the not-so-subliminal Scooby Snack craving. Learned behaviour!

* Please note: actual scenarios may vary but thou gettest the picture.

SLH

Buy Scooby Doo Team-Up 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. Neat, huh?

Chester Brown: Conversations (£22-50, University Press Of Mississippi) by Dominick Grace, Eric Hoffman

George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Two s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by George A. Romero & Dalibor Talajic

Julius Zebra – Rumble With The Romans h/c (£8-99, Walker Books) by Gary Northfield

Menu – 100 Postcards Box Set (£16-99, Scholastic) by James Jean

Nemo: River Of Ghosts h/c (£9-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Shame vol 3: Redemption (£7-50, Renegade) by Lovern Kindzierski & John Bolton

The Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow

Tales Of Telguuth: A Tribute To Steve Moore (£18-99, Rebellion) by Steve Moore & Simon Davis, Clint Langley, various

Through The Woods s/c (£11-99, McElderry Books) by Emily Carroll

Y – The Last Man Book vol 2 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Paul Chadwick, Goran Parlov

Assassination Classroom vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Matteo Lolli, Jacopo Camagni

Gantz vol 34 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

New Lone Wolf And Cub vol 4 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Hideki Mori

Whispered Words vol 3 (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Takashi Ikeda

News!

ITEM! WICKED + THE DIVINE T-SHIRTS available to pre-order in multiple bodyforms! Yes, we cater to shape-shifters, and dispatch internationally! Here’s THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 1 reviewed.

ITEM! Kieron Gillen talks WATCHMEN. And he’s filmed doing so!

ITEM! Income tax. Illustrated by cats. Off topic, but I chortled until I choked.

ITEM! More guests announced for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 October 16th-18th.

ITEM! Transcript of actor Michael’s speech at St David’s Day march to celebrate the NHS and its founder, Aneurin Bevan, on Sunday March 1st. The last paragraph is a belter.

ITEM! Both funny and literary, here’s Andi Watson interviewed following the release of PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA.

ITEM! Final reminder that Scott McCloud will be signing at Page 45 on Sunday 8th March 2015 from 2pm to 4pm. Details there including a link to my review of Scott’s THE SCULPTOR which was in any case just linked to there! If you can’t make it but still want a copy signed then details are also at that first link.

Cheers,

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2015 week four

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Latest graphic memoir from Lucy Knisley, Jim Henson’s DARK CRYSTAL, UMBRAL VOL 2 by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, CRIMINAL VOL 2 by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Young Adult Graphic Novels from Andi Watson and Raina Telgemeier, several self-published comics and Jodorowsky’s FINAL INCAL from Humanoids Press.

Displacement (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Lucy Knisley…

“Help! Why am I here taking care of my grandparents by myself!? Maybe I’ll get novovirus and they’ll airlift us out!”

That is a very good question. Why is Lucy looking after Alzheimic, nonagenarian grandparents on – of all the potentially hazardous places – a cruise ship around the Caribbean by herself?

Leaving aside the answer to that question for a moment, what I do know is that this scenario makes for great comics! This is definitely my favourite Lucy Knisley work so far, it really did make me chuckle and shake my head in disbelief throughout. You might not think escorting elderly relatives on holiday has much potential for drama but, believe you me, you’d be very wrong.

It does slightly beggar belief that her family have let her take sole charge of what everyone believes will be Phyllis & Allen’s last holiday. And you do definitely get the impression everyone is absolutely delighted they haven’t got the responsibility of making sure said holiday isn’t the actual reason for their demise. Phyllis’ Alzheimer’s  is by any standards pretty severe indeed, with her barely being able to remember where she is from one moment to the next, and whilst Allen is more compus mentis, his frequent bouts of incontinence, and his lack of concern regarding them, present their own challenges. Indeed, you might think a member of the family would have voiced the opinion that a holiday destination with the immediate and ever-present danger of falling overboard and drowning might not be the best choice…

 

It certainly means Lucy is kept on her toes and that continuous sense of stress she has to endure provides the perfect backdrop for some rather touching and tender moments of connection with her grandparents, plus her reminiscences regarding her grandparents’ younger days and their place in her own childhood. That sense of love shining through the drudgery of duty certainly comes through strongly, and it’s clear that whilst Lucy doesn’t exactly get to enjoy her vacation, she does appreciate the chance to spend some genuine extended quality time alone with her grandparents, probably for the last time.

Nice to see that this work is in full colour, too, as we only had flashes of it in her last work, AGE OF LICENCE. She has a lovely, delicate, precise art style that looks really clean and simple, but I am sure is rather difficult to execute with such panache. I think the truism of less is more certainly applies with illustration, as you have absolutely nowhere to hide if your drawing abilities are not of the highest standard. I also loved how each chapter heading, one for each day of the holiday, is just a full page of waves, different every time, mind you. It seems highly appropriate for what I am sure felt like an endless perpetual motion endurance test of a vacation at times. Happily, it’s much more fun for us to read.

JR

Buy Displacement and read the Page 45 review here

Umbral vol 2: The Dark Path s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten.

“The war is over, Rascal. The world is ours.
“You have the power to avoid all the bloodshed that is to come. Just give me the Oculus.”

Everyone’s after the Oculus. It’s the magic equivalent of the 40-inch flatscreen on last year’s Black Friday.

“Oh. My. God.
“Anyone else want to remind me I’m just a stupid little girl?”

At which point I’d remind you that Rascal is far from being a stupid little girl, and when you get to the last five pages, do remember I said that.

Rascal is a resourceful young thief who stumbled upon the Umbral – pitch-black, metamorphic nightmare creatures with slashed-out, razor-tooth grins – just as they slaughtered the royal family, stole the throne and acquired some serious real estate.

In return Rascal stole the Oculus just as they were about to use it, and now they want it back. Since they are shape-shifters impersonating those at the highest levels of power and therefore in charge of the entire kingdom, UMBRAL VOL 1: OUT OF THE SHADOWS was one long, frantic chase through Strakhelm’s secret caverns and its less cooperative taverns, but this second volume has quite a different angle and pace.

Rascal is now riding towards Sunrise with the foul-mouthed bastard smuggler called Shayim, a one-eyed woman who effectively brought Rascal up; also green-skinned lard-bucket and daytime drunkard, Profoss Munty, former soldier turned academic; and Dalone, a grey-bearded man who claims to be a 500-year-old wizard who fought in the war by Strakan’s side and maintained the Orbis, the shield over the Pit to prevent the Umbral escaping. There are a few problems with that. Firstly, he appears to be singularly useless at magic. Can’t cast a spell. Not one. Although he is trying to teach Rascal. Secondly, there is no mention of Dalone or the Orbis in any history books.

“It’s as if someone rewrote history.”

Or he’s lying. The Umbral say he is lying. Oh yes, our gang of four may have escaped Strakhelm but every time Rascal falls asleep she returns to their nightmare realm to be goaded about her parents and past. And most of what is said makes sense.

Thirdly – and this is a problem for our entire gang of four – the Umbral are shapeshifters, right? Who is to say that any of our gang is who they seem?

Johnston has smuggled all you need know into this book and hidden every piece in plain sight. But he has hidden it so well that on a first reading you don’t have a clue what you’re looking at. Either you don’t trust it or it doesn’t sink in. It’s only on a second reading – after the Phoenix-like finale where the anger will out – that you start chuckling to yourself every half-dozen pages.

We’re also welcomed to Tolgleam, a sylvan city sequestered in The Bulaswode forest, spiralling up the cliff-face behind it, we’re introduced to The Kin Of The Whispered Blade (if one of them asks for a word in your ear, run like crazy, run like hell) and we’re kept appraised of movements at the subterranean Mist Mountain where developments occur with a certain degree of detachment far from shared by the Umbral. Funny! I like funny, foul-mouthed villains.

All of which is rendered deliciously by Mssrs. Mitten, Boyd and Mauer predominantly in purples and greens. I go on at greater language about the magic language etc in UMBRAL VOL 1: OUT OF THE SHADOWS but here your first sight of Tolgleam rising from canopy to canopy and lit by a drizzling of mist will send you scrambling for superlatives while the second of three big reveals concerning our gang of four at the end of chapter eleven will have you turning the page back and forth, wondering if the words have been wrongly assigned. They have not! Hahahahahaha! Makes you think, eh?

Lastly, can I heap and extra dollop of praise on Team Umbral for the Umbral’s calling cards: those slashed-out, razor-toothed snarls, lit from within as if by a furnace and which make just as much sense when they (wildly) exceed the sides of their faces as when they don’t. No easy trick to pull off. If they didn’t work half so well – if as recurring images they hadn’t embedded themselves so emphatically in your brain – well, yeah…

UMBRAL VOL 1 was possibly our most popular Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month of all time. The feedback was deafening. See you back here for round three! It does seem that anything could happen.

SLH

Buy Umbral vol 2: The Dark Path and read the Page 45 review here

Criminal vol 2: Lawless s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“Before it was over Tracy did get the answers he wanted, and a few he didn’t. But it seemed to him that was just the nature of answers.”

Is family a trap? Tracy Lawless might come to believe so.

A soldier court-martialled, confined and now released after some “episodes” in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, he returns to his home city to solve the riddle of his younger brother’s death nearly a year earlier. It’s a long game involving patience, surveillance, and infiltration after building a reputation, for Ricky had fallen into his father’s life of crime and become involved with a particular group of heisters and more than involved with the woman in their midst.

So does Tracy.

Wracked with guilt about what he sees as abandoning his brother, he recalls their different relationships with their father, and the separate courses which those relationships and their difference in age set them on.

“If only you’d been a couple years older… If only your legs were long enough to reach the gas pedal.”

Phillips gets slicker and slicker, his twilight faces effortlessly expressive, and I know it’s a little thing, but I love the shapes of the speech balloons, slightly more ragged than most: it helps integrate them into the artwork.

Brubaker as always knows his stuff, like what makes the ideal model for a getaway car. Once again he builds a compelling narrative around a couple of “jobs” which themselves are bursting with tension, but it’s about what makes people tick underneath, how they got where they are, and whether they understand that before it’s too late.

We keep the other volumes in stock as well, but all six volumes of CRIMINAL are structured so that you can pick up each one separately if, for example, you prefer this scenario to the last. As with the new edition of CRIMINAL VOL 1, the original landscape covers are now included in their ISBN-free glory.

