Posts in the ‘Reviews’ Category

Reviews July 2014 week four

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

“Whatever your childhood, it seems the norm whilst you’re living it. Obviously that’s not always a good thing.”

 - Stephen on P. Craig Russell’s adapation of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

Pictures That Tick: Short Narrative Book Two – Exhibition (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean.

“There has to be a reason. God knows there’s no bloody reason in life; there has to be one in art.”

True, true and true. I cannot be doing with artistic onanism.

Thankfully Dave McKean has plenty to say and multiple skill sets with which to say it.

I cannot think of anyone else in comics with such high command of so many different media from sculpture to pen line and brush, through painting and photography and a great deal of computerised jiggery-pokery, often in the very same story. You could spend hours staring at the cover alone trying to decipher its many means of composition, but the comics themselves demand you move on which is exactly as it should be.

“I had wanted to create a narrative exhibition for a while. I was essentially dissatisfied with the gallery experience – a large white room of random bits and bobs, allegedly thematically linked. I remain completely committed to story as a way of engaging an audience,” he writes in his introduction to ‘The Coast Road’.

McKean’s been equally determined to wrench the medium out of the comic-shop ghetto (which I concede that it can be in America and Britain – although we’re doing our damnedest to rectify that) and into the wider world of a gallery-going public who might not encounter comics otherwise. Hence the title, for many tales told within were originally installations for the likes of the Rye Art Gallery and there are some seriously striking photographs recording these wittily choreographed experiences incorporated into this album-sized book. For his third narrative exhibition, ‘Blue Tree’, Dave snuck out at 5am and “crept around Rye planting blue branches with little baubles containing wise words”.

Can you imagine the magic for Rye residents waking up to discover their town had been blessed with such beautiful and brilliant art terrorism? And, having seen the result complete with blue-branch tendrils snaking across a pristine white ceiling, I am kicking myself for not visiting in person.

This is a whopping tome with so much to discover within: musical whimsy, creation myths, autobiographical musings, real-life reportage on political corruption and a series of magnificent, wild Scottish landscapes captured on camera and married to the immediate impressions inspired by them. There lie mountains as big as your mind (much bigger than mine), mist-shrouded and crowned with exquisite rock formations. Lakes and rivers and waterfalls too.

So many of these pieces are journeys.

The longest one is ‘The Coast Road’ whose opening salvo is utterly arresting, all the more so for it having been immediately preceded by ‘40 Years’ in which Dave reflects during a landmark birthday, asking questions and demanding answers while on the jury for a short-film festival he won in 2003; like why there are so many “men going potty films” and this:

“I have friends who, after ten, fifteen years of shared life and children and laughs, suddenly realise that they don’t want to be with each other any more, that they are somebody else actually. I mean, what’s that?”

In ‘The Coast Road’ a woman called Susan writes a series of letters she cannot possibly send to her husband Peter after returning home to find one from him.

“I read it three times, and realised I had actually never been really confused before. Or angry.
“And there was quiet and the mass ticking of clocks.
“And there were telephone calls, to Simon, and my mother, and to Grant at the bookshop.
“And to the police.”

She’s actually writing to herself, two years on, trying to make some semblance of sense of what to her is incomprehensible. In one letter she does so by boiling down her journeys to and from the bookshop to hard statistics, like the percentage probability of seeing a cat and how likely it is she’ll see two. There are a lot of cats in Dave McKean comics.

“Today, for the third time since records began, I decided that if someone smiled at me as I walked to the bookshop then, and only then, would I not kill myself.
“Yours, with all my love,
“Susan.”

So what did Peter’s own note contain? Susan’s second letter starts thus:

“My Dear Peter,
“Did you buy the masking tape?
“I have spent a lot of time recently wondering about that question. I mean, to mention in a letter that you will not be home, and that I should please forget you, my husband of eleven years, and that, by the way, you also need some masking tape, well, it’s an unusual combination of thoughts in a letter.”

Evidently Peter has had some sort of mid-life crisis if not a full-on mental breakdown, and one cannot shake the feeling that it’s catalysed one in Susan too, for when she is given a postcard of a painting – ‘The King of Birds’ by Evan Somerset – she is convinced the model was Peter and sets off in pursuit, attempting to track him down via supposed sightings in various visual art projects! I mean, what are the chances?

The kicker comes when she receives a letter from author Iain Sinclair:

“Dear Susan,
“My name is Iain Sinclair. I am a writer.
“Ness Esterhazy told me about your journey along the coast, and about your husband’s disappearance.
“He may have walked through the novel I am working on…”

So many of McKean’s talents are deployed along this snaking journey that there’s always a surprise around the corner. There’s also a moment of absolute joy when the prologue set in the Rye Art Gallery is reprised and its meaning finally revealed.

‘Black Holes’ is a shorter exhibition story written by a Chinese journalist about the silence surrounding the siphoning off of funds supposed to treat villagers who’ve contracted AIDS, the overwhelming majority after donating blood as encouraged by their very own government. Satirically adorned or destroyed syringes are mounted uselessly underneath each square panel. It will have you seething with anger and vicarious frustration.

‘Blue Tree’ comes with the line “When the tree was invited for breakfast, it didn’t know where to start” which made me smile and will give you much food for thought.

“We understand everything by metaphor,” it posits at one point, which brings me beautifully to ‘The Weight Of Words’ in which bad news is offloaded from one friend to another and its visual interpretation spoke volumes about something I’ve always firmly believed in: the importance of sharing said weight around.

I leave you, then, with the first creation myth involving a giant turtle seen from below in a sea of beautiful blue, told to a cat we first spy staring down on the world from a pillar of sky. It ends with the sort of playfulness you’ll find typical throughout.

“The more holes you pick in a story, the more likely you are to fall into one of them.”
“That’s deep.”
“It certainly could be.”

SLH

Buy Pictures That Tick: Short Narrative Book Two – Exhibition and read the Page 45 review here

Graveyard Book Graphic Novel vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, Tony Harris, Stephen B. Scott, Galen Showman.

“The dead should have charity.”

The thing about childhood is this: only an adult will look back on it thinking, “That’s odd!”

“My parents stayed together yet all of my friends’ were divorced. Apparently not everyone has beetroot for breakfast. Growing up in an igloo’s unusual…?!” Whatever your childhood, it seems the norm whilst you’re living it. Obviously that’s not always a good thing.

Nobody grew up in a graveyard. He really did. And it seemed perfectly normal to him.

Nobody Owens was his adoptive name but everyone called him Bod. His birth parents were murdered one night by a very bad man with a very sharp knife and a mission. Bod was no more than a toddler with a precocious and somewhat worrisome propensity for straying but that night it saved his young life. He’d heard a crash downstairs, woke up and wandered through his home’s open front door, up the hill under moonlight to the simple, padlocked, wrought iron gates of the graveyard and squeezed through.

The bad man with a knife whose business was not yet complete followed the infant’s milky scent and clambered over the thick, stone walls in pursuit. But there he was met by a tall, gaunt man with the palest of skin, jet-black hair and an equally obsidian cloak. He looked vaguely aristocratic and his manner was utterly compelling. No child could or would be found here: more likely in the town down below.

So it was that Bod was taken in by the graveyard folk – the ghosts of those long since passed – and raised as one of their own. With centuries of knowledge between them Bod’s education is eclectic if somewhat arcane, but it will stand him good stead for what his fiercely inquisitive nature will lead him to encounter both inside the graveyard and when he strays oh so dangerously out. Fortunately he has a quiet yet determined guardian in Silas, the very tall man with the very pale skin and the very dark hair. Silas is no ghost as you have probably gathered; nor is he still amongst the living.

If I didn’t know better I would swear this was autobiographical: you can imagine Neil Gaiman growing up in a graveyard, can’t you? He knows almost too much about Mist-Folk, Ghoul-Gates and Night-Gaunts: which to avoid and how to cry out for help in their languages.

This is the first half of P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of Gaiman’s prose novel and he draws the second chapter himself. He’s brought along some friends for each of the others: MAGIC TRIXIE and SCARY GODMOTHER’s Jill Thompson, Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, Tony Harris, Stephen B. Scott and Galen Showman whom you could not tell apart from P. Craig Russell himself, such are the crisply cut leaves, their shadows and the stones. Some have adapted their styles more than others; it’s a perfectly congruous whole.

 

Each chapter moves on a couple of years with elements reprised, Bod’s nightgown seemingly growing with him as the young man learns his lessons through making mistakes: breaking rules, testing boundaries and learning to care for others no matter what other people think. As always with Gaiman there are a couple of moments of such pure kindness that you cannot help but emit a little choke. He understands childhood as readers of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE will know, and Silas’ role as guardian is particularly poignant. I worry for him.

“But you’ll always be here, Silas, won’t you? And I won’t even have to leave, if I don’t want to?”
“Everything in its season.”

SLH

Buy Graveyard Book Graphic Novel vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight: Bee Vixens From Mars / Prison Ship Antares (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Alex De Campi & Simon Fraser, Chris Peterson.

Hot, sticky and delicious!

“Midsummer. The Red Planet hangs in the thick night air like a drop of blood in oil.
“Everything is bursting.
“Everything is whispering.
“Now. Now. Now.”

Beautifully played opening on ‘Bee Vixens From Mars’ both by writer Alex De Campi (ASHES / SMOKE), artist Chris Peterson and indeed colour artist Nolan Woodard. The page is ripe, dripping with honey and sexual juices as cats copulate and a woman pleasures herself in what might be the back of a car. Bees buzz round red rose flowers and an empty beer can strewn on the ground.

‘Prison Shop Antares’ boasts a great deal of sex of the sort that only a woman could get away with. Male writers would have been condemned especially on the web as “salacious” at best, “misogynistic” at worst with “exploitative” nuzzled inbetween. Yet Alex De Campi dives deep and fearlessly into the long tradition of exploitation and brings it spluttering to the surface, resuscitated as empowerment instead.

For my money it works for the women win out, and there are some cripplingly funny shower-scene exchanges. Also, hurrah for inclusivity aboard a spaceship full of female prisoners. Love Simon Fraser’s Sharyce whose world-weary, wised-up eyes have no need of an arched eyebrow to proclaim their attitude:

“Ended up in solitary ‘cuz I was born with a dick. It was a mistake. I fixed it. The dick, not the solitary.”
“They gave you life for being trans? Shiiiit.”
“Nah. Got life for shankin’ a guard in the jugular after he called me “sir” one too many times.”

She raises her firsts: four fingers on each hand tattooed just below the knuckles with the letters “It’s” and “maam”.

 

Back to ‘Bee Vixens From Mars’ and there is something very wrong on Cemetery Hill. There are too many bees, and some are so big that when one bursts on a windscreen the splatter drives the sheriff off the road. Those bees are producing an awful lot of honey and it is being harvested. It may be an aphrodisiac. A man is discovered on Cemetery Hill in a car, lipstick smeared on his collar and jeans. There are bits of him missing. Like his head and, umm… “bits”. A thick flood of blood leads into a thicket of roses, their thorns as big as their heads are red. Don’t go into the thicket, sheriff. Don’t go home, either. You really don’t want to go home…

Bees are beautiful, but not so much here. There is one particular stand-out Chris Petersen page whose layout is immaculately composed for maximum suffocation, partly involving a letter box. As to the punchline, it is perfect: not the solution I ever saw coming but, yes, that is one way to successfully scupper a bee, no matter how big it is. And this one is big.

SLH

Buy Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight: Bee Vixens From Mars / Prison Ship Antares and read the Page 45 review here

Raygun Roads (£4-99, Changeling Studios) by Owen Johnson & Indio.

Have you ever seen a Jack Kirby saxophone? I have now!

Reading this double-sided single is like standing at the front of a stage with your ears to the speakers. A punk rock rage against cultural mediocrity fronted by Raygun Roads, “Saviour of the Hopeless! Pin-Up of the Jobless!”, it screams to be heard. Her band includes Asteroid Anne-Phetamine, the commentator’s Dan Lazyleech and…

“To explain how fucked we are with dull graphs, here’s Exclamation Mark!”

Someone’s read a toxic, viral dose of THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY and actually understood it. How’s the gig going?

“Twenty seconds into that acapella apocalypse saw the hospitalization of two Hell’s Angels at the hands of a topless nun, a city-wide blackout and an immaculate conception. Beneath the merchandise stand.”

It’s got a good beat: that afterthought’s important. It’s also exhausting – I will concede that – and if the individual colours aren’t legitimately day-glo then the combination is.

A round of applause if not a standing ovation for the relative lack of genitals. I’ve seen this sort of thing done so, so badly and gigantic erections are its staple stand-in for actual content. When one willy finally does appear here, it is at least flaccid.

I started on the opposite side to the cover above and recommend that you do too, for you’re eased in gently with language like this:

“It is there that wonder cruises depart not on the hour, but once fascination threshold is optimal. Tickets to Alpha Centauri cost a flourish of optimism.”

SLH

Buy Raygun Roads and read the Page 45 review here

Black Widow vol 1: Finely Woven Thread s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nathan Edmondson & Phil Noto.

“This is what I am now. And you’ll never know who I was before.”

The light here is fabulous. Phil Noto is on full art duties from pencils to inks where present and colours which come with lovely tonal and fade effects. His forms are suitably lithe and action fans will see Natasha – the titular former Russian spy, now Avenger and agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – perform some serious gymnastics and not just on the parallel bars. Freefalling from a helicopter into crocodile-infested waters isn’t an internationally recognised Olympic sport as yet, but Ms Romanov was never one for convention or rules.

The Black Widow has her own set of rules and here strives to follow them. Between S.H.I.E.L.D. assignments, and to atone for her past, she’s hired a lawyer to find her private contracts to fund certain trusts, but she’s very choosy about whom she’s prepared to help or hinder (euphemism). If she discovers halfway through a gig that the person she’s protecting is guilty of more than she knew she’s likely to drop them halfway through, even that means forgoing her fee.

 

Heavy on action, light on words, I have to concede there is not a lot of spying or infiltration involved at all. You certainly won’t enjoy all the covert qualities of Brubaker and Epting’s VELVET which I recommend with all my well hidden heart.

Also, waaaaay too many allusions to webs and threads. One may look clever, two like lapsed memory, but come three, four and five then the symbol becomes a cymbal bashing your bloody ear in.

Collects BLACK WIDOW (2014) #1-6 and material from ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE #1.

SLH

Buy Black Widow vol 1: Finely Woven Thread 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?