SLH

Buy Criminal vol 2: Lawless s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson.

Young B’Adult Literature At Its Best!

What can I even mean?!?

Poor Princess Dee is so very industrious.

Well, she has to be: there’s mail to be minded, state papers to be signed, laws to be licensed and delegations she’s been delegated to attend! The Underworld doesn’t run itself, you know!

This should all fall to her father, the king. Alas, he is utterly exhausted from so many hours devoted to bed, attending assiduously to each of his own ailments and really putting his back into putting everybody out – especially his daughter and chef. He’s so addicted to Wellbeing Weekly and each of its dull-as-dishwater fads that he’s demoralised his last royal chef into seeking alternative employment where the food is more nourishing and tasty: Dismal Vista Prison!

And that’s what I mean by B’Adult:

The king is a bad adult – an emotionally manipulative and selfish shirker, evading every exertion and exigence. He relies instead on the limitless patience of his doting daughter who takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.

 

“Just when I think I’ve cleared my desk, CLUNK, down comes another pile of papers.”
“You need a holiday.”
“Then I’d never be able to catch up.”

I hear you, hon! I hear you!

Into this limp and unleavened mix comes Count Spatula, master pâtissier with a shaved head, slightly pointy ears and twin gaps in his teeth where some would sport fangs! Oooh!

But young Count Spatula has a rare sense of perspective, a heart of gold and a recipe for the most unconventional lemon-drizzle cake you can imagine! Umbrella required! He picks our Dee up when she’s at her most down and even attempts to bring a zing of zest to the dining table of the old king himself. Unfortunately that may get him noticed…

From the creator of Young Adult soaraway successes GUM GIRL and GLISTER, plus British adult classics which we cannot sell you for shame that they are out of print (BREAKFAST AFTER NOON and LITTLE STAR, our first-ever Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), comes the sort of kids’ comic I crave: one which, as ever with Andi Watson, neither underestimates nor talks down to its audience with linguistically or visually infantile clichés.

PRINCESS DECOMPOSIA AND COUNT SPATULA, for example, owes everything in its inking to silent cinema creep-fests ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari’, hence the misty mid-day focus when Dee and Cee are out and about in the Overworld summer-sunshine, and all the speckled, flecked and flickering, scratched-black-celluloid effects at night!

So much of this art is to die for. I love Princess Decomposia’s minimal, pointy nose, often appearing so far to the right that it’s merely representative. I love the shiny adoration in her eyes at the climax of her six-page plea for reason and reaction – for responsibility – from her father. I love the black, bat-winged buns of her hair! I love her father’s face, a wizened black-hole of wrinkled skin being sucked into itself through sheer lassitude. And I laughed out loud at the Lycanthrope delegation’s debonair dismay when offered a biscuit in the form of a Winalot Shape.

Give the dog a bone!

SLH

Buy Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula and read the Page 45 review here

Drama s/c (£8-99, Scolastic) by Raina Telgemeier.

Everything about this book begged me to hate it.

I’ve read neither SMILE nor SISTERS so had no preconceptions, but I’m allergic to the melodramatic strain of cartooning wherein every character in every panel gesticulates wildly with their mouths wide open as if they are shouting even when they have nothing whatsoever to say.

I also harbour an extreme aversion to this sort of “Gosh!” and “Wow!” over-zealous glee which makes me shudder as much as the threat of a group hug. And then there’s that other ‘Glee’ factor for this is indeed focussed on the build-up to a theatrical performance during which you just know that people will “discover themselves”.

Ugh! It’s all so wholesome that I soon felt the need to cull kittens.

Except. The twins won me over. Let’s back up, shall we?

Callie has a crush on Greg and stuck-up, self-centred Bonnie has finally ditched him, hurrah! Shy Callie then makes the move she’s been dying to make for ages but, umm, Greg just doesn’t see her that way and it all grows a bit awkward. Thankfully there’s the distraction of ‘Moon Over Mississippi’, this year’s Spring musical production, and Callie just loves the theatre. She has no aspirations as an actor, mind, but she loves set designs and has loads of ambition.

And that’s when the twins appear – Justin and Jesse – as Callie’s pinning the auditions notice to the board in the corridor.

Equally ‘theatrical’ (read: camp as tits), it’s Justin who’s most outgoing and stage-struck and (of course) gay of the two, while Jesse is perfectly happy to sit back, admire and support his brother. Callie may have a crush on him. Jesse may have a crush on Callie.

Anyway, the pages that got me hooked against all odds (because musicals too make me vomit) involve Callie, Justin and Jesse buzzed up after a trip to an independent book store, Jesse and Callie stepping in and out of a giant book on set design. Jesse suggests Justin sing Callie the part he’s gunning for in ‘Moon Over Mississippi’ which is the romantic lead. Obediently Justin hops over to the car park palm tree and begins to act his socks off and sing his heart out. Then comes the pregnant pause in which the lady-love-interest is supposed to respond. Jesse smiles shyly at Callie, blushing, before clip-clopping over to his brother, staring into his eyes adoringly:

“I’d no plans for a man from a northerly land, till I first saw your face. But I knew, yes I knew, though my daddy hated you, we’d meet again… in a special place.”
“That’s the part where they kiss,” says Justin with a big, broad grin, Jesse smiling ever-bashfully.

“Obviously!!!” shouts Callie, traumatised.

Infer what you will. Structurally it’s all rather clever with that moment reprised to perfection and, no, this is emphatically not about Callie getting a boyf. Being single is a perfectly viable option, you know.

SLH

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

She Always Looked Good In Hats (Signed & Numbered) (£7-00) by Matthew Melis…

“You’re my hero! If a theatre was closing and I had the money…”
“But that’s the point, Donnie. Jodhpurs doesn’t have the money.”
“I thought this was just a summer job, not a dream thing.”
“Does it have to be a dream? Can’t it just be an opportunity?”
“It’s an expensive bit of serendipity to chase after.”

She may have looked good in ribbons too, but Matthew Melis’ self-published work concentrates wholly on the magnificence of millinery, and the desire of Alice, a.k.a. Jodhpurs, to carve out a meaningful and enjoyable career for herself, rather than just slavishly follow a pre-programmed path of wage slavery. A summer job selling hats at a store run in a quiet part of town by the elderly Ollie proves to be a revelation, and when his landlord decides not to let him renew his lease, it seems like it might be time for him to call it a day, close the shop and retire gracefully.

For Alice, though, Ollie’s stock represents a possibility, to pursue something that she’s become truly excited about, by setting up a shop of her own. She knows she’ll need a far more prominent location to make it work, though, and they don’t come cheap. Cue some serious soul-searching and discussions with family members and friends concerned she might be about to make an extremely expensive mistake.

What a wonderfully well written passion piece about the joys of independent retailing and hats both! Matthew captures Alice’s character and dilemma so well: this is first and foremost a character study of an individual who yearns for fulfilment, and how pursuing your dreams should be something that’s given the utmost consideration, rather than just dismissed as a flight of fancy. Just imagine if twenty years ago our Stephen and Mark had decided that starting a comic shop was just too much of a risk – it doesn’t bear thinking about!

I greatly enjoyed Matthew’s art too. He clearly likes his portraits, as many of the panels revolve around talking heads, which helps to really drive this work forward and pack in an enormous amount of storytelling into the also ample 43 pages, but he does like his curvy ladies too, hence Alice’s nickname. When you hear about thighs that could crack a walnut, well, Alice certainly possesses such a pair.

I also love a work where I find out a great useless fact I was previously unaware of. In this instance that Harold Lloyd, yes the silent movie star of ‘a pair of glasses and a smile’ fame and indeed an ever-present straw boater, was partly the clumsy, buffoonish inspiration for the secret identity of Clark Kent. I never knew that, and yet it makes perfect sense. But, like Harold after another round of chaotic upheaval, will Alice end up with a smile on her face, and perhaps even a hat at a suitable jaunty angle…?

JR

Buy She Always Looked Good In Hats (Signed & Numbered) and read the Page 45 review here

Dangeritis (£7-99, Great Beast) by Robert M Ball, Warwick Johnson Cadwell.

Ridiculous.

Like the award-winning NELSON, this is a comicbook relay race although – come to think of it – relay races you practise. This has been entirely extemporised in the vein of a game of comicbook consequences perpetrated by reprobates Robert and Warwick AND I THOUGHT THEY KNEW BETTER.

It’s a daft, day-glo cross between Jackie Chan and Hong Kong Phooey starring a dude with shoulder-length ginger hair and an equally dubious ‘tache. As the petrol station cashier sits idling texting and tweeting, our Derek is set upon by ninjas. There: that’s the protagonist and plot in all its intricate detail. There’s a pie gag that takes 2 minutes and 10 pages to bring to the boil in a microwave while Robert and Warwick take turns on the left and right respectively before clashing like the titans they are on the same explosive page.

Seriously, though, when was the last time you saw a ninja knocked out by a “Get Well Soon” card?

My favourite page is an angular cross between Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko – a splash-page that isn’t, with panels slotted into the spaces left over by the centre-piece assailant – which is immediately answered by Derek legging it Steranko-stylee with such a severe degree of foreshortening that it could give you the bends.

Ideally I should be analysing the far from complementary art styles in depth, dropping names like Rian Hughes on the left and Mike McMahon on the right but such an endeavour would be entirely at odds with the proceedings which the pun-prone might call criminal.

We ordered copies of this from Mr Ball three years ago and finally they have arrived. I will not be putting him in charge of emergency evacuation procedures any time soon.

SLH

Buy Dangeritis and read the Page 45 review here

Hepatic Portal (£5-00) by Emix Regulus.

Reading this for review I had to open my dictionary and my Biology A Level notes a total of thirteen times. (I got an ‘A’, since you ask.)

It’s a visually delicate affair with a thin but far from frail line whether in black and white or coloured in pale pinks, mauve, flesh, green, blue, browns and… no idea what that colour is.

‘The Allotment’ stars a potato plant whose subterranean tubers are alarmed by the metamorphosis of one of their own from common or garden spud to the sort of giant gem which John Pertwee wielded in his final Doctor Who story ‘Planet Of The Spiders’. Thence it disappears. As a helpful, peanut-shaped gourd explains:

“As soon as his subtle body became denser than his physical one, he simply ceased to manifest in this dimension. Indeed! He still exists, just in a different, more advanced dimension to ours!”

Let us just say that the potatoes are far from impressed and resistant to change / ambition.

 

‘Professional Phagocyte’ is a one-page rap and indeed wrap as a bunch of white blood cells chow down on bacteria, parasites and your own dead cell debris before the resultant pus combo erupts as volcanic acne on your post-pubescent cheek. Pop music indeed!

Paging Planet Asia…

“Can’t escape – you’re white and celly”
“Get digested in your belly”
“Livin’ in the immunity melee”
“Microcopically merciless like Machievelli.”

Your hepatic portal vein, by the way, is the vessel conducting blood from your gastrointestinal tract and spleen to your liver. The vein can therefore rich in nutrients depending on whether or not you live off Haribo Tangfastics like me.

The title’s relevance becomes clearer during ‘The Ark’ whose opening joke takes smart-arse too far and it was at this point that the crystals began to irritate me. There are more crystals in this comic than can be easily absorb – you could almost say it was saturated.*

‘WhyBalls’ is a welcome warning, presenting the latest human upgrade in a pair of eyeballs which provides the viewer with way too much information. Worse still, avoid True Eyes at all costs unless you think telepathy would be a blessing. (It wouldn’t.)

‘Dream No 4,096’ is, I suspect, a stab at LITTLE NEMO but it’s only a flesh wound with no comprehension of the mechanics of Winsor McCay’s panel dynamics, but then all is redeemed by the final four-pager involving a sonic purge for bile. Mostly the journey is more important than the destination unless you’re in dire need of a toilet, but here it is the punchline after such a density of information which proves itself laugh-out-loud funny.

* He wrote, taking smart-arse too far.

SLH

Buy Hepatic Portal and read the Page 45 review here

Final Incal h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Ladronn…

“Got him! He’s falling towards the great acid lake!”

Which, as devotees of the original THE INCAL material will know, is precisely where we left class R detective John DiFool, and indeed also where we first met him, due to the cyclical nature of said work.

Now, given how perfectly and magnificently complete THE INCAL is, with its expansive metaphysical themes, you might think I would have reflected before now, why did Jodorowsky ever feel the need to write this sequel? I didn’t, simply because I was incredibly excited to read it, this material never having been translated from the French before. I’m sure you can guess where this is going…

So, I am now left wondering if the real reason Moebius quit the project was his heart just wasn’t in it. Yes, he did complete about half of it, originally released as one album-sized book entitled AFTER THE INCAL in French, but then the project languished until Jodorowsky brought Ladronn on board, and decided to completely rework the story, and so Ladronn drew the whole thing starting from scratch.

If THE INCAL did not exist, I would be extolling the virtues of FINAL INCAL to high heaven, for it is intelligently and hilariously written, and is certainly an absolute visual feast, this material being just as beautiful in its own right as anything else produced within the INCAL / METABARONS / TECHNOPRIESTS milieu. But – and it is a big but – it feels like such an unnecessary, watered-down sequel when compared to the magnificence of the original that I just couldn’t help feeling disappointed upon completing it. It has little of the philosophical sophistication or multi-layered elegance of the original. Yes, Jodorowsky throws a couple of very minor devices of that ilk in, but overall it just feels like an incredibly slick and beautiful speculative action comedy adventure.

Is it wrong for me to feel disappointed by a work of such an incredibly high standard? If it is, it’s only because Jodorowsky pushed the bar so impossibly high for himself with THE INCAL. I do get the impression from what I have read about him that he doesn’t like to leave any idea unused, and I just wonder whether this isn’t a case of a sequel simply for the sake of it, entirely to satisfy himself. Also, the foreword is provided by Kayne West…? But given how much of an egomaniac Jodorowsky allegedly is, Yeezus himself is possibly the most apposite choice!

JR

Buy Final Incal h/c and read the Page 45 review here

In God We Trust h/c (£17-99, Knockabout) by Winshluss…

“Don’t the find that the world has gone crazy?! Those once sacred values corrupted… Murder, corruption, pornography… I tell you truly, the end is nigh!!! And why you ask? Well because people have forgotten all the marvellous teaching contained in the Bible!

Hmm. My sarcasm-sense is tingling. Note: anyone considering this as a present for a Christian friend, I’d advise you to give it a miss as Winshluss’ epic reimagining of biblical events sways back and forth, from the ribald to the cruel, from hilarious to blasphemous, more often than a trappist monk who’s over-wet his whistle with the monastery ale. Probably safer to go for GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU instead…

I wonder whether Winschluss was inspired in part by Crumb’s THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED? But whereas the genius of that work is the story is presented completely straight, the events themselves thus providing humour in abundance, this is very much gag-strip laffs of the more puerile kind. It does make some fairly salient points regarding the problems of past and current-day establishment Christianity, and pokes fun at the ridiculousness of taking some of the events of the Bible as verbatim fact, but it’s done in a somewhat schoolboy fashion and comes off as entirely mean-spirited, which doesn’t really work for me humour-wise on  this particular topic.

I fully get that the Christian churches deserve this lambasting of their conduct and canon to an extent, and it is well done for what it is, but there’s nothing remotely new here comics-wise, and it just feels like someone taking repeated potshots at an easy target. With God portrayed as a fag-smoking, curly-haired, childish reprobate it actually all comes off a bit FURRY FREAK BROTHERS. (I’ve just remembered I felt exactly the same about Alan Grant’s TALES OF THE BUDDHA BEFORE HE WAS ENLIGHTENED.) So this will therefore undoubtedly have great appeal for some, but certainly none for others.

JR

Buy In God We Trust and read the Page 45 review here

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 1: Creation Myths s/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Brian Holguin, Brian Froud & Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John.

“… But as I drew and designed, I seemed to discover creatures and places from a civilization that had been long lost. It was more like archaeology than art, yet art it was.”

 – Brian Froud, from his introduction.

Has it really been thirty + years since this beautiful fantasy first came to the cinema?

Brian Froud’s designs for this film gave the story a weight the technical skill of the Jim Henson Co. couldn’t carry alone. While in the film we see a dying world populated by mysterious characters, the world they inhabited was by far the most intriguing aspect of the whole. Its ruined structures hinted at past prowess through the undergrowth, and a lot of thought went into what exactly they meant. The strange glyphs and diagrams carved into the buildings and stones weren’t just throwaway aesthetic garnish, but based upon an understanding of the astronomical knowledge of this fictional world’s tri-star system which, if you remember from the film, orbited the planet Thra and “sung” to the Crystal deep in its bowels. This is symbolised by a series of concentric circles encasing an inverted triangle.

From this emblem Henson & Co created not only a world, but a religion, a complex society. Then they destroyed it, leaving us with arcane hints in the fantastic dystopia of Thra.

 

The first in a trilogy of books (of course!) explaining the legend of how Thra came from nothing, gave life to the ancient witch Aughra and how her wisdom cost her an eye, the loyalty of her son and the eventual genocide of her beloved Gelflings. This is a gorgeous object, as you would expect from the company that brought you MOUSE GUARD [and Toppi’s THE COLLECTOR], and Alex and Lizzy’s art is indistinguishable from Froud’s timeless designs.

[Editor’s note: one of my nicknames at university was Gelfling. I too was beloved once.]

TR

Buy Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 1: Creation Myths s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

Can I just apologise to any customers I served with a croaky throat recently? Every time I said “Thank you” I sounded like the cowled arms dealer from Resident Evil 4. I hope you went away with suitable upgrades and not some enormous floppy fish. Where you stash your missile launcher and medicinal ‘erbs is entirely up to you.

Has anyone reading this played Resi 5 or 6? I’d be genuinely grateful for feedback if your considered 4 the height of the property so far. I adored every element of it from packing and stacking my suitcase (it started out as a briefcase but by the time I finished filling it wheels were required) to its geographical twists, turns and reprises, the most satisfying shotgun action of all time and especially wetting the sofa when surrounded in that two-story shack in the middle of nowhere. Some games take a while to warm up. Cut scenes aside, R4 threw you straight in. Oh, and shooting crows: best sport ever!

Anyway, this work which I’ve not read at all is apparently a lead-in to Resident Evil 6… which I’ve not played.

I do all my own research. I am methodical!

SLH

Buy Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Criminal Special Edition #1 (£3-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Chew vol 9: Chicken Tenders (£10-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Hinges Book vol 1: Clockwork City (£11-99, Image) by Meredith Mcclaren

Justice League Dark vol 5: Paradise Lost s/c (£10-99, DC) by J. M. DeMatteis & various

Love vol 1: The Tiger h/c (£13-50, Magnetic Press) by Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci

Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 1 s/c (£9-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela

Seraphim 266613336 Wings (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mamoru Oshii & Satoshi Kon

Sex Criminals vol 2: Two Worlds, One Cop (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

The Fade Out vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Manara Library vol 6 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Milo Manara

When The Wind Blows (£8-99, Penguin) by Raymond Briggs

Zero vol 3: Tenderness Of Wolves s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ales Kot & various

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 2 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Mike Deodato, Kev Walker, Szymon Kudranski

Black Panther: Who Is The Black Panther? s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & John Romita Jr.

New Avengers vol 3: Other Worlds s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Simone Bianchi, Rags Morales

Rocket Racoon vol 1: A Chasing Tale (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young, Jake Wyatt

Uncanny X-Men vol 3: The Good, The Bad And The Inhuman (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka

News!

ITEM! Page 45 Pronounced Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival! Well, I am, anyway. It amounts to the same thing except that I’m the one who’s going to be teaching in Lake District schools while Jonathan languishes in his lakeside Italian villa knocking back bottle after bottle of  Prosecco and then TEXTING ME PHOTOS OF HIM DOING SO.

Given that the other patrons are comicbook creators Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, Emma Vieceli and now Boulet, I cannot believe this is happening. They may have confused me for Gregg Wallace.

On the subject of which:

ITEM! “Nobody Really Knows What They Are Doing.” So true! You can buy it as a Lizz Lunney art print art print here: http://society6.com/product/nobody-really-knows-what-they-are-doing_print#1=45 Also, I do believe it’s on t-shirts as well.