The Art of Neil Gaiman h/c (£25-00, Ilex) by Hayley Campbell

The Sakai Project: Artists Celebrate 30 Years Of Usagi Yojimbo h/c (£22-50, Dark Horse) by a vertitable who’s who of over 250 comic book artists

Black Orchid s/c (£12-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

Final Incal Deluxe Edition h/c (£75-00, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius, Jose Ladronn

Murder Me Dead s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

Rat Queens vol 1: Sass & Sorcery (£7-50, Image) by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch

The Unwritten vol 9: The Unwritten Fables (£10-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey, Bill Willingham & Peter Gross, Mark Buckingha0.27m

Walking Dead vol 21: All Out War Part 2 (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Superman Action Comics vol 3: At The End Of Days s/c (£12-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Sholly Fisch & Rags Morales, others

Avengers vol 5: Adapt Or Die h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Salvador Larroca

Deadpool vol 5: The Wedding Of Deadpool s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by various

George Romero’s Empire Of Dead Act One s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by George A. Romero & Alex Maleev

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Abnett & Lanning Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Paul Pelletier, Brad Walker, Wes Craig

War Of Kings s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo

Wolverine vol 1: Mortal s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Paul Cornell & Ryan Stegman

Wolverine: Origin II h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Adam Kubert

Battle Angel Alita Last Order Omnibus vol 4 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Blue Sheep Reverie vol 5 (£9-99, June) by Makoto Tateno

My Little Monster vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico

My Little Monster vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Robico

News!

ITEM! Revealing interview with Bryan Lee O’Malley about the creation of SECONDS, its delay and some startling revelations about SCOTT PILGRIM.

ITEM! Inkstuds podcast with Bryan Lee O’Malley and indeed Brandon Graham.

ITEM! Fabulous illustrated blog by Bryony Turner on using Page 45’s ‘Want A Recommendation’ service on our website. Includes mini-reviews of Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s THE WICKED + THE DIVINE and all three Becky Cloonan self-published comics which our Jodie Paterson recommended and sent Bryony by post. Seems they went down very well indeed!

ITEM! Oh dear, what on earth has happened to the Harvey Awards? So much dross in the nominations including multiple Valiant titles. I call shenanigans.

ITEM! A school has produced its own comic and I would kill for a copy of this. Look!

ITEM! Article on Woodrow Phoenix’s SHE LIVES comic artefact at the British Museum. No plans to print it for now.

ITEM! Hurrah! THE PHOENIX weekly comic for kids makes it into The Grauniad with a fabulous splash of Tamsin And The Deep written by Neill Cameron and drawn by who the hell cares, apparently. IT WAS DRAWN BY KATE BROWN, YOU UNPROFESSIONAL MORONS!

In solidarity with Kate, we reprint the following review from yonks ago, now with interior art. Hurrah!

Fish + Chocolate h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) Kate Brown.

A sublime confluence of words and pictures with the palette of Paul Duffield and Josh Middleton; if you love the art on FREAKANGELS or SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES you will adore these three stories, each of which is in its way is about parenthood.

The first two feature single mothers: the first with two boys, the second with a young girl perfectly content to play round their countryside cottage and its gently sloping Garden of new Earthly Delights. There she finds a cherry tree laden with fruit. She picks one. Her mother composes on the piano upstairs.

The boys miss their father whom they haven’t seen in months, and the oldest wants a television in his room. Their mother argues with her editor but meets up with a friend. It’s a perfectly lovely day and they have much to discuss. There’s an odd-looking man with barely any eyebrows sitting on his lawn by the path. He whistles through a split blade of grass. The boys are curious.

 

 

The tunes may not come easily especially when distracted and the man is a little unnerving, but everything on the surface seems pretty much serene. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find skeletons buried and sudden trauma in store, as the tranquillity of sleepy suburbia and that bucolic beauty are shredded by shrieks of wholly unexpected violence. I’m not even going to touch on the third tale (although sneakily I have) but the cover’s stark warning of “explicit content” is far from alarmist.

Oh, but this artist can write! Nothing here is predictable or simplistic, and it’s a joy to discover a brand new voice unlike any I’ve encountered before, yet the art will sell itself to you all on its own. There’s one particular sequence involving a violin string and a music score which is a visual triumph: a fusion then cascade so clever it is breathtaking. Moreover we have another contender for best rain ever in comics as the sky bursts open, the water cascades and the downpour drowns the cherry tree in a curtain of spray.

SLH

Buy Fish + Chocolate and read the Page 45 review here

- Stephen

Reviews July 2014 week three

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Bryan Lee O’Malley will be signing SECONDS at Page 45 on Monday August 18th!

Seconds h/c (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Out in the UK on Thursday August 14th

Katie had never liked cause and effect anyway.
“It’s a flawed system.”
Still, she had to admit that toying with the universe was a little unsettling.
“She did not. Katie admitted nothing of the sort.”

That will prove part of the problem.

Fresh from the creator of SCOTT PILGRIM and LOST AT SEA comes a big, bold, full-colour graphic novel, completely self-contained and weighing in at a whopping three-hundred pages.

If you enjoyed the authorial mischief of SCOTT PILGRIM then you will love chef Katie’s recalcitrant attitude towards this new, hands-on narrator and her wayward relationship with reality.

Katie used to run Seconds, a highly acclaimed restaurant just out in the country on top of a hill. Four years on and its imaginative menu and impeccable cooking makes it as popular as ever but Katie’s mentally moved on.

She has her heart set on starting a brand new restaurant in a very old building in town. Although empty for ages and dilapidated as hell, Lucky’s old stone building oozes character and Katie can picture exactly how it will look with a grand wooden staircase, an ornate central chandelier and an open kitchen run by bright, energetic and respectful staff serving the very best cuisine to an adoring public. Reality check: its condition is causing her grief.

It’s way behind schedule and gobbling up money but at least she is fortunate in her business partner Arthur’s practical optimism and seemingly limitless support. Even when she decides she wants to call it “Katie’s”.

“She’d fought for the location:
“Wrong side of the river. Tucked away under the bridge. It was an up-and-coming spot, she swore.
“She drove back and forth sometimes four, five times a day. As if one of these times she’d cross that little bridge and find a finished restaurant.
“The waiting was hell. Seconds had become her purgatory. At least purgatory had its perks.”

It does. Still its executive chef, Katie’s name remains on the menu and she basks in the adulation of diners; the waiters are lucky if they can get a word in edgeways. In addition, to save money, she’s still allowed to rent the restaurant’s top-floor apartment. She doesn’t know how good she’s got it.

But tonight two things go wrong: Katie’s ex, Max, comes out to eat in and although he smiles kindly Katie blows him off and stomps downstairs to argue with Andrew, the new head-chef with whom she’s having an affair; they make out in the store room and in Andrew’s absence there is a accident in the kitchen leaving waitress Hazel’s arms dripping in scalding hot fat.

Having left hospital late at night, Katie despairs. Then she remembers a dream she had about a strange, glowing girl with wide, haunting eyes hunched on top of her dresser. In that dresser she discover a little box which hadn’t been there before and in that box she finds a notebook titled “My Mistakes”, a single red-capped mushroom and a card printed as follows:

A SECOND CHANCE AWAITS.
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
EVENTS MUST OCCUR ON THESE PREMISES

She follows the instructions and awakes to find reality rewritten.

Katie never canoodled with Andrew so the accident never took place and quiet young Hazel is right as rain. Everything’s been corrected, everything is better. Lucky, lucky Katie. Time to move on.

Well. What follows is a cautionary tale about pushing your luck.

It’s one thing to hoard multiple saves in a video game; to go back and restart from more favourable junctures (though you could, you know, just move on?). It’s one thing to plan conversations ahead, steering them in different directions to see how they go most in your favour (I do). But although we might wish on occasion to reset the reality button, the ability to do so increases the temptation and that temptation comes with consequences. If you can reset reality as often as you like then why concentrate on what is important the first time?

This book is masterfully constructed with impeccable control under what must have been mind-frazzling circumstances. You’ll see what I mean as everything unravels, increasingly, over and over again.

Egotism becomes egomania and, unlike so many protagonists, Katie’s self-awareness doesn’t grow gradually over each page. Instead – after what was essentially a compassionate, altruistic revision to save Hazel’s skin – Katie loses sight of priorities, her sense of perspective, her sense of responsibility and her comprehension of cause and effect: of ripples and repercussion.

The strange glowing girl returns time and again with increasingly incandescent eyes that had me howling out loud. I’m glad I can’t see my dresser from bed. Her hair is spectacular. Nathan Faibarn’s colours are so warm that I cannot imagine this in black and white.

As well as the broad strokes and fine fashion of the characters you’ve come to expect from O’Malley (the designs are exquisite, Yana’s eyes shining a pale, milky blue like semi-opaque fishbowls), there’s a lot more intricate detail on the architecture. Rickety 22 Lucknow Street, the site of Katie’s second prospective restaurant, is a star in its own right. Its brown brick and beige stone climb precariously towards a fourth-storey, castellated tower. The aerial views of the town itself – rising on either side of the river before opening up to fields and foliage and Seconds sitting under its trademark tree in the distance – are breathtaking and again coloured beautifully in greens, browns and antler grey under a late-afternoon winter sky.

The panel composition is much tighter with strict, straight-ruled borders – gone altogether are the bleeds – with some parts of the page unused altogether during moments of disorientation, waiting or “what’s happened now?”

There are some startlingly dark pages unlike anything you’ve seen from O’Malley, but SECONDS is also, as you’d expect, very, very funny in places even as things fall apart, and I like our new narrator enormously.

“I don’t like it back here anymore. The walk-in… you don’t feel that?”
“Feel what?”
“I don’t know. Never mind.”
But she did feel it. The shadow. She knew it was real.
“I don’t feel anything.”
Um, yeah, she did actually.

SLH

Pre-order Seconds h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Times (£6-99, self-published) by Robert M Ball.

“In the end it was quick at least.
“He’d not been right for weeks.
“Another ‘accident’.”

That happens as you grow older.

“Some young men took him away for tests.
“He put a brave face on it but I could tell he was scared.
“They kept him in for the night.
“And I came back to a stranger’s home.”

Sometimes you notice what’s missing more than you notice what’s there. A gap in your familiar landscape can prove haunting.

I once had a cat that would race to the door. I was worried that whenever I opened it he would rush onto the road. I used to open the door gingerly, carefully, cautiously; and for weeks after I had Felix put down I would open that door in exactly the same tentative manner, expecting a cat to dash past. He didn’t.

Composed of six shorts, four of them silent, this is one of the cleverest comics of the year. I’m not even going to tell you the title of that one for fear of giving its game away, yet here is a clue: what you have read up above is but prose. Read the same sequence as a comic and you will realise what Rob has done. Read the same sequence as a comic and it is, as they say, a very different story!

‘Dump’ is its reversal, in which some unusually accommodating bin men take care of some no-longer-desired, discarded property and boasts two terrifying panels whose power lies in the implication of what will happen off-stage. A chisel is involved.

From the creator of WINTER’S KNIGHT, then, comes an assortment of mysteries – yes, that’s what they are – for you to decipher and devour. All of them are surprising and each is composed in a markedly different style, one of which unexpectedly as a tribute to Frank Miller’s SIN CITY. But then Frank’s SIN CITY was all about the shapes, just like Robert’s main output.

In ‘Jack’ our modern, spotty teenager in a tracksuit acquires some magic beans. From a supermarket. As per tradition, Mum is unimpressed and lobs those bobbins beans out of her council estate’s high-rise window. Jack will find treasure all the same.

‘Nest’ boasts two of the most blinding pages of all here: a double-page landscape of urban buildings stacked up a very steep hill, looking just like the back end of Nottingham’s Lace Market seen from the London Road roundabout. Their sloped roofs gleam brighter the closer they climb towards the full moon. In it a husband declares that “We can’t go on like this”. Why? His wife has an over-acquisitive nature, her objects of desire even curiouser than her means of obtaining them.

DARK TIMES opens with ‘Animal’.

“He’s here again” is the uh-oh signifier, coupled with the Indian waiter peering anxiously through a narrow, horizontal window at their recurrent, difficult diner whose take on their menu is perhaps wilfully misconstrued. He has… unusual appetites.

The wit there lies upon wordplay but even without that I would relish Robert’s art. It’s all about the shapes and the colours. In terms of shapes, the waiter’s face appears between a snapped-in-two poppadom, as crisply delineated as those thick wooden segments were sawn from then slotted into our Early Learning jigsaw puzzles. In terms of colour, the waiter is all greens and browns just like the curries he serves, while the diner is composed of cold, cold blues with top teeth protruding predatorily through saggy-jowls and a wan, worn, elongated face which screams “take this social-skills loser away”.

I’m thinking Norman Tebbit. It’s enough to make you queasy.

Signed: all our copies are signed.

SLH

Buy Dark Times and read the Page 45 review here

R L #1 (£3-00, Sequential Artists Workshop) by Tom Hart.

Parental Warning: a warning to parents for parents.

And I suppose this comic is, in a way, but that’s not what I meant.

Much admired by Eddie Campbell and Scott McCloud, Tom Hart was one of Mark’s favourite cartoonists as well. Alas, all we have left of Tom’s output prior to Rosalie Lightning is NEW HAT STORIES.

I wouldn’t have recognised this as Tom’s work in a million years, so much have the events in this comic transformed him. Maybe the first image of Rosalie throwing her arms up in the air with joy and in emulation of Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and its acorn growing through sapling “to a beautiful strong tree.”

Tom and Leela lost Rosalie Lightning before she grew to be two. There have been other depictions of bereavement in comics – Anders Nilsen’s DON’T GO WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW and THE END, Aidan Koch’s THE WHALE, and Nicola Streeten’s BILLY, ME & YOU – but this is the most effective and affecting I’ve read about losing your child and so much of your future.

“You best memories are your biggest torments.”

Imagine that. The cruelty of that.

“You remember anything and your heart races – you can’t believe – “

 

Painfully, Tom recalls some of those best memories along with what may or may not have been tell-tale signs either of Rosalie being ill or her being aware that she wasn’t long for this world.

I infer from elsewhere that there is a larger work being constructed – I could be wrong – but this is succinct and it did me in which isn’t its aim, I know.

SLH

Buy R L #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Out Of Hollow Water (£8-50, 2D Cloud) by Anna Bonngiovanni.

“And that’s what scared me the most. I never want to be that still again.”

If you think the cover bodes ill, you should see its extension on the back.

Told in three chapters – each followed by silent sequences, the central one like a constellation of mutating baby-body forms – this is grim stuff, deeply disturbing to read.

“It smells like dirt and self-pity. It reeks of regret.”

It’s a book of fear, helplessness and revulsion. Of things that cannot be undone. Of things you would like to bury, metaphorically and otherwise, but which cannot be got rid of so easily.

It’s all implication and the implications are terrifying.

‘Monster’ begins with a terrible shadow with black, rat-like claws looming a woman whose eyes gaze mournfully into the past while profoundly upset by her present. It follows wherever she goes.

“You made me an alien in my own body. A stranger. An unwelcome guest.”

Then there’s a tree hollow, a well and a bundle of something which certainly isn’t joy.

The single-panel pages have been scratched on so hard and thick with graphite that they are smudged and sullied and uncomfortable to touch.