ITEM! Canadian comicbook creator Seth is a Man Out Of Time. He really is. See GEORGE SPROTT, WIMBLEDON GREEN etc. Click on that first link for a film of you showing him round his house, which is almost exactly as you’d expect it to be.

ITEM! The Art Of Christian Bravery – what a website! Beautiful, fantastical paintings.

ITEM! Returning to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival – which we will on Friday 16th October 2015 – here’s the original announcement in full about me an’ Boulet and Boulet’s beautiful, beautiful poster for LICAF 2015!

Yes, Poblin is back and I couldn’t be happier! Reminder that he starred in his own comic called DESTINATION KENDAL.

- Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 1015 week three

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Smart art by Luke Ramsey; serious science-fiction from Mark Millar & Goran Parlov, Warren Ellis & Jason Howard, Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio; signed, unicorn comic from Kate Brown; Young Adult dinosaur adventure from THE PHOENIX COMIC; DARTH VADER by Gillen & Larroca and lots of Philippa Rice & Luke Pearson photos from our SOPPY signing underneath.

Trees vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard.

“Nothing good grows in the shadow of a Tree.”

What an exquisitely beautiful and delicately beautiful book!

I don’t tend to associate science fiction with “delicately beautiful”. Beautiful, certainly, as Warren Ellis’ PLANETARY was from start to finish, but not “delicately” or “tenderly” and this, in places, is both.

The light outside Tian Chenglei’s bedroom, framed by the tall windows and heavy-hanging drape, is blinding, casting young Tian into silhouette as he sketches and leaving the carpet a half-lit puce. I love the rich gold and midday blue as Professor Luca Bongiorno sits outside a cafe in Cefalu under a Mediterranean sky. He too is sketching Trees. The nearest rises ever upwards, off the top of the page; the one farther off is so tall it fades into heavens.

Over and over Jason Howard nails the necessary sense of scale. These Trees are forever fading out at the top, often at the bottom as well, for they are that vast.

They landed ten years ago without warning, without contact, without anything at all other than their evident existence. Some appeared in remote regions like the Arctic; others appeared in cities as established as New York: that was pretty bad news for anyone underneath. Obviously world leaders reacted but nuclear and biochemical weapons ‘inactivated’.

And that was it. On the whole, for the moment, nothing has changed except their existence. Okay, there have been those floods of highly corrosive, green waste, discharged from giant, circular symbols in their ‘bark’.

But there’s certainly been no contact. As President Caleb Rahim of Somalia says of the behemoth straddling his own country and Puntland:

“If there is anything inside that Tree, it has proven over an entire decade that it doesn’t care what we do upon it.”

Its landing, however, did alter the natural water channels, and not in Somalia’s favour. Now Rahim intends to take back the advantage by using the Tree’s evident oblivion and one particular property which makes it unique: it is the only known Tree low enough to be accessible by helicopter. You can land on it. And if you can land on it…

Ellis presents us with four intercut perspectives: from Mogadishu, Somalia; from Cefalu, Sicily, where that Professor spies fire in the heart of a young local woman dissatisfied with her lover and his connections to a gang of local fascists; from the City Of Shu, Special Cultural Zone, to which young artist Tian Chenglei journeys and discovers a thrill and a freedom he’d never known in his rural village, and answers to sexuality he never thought he’d find; and then there are the latest developments by the Blindhail Station, North West Spitzbergen, on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

This is where you’ll get most of the verbal fencing you relish from Ellis, between the station’s scientists old and new. Whereas most members would love to leg it back home, veteran Marsh refuses to leave and now he’s found a very good reason to stay. The ice has become littered with tiny black flowers. Black flowers should not be growing up there.

“Maybe lichen. Not blooms. And even Arctic poppies turn to face the sun.”

These haven’t. And when inspected under a microscope. Hmmm… familiar…

“Those are wires, Sarah.”
“Bullshit.”
“Okay then. Metal filaments…  These petals have micrometer wires. They’re growing a mineral structure on a biological substrate.”

Once more Jason Howard makes it all monumentally beautiful and beautifully monumental. The flowers remind me of those newly discovered in Dash Shaw’s BODYWORLD, of which Ellis was a huge fan, which turned out to have properties beyond the psychotropic. I think you’ll find these will too.

They’re certainly pretty hardy!

Also, plenty has changed since the Trees’ landing. How could it not? The environment is one thing, human perspective and reaction’s another. The Professor will lecture later on.

SLH

Buy Trees vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Unicorn And the Woodsman (£5-99, self-published) by Kate Brown.

All our copies signed by Kate Brown with love. Thank you, Kate!

This is a gorgeous comic with glorious production values: its pages are thicker than most cardstock covers and its cover is then thicker still.

Press your lips to its surface and it’s like kissing a cold cat’s thin ear – so silky smooth!

And that cover is divine on the surface, isn’t it? Its composition is majestic, immaculate, but pray look a little closer! No, it’s not what you think: I swear on the King James Bible that the Woodsman does not go all Chaucerian ‘Knights Tale’ on your ass: the unicorn will not be “tohewen and toshrede”d by a tree-felling maniac on malmsey.

But I’m afraid that FISH + CHOCOLATE’s Kate Brown has a habit of doing this: presenting her readers with what is seemingly bright, unsullied and pure then punching them in the guts with what truly lies in the hearts of men. Or women. Humans, basically.

 

There can be little more pure than a unicorn, living its traditionally tranquil, virgin and solitary life beneath a canopy of leaves through which low sunbeams shine, sylvan-softened, by the side of serpentine stream. And I do love the angles of light. Angles are important here.

But there is little less pure than the sub-human scum who hunt rhinos and elephants to extinction not for their life-sustaining meat which is left rotting by the wayside but for that toenail-dead, relatively small slice of horn erroneously deemed good for getting it up by Chinese quacks some several centuries ago. For the second time in my career I type the words “tiger cock” and it makes me very angry indeed.

So. Our unicorn is hunted for its singular, splendid horn and seeks shelter from a woodsman, begging his protection. That page is beat-perfect in its wide-eyed, submission-based composition, its ribbon-plea petition matching the mytho-steed’s stoop before being nailed down and tethered by an outstretched hoof.

“The woodsman,
of course,
knew just
what to do.”

Now, what I can promise you is this: different readers will react very differently indeed to the final three pages.

Let us discuss after class.

SLH

Buy The Unicorn And the Woodsman signed and read the Page 45 review here

Starlight: The Return Of Duke McQueen s/c (£10-99, Millarworld) by Mark Millar & Goran Parlov…

“They say a funeral is for those who are left behind, but I don’t really take much comfort from all this.
“I’ve lost my best friend, the mother of my boys, and my soulmate…
“Joanne is here in a wooden box and everyone is acting like it’s so damn normal.
“The preacher says she’s happier now and living up there in a better place. But how could it be better?
“We didn’t spend one night apart in thirty-eight years of marriage.
“How can it be paradise if she and I aren’t together anymore?”

I really did not believe that it was possible for Millar to produce a comic with more pathos than SUPERIOR, but I think he might have managed it, you know. There are so many heart strings getting tugged in the opening thirty or so pages, it’s practically a full violin concerto of melodrama! I don’t mind admitting there were a couple of moments when I had to wipe a discrete tear from the corner of my cynical old eye.

Our main character Duke McQueen (think a pension-age Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, basically, and if this gets made into a film I would dearly love Sam Jones to play the lead) safely retired from derring-do in his silver-haired dotage, mourning the recent loss of the love of his life, being gradually ever-more sidelined by his two busy adult sons, is feeling lost. Human beings are social creatures, and denied the contact with those we love, through time and distance, or mortality, it can be a rather lonely existence.

Duke seems to be coping well enough. After all you’d expect no less from such a renowned space hero, right? Except, except, his youthful exploits took place somewhere far, far away, and no one on the planet Earth ever believed a single word of it, aside from his late wife. Even two generations on, his notoriety and public shaming hasn’t been forgotten and has become something even young kids like to tease a crazy old man about…

“Uh, are you the guy that thinks he flew his plane to another planet?”
“What?”
“The guys were saying you got sucked through a wormhole and came home telling everyone you’d met real aliens. Is that true or are they just messing with me?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure if it was a wormhole, but yeah… I ended up somewhere else for a while and saw some crazy stuff. I just don’t like talking about it.”
“Is it true they put a probe in Uranus?”
“Get the hell outta my sight!”
“Sorry, Duke.”
“Relax buddy, I’m used to it.”

These days, he’s playing out his third and final act almost as if in a dream, for all he has are his memories. Those of his dear departed wife… and those of his time riding dragons and duelling space dictators.

When his two sons and their families aren’t able to come and visit him on the anniversary of their mother’s passing, inadvertently ruining the special meal which they have no idea Duke has spent days planning and preparing, it seems like he can’t feel any more alone in the world, or should that be universe? So when Duke’s house begins to shake as if a huge earthquake is starting, he’s as shocked as anyone when a spaceship decloaks and a young alien steps out pleading for his help. Yes, it’s time for Duke McQueen to saddle up and save the day once again! And keep your hankie handy for this is schmaltz at its finest!

This is superb work from Millar. I was gripped from the first page, not least because of Goran Parlov’s opening sequence set on an alien world which is pure Moebius, and that top-notch standard of art is continued throughout even once we’re (briefly) back on more mundane Earth, in Goran’s own inimitable style. But also because instantly you care about Duke and you desperately want something, anything, good or better yet exciting, to happen for this care-worn, gentle giant of a man. Better buckle up! A

JR

Buy Starlight: The Return Of Duke McQueen s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Intelligent Sentient h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Luke Ramsey.

Art or silent story book? You decide.

There’s certainly plenty of evolution across the landscape pages along with an AKIRA-like black, spherical set-back. Objects like pyramids are picked up and played with, signals are sent and received.

Life. This book is teeming with life.

From a primordial, scab-scarlet soup, through the earliest of sea critters with all that cartilage going on, past the woolly mammoths and equally hairy humans to futuristic, circuit-board cities and a veritable alien invasion.

 

The penultimate page follows a final evolution of sorts, from the physical form to the free-roaming spirit.

There are patterns within patterns and most of those patterns are snakes. Or eels. Or lampreys. Or lungfish. I don’t really know which but evidently Luke loves that shape. Some of them are hidden, while some of them are staring you right in the face. Three of those faces belong to anthropomorphic snakes – one vaguely Egyptian, another perhaps Mayan, while the middle one has all kinds of fascist / Germanic shit going on – and these in turn are made up of a multitude of snakes in the same way Medusa’s hair had hissy fits. I know those are snakes: they have tongues.

Later on there are some actual landscapes in radically different styles and brush or nib thicknesses, sharing a sand, pink, cream, caramel and chocolate colour scheme. I don’t mean dairy milk chocolate, I mean that limp-ass cooking chocolate you used to get 35 years ago, surely now banned by international law. Think American only worse. I don’t know what the point to fit was: stopping step-sons from pilfering it from the pantry overnight? It worked!

Anyway, one of those landscapes is a network of Escher-like walkways I can easily see being a platform game, probably involving a precariously balanced silver sphere. So that’s my evening’s dream booked.

SLH

Buy Intelligent Sentient and read the Page 45 review here

The Pirates Of Pangaea Book 1 (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Daniel Hartwell & Neill Cameron.

So that’s how you spell Pangaea: with three ‘a’s!

1717, and Miss Sophie Delacourt is on a tall ship sailing the Caribbean seas, bound for the fabled continent of Pangaea. Which, to be fair, is a pretty small continent about the size of an English county but with much less cricket and far more riding. It’s what’s being ridden that’s startling.

She’s to be delivered to the island’s governor, her guardian now that her parents are dead and you’d think once they’d reached port that they would be safe from pirates, but then you haven’t taken into account the dreaded Sea Of Green. This is no ordinary inland waterway but a vast plain covered in grass tall enough to hide any human. Or reptile. Think raptors. Think bigger.

 

Navigating the Sea Of Green, therefore, requires protection and after the very same ship they sailed in secures its sails it is hoisted – lock, stock and barrel – aboard the back of a cream and green, long-necked leviathan, a beast called Bessie, several times the size of the tall ship. She’s kept under control by Snuffman John, so-called because of the pouch of snuff that keeps the diplodocus docile.

High above the grasslands infested by so many predators they should surely be safe – but you wait until you catch a glimpse of Bessie’s opposite, obsidian number! You’ve never seen a dinosaur like it!

These vast panoramas occupying the top half a page at least once per chapter are the stars of the show, although Hartwell always keeps something in reserve for Cameron to capitalise on later. A mere three pages after the black beauty with its white Jolly Roger tats looms, snorting into view (look how the page lists under its weight and momentum!) you will see why narrow valleys aren’t always the best escape route!

It’s fast and it’s furious – it has to be when published weekly in little more than four-page instalments – and there’s far more to come like the secret of Raptor Rock and the quest for the Golden Skull hidden in a temple atop the Forbidden Isle. There’s much shivering of timbers (I think they’d be ejected from the Pirates Guild otherwise and given that it’s another Young Adult album from the pages of THE PHOENIX weekly – that hallmark of quality whence STAR CAT, GARY’S GARDEN, CORPSE TALK, LONG GONE DON, BUNNY VS MONKEY and the artist’s own HOW TO DRAW AWESOME COMICS – you’re guaranteed a good read.

So please do look under the cover which isn’t all that it could be. Normally I’m a big a fan of a matt finish as anyone, but here the bruised-peach and purple palette looks stodgy compared to the more sympathetically matched and much brighter, lighter colours sitting on a stock whose sheen adds enormously to  the sense of space and fresh air.

SLH

Buy the Pirates Of Pangaea Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 10: In The Line Of Fire (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Jenkins & Sean Phillips with Al Davison.

“It’s a funny old game.”

Soccer, that is. Also, the one John Constantine cannot resist playing at almost every opportunity: poker. Not with cards, necessarily, but John the con is all about getting the measure of his opponent then bluffing or taunting his way to manipulative, slight-of-hand victory.

I mention the soccer because Al Davison draws that one; the rest is FATALE and CRIMINAL’s Sean Phillips walking the high wire without a safety net and wobbling not once. By which I mean he drew straight into inks, no pencils at all and the result is raw, fresh and thrilling. Yes, there are demons but most of the real horror in HELLBLAZER is human: what we do to each other for political gain, personal pleasure or from careless, callous expediency. This results in more interior monologue and casual conversation than almost any other comic, so you bet watching John wince under sunlight or slip in and out of the shadows had better be thrilling.

But you don’t need a review of a tenth HELLBLAZER volume, do you? You‘re either reading this avidly by now or, if you’re about to begin, you‘ll do so with HELLBLAZER VOL 1: ORIGINAL SINS where I’ve provided everything you need to know to get you hooked, line and sinker.

Reprints #97 to #107.

Gratuitous plug for THE ART OF SEAN PHILLIPS because I’m contractually obliged.

I’m really not.

Here’s a link direct to Sean’s site for the process involved in this cover. Ta-da! http://theartofseanphillips.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/hellblazer.html

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 10: In The Line of Fire and read the Page 45 review here

Caliban s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio.

Love the cover which positively glows and informs you immediately that you’re in OCEAN and ‘Alien’ territory. In space no one can hear you seriously lose your shit. Which is what is about to happen.

The Caliban is a mining ship navigating warpspace with a small, somewhat fractious crew of fully conscious officers.

“The miners sleep down below along with the cargo. That’s so they don’t spend too long gazing at infinity that they step outside to get a better look at it.”

There’s an officious, unresponsive navigator called Karien who looks a lot like Hitler minus the Charlie Chaplin moustache; a man named McCartney who doesn’t respond well to officiousness; a timid and doting young man called Canny; sharp-tongued San, the woman who can (and they’ll be bloody grateful for that later on), and finally our Nomi the note-maker.

“One hundred nineteen planets and moons, and not one habitable. Suits of rebreathers, every time. Life: forget it. An orange mould they found on an asteroid. Some kind of mollusc on somebody’s moon, that lives inside its own excrement.
“So it’s stations, ships, recycled air. Fake light. Suns too bright to look at. Your body adapting in ways you don’t dwell on. Stillborn things that go straight in the trash.
“But all those dead rocks have yielded up a ton of treasure. Ore and oil and gas and water. The megatonnage is immense: you see the figures on a screen and the zeroes just go on forever.
“And because almost no one wants to live out here, everything goes back to feed the industries on earth. Which, last time I saw it, looked like a tumour breathing through a smokestack.”

Oh wait, I forgot the Captain. We haven’t seen him. He’s been too busy “banging the shit out of his executive officer”. We haven’t met the executive officer, either, who could be a bloke for all we know. One doesn’t like to presume.

Suddenly – right out of nowhere and whilst still in warpspace where they should be intangible – the Caliban fuses with a much bigger and much, much older vessel. Imagine a forest suddenly trying to occupy the same space as your living room, tree trunks growing out of your fireplace, twigs threading through your lightshade and fusing with the ceiling… Someone’s going to get splinters at the very least.

So it is aboard the Caliban: some of the alien craft’s floors, walls and ceilings have attempted to occupy the same space as the Caliban’s crew – and succeeded. It’s pretty messy.

 

The Caliban’s lost its miners, vented into the void, and it’s also lost its engines. Since the alien vessel held no oxygen before impact, every time they open a hatch into an alien section the Caliban is losing its own. And speaking of losing it, you would too if you found what the remaining officers have on the other side of those airlocks. Yet venture they must for their emergency signal will take a month to reach their nearest point of civilisation and the only chance they have of restoring power to the Caliban is to link up with the aliens’ engines and pray that their systems are compatible enough that they can get their computers talking to each other.

They’d stand a much better chance if they had our Jonathan and Dominique on board

Now, what happened to the alien vessel’s crew, do you think…?

I can promise you grim and grizzly. Although Facundo Percio (ANNA MERCURY, FASHION BEAST) is very much an artist representative of the Avatar style, he does have an eye for the grotesque including body parts which bend in places they shouldn’t. Because someone or something has bent them. In places they shouldn’t. Repeatedly. Out of curiosity.

See, that’s the big difference between this and ‘Alien’ in which all the creature craved was to thrive: to kill to grow to survive. And then kill some more, because yum. The entity in question here is much more interested in gathering information and is prepared to borrow whatever it needs to do so, including the ship’s crew.

I never liked Karien anyway.

SLH

Buy Caliban and read the Page 45 review here

Darth Vader #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca…

“The Darth to the Vader
Flip over the crossfader
I’ll serenade you with a bag of space raiders
Or Walkers or Smiths or maybe even quavers.”

You Knows I Love You Baby – Goldie Lookin Chain

I have always seriously wanted to believe that the various buttons and LEDs on Darth Vader’s chest activated breakbeat samples and some different vocoder options, perhaps a Cornish accent, rather than just being some ridiculously vulnerable life support system. I have my suspicions he would be a bit of a dad dancer, mind you, though you never know, he might well be able to moonwalk across the road, always looking both ways first, of course, obeying the Green Cross Code. If anyone is going to unveil the mysteries of Darth’s lighter side, it’s going to be Kieron Gillen, I feel.

Some of my favourite sequences in the seventies Star Wars run of comics featured the original man in black throwing his telekinetic weight around and administering virtual Chinese burns to the throats of his cowering lackeys. Even as five-year-olds playing Star Wars in the playground for months afterwards, no one minded being Darth, simply because he was as cool as fuck. Even my little three-year-old nutjob spotted the cover of this issue at home and commented, “Who’s that? He’s not a goodie, is he? I like his mask, though.”

Having recently had a revelatory conversation with said nutjob regarding the Maleficent film, how it was possible for someone to start off being nice but end up a baddie due to unfortunate things happening to them, I therefore explained that this was the same scenario. “But is he good again in the end, like Maleficent?” was the next question, which I knew full well was coming. When I said that indeed, there was a happy ending and Darth helps save the day, all was well in the nutjob’s world.