Powerful stuff.

SLH

Buy Out Of Hollow Water and read the Page 45 review here

Freddy Stories (£7-50, self-published) by Melissa Mendes.

Freddy is a very young girl occasionally mistaken for a boy.

She lives with her Mum, next door to Uncle Sully and downstairs from kindly Mrs. Medeiros who lost her husband in the war. There’s a photograph of him on the dresser.

Occasionally her Dad comes to collect Freddy, but she doesn’t want to go. It’s not her house, it doesn’t have her things. They eat on the settee. Later she sleeps there with a sodium street light streaming through the window.

In summer she stays with Aunt Maria for two weeks, but she doesn’t want to go. Freddy hates Aunt Maria (she doesn’t) and Freddy hates the countryside (she doesn’t). Her friends aren’t there, but at least her dog Frank is.

Without saying a word on the subject, Mendes evokes the unsettling prospect of staying with relative strangers: different smells, different routines, different television shows, different meals eaten in different places and different sleeping arrangements.

Also, kids at play. It’s a very quiet, understated little book and BERLIN’s Jason Lutes is a big fan.

SLH

Buy Freddy Stories and read the Page 45 review here

In The Sounds And Seas (£9-99, Monkey-Rope Press) by Marnie Galloway.

Silent and surreal and open to interpretation.

Which means I haven’t a clue what this is about..

But I love a lot of its patterns: tree leaves at night, lit like chunky dragon scales; the birds and the bunnies and the fan-tailed goldfish filling three singers’ stomachs or lungs as they sit round a campfire and release these creatures in twisting torrents which swirl round each other and up into the sky and – oh, look, someone’s dived in (I missed that first time round; it’s reprised later on) – eventually form a still ocean.

I absolutely adore the whale and the ship’s skeleton which I have always associated with each other.

I’ve failed to mention the magpie. I think it’s a magpie.

 

Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey is quoted at the front. That never impressed me: too much effort expended in rhyming and cleverness at the expense of clarity. It might have helped me understand what this is about, but I couldn’t be arsed to disentangle its convolutions.

Seriously: that whale. Amazing.

SLH

Buy In The Sounds And Seas and read the Page 45 review here

Sunday In The Park With Boys (£7-50, Koyama Press) by Jane Mai.

Right in the middle there is an excellent self-portrait with one bandaged eye and centipedes crawling out the other eye and mouth.

Other than that, awful.

Autobiographical onanism with nothing to say annoys me intensely.

Jane Mai has absolutely nothing to say yet expects everyone to listen.

She’s depressed, she’s lonely and she knows – oh how she knows – that she’s wasted so much time! Well, she didn’t have to waste mine.

“Coming home during a thunderstorm is kind of nice.
“It’s good for thinking maybe you’ll wash away and become something new.
“If you walk really slowly you are reflecting on life and it is very serious.
“If you run then you are doing something drastic and crazy!”

Thank you, Miss fucking Confucius.

Please do everyone a favour and read Eddie Campbell’s ALEC OMNIBUS. Thank you.

SLH

Buy Sunday In The Park With Boys and read the Page 45 review here

Death Sentence h/c (£16-99, Titan) by Montynero & Mike Dowling.

Bang, bang, bang: dazzling, wit-ridden debut from Montynero IF YOU ARE OVER 15! If you’re under 16 then please move along, nothing to see here, it was rubbish.

Three young, disparate individuals have just contract the G-Plus virus: Verity, Weasel and Monty.

There is currently no cure for the G-Plus virus and within six months they will all inevitably die. If there’s a silver lining to their situation it’s that, give or take extreme mood swings, the symptoms are a lot kinder than any other virus known to man: they will begin to experience increased energy, physical fitness and a variety of metahuman abilities. On the negative side, this makes them a target for the British Intelligence and military.

Verity’s the most vulnerable because her readings are off the scale and nobody knows who she is. Oh, she’s a graphic designer – or she was (see mood swings; they’re terribly funny and her abusive boss gets the brunt of it) – but Monty is a smug-as-fuck media personality who knows how to play the game while Weasel is a talentless and so successful musician. Plus his PR people really know how to milk his wretched, risibly unproductive ass:

“How much is this sonic diarrhoea costing us?”
“Erm… £6000 a day.”
“Pull the plug.”
“OK… what do we do instead?”
“Well… we’ve done the supermodel… the blood stunts… prison… collaborations… a covers album… and reforming the old band. So the only fresh angle is the G+ virus.”
“He has developed some skills… though nothing reliable or useful yet.”
“Who cares! Just spin his ‘G+ Hell’ to the tabloids. How’s demand for the Valedictory Tour?”
“Strong. There’s an army of numpties buying into the ‘Misunderstood Genius’ crap who’d basically pay to watch him take a dump on the stage.”
“They have, actually.”

 

Mike Dowling lets rip with wild gesticulations like a young Duncan Fegredo. I love how Weasel instinctively protects his face with his arms as he plummets towards unyielding asphalt from way up above, as though that’s going to do him any good. But you would, though, wouldn’t you, instinctively? Turns out that the tarmac does yield – to someone intangible. Although sex proves problematic when he loses his concentration.

I also love all the design work that’s gone into the mid-chapter music paper interviews, newspaper posts and online medical health websites. The only thing I didn’t like were the covers, unrepresentative of the art inside or the story’s contents, but then I have an extreme aversion to that sort of glossy, 3-D modelling that Richard Corben used on DEN etc before ditching it in favour of texture. Good move.

Meanwhile, Montynero packs every page with immaculately thought-through ramifications, far from gratuitous profanity but the most blasphemous use of a crucifix I can conceive of. The scenes are short, sharp and slickly edited and the joke-per-page rate is astonishingly high. But then this is essentially a highly successful satire: on sex, sexism, sexual attraction, sexual action, politics, the comedy circuit, celebrity culture and the music industry. Weasel’s chart-topping band was called The Whatevers.

“Bono rang again. The Royal Charity gig.”
“Jeezus!! What’s the cause, his credibility?”

Most impressive initially was the trajectory of libertine wastrel Weasel and his outrageous self-indulgence: boozing, reckless sex and – it transpires – some very dodgy connections. He is, however, deliciously undaunted even in the wake of extreme adversity.

One stop, look and listen to egomaniacal Monty and there’s no mistaking which overrated and over-inflated vainglorious “Voting’s a waste of time” bell-end he’s supposed to be. (I could be projecting.)

I would just note that two-thirds of the way through the tone takes a turn for the unexpectedly dark as the book heads into MIRACLEMAN BOOK 3 territory and it becomes a superhero series. Oh there were always powers, but there were no heroes and villains, just many arched eyebrows and a great deal of sexual shenanigans. That will of course prove a plus point for many but it wasn’t what I saw coming.

Additionally I promise you one panel of pure political catharsis.

Montynero is a very naughty boy. I don’t think we’ve a hope of rehabilitating him, and that makes me very pleased indeed.

More!

SLH

Buy Death Sentence 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?

 

Pictures That Tick: Short Narrative Book Two – Exhibition (£22-50, Dark Horse) by Dave McKean

Graveyard Book vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Kevin Nowlan, many more

Crossed vol 9 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Daniel Way, Simon Spurrier & Emiliano Urdinola, Gabriel Andrade

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception – The Graphic Novel (£9-99, Hyperion) by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin & Giovanni Rigiano

Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight: Bee Vixens From Mars / Prison Ship Antares (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Alex De Campi & Chris Peterson

White Lama h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess

Cape Horn h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Christian Perrissin & Enea Riboldi

Lust s/c (£14-99, IDW) by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith, Menton3

Deadly Class vol 1 Reagan Youth s/c (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig, Lee Loughridge

Like A Shark In A Swimming Pool (£6-00, Other A-Z) by Verity Hall

Black Widow vol 1: Finely Woven Thread s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nathan Edmondson & Phil Noto

Teen Titans vol 4: Light And Dark s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell, Tony Bedard & Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, many more

Damian Son Of Batman h/c (£18-99, DC) by Andy Kubert

Adventure Time Candy Capers vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Ananth Panagariya, Yuko Ota & Ian Mcginty

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Cosmic Team-Up (£7-50, Marvel) by Dan Abnett, Brian Michael Bendis, many more & Josh Fine, Sal Buscema, many more

Soul Eater vol 21 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Fairy Tail vol 40 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Naruto vol 66 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto

News!

ITEM! Oh my days, this by Ian McQue is one of the most beautiful images I have ever beheld. Eerie x 7,372

ITEM! Kickstarter for Vera Greantea’s new comic has some gorgeous art. It’s already exceeded its goal so it is going to happen!

ITEM! Extraordinary composition by David Aja. Don’t get it? Now see same image with Golden Spiral.

Umm, that’s it this week. I’ve run out of time!

- Stephen

Reviews July 2014 week two

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

“It’s the not-quite-right taking a turn for the oh-my-god-no!”

 - Stephen on Through The Woods

Through The Woods h/c (£12-99, Faber & Faber) by Emily Carroll.

Emily Carroll has a thing for teeth. I wish she didn’t. It’s very upsetting.

And I don’t mean just jagged teeth, but teeth where there ought not to be, doing things which they shouldn’t. Wobbling teeth are most worrisome of all: imagine what lies behind.

Also present and most incorrect: woods, caves, families and intruders – infesting your house, inhabiting your body and eating away at your soul.

It’s the not-quite-right taking a turn for the oh-my-god-no!

Eerie and chilling, this Victorian brand of horror owes less to the likes of RACHEL RISING or FATALE and much, much more both in tone and style to THE HIDDEN’s Richard Sala and especially MEATCAKE’s Dame Darcy. The protagonists are called Janna, Yvonne, Mary and Mabel, and they all have pert, pointy noses and long, slender fingers. There is the same sense that anything can happen on the page: the countryside may suddenly loom at a tilted angle, the path snaking through it becoming representational (of both space and the time taken to travel it); colouring may bleed outside its boundaries; the wail of a tortured soul may curl across the glossy paper forming the very gutter between its pitch-black panels haunted by past deeds in bright white and electric blue. As with Dame Darcy, lettering plays an integral part in the art and storytelling.

In ‘A Lady’s Hands Are Cold’ the not-quite-right is signalled early on by the intense flush on a young girl’s face as she sits in nervous trepidation at the other end of a vast, opulently laid dining table to the man her father has told her to marry. He, we never see but for the back of his head and a mouth into which he slides slabs of rare, juice-dribbling meat he has stabbed and cut with a two-pronged fork and carving knife. The oh-my-god-no is not far behind.

Another features a brother taking credit where far from due. Jealousy often goes unnoticed.

Then there are three sisters left to fend for themselves when their father goes hunting. In the woods, of course, but for what is uncertain. He says he’ll be gone for three days but warns them to leave the house and seek their neighbour’s if he fails to return on schedule. He fails to return on schedule. Things fall apart.

A Victorian parlour prank becomes more successful than anyone ever wanted it to. Two life-long friends find themselves at odds, and one starts seeing the most terrifying spectre I have ever laid eyes on because of what I laid eyes on. This one’s not as transparent as most.

A stylish soon-to-be-sister-in-law plays host to… No, there we will not go.

Nor will we go through the woods now that we are safely back home.

“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again and again,” said a shadow at the window.
“And you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…
“But the wolf… the wolf only needs enough luck to find you once.

SLH

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

Shackleton – Antarctic Odyssey s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Nick Bertozzi.

South Pole, 1912.

“Success. The South Pole. Break out the meatballs!”
“We couldn’t have done it without the dogs.”
“Yes. They were tasty.”

Did you know previous expeditions use ponies? Poor ponies!

The above is Bertozzi’s fabulous, three-panel summary of the Amundsen Expedition, the first to reach the South Pole. It’s indicative of wit that’s been deployed throughout, making this a light, bright entertainment as well as an education.

On the other hand, I’m afraid he’s not joking: dogs don’t do well in the Antarctic. Poor dogs!

It kicks off with a quick geography lesson informing us that the Antarctic’s down south (well past the Thames) and there is a line of latitude past which the sun disappears during winter for an entire twenty-four hours.

Now, I’m all for exploration and have done a fair amount myself: the Brecon Beacons in summer and the Berwyn Mountains in winter. I can light a gasless, hexamine-fuel-block army camping stove with three sheets of toilet paper and a match, and have on one successfully cooked a gourmet, three-course meal for my Junior Instructors, although I do concede that if a melted Rolo and skimmed milk drink is not your idea of pudding then “gourmet” might be stretching it.

However, it seems to me that the remoter regions of the Antarctic are an ocean too far, and no amount of homemade damson gin is going to take the nip out of the air. It is very, very cold as Bertozzi’s central subject matter – 1914’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – makes abundantly clear. That the crew manage to stay in such dignified high spirits and deport themselves with jovial optimism during the most severe deprivations and weather conditions is astonishing. They’re stranded on the aptly titled Endurance for the full first year, trapped in the ice. For a year! Not a great start.

The fate of The Endurance is pretty ill too, after which it becomes less of an expedition to the South Pole and more a struggle for survival out on the ice whilst inching themselves back towards the nearest semblance of civilisation, a Whaling Port hundreds of miles and several islands away on South Georgia. To get there will mean braving ridiculously rough seas in tiny rowing boats after they’re already starved and exhausted. It is… circuitous. Do you honestly think they all make it back alive?

The best laid 10-point plan of these mighty men involving two sailing ships and medals for all is laid out in all its reasonable detail right at the beginning of the book. It goes well astray within pages. It’s worth noting that the timing of the expedition turned out to be far from fortuitous: August 1914 was mere months from the outbreak of WWI so, with no hope of further funding from the throne (all monies, they knew, would be diverting to the war efforts), Shackleton saw no other option but to crack on when normally he would have turned back before he’d begun.

I learned so much that would never have occurred to me, particularly about the geology – the pressure of the ice packs, feeling sea waves under your feet which are standing on ice – and I had no idea these expeditions took two years. Obviously the humour factor starts failing when with their prospects of survival start waning, and there is one toe-curling moment I challenge you to resist reacting physically to, but one way or another Bertozzi keeps it riveting from start to finish.

His line is fine which, combined with a perfectly judged balance of grey tone, keeps the pages spacious and full of just the right light to convey times of day, temperature and weather conditions. It’s all about the temperature and weather conditions, an expedition like this, and what you will witness over these 120-odd pages is a tribute to human stoicism and dogged determination in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Still, poor dogs.

SLH

Buy Shackleton – Antarctic Odyssey s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Gold Star (£3-99, Retrofit Comics) by John Martz.

Delightful little smile-inducing mini-comic in the vein of Lewis Trondheim. Being a rounded human being Trondheim has many veins, so consider this his anthropomorphic funny face.

Alternating between the past recounted as single cartoons and present in the form of four-panel comic strips, a bespectacled bunny has been nominated for an award.

In the present the award is announced, the nerve-ridden rabbit proves victorious, and he is called to the podium to make his acceptance speech.

In the past he arrives at his hotel on the previous day and makes precisely the wrong friend at its evening’s reception.

There is an immensely satisfying moment when the past becomes immediately reflected in the present’s acceptance-speech fluster but the punchline – when the fluster is fully accounted for – is a howler.

Immaculate timing.

SLH

Buy Gold Star and read the Page 45 review here

Love And Rockets vol 10: Luba And Her Family (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez.

I’m all reviewed-out on Los Bros Hernandez at the moment, sorry. I’ve not read a single duff page by either Gilbert of Jaime – and I’ve read thousands – so you are hereby entreated to buy the lot.

MARBLE SEASON by Gilbert was such an incredible evocation of childhood we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.

Jaime’s THE LOVE BUNGLERS also featured childhood prominently and contains one sequence so shocking and a single panel so utterly arresting I took days to recover from both.

JULIO’S DAY was an exquisite, generational affair about a man who wastes his entire life.

MARIA M. I called “Crime and punishment executed with rapid-fire, bullet-point precision”.

THE CHILDREN OF PALOMAR was a haunting, community-based number.

LOVE AND ROCKETS: ESPERANZA is a fab introduction.

HIGH SOFT LISP contains the lines “She wept when I asked her to marry me. I wept when she asked for a pre-nuptial agreement!”

THE TROUBLE MAKERS and LOVE FROM THE SHADOWS were brilliantly bonkers and, yes, every one of those books is reviewed by us.

Possibly the most skeletal review I’ve ever written.

SLH

Buy Love And Rockets vol 10: Luba And Her Family and read the Page 45 review here

King-Cat Comics & Stories #74 (£2-99, King Cat) by John Porcellino.

What a cute cover!

John’s girlfriend, Stephanie, finds a bat in the attic. It’s too cold to pop the poor mite outside so they put it to bed in a ventilated shoebox while Stephanie scours the internet in search of local experts. They find one. They meet. The bat finds a loving new home. I didn’t know there were bat cages. They’re domes made of wire.

Thank God for Stephanie: I’m afraid she’s pretty much the only good news this issue. Even the letter column is tinged with melancholy. Zak Sally says “I’m tired of it” though I don’t know what “it” is. I like that John still copies them out by hand.

Comics’ chief map-maker Oliver East will love the portraits and descriptions of ‘The Bridges Of South Beloit’. At first I thought “Wow, so many!” I could only think of four in Nottingham and I had to remind myself of two of them. Then I realised I was just thinking of the River Trent and forgotten the canal, railway and tram bridges. There are loads.

My favourite episode this time out is ‘B.O.’ Unless I’m hiking up a hill on a very hot day I don’t tend to sweat so have never worn deodorant. John did use deodorant sticks until dating a punk rock girl in 1994 when she told them it causes Alzheimer’s, so he stopped for nineteen years. This is the story of why he stopped stopping: a day of disasters and cumulative stress causing him to sweat profusely then stress about sweating, and the cycle continues until he stinks to high heaven at a public event he cannot walk away from. Nightmare!

I love Porcellino’s storytelling. It’s the ultimate in clarity. There’s no fuss, no clutter. Come to think of it there are no images at all in ‘Dead Porcupine Blues’ although the layout might represent a flag. I don’t think so, but then I don’t understand the references in it. It might be poetry, after a fashion. ‘Tennessee’ is, to me. Maybe there’s a ray of sunshine in that one, after all the rain.

SLH

Buy King-Cat Comics & Stories #74 and read the Page 45 review here

House Party (£9-99, Great Beast) by Rachael Smith.

“Has there ever been a better symbol of two completely different worlds colliding… than a tagged baking tray.”

Vandalism!

You can judge this book by its cover. “Do not throw house parties!” it warns. “They will end in detritus and disaster.” To which I would add:

Definitely don’t invite people you don’t know or, if you know them, don’t like.

Michelle, Neil and Siobhan live together. They used to happy; they used to be the life and soul of their own house parties. But Michelle’s not the writer she aspired to be, Siobhan’s not the artist she’d hoped, and it’s two years since Neil had a paying gig as a comedian.

In a desperate bid to reconnect with their youth and popularity Neil decides it’s time to recreate the past and throw another house party. Michelle and Siobhan have doubts. Those doubts prove all too well founded.

The production on the book’s lovely: matt paper, bold colour, spot-varnish title in white. The set-up borrows from Bryan Lee O’Malley, the style from Marc Ellerby, the relationships from John Allison. A little too much from all three, actually, but Smith is growing increasingly confident as evidenced by the big, big panels and abundance of double-page spreads. With that comes one word of warning: this isn’t as long as you might imagine.

“Neil, I thought this was going to be fun… This looks considerably not fun.”

House parties: don’t do it.

All of our copies come with big, bold and perfectly placed original sketches in them. Thank you, Rachael!

SLH

Buy House Party and read the Page 45 review here

The Man That Dances In The Meadow (£3-99, Space Face Books) by Sam Alden.

Sounds such a sweet little number, doesn’t it?

To escape her office’s daily grind and toxic personal politics a young woman ventures into a meadow for her packed lunch. It is straddled by electricity pylons which loom over her like the wire frames of gigantic robots. One hot day she falls asleep only to be woken (perhaps) by an airplane flying overhead. She discovers a man with his back to her dancing deliriously, his movements a blur of multiple exposures.

Desperate to see him again, she becomes distracted both at work and at home with her girlfriend. They’re supposed to be planning their big move from the city to a town where her girlfriend’s earned a place at college, but the woman who saw the man that dances in the meadow is growing increasingly and irrationally anxious.

Gradually she loses her grip – on everything.

Congratulations, mini-comic, you successfully raised my blood pressure. Simple line, dot tone of different densities and a great deal of sweating, plus one knock-out page in the meadow at night, the pylons all stark and spectral in white.

SLH

Buy The Man That Dances In The Meadow and read the Page 45 review here

The Whale(£7-50, Gaze Books) by Aidan Koch -

A beautiful book, the most moving and compelling articulation of grief I have ever read. Brought me to tears.

[Editor’s note: Dominique is astute and concise.

Purely to make room for the cover on our blog, then, I would only add that Anders Nilsen’s DON’T GO WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW and, later, THE END did the same thing for me.

Anyway, I’ll butt out now, and hope these blatantly artificial extra paragraphs have done their job.]

DK

Buy The Whale and read the Page 45 review here

Curio Cabinet (£10-99, Secret Acres) by John Brodowski.

One hundred and thirty-eight pages of densely shaded pencil preceded by a sort of magic trick in which the word “abracadabra” is given the illusion of having magical properties. It doesn’t, but I had to think about it.

These are short, silent and surreal stories interspersed by episodes of ‘Cus Mommy Said So’ in which a man in a hockey mask makes waves and throws things. Mommy turns out to be lacking in both maternal instinct and patience.

In ‘Hunter’ fauna take flight as a cathedral organ erupts and the Grim Reaper roars down the aisle on a motorbike. Oh wait, they’re not taking flight at all – they’re congregating.

‘Kindred Spirits’ also features squirrels and a man’s overenthusiastic affinity for them. There is a picnic in which a bird doesn’t wait to be fed. And a hatchet bent on suicide buries itself.

There are miners, dinosaurs, warriors, grotesques galore and Iron Maiden’s mascot puts in an appearance. I believe the creator is partial to a little heavy metal.

It occurs to me that there are a lot of deaths and broken windows in this book.

Sammy Harkham calls it “laugh out loud”. Sammy Harkham is weird.

SLH

Buy Curio Cabinet and read the Page 45 review here

I Will Bite You! And Other Stories (£10-50, Secret Acres) by Joseph Lambert ~

Utterly beautiful, this.

Like Lucy Knisley, Joseph is a graduate from the Centre for Cartoon Studies and this, his debut book is largely a collection of his work leading up to and including his work at that esteemed academy. A rare mixed-bag with no duff flavours, Joseph’s style is loose. At times I’m reminded me of Al Columbia; others of Joann Sfar. But if those names mean zilch to you, that’s okay, what counts are the comics here, and the comics here count.

There’s a very fine common theme of duality throughout these stories, perhaps intentionally – I don’t know – but seemingly pointed as two of the stories deal with pairs of siblings. The eponymous opener is an abstract tale about a frustrated man-child biting everything and growling in thick, black scribbles; constantly overhead are the mocking presence of the Sun and the Moon, side by side, amused by the biter’s angst until he retaliates with fatal repercussions.

The tale feels old, even tribal. An urban Aboriginal tale of how the day and night find themselves as they are.

The first tale also has the moon play a part, when two hyperactive brothers distress an older sibling with their rambunctious escapades and bring the moon pressing against their house, bending it at a right angle. The second story, ‘Too Far’, turns a minor spat between too brothers into a dimensional incident wherein the older eats everything, and in his now-metaphysical body his family, and indeed the whole of creation, forge on.

But by far my favourite is his assignment from CSS to retell the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. ‘Turtle, Keep It Steady!’ has the animals as drummers competing for the beat, the turtle playing a straight, no-nonsense steady beat, while the hare plays Keith Moon/Mick Fleetwood-style with a bottle and a bunny occupying his paws, leaving his ears free to freestyle with predictable results.

This is some fine comics.

TR

Buy and read the Page 45 review here

Occupy Comics: Art + Stories Inspired By Occupy Wall Street s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Ales Kot, Si Spurrier, many more & David Mack, Charlie Adlard, David Lloyd, many more –

Of the first issue Dominique wrote:

Anthologies for a charitable cause are often hit-and-miss affairs in terms of the material you get and this one is no different. But really the point is the cause more than the comics so it’s probably best to take the rough with the smooth; if you are interested in the Occupy Movement or the general furore surrounding it then you will find some interesting little nuggets here.

In terms of the strips three really stood out for me.  CITIZEN JOURNALIST by Ales Kot (ZERO, WILD CHILDREN, CHANGE) Tyler Crook (BPRD) and Jeromy Cox (many superhero titles) is a snapshot of what it takes to get footage from a scene where the regular media have been “asked” by the police not to film. As you can imagine, what it takes is a mix of ingenuity and courage plus the ability to take a punch or two. Well put together with lovely art. CLEVER by Ben Templesmith is a two page spread explaining briefly how we are all being shafted, complete with zombie/skeletal men in suits. CHANNEL 1% by Matt Pizzolo and Ayhan Hayrula gives a succinct overview of how the events leading up to and including the Occupy movement have been spun.

You also get a bunch of other stuff including a chunk of prose by Alan Moore [the cartoon’s pedigree as a fiercely iconoclastic medium (Gillray) and comics’ too (Hogarth)] and an illustration by Molly Crabapple whose arrest at the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protest is well worth an internet search.  Interesting stuff.

DK

Buy Occupy Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Rocket Raccoon #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young.

“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.

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 thoughtless, 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 punchline and makes perfect sense. Also, the 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!”

Yay!

SLH

Buy Rocket Raccoon 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?

 

Judge vol 4 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yoshiki Tonogai

Nightwing vol 4: Second City s/c (£10-99, DC) by Kyle Higgins & Brett Booth

Justice League Of America vol 1: Worlds Most Dangerous s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns, Matt Kindt, Jeff LeMire & David Finch, many more

Battle Royale: Angels Border (£8-99, Viz) by Koushun Takami & Mioko Ohnishi, Youhei Oguma

Blue Sheep Reverie vol 6 (£9-99, June) by Makota Tateno

Avatar Last Airbender vol 8: Rift Part 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 3 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

UQ Holder vol 2 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Ken Akamatsu

Raygun Roads (£4-99, Changeling Studios) by Owen Johnson & Indio

Death Sentence h/c (£16-99, Titan) by Montynero & Mike Dowling

Legends Of The Tour (£14-99, Head Of Zeus) by Jan Cleijne

 

ITEM! Staggering graph on the gargantuan spike in interest in UMBRAL the second it was declared Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. I’ve always been humbled by the trust members put in our club, but it is mind-melting to see how wide that influence evidently is. Hurrah for analysts like Antony Johnston! Bloody good writer, to boot.

ITEM! Beautiful! Preview of HOW TO BE HAPPY by Eleanor Davis. You can pre-order HOW TO BE HAPPY from Page 45 here.

ITEM! New Hope Larson comics: SOLO!

ITEM! Different to last week’s link, time-lapse photography of Joe Sacco’s THE GREAT WAR going up in the Paris Metro.

ITEM! Interview with Ed Brubaker about VELVET in which he tells of a TV station which was interesting in optioning the series… while proving they had missed the whole point. It’s a real “D’Oh!” moment.

ITEM! Joe Decie, he’s so funny. “Where do you get your ideas from?” Comic.

ITEM! Not as off-topic as I would like. Almost every week some professional woman or another – in comics, games, animation, journalism – is targeted online by a vicious mob of menchildren desperate to suppress any woman’s voice, influence and authority. “Sexism” doesn’t come close to describing these vile, cowardly attacks which often include rape threats. Now acclaimed author and journalist Leigh Alexander has written some typically sage advice on how supporters can help women under online attack without exacerbating the situation.

ITEM! BIG QUESTIONS’ Anders Nilsen takes on Amazon. I’ve read that comic in its entirety and it is deliciously witty. We’ll be stocking the two as a complete package – already ordered!

ITEM! A sobering comic about a refugee fleeing conflict by Karrie Fransman. Its perfect punchline echoes the sentiments of Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL.

I think we’ll leave it there.

- Stephen

Reviews July 2014 week one

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

What these differences in style neatly attest, though, is that the mind of a schizophrenic is an extremely rich, complex, yet fluid and volatile place to inhabit.

 - Jonathan on Hoax: Psychosis Blues

Velvet vol 1: Before The Living End (£7-50, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“And that’s the last thing that gets me in trouble. I was so worried about Frank being framed… so angry about X-14’s murder… that it doesn’t even occur to me that Frank isn’t the only one being framed.”

Oh, Velvet Templeton, if only you knew…

There are some beautiful books on the market but few more so than this. Set in Paris, Monaco, London and Belgrade in the 1970s before pulling back even further to the Bahamas et al, it is lush with 20th Century fashion from the sleekest sports cars to the slinkiest stealth suits, and wait until Velvet hits the Carnival of Fools, a masque full of masks in Monaco.

By “masks” I mean spies, few more disguised than Velvet.

There is, you see, an espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don’t even know it exists. Within that service there are field agents who are numbers not names, and at its heart lies the Director. The Director has a secretary with long, sable hair now distinguished with a thick, white streak of maturity. She is his eyes, she is his ears but for so many years she was something else: one of ARC-7s most effective field operatives. So deep was her cover that even ARC’s agents aren’t aware of her former activities. And that may prove the undoing of whichever infiltrator has just set her up for treachery, treason and murder.