We can perhaps leave the irredeemable villains of the universe like Ming the Merciless for a little while yet, I think, and thus we moved on to the merits of a lightsabre versus a regular sword… “I bet it’s easier to cut someone’s head off with a lightsabre than a sword, isn’t it daddy?” Truly, I feel the moment of sitting down and watching Star Wars IV together is edging ever nearer…

Anyway, I really enjoyed this first issue: Kieron does an excellent job of showing Darth does have his own mind and isn’t just the Emperor’s preferred implement of inducing blunt Force trauma. In fact, it’s what the Emperor is getting up to behind his back which is intriguing our Lord of Sith, believing as he did that he was the Emperor’s most trusted and valuable lieutenant. Given the dressing down and demotion he’s just received, being instructed to start taking orders from Baron Tagge (excellent – he was one of my favourite characters in the original run), he decides he needs to chalk up something in the win column, and soon. Cue a little friendly lightsabre-twirling, telekinetic throat-tickling chat with Jabba The Hut to engage the services of a certain green-helmeted bounty hunter whom he tasks with tracking down the naughty young master Skywalker. That should set the chest lights flashing, I reckon.

Great opener with nice art from Salvador Larroca which I enjoyed rather more than the first couple of issues of the main STAR WARS title itself.

JR

Buy Darth Vader #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

    

Umbral vol 2: The Dark Path s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten

Hepatic Portal (£5-00) by Emix Regulus

Dangeritis (£7-99) by Robert Ball

Drama (£8-99, Scolastic) by Raina Telgemeier

Criminal vol 2: Lawless s/c (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal vol 1: Creation Myths s/c (£10-99, Archaia) by Brian Holguin, Brian Froud & Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John

Princess Decomposia & Count Spatula (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Andi Watson

Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen (£14-99, Knockabout) by Dylan Horrocks

Uber vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Daniel Gete, Gabriel Andrade

Constantine vol 3: The Voice In The Fire s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ray Fawkes & various

Damian: Son Of Batman s/c (£12-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert

Amazing Spider-Man: Who Am I? h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Juan Bobillo

Axis: Carnage And Hobgoblin s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kevin Shinick, Rick Spears & Javier Rodriguez, German Peralta

Civil War Prelude: New Warriors s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Skottie Young

Daredevil vol 2 West Case Scenario s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Javier Rodriguez, Chris Samnee

Spider-Man 2099 vol 1: Out Of Time (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Peter David & Will Sliney

The Emerald City Of Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Uncanny X-Men vol 3: The Good, The Bad And The Inhuman s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka

Barakamon vol 1 (£10-99, Yen Press) by Satsuki Yoshino

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Naoki Serizawa

News!

ITEM! The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) announces first of many, many international guests for 2015: Darywn Cooke I’ve seen LICAF’s Canadian line-up and that alone will have you squealing. Hint: try Googling “Canadian Cartoonist”. Recommend following @comicartfest on Twitter right now because THIS WEEK. Because THIS week!

ITEM! I count 50 UK Comicbook Conventions for 2015 listed on this website! Well, 49 conventions and a festival – LICAF – which is a very different beast altogether. Still, that is waaaaaay too many to be remotely sustainable (can you spell “diluted attendance”?) and I would creators, publishers, retailers and readers to be highly selective as to which they attend. We don’t even have anything to do with that Nottingham effort – Page 45 is all the Nottingham-based comicbook convention you need! – for we are exclusive to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival this and every year instead.

ITEM! John O’Farrell welcomes Newzoids, ITV’s newly announced puppet-based, socio-political satire while recalling – and warning off comparisons to – Spitting Image. I’m in!

ITEM! Marian Churchland writes about getting yourself back into the artistic saddle after some time away, often following bouts of depression. Marian was responsible for the graphic novel BEAST which was almost patronage and female vulnerability amongst many other things, and reminded one how bloody difficult it was for women during the Italian Renaissance to find materials let alone tutorials and patronage. Fun fact: the film rights were optioned a few years ago by someone who shopped with us and I was on the steering committee for its artistic development. Shame that never came off.

ITEM! Page 45 Shop Floor on Saturday 14th February. Young chancer to me:

“Can you do this graphic novel for £10?”
“Depends. What does the price say?”
“£14-99.”
“Nope.”
“What can you do it for?”
“Take a wild fucking guess.”

ITEM! Speaking of Valentine’s Day, more Jodie Paterson cards like these on our website went down a treat and you may still find a few copies on sale in the shop. Jodie hasn’t said as much, but I suspect they were all inspired directly by me.

 

ITEM! Love to all who came to our SOPPY signing with Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson! Philippa’s Mum came – to her first-ever signing! – and we had so many freebies to give away thanks to Lisa Gooding at Square Peg and Emma O’Donovan at Flying Eye.

Make sure you’re here for Scott McCloud’s signing at Page 45 on Sunday March 8th, 2pm to 4pm!

At the time of typing we have copies of both SOPPY and HILDA sketched in but not many, so please enquire!

 

Here, have some photos! Awww!

 

 

 

 

-       Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2015 week two

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Featuring OUTCAST VOL 1 by THE WALKING DEAD‘s Robert Kirkman, Jacques Tardi’s RUN LIKE CRAZY, RUN LIKE HELL, Urasawa’s MASTER KEATON, a MMORPG-centric manga SWORD ART ONLINE, several new series from Image Comics and PLUMDOG by Emma Chichester Clark…

Single Black Glove (£3-50) by Kate Hazell…

“The lonely wave
Of a five fingered shadow,
Crashing silently on the city’s cinder block shore.

The imprint of a handshake,
A fossilised high five,
Down low, too slow.

They have nothing to hold
On to but memory,
So the future reaches out to the…

Single Black Glove.”

Aww, how sweet. You’ll find that poem and twelve photographs of single gloves, lost and lonely on the mean streets, on the final two pages of this tribute to the power of love as the titular digit warmer meanders along, blown by the wind to various locations through the city, pondering the wonder of relationships. Yes, there are things like skiing, skateboarding, playing heavy metal guitar that you can do all by yourself, but is it as nourishing for the soul as a walk together in the rain, sharing control of a steering wheel, or even cupping close together to stop a football and save a certain goal?!

Then… a falling leaf provokes a revelation of Newtonian proportions! The idea is shared with the other glove, thumbs interlock making the shape of a bird familiar to everyone, because it’s the one animal shadow everyone knows how to cast with their hands! But then the gloves take flight and… well, the end is as cute as the rest of this story, but it does have a gently serious point to make regarding relationships. It’s not just about being a couple, there is a wider world out there and whether we like it or not, we are all connected.

Finally, apropos nothing of any importance whatsoever, when I saw the panel of the single black glove skiing (don’t start counting digits, by the way, or you’ll observe some strange polydactylism going on), I had the strongest sense of nostalgia for the cover of one of the first ZX Spectrum computer games called Horace Goes Skiing. So much so I had to google it and make the comparison. It’s clearly a coincidence, but in doing so I did also find this online emulator.

Were computer games really this shit once upon a time? It’s hard to believe, frankly. Also, I had completely forgotten the incredibly irritating Frogger rip-off bit where Horace has to run across the road to get his skis before he even manages to get on the slopes, incurring fiscal penalties if he gets knocked down, presumably due to lack of travel insurance. I suggest reading comics instead: far less hazardous, the odd paper cut aside.

JR

Buy Single Black Glove and read the Page 45 review here

Plumdog h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Emma Chichester Clark…

After the gamut of cat-related comics we have been inundated with over the last few years (STAR CAT, CAT ISLAND, CAT GETTING OUT OF A BAG…, CATS ARE WEIRD…, HOW TO TELL IF YOUR CAT IS PLOTTING TO KILL YOU, HOMICIDAL JUNGLE CAT, I WAS THE CAT, YOU ARE A CAT, CAT PERSON, CAT ORGY NOTEBOOK, FAT FREDDY’S CAT and KING-CAT… okay well maybe not that last one..), it seems that we are well overdue for something dog-related… Yes, we’ve had LOST DOGS, DOGS – BULLETS & CARNAGE, LIKE A DOG, DOGS & WATER, STARGAZING DOG and even STRONTRIUM DOG, but they haven’t really been about our canine chums, have they? Happily this is about a dog and her owner and absolutely nothing but.

In fact, this is autobiographical material because Emma Chichester Clark has recorded the adventures of her whoosell Plum (a whoosell being a Jack Russell poodle cross), in diary form, all from Plum’s perspective. It’s wonderfully illustrated in a manner not dissimilar to Posy Simmonds’ MRS WEBER’S OMNIBUS and like that tome it’s full of gentle, observational humour. Actually, it would make a great newspaper strip but I guess Fred Bassett got there first so it’s just as well Emma has been, and still is, publishing this material on her blog… Here’s a typical entry…

Sunday 20th October

“My daddy gets terrible sneezing fits.
“He doesn’t just sneeze once or twice – he sneezes again and again and AGAIN – about 25 times until he is nearly DEAD!
“I get so WORRIED. I get so ALARMED. It is AWFUL. Luckily I’m there to give him the kiss of life and I’ve managed to save him every time so far.”

Because of course what you’re really need when you’re having a sneezing fit is your dog frantically licking your face to reassure you…

 

It really is a sequence of one-a-day gag strips, I suppose, given there’s always a punchline to Plum’s daily activities, but you do get a real sense of Emma and Plum’s life through their various activities and holidays, and it seems like Plum is a very contented dog indeed. I do hope stardom won’t go to his head though, he’s already made his first foray into moving pictures with this trailer for the book

JR

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

Master Keaton vol 1 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa.

Ooooh, I love me some spot varnish!

Spread across the front and back jacket with its fold-out French flaps is an old-school atlas indicating that the titular MASTER KEATON does like to travel. And indeed he has done so for many years in a capacity few would suspect.

Yes, gold foil aside, that’s a singularly mundane title for manga, isn’t it? You’ll find that quite apposite.

Everywhere he goes Master Keaton is underestimated: he does have the jejeune air of a dopey dilettante, an eccentric in a world of his own and possibly out of his depth. When he arrives at the archaeological dig in the Taklamakan desert he is dismissed as a dandy, dressed to impress but quite impractically in a suit, tie and somewhat ‘special’ stockings. But the boffins know nothing. It is the local Sheikh’s soldier-son who sees through to the truth and with very good reason…

From the creator of Japanese sci-fi PLUTO, 20TH CENTURY BOYS and recently repacking horror MONSTER comes a comic about an insurance investigator. Seriously.

The son of an English aristocrat and Japanese zoologist, Master Keaton – divorced like his dad, with a daughter he dotes on – specialises in high-end archaeological claims. It’s the subject he studied at Oxford University. Fiercely observant, little gets past our Keaton, however well hidden, and you can imagine how much is hidden when it comes to insurance claims.