The tension’s so tight it’s like a cobra that’s been coiled for years, for as Velvet Templeton backtracks on X-14’s movements – and that one missing day – she discovers that this not the first time she has been manipulated. There is one particular moment of intimate horror dating back to 1956 when she realises that the look on one agent’s face as she executes her order must have been that which he saw on her own.

Brubaker you will almost certainly know from CRIMINAL and FATALE and his gripping run on CAPTAIN AMERICA (used for the recent Winter Soldier film) on which he worked with VELVET’s Steve Epting. I cannot imagine the physical or metaphorical map he must have drawn to link all these dates and destinations so intricately, but his CRIMINAL is exactly the same. Here as there he provides a gripping internal monologue as we keep pace with Velvet’s frantic plight trying to keep one desperate step ahead of those who’ve evidently planned her undoing for ages.

“The suit’s synthetic microfibres stopped my ribs from breaking… that’ll have to be good enough. I’ll just box the rest away. But then, I’m good at compartmentalising. It’s one of the first things you have to master in this field. And not just storing away pain or secrets. It becomes a new way of thinking. A way of surviving. Your mind always running down four or five tracks at the same time. Even now, as I scramble to get away… a quieter part of me is planning an escape route.”

At which point Epting inserts a mental map of her potential escape route over the nocturnal ducking and diving which he has choreographed immaculately over the dozen panels accompanying that voice-over. It’s positively balletic throughout.

Moreover, Steve has steeped this series in its period time and place with capital-city car chases past vast, monumental, white-stone, classical facades and balustrades, quay-side contretemps and brief breaths for cruelly cut-short air on a Bahaman beach in 1956. That bathing costume with its visual cues to Velvet’s future hair exemplifies the attention to detail that both Steve and Elizabeth Breitweiser have put into every page and panel. Or it’s a happy coincidence and I will look like a loon.

Coming back to those Regency facades, there are a couple of pages I use most often to sell this on the shop floor (other than the glass shards Breitweiser electrifies on the preceding cliffhanger) in which the heavens have opened on a comparatively calm London town outside an elitist gentleman’s club, the street lights are reflected on the rain-rippled pavement and thin streams of water pour with just the right weight from an umbrella as a cigarette is lit and then *pfuff*…

 

I have no idea how much time two pages like that must take to colour, but it is all very much appreciated and acknowledged.

Lastly – and I mention this only as a love song to Steve Epting for I will not be giving the game away – the final chapter includes a reveal which is visual-only and takes the most extraordinary and subtle command of human anatomy to convey. In retrospect Brubaker slipped in one single clue earlier on, trusting Steve Epting to have laid all the groundwork then pull off the punchline to sweet, ambiguous perfection.

It worked.

SLH

Buy Velvet vol 1: Before The Living End and read the Page 45 review here

Hoax Psychosis Blues h/c (£19-99, Ziggy’s Wish) by Ravi Thornton & Hannah Berry, Karrie Fransman, Leonardo M. Giron, Julian Hanshaw, Rozi Hathaway, Rian Hughes, Rhiana Jade, Ian Jones, Mark Stafford, Bryan Talbot…

Limited edition with exclusive Page 45 bookplate (30 copies only) signed by Ravi Thornton & Rozi Hathaway.

This is a work which will affect or appeal to people in entirely different ways. That’s apt indeed, for from a subjective standpoint, everyone is unique, including those people who are unfortunate enough to suffer with mental illness. Some people reading this graphic novel will simply admire the truly beautiful artwork from the ten diverse and extremely talented artists which Ravi has managed to assemble. Some will be mesmerised and entranced by the sensate stream of consciousness poetry that provides some measure of insight into the fractured inner world of Ravi’s brother Rob. Others, having experience of what mental illness can do to a family member or loved one – perhaps resulting, as in Rob’s case, in the sad decision to take their own life – will certainly find this work deeply, personally affecting.

However, with all that said, whilst we as human beings like to think we are so very good at putting ourselves in someone else’s place, seeing the world through their eyes, for those individuals whose waking moments can flutter between the highs of near transcendence to the depths of utter purgatory in the mere time it takes for a butterfly to spread its wings, we simply cannot truly know what it is to be like them: to feel, at times, as cruelly and painfully isolated as they do from the rest of us. Because, make no mistake, from a relative standpoint nothing and no one is separate. To have the perception, however, that this is the case, can be the cause of such mental turmoil and suffering, that I personally can understand why someone would choose to end it, even at the expense of their own existence.

Taken as a whole, this work provides a window into both Ravi and Rob’s experience of his struggles with his schizophrenia. The ‘Year’ chapters, in the traditional sequential art comics form, illustrated by Leonardo M. Giron, reveal the story from Ravi’s perspective, showing us moments of joy, despair, hope and resignation, as she tries to support her brother as best she can. These are separated with sequences containing poetry inspired by the extensive body of work Rob left behind, and they vary considerably stylistically in art terms, from what we would again consider traditional comics through to what could probably be accurately described as illustrated prose, though I would contend these sequences are also still very much comics as the artwork does significantly inform the intended narrative in conjunction with the prose in a sequential manner. What these differences in style neatly attest, though, is that the mind of a schizophrenic is an extremely rich, complex, yet fluid and volatile place to inhabit.

I think in terms of portraying Rob’s story, Ravi succeeds admirably. I was moved to tears in several places, by certain incidents or nuances that created a deep, emotional resonance within me, much like I experienced with Nicola Streeten’s BILLY, ME & YOU. I did quite deliberately not read this work on the tram this time though, suspecting I might need my hankie at close hand. It’s just so damn hard to see someone’s suffering brought to life so eloquently through their own words, and so poignantly and illuminatingly illustrated, knowing as you do that ultimately there is no happy ending, well, not at least in the traditional sense. With some people who take their own lives, you can tell there may well have been a palpable element of fear and desperation involved, with others, merely the knowledge that peace would finally prevail. I certainly gained some sense of the latter with Rob.

Art-wise, this work is truly an absolute visual smörgåsbord. Firstly, the ‘Year’ chapters by Leonardo M. Giron are magnificently understated, with a deliberately subdued, almost pastel palette and a slightly chalky feel to the colouring. There is one slight exception to this involving a very special butterfly in the final chapter of which I shall say no more. The art accompanying the poetry is mostly, in contrast, extremely rich and vibrant, with a real eclectic mix of styles. There are a couple of obvious, almost monochromatic exceptions, but they are entirely in keeping with the mood of the moment. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I can honestly say, as a man who isn’t massively into poetry, they all really beautifully capture the essence of Rob’s words and thus help convey the not-so merry-go-round of his ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic emotional states. Another impressive addition to the recent canon of works dealing frankly with mental illness, alongside the likes of PSYCHIATRIC TALES, DEPRESSO, MARBLES, LIGHTER THAN MY SHADOW.

JR

Buy Hoax Psychosis Blues h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dead Boy Detectives vol 1: Schoolboy Terrors s/c (£7-50, Vertigo) by Toby Litt & Mark Buckingham.

“You never really know with Tragic Mick. Sure, he always treats us like royalty, it’s just sometimes it’s the red carpet and sometimes it’s the guillotine.”

Oh, I adore Gary Erskine’s inks over Mark Buckingham’s pencils here! He’s basically channelling Jack Kirby and it gives the already unusual an otherworldly feel. It’s the proportions in the panels and the way the shadows fall, whether on hair or the animals (love the locust head/helmet!) and look at the hospital bed, Crystal Palace’s cosplay outfit and her open-plan home with its futuristic furnishings: it could be a floor in the Baxter Building! The whole endeavour is a pleasure to the eye.

Additionally, before the main event, Buckingham and Santos deliver a long-limbed, wall-crawling headmaster straight out of Gerald Scarfe’s illustrations for Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

So, there are three things you need know about Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland: they are boys, they are detectives, they are dead. Almost a century apart they were both murdered at St. Hilarion’s, a private boarding school whose bullying practices and policy during the intervening years had changed not one jot: the former was endemic, the latter non-existent – and, as a public schoolboy myself, I can fucking well vouch for that.

They were created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner in SANDMAN: SEASON OF MISTS (it’s a generic review for the series as a whole, but as generic reviews go I’m inordinately proud of that one) and they have been used on and off by the likes of Bryan Talbot since within series like THE DREAMING. Charles thinks he’s a hardboiled P.I.; Edwin aspires to be Sherlock Holmes – you can tell by their diaries.

There are advantages to being a dead detective as detailed in The Seven Rules And Seven Buts Of Being A Ghost. Eating gets a bit messy. In any event, they seem to be drawn to cats. In addition they are now drawn to Crystal Palace named after the world’s biggest greenhouse which sadly burned to the ground. So that doesn’t augur well. Crystal is the daughter of modern artist Maddy Surname and nonchalant rockstar Seth von Hovercraft. Are you giggling already? I am. During a publicity stunt which goes wrong in every conceivable way they save Crystal’s life, barely, from an errant grenade. Awakening in hospital she resolves to thank them by tracking them down at St. Hilarion’s, the very last place either of the boys want to return to but now have to.

It hasn’t mended its ways.

That’s all you’re getting but I hope I’ve intrigued. In place of the traditional “Next Issue” box at the end of each chapter you are given a jigsaw piece. If you cut them up you will find they fit together very neatly indeed. It’s irrelevant but inventive little touches like that which I love.

SLH

Buy Dead Boy Detectives vol 1: Schoolboy Terrors s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Big Damn Sin City h/c (£75-00, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller.

Listening suggestion: Tom Waits.

This is a leviathan: roughly half the price of the softcovers yet twice their size!

The original SIN CITY was a glorious essay of light on form. Sometimes the form is eroded, sometimes it’s enhanced, blocked out against black or white. The rain slashing across the pages towards the end, as gnarled Marv crosses the streets in his billowing trenchcoat is a sight to behold. For Marv, think Clint Eastwood on steroids. In some ways it’s a very old-fashioned series about “dames” and guys who fall for them. It’s about guns and crime and gun crime; bars and dancers and booze and cars, and it’s ages since I’ve read one.

I have, however, exhumed part of my introduction to the Sin City film delivered many moons ago during thirty minutes of pants-wetting terror at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema where I described the series thus:

By day it’s all sunshine and palm trees and glamorous women. By night it’s a dark and dangerous hellhole, populated by prostitutes, ruled with corruption and stoked by violence.

It’s always night.

“The thing people get wrong about film noir,” wrote Miller, “is that they think it just looks spooky, missing the fact that the spookiness of the look is a reflection of what’s going on behind the eyes of the people. If there is some real emotional darkness, it doesn’t matter how dark the film is, with shadows and blinds behind them; all these other things are metaphors for the torment, or the self hatred, or the despair the character’s going through.”

Miller always wanted to do crime comics.

He began his career by pencilling a fairly standard and failing superhero comic called DAREDEVIL because at that point there were very few other entry points into the industry. But as soon as he took over its writing he turned it into a crime comic. Yes, it retained some of the trappings of superheroes, like the costumes, but most of the action took place down darkened alleys in deprived Hell’s Kitchen and it wasn’t long before one of Millar’s other interests was introduced: martial arts in the form of ninjas, throwing stars and big, pointy swords.  From the get-go the fight scenes were choreographed as gracefully as ballet movements and Miller displayed an unusual inventiveness and a mastery of what the panels on the page could do with time and space… and indeed what the medium lacked, like movement, and how to compensate for that.

His solution in that instance was to litter the pages with pieces of floating paper, giving the impression of wind. And if you look at the cars in SIN CITY, if in motion they are rarely anchored to the road because if you draw a car realistically on the asphalt it’ll just look like it’s parked. So they fly above it instead.

If you compare Miller’s earlier work to his latest, you’ll notice two trends: they’re increasingly socio-political in content and increasingly expressionistic in execution.

As Miller has noted, when drawing an establishing shot, say in an office, most comicbook artists will be taught to draw everything in as much detail as possible. But comics is a medium whose panels work best if you don’t linger on them.

Unlike film, during which one frame simply replaces another in front of us, in comics time is represented by space with consecutive panels sitting next to each other. The artist is taking a thing in motion and selecting specific images from that motion, which the reader subconsciously joins up as his or her eyes flow across the pages. Too many details impede the speed of that process and slow down the story, so realism isn’t necessarily as useful as expressionism. Often a single object can tell you more about a room, its atmosphere or indeed its occupants than a fully mapped-out shot, because the impression it makes on your mind, without all the distractions, can be stronger.

With SIN CITY Miller really started putting that to the test. He became more interested in shapes than in lines, and you can see that on almost every page with silhouettes and framing features everywhere. The series is an essay in black and white, a masterclass on the emphasis of form and the erosion of form by light.

Indeed it’s changed the way Frank works. He’ll write the script, then he’ll pencil the entire book out before he even begins to touch the pen and brush. Nor does he pencil too tightly otherwise, for him, the inking would be simply mechanical rather than an involving, imaginative process. Then he reverses the usual process by going in and mapping out the big spaces – the blacks, the whites, the shapes. Only after that does he go back in with a finer line if – and only if – more detail is required.

I then went on to wibble about newspaper columns versus 300’s landscape format before talking about the film-making process which in this instance was particularly fascinating even if some sequences ended up looking like an ‘80s pop video along the lines of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love.

Here, have a sense of scale:

SLH

Buy Big Damn Sin City h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Disenchanted vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & German Erramouspe…

“Us with our… old old ways. Our idiot rituals. Why sour milk? Why flick dew on cobwebs, eh?
“Why learn to tangle hair, Noro? We never stop to ask!
“Well I’ve asked. I’ve tested the bloody rules, and you know what?
“There’s no reason. Not when all it does is… is fill us up with smugness and hate.
“Don’t you see that?”

I started off wondering if this was going to be merely a darker version of FABLES, but it fact it has far more in common with the considerably more engaging and visceral HINTERKIND. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised given it is an Avatar title and written by Si Spurrier who pens the brilliantly wicked ongoing CROSSED: WISH YOU WERE HERE spin-off .And I think this title might have the potential to be as good as that one, actually, if not quite so horrific as this is definitely more in the crime genre, though it does have its wince-worthy moments.

The basic premise is the Little People of folklore such the pixies, fey, leprechauns, boggarts et al have long forsaken their traditions and expansive homelands of the countryside, and decamped to the filthy, drug-ridden city, specifically an abandoned tube station which has been colonised by goblins, and thus effectively all sold themselves into indentured wage slavery to the greedy greenies.

Yes, the goblins rule the roost in Vermintown and they’re not about to let any of the other races out from under their boot. Our heroes, a family of the fey, torn across generations between the old ways and the tempting sleaze of the new, are struggling to maintain their cohesion as a family unit as well as any sense of identity or indeed semblance of filial piety.

So part-crime, plenty grime, I really enjoyed this first volume, simply because it’s nice to read something where all the characters are quite frankly utterly flawed, and to some extent or another, quite deserving of their lot, yet still they all strive under the misapprehension they deserve something better. Not if the goblins have anything to do with it! Expect foul language, sex, violence and drug abuse, because this title certainly contains it in abundance.