He has another key skill set which comes in surprisingly useful wherever he roams: those of a soldier for Master Keaton was once a member of the British SAS. He is quite the Renaissance Man!

You yourself will learn keen survival skills I pray will never be required as well as top tips for orienteering and unexpected cultural history lessons.

The art is an odd one.

The opening colour landscapes in Greece are quite, quite gorgeous. The pinks on the ancient white stone, crumbling with age or worn smooth with wear and tear, are far from obvious, throwing up the greens in the grass reclaiming its ground and the beautiful blue of a Mediterranean sky. The sense of space is enough to make you cry, looking first through one arch to a middle-stance courtyard before a second arch beyond and what lies below what is quite evidently a hill.

The neatly dressed forms are perfectly reminiscent of THE WALKING MAN’s Jiro Taniguchi, but the faces are not. Master Keaton’s nose, for example, is so bulbous it resembles at time that of a proboscis monkey, whilst some minor members of cast like fellow lecturers who find fault with his daughter early on are drawn as ugly, boss-eyed caricatures – which is surprisingly blunt for a comic so sharp.

SLH

Buy Master Keaton vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jacques Tardi…

“In the past half hour, Thompson’s stomach cramps had become thoroughly unbearable. The cramps had doubled him over.
The killer decided he had to give up his trade. Soon. Each time, it got worse.
For the last ten hours or so, he had been unable to take in any food. Now that he had killed, hunger was gnawing at him in the most appalling way.
At the Perrache station buffet, he ordered a helping of sauerkraut and devoured it. He felt better.
He ordered another helping and savoured it. His stomach calmed down. So did his mind.
Thompson had just earned a tidy sum of money.”

Hitman par excellence, Thompson definitely has a most unusual eating disorder. It hasn’t got really out of control by this point, but it will, oh yes. Not that he lets it interfere with taking care of business as we find out on the very first page of this third Manchette and Tardi outing. As with WEST COAST BLUES and LIKE A SNIPER LINING UP HIS SHOT before, this is a dark crime caper where none of the cast is remotely likeable, all of them deranged / demented / disturbed to a greater or lesser degree.

Our heroine, Julie, fresh out of a mental asylum, has been handpicked to be a nanny for a wealthy orphaned child called Peter. She’s been recruited by his uncle, who is also Peter’s guardian, and looks after the child’s trust fund. She has precisely zero experience in this field, which would make her rather a strange choice, you’d think, but then Peter’s uncle has a long history of employing only people with mental issues or physical disabilities. A very caring chap on the face of it…

So, it’s a tough first day on the job, therefore, when Julie finds herself and Peter abducted by a criminal gang, including Mr. Thompson, and forced to write a ransom note implicating her as the kidnapper. As she’s a former mental patient, the police are obviously going to believe Peter’s uncle has at last become a victim of his misplaced altruism when, in fact, events have transpired precisely as he planned. All he needs to do now is get Thompson to eliminate Peter, hang Julie, thereby making it look like a suicide, and he can inherit the rather sizeable estate. The one thing he hadn’t planned on, however, is that his intended patsy is rather a feisty young lady, and so Julie manages to escape from the gang’s remote hideout, partly due to their own incompetence it must be said, and goes on the run, Peter in tow, with an irate and increasingly intestinally aggravated Thompson in hot pursuit. As the chase becomes more protracted and problematic, so does Thompson’s peritonitis.

As with their previous works, you get the sense that events are building towards an explosive and deadly climax, and that does indeed prove to be the case once more. Even so, I do love how Manchette manages to engender a complete sense of believability into such utterly absurd scenarios with his writing. I think the use of everyman characters plays a significant part in that, though there’s usually at least one person having an existential crisis of some sort just for good measure. Combined with Tardi’s gritty, ground-out artwork (no one looks pretty in his world), everyone seems like they belong in a police line-up and it’s quite easy to believe these events could really happen.

I note with great interest a film adaptation of one of Manchette’s prose works, The Prone Gunman, is coming out next month. The fact that it’s starring Sean Penn gives me hope for something really decent after the absolute debacles adapting of two of my favourite crime comics in BULLET TO THE HEAD and PARKER, so I am definitely going to give it a watch. I really can’t understand how you can mess up so badly making a film when you have such great source material, though both did suffer from strange casting, I must say.

JR

Buy Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Outcast vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him s/c (£7-50, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta, Elizabeth Breitweiser…

“Joshua… what are you eating?! It’s almost bedtime.”
“So… hungry…”

Thus begins what Robert Kirkman promises will be a proper horror, after some witty opening repartee which softens you up nicely for the initial shocker accompanying the quotation above. From the chap who pens arguably the most famous horror comic of all time, THE WALKING DEAD, that’s a chilling statement. In fact what he really means, as he explains in the afterword he included after the first issue but sadly not reprinted here, is that whilst the possibility of a zombie apocalypse ever occurring is precisely zero – and, let’s be honest, we all hope he’s got it right on that score – there are other terrors which are all the more horrifying because they actually exist.

Yes, demonic possession is on the very cusp of fact versus fiction as he readily acknowledges, and he certainly doesn’t want to get into any sort of religious debate about it, either. Ultimately he just wants to write an entertaining horror comic, disturbingly credible, with a genuinely creepy undertone to it, and this is the subject matter he has chosen.

I was initially sceptical that this premise could be spun into something with the same long-term potential as THE WALKING DEAD but, having read the first volume, one can see already Kirkman’s got something epic in mind for us. The main character, Kyle – a man who as a boy saw his mother and then, years later, his wife succumb to demonic possession – is clearly a man with some story to tell, if only someone would believe him. Shunned by his now-ex-wife, and pretty much everyone else he previously knew with the exception of his sister for reasons which are all too painfully clear by the end of this opener, he’s become a complete recluse.

When the local Reverend, intimately aware of his past, tries to enlist Kyle’s help with an exorcism, he initially refuses. But… when you’ve seen the things he’s seen, suffered in the manner he has suffered, well, he knows he can’t in all good conscience refuse to help another soul in torment. And that is why his problems are going to start all over again. And it’s the why he has really got the problem with, the question that has bothered him all this time. Why him? Why is he the outcast? I can think of an answer, but I can’t believe it’s going to be that obvious, I sense some potential misdirection afoot.

Spectacularly pensive and brooding art from Paul Azaceta, ably augmented by the exceptional colourist Bettie VELVET Breitweiser, which keeps us permanently balanced right on that knife edge of lurking horror and pants-wetting fright. There is a real sense of building foreboding in this opening volume, as we believe we are gradually beginning to get at least some small measure of precisely what malice is tormenting the vulnerable fringes of the town. Then… the conclusion is a real, genuine shocker, as one of our main characters gets an absolutely terrifying visit that will leave a devastating lasting impression upon him… Ouch.

JR

Buy Outcast vol 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Nameless #1 (£2-25, 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 just like the one that publishes most of my comics” depending on which horse du jour he felt like backing that day.

Artist Chris Burnham you may remember from Grant’s BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL 1 where he did a fine impression of Frank Quitely. Here he comes over all Corben which is perfect for horror. 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 all those plump, floppy fish here seen skewered on its weathervane?

“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 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 quite evidently got a Christmas-cracker crash-course on the Kabbalah lodged in his throat.

An asteroid 14 miles in length and 6 miles wide is 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!

The thing is, the asteroid bears a symbol carved into its surface. The sigil is 3 miles tall and half a mile wide. It’s the glyph denoting the door to the Anti-verse!

The Anti-verse! Is there a single element there than cannot be traced back to a previous Grant Morrison mag?

For an infinitely more imaginative take on the Kabbalah, please see Alan Moore & JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA.

SLH

Buy Nameless #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Dying And The Dead #1 (£3-50, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Ryan Bodenheim…

“I’m sorry, Colonel. There is nothing we can do.
“We can try to make her comfortable…
“Manage her pain…
“But she’s beyond our abilities now.
“Clair was a wonderful woman… but it’s time to start thinking about letting go.”

One of those five lines will turn out to be the whole crux of a conundrum presented to Colonel James Canning by a mysterious individual known as The Courier. For whilst it may be beyond the abilities of mortal doctors to cure his wife of her terminal cancer, there are… others… who have that power. The power over life and death itself. Furthermore, Colonel Canning is one of a very few mortals who are even aware of these others, having previously encountered them in circumstances which I suspect may well in time become clearer.

Time… yes, that is also something which seems in flux for some of the participants in this first issue. For there is a mysterious, hidden underground paradise of extraordinary architectural beauty called The City whose Second (that is her title or rank) is tasked with guiding Colonel Canning from the surface to his meeting with The Bishop, the leader of these others. The Second seems completely unaware of Colonel Canning. Having been The Second since 1948, this puzzles her greatly, as do the Colonel’s comments regarding a great fire in The City because it’s an event of which she has no memory at all…

The Bishop on the other hand, well, he seemingly knows much, possibly all there is to know, and during his conversation with the Colonel many deep, philosophical matters are touched upon, such as the fact that there is a tree of life in The City. Not the Tree of Life, note, but a, which in turn suggests much. And that his kind bestowed religion of all shades upon humanity. Now, you might wonder why such beings, and I have my own personal theory about precisely what they are at this point, would wish to even deign to converse with a human. It turns out they need a proxy, to whom they are prepared to make a mutually beneficial proposal. If James Canning is prepared to undertake a task in our world for them, they will restore his wife to perfect health.

The task? Well, the impressive opening sequence to this issue – involving an amphibious assault on a wedding party on a Greek island by what appears to be a covert terrorist organisation, consisting entirely of an army of clones called The Children, all of just one male and one female, headed by an older dictatorial figure wearing a uniform with a modified infinity symbol, purely for the purposes of stealing an artefact called the Bah al’Sharur – is another huge tease in and of itself. All the Colonel has to do is recover the artefact. Now why I do suspect it isn’t going to be that easy…?

What an opener! This is Hickman at his best here, constructing an intricate puzzle to intrigue us, scattering some enticing pieces on the table to pique our curiosity, and then the game begins in earnest. I can already see I am going to love this series. Fans of the speculative fiction joint EAST OF WEST certainly will too, and also those who enjoyed SECRET, the previous espionage flavoured project which he also undertook with artist Ryan Bodenheim. He does like his detail, Mr. Bodenheim, and I can see elements of Geof Darrow and Simone Bianchi in there. The sequences as the Colonel descends deeper into The City are particularly spectacular.

Also, as with SECRET, there is a colour palette of merely one additional colour per panel used by colourist Michael Garland, in a maximum of two tones, which is very striking and really adds emphasis to the art itself. The only exception I can see to this ‘rule’ is the cover, which actually was my least favourite bit of art in the whole issue. No idea whether this is intended to be a mini-series or a more extended yarn at this point, but I’m hoping for the latter.

JR

Buy The Dying And The Dead #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Casanova: Acedia #1 (£2-99, Image) by Matt Fraction, Michael Chabon & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba…

“Put a pebble in a shell.
“Put the shell in a box.
“Put the box in a bag.
“Put the bag in a trunk.
“Then throw the fucking thing in a cave and blow the opening shut with dynamite.
“THAT’S what it’s like trying to pin down ‘Amiel Boutique.’
“On paper he’s a labyrinth with no exit.”

Then the grey men attack and Casanova Quinn, our debonair gentleman criminal and occasional spy is forced to disrupt his research on his enigmatic employer and dispense some fatal lessons in library etiquette. Or, as he so eloquently puts it…

“What, you think because we’re in a library I won’t fuck you up and get a little LOUD? COME ON!”

The strange thing is not that Casanova Quinn has been attacked by mask-wearing persons mumbling strange symbolic languages intent on doing him serious harm. That’s par for the course for an individual whose father, Cornelius, runs the global spy organization E.M.P.I.R.E. which doesn’t even come close to describing the everyday weirdness of his existence. Indeed, it’s even the second assassination attempt he’s survived in this issue! The first being at the hands of a naked and nubile young lady who has enticed him onto the diving board of a swimming pool, long after a party at his boss’ Hollywood Hills mansion has wound down and all the other guests safely departed.

No, the really curious part is that his attempts to decipher the mysterious past of his employer, the ultra-rich Amiel Boutique, are entirely at Mr. Boutique’s request. For Amiel Boutique’s history is so shadowy, so secretive, that even he can’t remember it beyond a certain point, which unsurprisingly troubles him greatly. And in return, Mr. Boutique has told Casanova Quinn, currently living under the name of Quentin Cassidy, that he will do the same for him.

For Casanova too, is suffering from an amnesia of sorts, (long-time readers will know precisely why, new readers, just jump aboard then go back and read CASANOVA LUXURIA, GULA and AVARITIA to explain all), which means he has no idea of his true identity, merely that is he skilled in the various dark arts of subterfuge, self-defence and myriad other chicanery. Thus, a job as a majordomo for a man who asked no questions seemed like the ideal employment. Now that other factions are starting to move against him and Ariel both, well, it seems like a good idea to try and find some answers. What the right questions to ask are, though, and to whom, is a whole different matter.

Magnificently stylish. Not just Fraction’s writing, of a story that continually manages to serially and surreally reinvent itself and its main protagonist, seemingly effortlessly, but also for Fabio Moon’s gloriously retro chic art. Casanova Quinn looks like a cross between a ‘60s footballer and James Bond, and knows how to act the part too, subconsciously that is, for the moment. The overall feel is something of Barbarella meets Austin Powers. Given how utterly out-there the previous three volumes have been, I can’t imagine for one moment this isn’t going to go all sideways, very shortly, well into yet another universe or timeline at least…

Beautiful artwork from one half of the team responsible for DAYTRIPPER. The other half, brother Gabriel Ba, gets a chance to contribute to the fun once more in a chortle-tastic back-up strip penned by Michael Chabon, author of the prose Pulitzer-Prize-winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend. I say back-up strip, but I suspect it will turn out to be highly significant in some way before the end of the arc. Also, a rare mention for a letterer, Dustin Harbin, who I think may well be the best in the business right now. He also did the letters for a book called SECONDS by a certain Bryan Lee O’ Malley, which you may have heard of…

Finally, just in case you are wondering, the subtitles for each arc are the Latin versions of each of the seven deadly sins, acedia between sloth. So there will apparently be seven volumes of CASANOVA in total, one for each sin. I have at this point no real understanding of how that motif underpins or even pertains to the work, but I am sure it will at some point become clear. Maybe.

JR

Buy Casanova: Acedia #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Black Science vol 2: Welcome Nowhere s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera, Dean White, Michael Spicer…

“How can anything matter when every possible thing happens?”

I can’t help but feel this is the sixties television show Lost In Space, with a dash of Quantum Leap thrown for good measure, re-imagined in as twisted fashion as possible by someone who has taken the entire run of classic pulp titles WEIRD SCIENCE and WEIRD FANTASTY, performed some Dadaist cut-up of every plot device ever contained within said titles, and then randomly deployed them upon his characters, and indeed readership, at his deranged will. This is good.

Once again, I am left to ponder if Matteo Scalera and Sean Murphy are indeed one and the same person. Or maybe Grant McKay, the now missing leader of the Anarchistic League of Scientists, has used his Black Science technology to kidnap Sean Murphy from an alternate reality, brainwash him into believing he is an Italian called Matteo Scalera, and left him here. This too is good.

Expect to be confused and bemused. This is rip-roaring, utter science fiction nonsense which is as joyfully ridiculous as Hickman’s MANHATTAN PROJECTS. The lost in space Anarchist League Of Scientists ‘Dimensionauts’ are right up to their mutually loathing, proverbial necks in it, fighting amongst themselves as telepathic millipedes and hairless simians vie for the right to eat them. Only some strange, laser-welding long-haired aboriginal human types stand between them and a certain date with dinner.

 

Meanwhile, where is Grant McKay? Why, busy fending off a doppelganger that’s just appeared and wants to steal his children, though fortunately not to eat them! Kidnapping is probably preferable to consumption, mind you. Also, just to really up the confusion factor, it seems alien races from other universes have also been experimenting with Black Science reality-skipping technologies, and that the uncontrollable randomness of our team’s jumps might not be so chaotic after all. There’s patterns emerging, in every dimension apparently, according to the man himself, and if anyone knows what to do, it’s Grant McKay. Everyone else, meanwhile, myself included, hasn’t got a clue what’s going on! There’s only one thing for it, as Grant McKay himself says…

“We have to go to the centre of the onion…”

JR

Buy Black Science vol 2: Welcome Nowhere s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Reki Kawahara & Kiseki Himura…

About once a year I have a dream where I’m about to head into an exam room at the Trent Building on the Nottingham University campus to take my second year organic chemistry exam. I’m panicking somewhat because this is the absolute nadir of my time as a student, the moment it finally occurs to me I am actually going to have to seriously scale back on the video games and do some work in my final year, if I somehow can just get through this exam*. When I wake up, it takes me a good minute or so before I calm down and remember that in fact I am now 42 and don’t ever have to think about nucleophilic aliphatic substitutions or 1,2-rearrangements or any such nonsense ever again.

Yuuki Asuna is having the opposite problem. A top student who loved nothing more than to spend her days and nights cramming for exams, she borrowed her brother’s virtual reality console and now finds herself trapped inside the MMORPG Sword Art Online, along with ten thousand other players, all of whom are somewhat surprised at this unexpected turn of events. Given most of them are gamers, however, it’s like all their dreams come true at once, but all Yuuki is worried about, rather than trying to level up, is how much of a failure she’s going to seem in the eyes of her peers and parents when she fails her exams, assuming she ever gets back to the real world, that is. And they are actually just her mocks, not even real exams!

Simultaneously satirising MMORPG culture and also the Japanese obsession with academic achievement as it does, this is well written stuff, makes excellent use of an interesting conceit, and the development of the character Yuuki as she starts to apply her innate intelligence in such unfamiliar circumstances offers endless opportunities for where the story can go, so I can see why this title has been massive in Japan. On that point there are two other SWORD ART ONLINE titles: SWORD ART ONLINE: FAIRY DANCE and SWORD ART ONLINE: AINCRAID. I have precisely no idea how they all fit together, though I presume much like ATTACK ON TITAN, once a manga publisher has a real hit on their hands these days, it’s just get the add-on titles out as fast as possible.

* I got 14% for organic chemistry, averaging a staggering 27% across all my second year exams, but fortunately my labs pulled me up to 41% overall, thus scraping past the required pass mark for the year of 40%. I did, however, complete Super Mario World, Mario Kart, Star Fox and Super Soccer on the Nintendo SNES, so the year wasn’t a total waste…

JR

Buy Sword Art Online: Progressive vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

She Always Looked Good In Hats (Signed & Numbered) (£7-00, ) by Matthew Melis

The Unicorn And The Woodsman signed (£5-99, ) by Kate Brown

Caliban s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Facundo Percio

Intelligent Sentient h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Luke Ramsey

Displacement (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Lucy Knisley

Final Incal h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Ladronn

Starlight vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Goran Parlov

Ten Grand vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by J. Michael Straczynski & C. P. Smith, Ben Templesmith

Trees vol 1 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

In God We Trust h/c (£17-99, Knockabout) by Winshluss

Dexter s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lindsay & Dalibor Talajic

Judge Dredd Casefiles 24 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Pat Mills, Mark Millar, Dan Abnett, various & Steve Yeowell, Carlos Ezquerra, Simon Davis, various

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book One: A Simple Killing h/c (£16-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Simon Davis

Hellblazer vol 10: In The Line Of Fire (£14-99, Vertigo) by Paul Jenkins & Sean Phillips, Al Davison

Batman: The Dark Knight vol 4 – Clay s/c (£12-99, DC) by Gregg Hurwitz & Alex Maleev, Ethan Van Sciver

Secret Origins vol 1 s/c (£10-99, DC) by various

Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance vol 2 (£9-99, Yen) by Reki Kawahara & Tsubasa Haduki

News!

   

ITEM! Scott McCloud to sign THE SCULPTOR at Page 45 on Sunday March 8th from 2pm to 4pm! Yay!

ITEM! Philippa Rice & Luke Pearson co-signing SOPPY and sketching at Page 45 on Valentine’s Day, Saturday February 14th from 4pm to 6pm!

This will be so cute we may need to cull kittens in order to maintain the cosmic balance!

    

So many freebies to give away on the day: postcards, wrapping paper, posters!

    

-       Stephen