JR

Buy Disenchanted vol 1and read the Page 45 review here

Outcast #1 (£2-25, Image) Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta with Elizabeth Breitweiser…

“Joshua… what are you eating?! It’s almost bedtime.”
“So… hungry…”

And thus begins what Robert Kirkman promises will be a proper horror comic, bar a great bit of witty opening repartee which softens you up nicely for the initial shocker accompanying the above quotation. 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 his afterword, 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 this first issue, 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, well he’s clearly a man with some story to tell. 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 first issue), 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?

Spectacularly spooky and action packed art from Paul Azaceta, who has previously done some decent stuff on SPIDER-MAN: ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES and bits of the extended SPIDER-MAN: GAUNTLET arc, some of the Brubaker DAREDEVIL run, BPRD vol 9 – 1946, CONAN with Brian Wood immediately after the Becky Cloonan run, but this, this is going to take him to another level of stardom entirely I think. And rightly so.

JR

Buy Outcast #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dog Butts And Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. (£9-99, NBM) by Jim Benton.

Jim Benton is a cheeky chappy as evidenced immediately by the title selling itself on the mass-appeal market while ripping the piss out of it at the same time.

In truth there are very few dogs or cats on offer, while the cartoons themselves are less observational than CAT PERSON or Jeffrey Brown’s CATS ARE WEIRD and more intellectual along the lines of Tom Gauld’s YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK genius but with a slightly lower hit rate for me. Having said that, this is a keenly observed belter:

“Why do I have to learn all this stupid math stuff?”
“Because you’ll need it for college.”

Ten years later:

“Okay, if I pay tuition and ½ the rent, I can buy enough rice to last 3/5 of the month… if I use my student discount and the 15% off coupon…”

Enormous sympathy to students everywhere.

 

Laziness, stupidity, evolution, over-complicating things, over-thinking things, no cranial activity whatsoever. There’s a silent strip about a sculptor getting a fatal thumbs-down that made me guffaw like Trondheim’s MISTER I. “Are you trying to get me drunk?”’s visual punchline made me grin and, oh, how familiar is this…?

“For part of your life, you worry about your future.
“Eventually, you stop doing this, and you spend your time regretting your past.
“There is a point, somewhere in-between, when you engage in neither behaviour.
“This may last up to four minutes, so try not to miss it.”

Avengers Assembled’s Samuel L. Fury makes an unexpected, eye-popping appearance and a rattlesnake complains that its food’s been poisoned.

SLH

Buy Dog Butts And Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. and read the Page 45 review here

Attack On Titan: No Regrets vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Gun Snark & Hikaru Suruga…

“Frankly, it’s a disgrace. We all had to go through the same training yet you’re asking us to accept criminals into our ranks?!”
“Your complaint is only natural.”
“Their presence could even put our lives in danger! What should I tell my subordinates?”
“Squadron Leader Flagon. You’re right. These people had no training. They did not earn wings from us. They grew their own, out of necessity. And I believe those wings will play a part in revolutionising this organisation.”
“You speak of revolution? I just pray that venturing outside the walls doesn’t become… the greatest of their crimes.”

Yes, it’s a tough life in the elite cadre of Page 45 mail order minions. So… yet another spin-off of what is apparently Japan’s answer to the WALKING DEAD. So the adverts say, though I’m not totally sure I see that comparison, it seems a little lazy to me. It’s not quite as insanely dangerous a world as CROSSED, but it’s a considerable step up in imminent peril level from the WALKING DEAD, that’s for sure. Give me run of the mill zombies over fifty-foot-high ones every day of the week. It is definitely as big a phenomenon in Japan though, and pretty popular everywhere else too, including at Page 45.

Anyway, much like ATTACK ON TITAN: BEFORE THE FALL, this is effectively prequel material, and as with that title, I would say it is required reading, as we begin to explore the origin stories of Erwin and Levi, two of the main title’s central characters. Fleshing out the world of the Capital city as much as it does our cast, revealing the presence of the Underworld, where an underclass of society barely manage to survive, it adds further depth to what is already an impressively elaborate milieu.

JR

Buy Attack On Titan: No Regrets 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

 

King-Cat Comics & Stories #74 (£2-99, King Cat) by John Porcellino

Listen (£2-99, Flat Mountain Press) by Trevor Grabill

Sunday In The Park With Boys (£7-50, Koyama Press) by Jane Mai

The Boy In Question (£4-99, Space Face Books) by Michael DeForge

Diary Comics Number Four (£7-50, Koyama Press) by Dustin Harbin

You Don’t Get There From Here #26 (£1-99, ) by Carrie McNinch

S! (Baltic Comics Magazine) #11 (£7-50, Biedriba Grafiske ) by Various

S! (Baltic Comics Magazine) #12 (£7-50, Biedriba Grafiske ) by Various

Mini-Kus! #10 (£3-99, Biedriba Grafiske ) by Mari Ahokoivu

Mini-Kus! #5 (£3-99, Biedriba Grafiske ) by Leo Kivro

Mini-Kus! #6 (£3-99, Biedriba Grafiske ) by Box Brown

In The Sounds And Seas (£9-99, Monkey-Rope Press) by Marnie Galloway

Songs Of The Abyss (£12-99, Secret Acres) by Eamon Espey

Blobby Boys (£7-50, Koyama Press) by Alex Schubert

Freddy Stories (£7-50, ) by Melissa Mendes

I Will Bite You (£10-50, Secret Acres) by Joseph Lambert

Jammers (£4-50, Hic  & Hoc) by Lizz Hickey

Post York (£6-99, Uncivilized Books) by James Romberger

I Want Everything To Be OK (£7-50, Tugboat Press) by Carrie McNinch

R L #1 (£3-00, Sequential Artists Workshop) by Tom Hart

Curio Cabinet (£10-99, Secret Acres) by John Brodowski

Life Zone (£8-99, Space Face Books) by Simon Hanselmann

Gold Star (£3-99, Retrofit Comics) by John Martz

The Man That Dances In The Meadow (£3-99, Space Face Books) by Sam Alden

Out Of Hollow Water (£8-50, 2D Cloud) by Anna Bonngiovanni

The Whale (£7-50, Gaze Books) by Aidan Koch

Dark Times (£6-99, ) by Robert M Ball

A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War vol 4 s/c (£12-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Clint Langley

Chu’s First Day At School h/c (£10-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex

Couch Tag h/c (£19-99, Fantagraphics) by Jesse Reklaw

House Party (£9-99, Great Beast) by Rachael Smith

Love And Rockets vol 10: Luba And Her Family (£13-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

Occupy Comics: Art + Stories Inspired By Occupy Wall Street s/c (£11-99, Black Mask) by Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Ales Kot, Si Spurrier, many more & David Mack, Charlie Adlard, David Lloyd, many more

Shackleton – Antarctic Odyssey s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Nick Bertozzi

Through The Woods h/c (£14-99, Faber & Faber) by Emily Carroll

Green Lantern – New Guardians vol 3: Love & Death s/c (£12-99, DC) by Tony Bedard & Aaron Kuder, various

Injustice vol 2 h/c (£14-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Mike S. Miller, Tom Derenick, Bruno Redondo

Guardians Of Galaxy Movie Prelude s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by various

Indestructible Hulk vol 4: Humanity Bomb (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Mamhud Asrar, Jheremy Raapack, Clay Mann, Seth Mann

Uncanny X-Men vol 2: Broken s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frazer Irving, Chris Bachalo

Deadman Wonderland vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 13-15 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Dragon Ball Full Colour Saiyan Arc vol 3 (£14-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 5 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

One Piece vol 71 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Seraph Of The End, Vampire Reign vol 1 (£7-50, Viz) by Takaya Kagami & Yamato Yamamoto

Usagi Yojimbo vol 28: Red Scorpion (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Stan Sakai

 

ITEM! Joe Sacco’s Battle Of The Somme plastered over the Paris Metro!

ITEM! Gorgeous Bill Sienkiewicz painted covers for LONEWOLF AND CUB

ITEM! Illuminating article on colour with fun eye exercises explaining that although magenta is not a spectral colour it obviously “exists” as much as any colour exists because colour exists only in our brains. It’s all just wavelengths.

ITEM! Scott McCloud’s cover to THE SCULPTOR unveiled!

ITEM! Nottingham Festival of Words 2014, October 13-19

ITEM! Jiro Taniguchi to attend Angoulême with big exhibition to boot!

ITEM! Fight censorship: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund ‘Banned Books Week Handbook’ available in print or as a download.

ITEM! More beautiful (and free!) BLAKE SINCLAIR by Sarah Burgess. Sarah’s THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR in stock at Page 45 now!

ITEM! DAWN OF THE UNREAD assesses and addressed low levels of Young Adult literacy with interactive graphic novel by the likes of Michael Eaton & Eddie Campbell (Charlie Peace) and Nicola Monaghan (The Killing Jar)

ITEM! Finally, congratulations to Heidi MacDonald on The Beat’s 10th Anniversary! What a fabulously entertaining overview of the last ten years in comics that is!

- Stephen

Reviews June 2014 week four

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Popstars on their pedestals: that’s where we place them in order to worship, just as we used to old gods.

 - Stephen on The Wicked + The Divine #1

The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains h/c (£12-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & Eddie Campbell.

“I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will never forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city.”

Who could possibly resist the ominous implications of opening lines like these? But once you have teased out the truths which lead to the bleak consideration above they prove word-perfect. Are there many things more satisfying in life than poetic justice? I think not.

I relish a clever structure and this one is crafty indeed. The following paragraph alone seems straightforward and innocuous enough, but words are chosen carefully throughout and retrospect is a funny old thing.

“I had searched for nearly ten years, although the trail was cold. I would say that I found him by accident, but I do not believe in accidents. If you walk the path, eventually you must arrive at the cave.”

The narrator is a Scotsman of strikingly diminutive statue. You might think that puts him at a disadvantage. You might be right; you may be wrong.

He calls at a fair-sized house gleaming white against rich, green pasture and fresh, purple heather as well as mist-shrouded mountains beyond. There he seeks a reaver called Calum MacInnes.

Calum MacInness proves to be a tall, guarded man with a wolfish face who looms over him. The narrator asks Calum MacInness to guide him to a cave in the Black Mountain on the Misty Isle. Although most believe that the cave exists not, he has heard that Calum McInness has been there and found gold inside. Those who do believe of the cave’s fleeting existence believe also that it is cursed and that there is a price to be paid for any gold gathered from within. Calum MacInness warns him of this:

“This is bad gold. It does not come free. It has its cost.”
“Everything has its cost.”

I have not lied to you once up above nor have I told you the truth.

I’m not lying now when I tell you this is one of Gaiman’s finest novellas which has gone through so many forms, including a reading enhanced by music and Eddie Campbell’s projected illustrations first performed at the Sydney Opera House, before arriving at this similarly hybrid book not just designed but constructed by ALEC’s Eddie Campbell himself.

Fascinatingly, the key conversations – snippets or largely confessions – are given subtle emphasis by being pulled up from the illustrated prose surrounding them in the form of comic panels. In any other circumstances I would have used the word “inset” instead, but to me they appear raised in an effect similar to spot-varnish. If you read these alone (and with careful inference) they expose the story’s skeletal backbone buried beneath the body of the book. Or at least, I think they do: I read the tale in its entirety and things unlearned cannot be unlearned, only forgotten, and none of us have time to forget.

In any case I don’t recommend doing so because only the emphatic effect is what’s intended and you would, of course, have lost much of the flavour in the form of Campbell’s atmospheric landscapes – his nocturnal croft, his majestic black mountains and in particular the twin thorn-bush paintings in which the seasons of life are contrasted with consummate cruelty – and Gaiman’s measured tone which is as solemn as the judgement pronounced.

There are precedents for mixed media in comics like Posy Simmonds’ TAMARA DREWE and GEMMA BOVERY but this shifts the balance in a new, daring way and there aren’t many first attempts at anything which you could consider resounding successes. This is note-perfect, even without the contribution of the FourPlay String Quartet, although they are all on tour right now with this: http://www.neilgaiman.com/where/

SLH

Buy The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine #1 (£2-75, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson.

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

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

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

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

And that’s all today’s interviewer sees: a sophisticated advertising campaign built around bullshit. Mythological claptrap. Pretention. Dissemblance. The idea that Amaterasu is anything other than Hazel Greenaway from Exeter is preposterous.

All of which is witnessed by seventeen-year-old Laura – last to pass out, the first to wake up – who has lucked into Luci’s favour and been taken under her wing.

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

I think we’d better leave it there.

From the creative crew behind PHONOGRAM and YOUNG AVENGERS this moves startling fast for a first issue. For a writer who relishes wit-riddled repartee – and provides plenty here packed with musical winks and nudges – this is quite the “fuck, no!” jaw/floor thrill.

Without giving the game away (which is what someone usually says when they are about to give the game away) McKelvie and Wilson have come up with multiple special effects involving dots, rays and flat, spot colour to make the more miraculous moments stand out a mile from the warmer, graded pages. Who decided what is always difficult to discern with this team, but there is some gorgeous design work on display as well (hello, Hannah Donovan!) from the cover and its logo to the make-up and most especially the 1923 night’s round-table with what I infer to be its remaining members’ fashion sense and symbols.

The symbol circle’s contemporary counterpart on January 1st 2014 is markedly different not just in individual composition but… oh, you’ll see.

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

I am also intrigued. Which is exactly how a first issue should leave you.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The End signed, sketched in (£6-00, Thingsbydan) by Dan Berry.

“14 Days & Counting.”

Well, this will give you pause for thought.

Bound within a luxurious, rough-grained, card-stock cover which had been screen-printed with scarlet, black and gold are some of the most sobering pages I’ve read from Dan Berry. Such is the beauty of the cover you might not register at first that the objects which the gold adorns are skulls.

It’s closer to CARRY ME in tone that the comedy of CAT ISLAND, THE SUITCASE, HEY YOU! and THROW YOUR KEYS AWAY, but in execution it’s yet another departure. The washes are in a wet, inky black and blue whose sheen is picked up beautifully on the crisp, white, satin paper.

A lot of this takes place at night, which doesn’t always bring out the best in us. We don’t like it when we can’t see what is happening. We don’t like it when we don’t understand what is happening. We don’t react well to that which we cannot control.

Time in particular we feel the need to control: we measure it out in years divided into months or weeks, which we decided should have seven days composed of twenty-four hours each housing sixty minutes and they, sixty seconds. A day makes solar sense, as does a year, but boy we don’t half attach a lot of importance to some of the more arbitrary measurements and a countdown sure gets the adrenalin rushing.

When the numbers first appeared overnight – all of them “14” – they did so on walls and billboards and buses: the sort of places you’d expect from a marketing campaign. So we shrugged because that’s what we assumed it was.

“Thirteen came and went the next day with a chorus of “I told you so” and eye-rolling from the people who kept up with this sort of thing. The progression from 14 to 13 was predictable and had been done to death, they said. If this was to be a truly effective ad campaign, we’d need to given a reason to car and we didn’t have that. 6 /10, must try harder.”

Love the smug, supercilious pundit there in his turtleneck sweater, brandishing a cigarette and tut-tutting with his fingers.

Dan’s put an enormous amount of lateral thought into this, a study in human behaviour under unusual circumstances extrapolated from how we do react to numbers and time. Also, I love the core conceit and where Dan ran with it right to the end.

SLH

Buy The End by emailing page45@page45.com or phoning 0115 9508045 because we have next to none in and it’s already out of print. Demand was that fast, yes.

Escapo h/c (£18-99, Z2 Comics) by Paul Pope…

“They conceived me up over that summer, those fresh-faced two…
“That little sperm and that little round egg, they joined and blended and rolled up, and they conceived me.
“And I was born in a sterile room full of steel tools and knives…
“… and they didn’t even ask if I wanted to be there.
“And it was in this way I made it through my very first escape hatch. Escapo, King of the World!”

You’ve either got it, or you haven’t. Me, having bought this newly coloured edition in addition to the black and white 1999 original, well, I guess now I’ve got it twice! Paul Pope just has it in abundance, though. Talent, that is. Seemingly he always has, though in a fascinating afterword, which explains why ESCAPO has been reworked and re-released, it’s clear Paul feels he’s moved on considerably since 1999, not just in artistic ability but also in the understanding of the tools of his trade. Not least that you shouldn’t used markers which will fade or bleed over time if you want to retain the integrity of the original artwork! Hence, his need to revisit, restore and thus (re)produce this new edition of what is, to my mind, an early Pope masterpiece.

There are comic artists who are truly, singularly unique, seemingly inspired by no one nor indeed inspiring others. Their style stands – in Pope’s case even down to his lettering – for all intents and purposes alone. I can’t imagine what effort of will it must take to produce such a performance. Much like that required to defy death purely for the entertainment of others perhaps, though obviously without the potential for a fatal mishap at any moment. Pope, however, does not perform with the drama-sapping luxury of a safety net, either. Epic in scale and grandeur, his pages and panels here are all spectacular in their concept and construction.

ESCAPO, though, is no showy piece of three-ring hoopla, instead it is a story bristling with passion and sentiment, albeit unfulfilled and misplaced, which at its pounding heart has the cruellest kind of love known to man, the unrequited variety.

Poor Vic: the public may marvel at his exploits and gasp at his brushes with disaster as that most daring of escape artistes, but he’d happily trade it all for just a single kiss from the lithesome object of his desires, the capricious Aerobella. Unfortunately for Vic, her vainglorious heart belongs to another, the beautiful Acrobat King. Will Escapo choose to end it all distraught, mid-performance, under the gaze of a rapt but terrified crowd? Or will he choose to live forever more with a broken heart? You want to know? Well then step up, step up, buy your entrance ticket, come into Paul Pope’s tent of wonder and delight, and above all prepare to be amazed…

This edition also contains a whole host of extras not in the original edition, besides the afterword, including the two-page alternate ending from the original French version and various beautiful Escapo circus posters by Paul and various friends which I absolutely adored. Some things are just worth buying twice.

JR

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

The Harlem Hellfighters (£12-99, Broadway Books) by Max Brooks & Canaan White…

“’The Harlem Hellfighters,’ that’s what Fritzee’s callin’ us now, ‘The Harlem Hellfighters!’”
“Ya think it’ll be enough to get me a medal a’ honour?”
“Until then, this will have to do. The French Croix De Guerre, The Cross Of War. And you are the first American, black or white, to win it. I’m both proud and sorry to say… you won’t be the last…”

So, not only did I not know that a unit of black Americans volunteered and fought in the First World War, I also didn’t know the first American recipient of the Croix De Guerre was black. A great-great uncle of mine won the Croix De Guerre in WW2, as it happens, fighting for the French Foreign Legion, though that is a story for another time, obviously. It seems the lack of knowledge regarding the existence of the Harlem Hellfighters is quite widespread though, as Canaan White talks about in his illuminating afterword as to why he took on this project.

There are talks about a Harlem Hellfighters movie happening, based on his script, not least because White has approached LeVar Burton. (Yes, possibly best known as Geordi La Forge, but also before wider Star Trek fame he was the star of the massively popular Roots: The Saga Of An American Family depicting the story of a Gambian slave seized and transported back to America in chains in 1750, and what subsequently happened to him and his descendants right through to the Civil War. If you have never seen it, you should, by the way, for it is truly epic.) Fingers crossed because, given the current anniversary of WW1 – which is presumably why this graphic novel is coming out now – I am amazed it hasn’t already been made. What a shame – and I use that word in a couple of different ways quite deliberately there.

So, is this straight non-fiction? Nearly. Artistic licence has been taken with certain characters, but it does mainly feature characters that are based directly on real-life people including Henry Johnson, the Croix De Guerre recipient. The events depicted are, again, fictionalised to an extent, but much of what we know did happen both during their training and active service, is exactly as portrayed here. This fictionalisation doesn’t reduce the impact in any way, either of the pure warfare element itself or of the story of the heinous discrimination the Hellfighters faced at every turn, from the moment they volunteered, at the hands of local Americans whilst stationed at training camps, to even on a daily basis at the front, at the behest of their own government, who simply did not want the allies treating them as equals lest they gain the idea they ought to start demanding equality more forcibly back home.

In lesser part therefore, this is simply a fantastic war story, the type I used to love reading as a kid in BATTLE. The action is captured with brutal precision, accurately portraying what an absolute hell on earth WW1 trench warfare was, with the senseless over-the-top charges directly into machine-gun fire and the industrial-scale use of chemical munitions adding to the wholesale slaughter.

But primarily this is story about a lesser-known side to the fight for racial equality in the United States. I suppose most of us presume it began in earnest with the civil rights movement during Martin Luther King’s era, but obviously there were trailblazers long before that. What simply beggars belief is that people who wanted to fight for their country, and to uphold democracy, could be so appallingly treated, even whilst undertaking their brave defence of liberty, by the very people they were protecting. Much like with SALLY HEATHCOTE, SUFFRAGETTE it’s quite hard to grasp in our more relatively enlightened society (relatively, note) how such insanely fascistic oppression could be deemed acceptable, and widespread casual discrimination just viewed as normal everyday behaviour. Bizarre and upsetting in equal measure.

Also, I should mention, White’s art style works really well here. I’m normally used to seeing him draw something horrific in an Avatar comic, but it’s nice to see that beneath all the gore he’s a really talented artist, and can do facial expressions that don’t involve demented psychosis or extreme torture, though obviously WW1 does still provide him with the opportunity to provide more than a few stomach-turning panels. Also, I think the decision not to colour the art is the right one as I believe it would have detracted from the story. Much like CHARLEY’S WAR, it’s much more emotionally disturbing for being in black and white. It allows the true human story to be told without it sinking under the blood and muck of the battlefield. An absolute triumph in my eyes, and I really do hope the film gets made one day.

JR

Buy The Harlem Hellfighters and read the Page 45 review here

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer Complete Edition s/c (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Van Jensen & Dustin Higgins.

You can always trust Top Shelf Productions.

I made the mistake once of questioning a book Chris Staros had signed up, thinking it odd for that publisher, and he quietly told me to trust him. He was right. It was SURROGATES, since you ask.

On the surface this looks like such an obvious one-trick pony which should swiftly become a knackered old nag unable to bear the weight of its 500+ pages: Pinocchio, the ultimate vampire hunter on account of an endless, self-replenishing supply of wooden stakes he doesn’t even have to carry round with him. All he has to do is lie and *SHINK* he’s stuck his nose right into someone’s “business”.

But you know what? Trust me. The creators have come up with a startling variety of permutations and they don’t all involve impalement; some involve the love of his life, Carlotta.

Pinocchio: “Carlotta! What are you doing here? It’s dangerous outside of Nasolungo! I wish you hadn’t come.”
*SHINK*
Cricket: “Some poker face…”

Likewise the running gag of Cricket’s multiple, accidental deaths at Pinocchio’s easily distracted hands: that the cricket is already dead – a ghost as in Collodi’s original tale, much, much darker than Disney’s – makes for moments of smile-inducing, resigned exasperation rather than oh-my-god tragedy.

There are moments of loss, don’t get me wrong, and it’s to the creators’ enormous credit that they restrain themselves from even considering the obvious gag when Pinocchio quietly murmurs, “I’m fine”. As to the ending, it is a very brave ending. It is the very best ending. But I doubt it is one you will see coming. I’m glad they took their time with that.

 

 

The art in black and white with a lot of grey tone may not seem much to write home about on the surface, but comics is all about the flow and I flipped through this at an astonishing rate. Where it comes to the fore is the flashbacks: the Puppet Theatre’s performance of Hamlet (King Claudius in conclusion: “I really had this coming.”) and the introductory summary of the Collodi’s original tale which I can’t successfully quote, so intrinsic is the cartooning to the comedy.

SLH

Buy Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer Complete Edition s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Eye Of Newt #1 (£2-99, Dark Horse) by Michael Hague…

“The eye is cold and merciless, a window to death and destruction. Only a true hero, one with a courageous heart, can stare into the dragon’s eye.”

Someone completely insane too, I would imagine. Or maybe once you start dabbling in magic, you’re bound to go a bit cuckoo, as you take your first steps along the road less travelled. Anyway, thus begins a highest of high fantasy four-part mini-series, that positively glows and crackles with eldritch energy.

Meanwhile, our youthful neophyte hero Newt is about to be engulfed in a very ancient and dangerous quest, an initiation into the deeper world of wizardry. An expedition that will help determine his place in the pecking order of the spell casting power structure for the rest of his magical career. The stronger the element he can find for the headpiece of his staff, the more powerful a wizard he will have the potential to become. If he survives the quest, that is, obviously.

His master, a particular ancient and somewhat curmudgeonly fellow known as the Dark Man, means well but his idea of a pep talk about the dangers that lurk beyond the not-so-metaphorical door to the netherworld consists primarily of curtly telling his charge that he would rather see him die than return with anything less than the most powerful headpiece. Tough love, eh? There are of course ‘Dark Forces’ and other multitudinous villainy afoot, which will undoubtedly plague and imperil our hero en route.

 

I think this really has the potential to be an excellent mini. Clearly there are parallels to be drawn with UMBRAL in high fantasy terms, and if you’re enjoying that epic series, you will definitely like this. Art-wise it’s also a bit different from the norm, though very much in keeping with the subject matter, and the closest comparisons I could make would be Charles Vess and Arthur Rackham, though perhaps with a slightly more sinister touch, in part engendered by the stylishly dappled use of colouring. I must confess I’m not familiar with creator Michael Hague, but apparently he is well known and highly regarding book illustrator, of the fantasy and children’s variety mainly, and he did do a graphic novel a few years ago called IN THE SMALL which sounds rather interesting, though sadly looks to be out of print. If you like the odd bit of beard-stroking and wand-waving, this could be for you.

JR

Buy Eye Of Newt #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers World vol 1: A.I.M.PIRE s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Stefano Caselli, John Cassaday…

How many Avengers books is one too many? I have to say probably this one, despite it being written by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer. One of the main stories never really got me interested, rehashing old villainess Morgan Le Fey in a run-of-the-mill manner, though clearly it is actually about developing the Starbrand character, and the other featuring A.I.M. seems to be trying to tie up loose ends from elsewhere primarily. This book sits somewhere between the current NEW AVENGERS, AVENGERS and also SECRET AVENGERS storylines, without ever really getting anywhere near the highs of those books, particularly the first two, which have been consistently brilliant for a while.

It does, however, have an eight-page sequence featuring Manifold and Captain Universe which I think are highly significant for NEW AVENGERS readers as they answer a very significant question posed there. I actually think it’s slightly naughty the answer being put in a different title which probably considerably fewer people are reading, when it really should be in NEW AVENGERS. Anyway, read it or not, your choice.

Asst. Ed.’s note: this title has switched direction a bit now with the current issues, is solo written by Spencer and I am enjoying it considerably more. I think it may well have found its own groove.

JR

Buy Avengers World vol 1: A.I.M.PIRE 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?

 

Abe Sapien vol 4: The Shape Of Things To Come (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Big Damn Sin City h/c (£75-00, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller

Dead Boy Detectives vol 1: Schoolboy Terrors s/c (£7-50, Vertigo) by Toby Litt & Mark Buckingham

Disenchanted vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & German Erramouspe

Dog Butts And Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. (£9-99, NBM) by Jim Benton

Massive vol 3: Longship s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Garry Brown

My Little Pony: Friends Forever vol 1 s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Alex De Campi, various & Carla Speed McNeil, various

Rogue Trooper: Tales Of Nu-Earth vol 4 (£19-99, Rebellion) by Gordon Rennie, Ian Edginton, Mark Millar, Andy Diggle, Gerry Finlay- Day & Mike Collins, Simon Coleby, Steve Pugh, Dave Gibbons

The Harlem Hellfighters (£12-99, Broadway Books) by Max Brooks & Caanan White

Wonton Soup Collected Edition s/c (£14-99, Oni Press) by James Stokoe

Before Watchmen – Ozymandias / Crimson Corsair s/c (£14-99, DC) by Len Wein, John Higgins & Jae Lee, various, John Higgins, Steve Rude

Batman Detective Comics vol 4: The Wrath h/c (£18-99, DC) by John Layman, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson & Andy Clarke, Jason Fabok, various

Batman Detective Comics vol 3: Emperor Penguin s/c (£12-99, DC) by John Layman & Jason Fabok, Andy Clarke

New Avengers vol 3: Other Worlds h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Simone Bianchi, Rags Morales

Superior Spider-Man Team-up vol 2: Superior Six s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Christopher Yost, Kevin Shinick & Marco Checchetto, Ron Frenz, Will Sliney

Attack On Titan: No Regrets vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Gun Snark & Hikaru Suruga

Whispered Words vol 1 (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Takashi Ikeda

ITEM! Best single stash of comics from Page 45 ever: ALL the best books!

ITEM! Oh yes, and this we announced late Monday night:

Bryan Lee O’Malley

Signing at Page 45

Monday 18th August, 5pm-8pm

The very 10th Anniversary of SCOTT PILGRIM.

So that’s a thing.

- Stephen

Reviews June 2014 week three

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Alison phones her mother in the desperate but vain hope of finally hearing some words of approbation, and then her mother talks at her about her own current focus of interest while Alison just sits there, recording and acting as little more than punctuation marks in her mother’s self-absorbed discourse.

 - Stephen on Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? finally in stock as a s/c.

Not unrelated: we finally review Neil Gaiman’s Ocean At The End Of The Lane.

The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vol 1 (£12-55, Zetabella) by Sarah Burgess.

 

Perfect in pale peach and lemon yellows, the pages here glow like a summer sunrise or a glass of Bellini with the early evening light pouring through it. They are as tangy as a citrus fool with bits of lemon peel left in.

A fool of the love-rat variety is what Blake Sinclair first appears to be.

He’s up bright and early and cheerful as anything, prising open the bedroom window to soak up the sunshine and leap barefoot into the day. He’s young and dashing in a gangly, tousled-hair kind of a way and, oh, how he loves the ladies. Unfortunately he has just left one behind back in said bedroom whose window he’s now clambering back through. Daisy is just waking up, punctuating her sweet-smiling words with love hearts.

 

It’s a brilliant Blake and Burgess moment of which there will be many more. Blake isn’t in love with himself and doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body but he is completely open and honest, by which I mean blunt and careless and more than a little inconsiderate. You don’t go on and on about how fab your ex is in front of the girl with a big crush on you. (That isn’t Daisy, by the way; that’s Janey and Ruthie, respectively.) Especially not when your ex is heading back into town and you’re virtually hyperventilating with glee. It’s really not at all fair on Ruthie.

Oh, but is that what’s really happening? We shall see, we shall see… I promised more brilliant Blake and Burgess moments, and I swear Sarah won’t let you down.

Each chapter title falls in with the theme like ‘bright light summer days’ and there is so much space – more space perhaps than in any comic I have ever read. The forms are all as lithe as you like, the clothes and bed sheets hanging off them with a perfectly judged weight depending on texture, while quite often the panels are free-floating and borderless. Every single page is composed with perfect balance and there is a visual Unity to this graphic novel that is positively Greek.

There will be drama and laughter and maybe a few tears; hellos and good-byes and the occasion awkward introduction. There will be shared enthusiasm and gossip as well, and I love how the gaggle of friends venting their “tut-tuts” on the very first morning are only partly overheard – partly because half of their sentences are lost outside the word balloons. It’s clever like that.

SLH

Buy The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Cat Person (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Seo Kim.

Recognition Factor Fifty!

Short, observational comedies can be so hit and miss, but this one ticks every single box.

First comes the cat with the never-ending Territorial Armchair Wars between the feline and the feckless (but what can you do?); those incessant “I’m being starved to death” yowls when the biscuit bowl is full, you add three more biscuits and – whooomf – instant munch mania until they’re all gone; that bizarre, talking-to-itself, speaking-in-tongues “mraaoowwwaaaoohl” coming from the other room only to discover it’s OD-ed on catnip and you’ve got a seriously monged-up moggie on your hands.

Don’t own a cat? Bet you own a mobile phone and “Oh my god I’ve left it at home there’ll be so many missed calls most of them vital and people will think that I’m dead or I’m rude or I hate them and — ” Oh.

E-mail procrastination? I’m probably worse: sometimes I daren’t even look, let alone reply.

Then there’s true tragedy: the loss of that tasty treat you’ve been longing for to ten minutes’ terminal distraction and the malicious, capricious God Of All Things Burnt Beyond Recognition. Oh, the walk of shame as I open the kitchen door with my diseased dinner and dump it in the bin. Sometimes at 2am.

There are also precise, scientific studies here akin to Professor Lizz Lunney’s in which Science Officer Seo compares humans to cats and comes to a startling conclusion which could change all that we know about nature. The final panel of ‘Humans And Cats Are The Same’ basically is LizzLizz through and through. Infer from that what you will.

The majority of this is in full colour, by the way, and I love the cartooning which is energetic, wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked and fun, fun, fun. The body language is brilliant, the tears all too real, the sheer I-probably-shouldn’t-do-this triumph of desire over moderation and all common sense is both familiar and messy. She even tries to have words with herself which turns into an argument and finally a fist-flying punch-up.

Time management is possibly the most recurrent confession here: specifically Seo Kim’s complete failure to go to bed and so salvage the following day which is inevitably lost to a late start, early dithering, then more social media than strictly necessary until “Oh my god it’s five to five already and I have written bugger all!”

I have absolutely no idea what she means.

SLH

Buy Cat Person and read the Page 45 review here

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane s/c (£10-99, Harper Collins) by Neil Gaiman.

“Oh, sweety-weety-pudding-and-pie, you are in so much trouble.”

There was an ocean at the end of the lane.

Or, to be more precise, there was a pond behind a farm at the end of the lane which eleven-year-old Lettie Hempstock declared was an ocean but it looked just like a pond, to be honest. And Lettie Hempstock looked just like an eleven-year-old.

It’s funny what you forget until something jogs your memory: even Important Stuff can grow cloudy, opaque, or vanish from sight altogether. Sometimes it takes a smell or a sound – and especially a song – but in this case it takes a subconscious detour during a drive that leads the adult narrator to the ocean at the farm at the end of the lane of the house which he grew up in.

This was when he was seven; after the kitten he was given as a birthday present was run over during the arrival of the family’s new lodger a mere month later; after their car was discovered at the end of that lane with something deeply unpleasant inside it.

That was when the narrator first met the Hempstocks: young Lettie, Mrs Hempstock, and Old Mrs Hempstock who lived on the farm, milked the cows and made tasty and traditional meals like porridge and shepherd’s pie and spotted dick with the creamiest custard. For breakfast his father burned toast.

But there was something odd about the pond, something other about Hempstocks,and soon there was something very wrong within the young lad’s family.

It’s funny what you forget. Now it’s all come flooding back.

I’m a very slow reader; I never learned how to speed-read nor would I care to, and when the hardcover appeared there were so many graphic novels coming out which demanded and deserved our attention that I couldn’t find time to read prose. My loss: this is magical.

The novel is set both when and indeed where I grew up: during the late sixties, at a farm at the end of a lane with my mother and grandparents. I used to love mucking out the shippens. I had a child’s fascination with cowpats, their textures etc. A midden is where the slurry ends up and my uncle fell in once, eww.

It’s all here: the early morning milking, creaming off the top, the silver-gleaming milk churns hoisted onto a raised platform at the right height to be collected later by lorries.

There’s much more besides if you didn’t grow up on a farm: pre-decimalisation calculation (always with reference to how many sweet chews you could buy); successfully picking out verrucas with the point of a metal compass when all modern medicine had failed; being scared of eating meals outside your own home in case you didn’t like and yet had to eat them; secret ways in and out of your garden which adults wouldn’t even know about; failing to be the sporty son your father actually wanted; younger siblings who got to watch the telly they wanted (or didn’t even, particularly) at your expense.

I’m just picking out the bits I recognised while subconsciously, I’m sure, ignoring that which I didn’t. You’ll have a different list of your own: night terrors, car smells, comics brought home by your Dad.

All these familiar elements are either set out as standard or woven into a new context as Gaiman gradually glides the everyday into the other whilst retaining the recognisable characteristics of a child’s cognitive process: what would seem odd and what wouldn’t.

I have given far less away than the dustjacket, but then I’ve only just read the dustjacket sleeve. I went in knowing nothing and I recommend you do the same. It’s not as if Neil needs prove himself now: you either trust him or you don’t.

The one thing I would say is this: your home is or should be your castle. Even if you’re not the queen or king of your castle as an adult aspires to be, it is still where you feel safest. It is your home territory, both familiar and comforting, and there can never be anywhere you should feel more secure than in the loving arms of your mother or father.

So imagine if it wasn’t.

SLH

Buy The Ocean At The End Of The Lane s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The United States Of Murder Inc #2 (£2-99, Icon/Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming.

Years ago:

“Right on time.”
“Jimmy, you really gonna act like this ain’t no big deal?”
“It ain’t. What they hell’s the matter with you? We’ve done this shit fifty times.”
“You really don’t think this is any different?”
“No. It is what it is. One guy fucked up. Another guy pays us to take care of said fuckup. The end.”

The beginning.

You wait until you see who you’re looking at through the rifle sights.

Rarely does Page 45 review second issues of comics let alone the 373rd. We know your time is precious so we wait until the book comes out. But this cannot wait. This new series is so cracking and – in a crammed and competitive market – we believe more of you would love to know.

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 recommend it to readers of CRIMINAL as well.

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.

In THE UNITED STATES OF MURDER INC #1 Valentine was sworn in as a made man long before his 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 was to deliver a message to a Senator in Washington DC. The message was in the form of a briefcase and, however cryptic to others, would speak for itself. Valentine asked for his cousin to accompany him. Reluctantly that was agreed. He didn’t ask for Jagger Rose to accompany him but she was persuasive, effective, so reluctantly he agreed.

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

Now, at the most critical moment possible, someone has delivered yet another message to Valentine, pulling the rug from under his feet, in the form of a revelation so shocking it threatens everyone and every thing in a series which has only just begun.

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.

Who do you trust? I don’t have a clue.

This is the sort of thing that terrifies me: straying too close to the struggles for power within the likes of the Mafia or the IRA or even the CIA. People with power and way beyond accountability who can use you and abuse you and demand your submission.

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

SLH

Buy The United States Of Murder Inc #2 and read the Page 45 review here

New Lone Wolf & Cub vol 1 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Hideki Mori.

“This was Daigoro, the son of the Wolf, with countless slaughters burned into his eyes, he who had led numberless warriors to call him the child with shishogan – the eyes of life and death.
“Who could possibly raise such a child?”

The classic samurai series set in feudal Japan, LONE WOLF & CUB originally ran for 142 chapters from 1970-1976. It had a startling beginning and a dramatic, most emphatic end. Moreover with the death of its original artist, Goseki Kojima, in 2000 we never dared imagine the story would continue.

You’ll find the first LONE WOLF & CUB omnibus reviewed in detail (and examined at the back of this book), but in summary: Ogami Itto, the titular Lone Wolf and the shogunate’s official executioner, is betrayed by the leader of the shogunate’s political assassins, Yagyu Retsudo, in a bid to consolidate his own power base; not only is false evidence planted that Itto was set to betray the regime but his pregnant wife is murdered during labour, his newborn son Daigoro found by Ogami lying by her side, umbilical cord still uncut.

What follows is a long, arduous and meandering road to revenge, Ogami carting his son around the countryside and building his war chest by taking on assignments between the twin distractions of hypocrisy and injustice he encounters along the way and fending of further attacks by those sent by Yagyu Retsudo to silence him.

I now present you with a single paragraph of SPOILERS if you would prefer to read the original series. It climaxed in a final duel between the two adversaries after which only young Daigoro was left standing, above his father’s dead body. And it is here that the series is rejoined with time taken to evoke and respect the boy’s perspective and acknowledge the implications of anything that now happens to either of those two corpses. I would expect no less of Koike – this was ever the thoughtful series – but I can assure you that slicing and dicing will follow.

In the back Koike – ever a man of honour – goes to great lengths to pay proper tribute to his friend, original artist and co-creator of LONE WOLF & CUB, Goseki Kojima, before recalling the incredulity with which he first laid eyes upon art from Hideki Mori which suggested to Kojima that the story could be continued worthily.

Soaking in these new pages, you could almost imagine that this was Kojima himself, honing his craft further still, so well has Mori studied him. Some of the finer and more precise landscape detail may have been sacrificed, but the sun blasting through clouds that resemble billowing, black smoke is monumentally effective and the waves close to shore are thrilling. Certainly at this size a thicker line is a lot kinder on the eye, while some of the silhouettes and facial close-ups with their moulding strike more embellished notes of Ikegami or even CONAN and HULK artist Ernie Chan. Which has just aged me.

SLH

Buy New Lone Wolf & Cub vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama s/c (£11-99, Mariner) by Alison Bechdel.

Softcover edition! Obviously the hardcover adorned the top of our blog when originally released but I worried that you might have stopped reading if you’d heard this before.

“I told the clerk at the bookstore my daughter has a book coming out. She asked what it was about, and I said, “Me!” She said she could get me into a witness protection programme.”

Bechdel’s last book, FUN HOME, was my favourite graphic novel of 2006. It’s a literary, autobiographical work about an early Obsessive Compulsive Disorder regarding the truth in Bechdel’s childhood diaries, her deceased father’s predisposition towards artifice, and her relationship with her father who was secretly gay. Not the best idea, having secrets when your daughter is compelled towards truth. Her mother – still very much alive and with some justification – took exception to the private being made public: the exposure of their family life to her friends and neighbours. They didn’t have a tempestuous falling out, but the disapproval was there and was voiced.

So, um, guess what this one’s about?

Yup, in her quest to get to heart of all matters – and matters of the heart – Bechdel pursues the truth about her relationship with her mother, the underlying causes behind it and the effect it’s had upon Alison’s self-esteem and love life, this time with the aid of psychoanalysts’ therapy. Extraordinarily, she does so in the full knowledge of her mum who is given access to Bechdel’s script in time to comment on it. On that level, at least, I think Ma Bechdel is as forgiving as a saint.

Dr. Mary Talbot, expert in Critical Discourse Analysis and author of DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES (about two daughters’ relationships with their fathers) and now SALLY HEATHCOTE, SUFFRAGETTE, had plenty to say but summed one aspect of the book up beautifully with the word “reflexive”. It really is, and all the more fascinating for it. That it was ever completed at all, given its method of construction, let alone organised with such clarity and precision is a major miracle of creative instinct and discipline.

“Of course, the point at which I began to write the story is not the same as the point at which the story begins.” At the very least!

Visually it’s far more exhilarating than FUN HOME, for Bechdel’s loosened up on the layouts and lines, replacing the swimming-pool blues and greens with a rich, warmer plum, kicking off each chapter with a single image which bleeds right to the edge opposite a full page of said pleasurable plum, and concluding with a double-page spread with a thick frame of black. And, speaking of discipline, I cannot convey in strong enough terms my respect and appreciation for the trouble Alison has taken to reproduce by hand every map, photo, newspaper clipping and prose quotation rather than throw lazy, incongruous and therefore distracting photocopies at us which would have obliterated my immersion in the work.

Those opening sequences, by the way, are each one of them dreams which Alison and her analyst then proceed to interpret as part of their investigative process which also incorporates childhood, teenage and more recent memories and Bechdel’s own research into the infant-based, analytical works of Donald Winnicott and co. And this, I suspect, is where most British critics’ heckles will rise so uncontrollably that they’ll mistarget their ire, disappointment or disdain. As a stiff-lipped nation we have a low tolerance for psychotherapy, dream analysis and the numerology claptrap so enamoured or even obsessed over by our transatlantic cousins. I know I do. But I wince with worry that readers will take exception to the book, which is brilliant, purely because they have issues with Alison’s issues. If I shook my head at some of the conclusions drawn from, say, Alison’s third eye in one dream being hit by a stick, there were other instances, like the anxiety nightmare of a timorous growth on her cheek, which struck home; plus I still found the surrounding jigsaw puzzle pieced together over the course of the book to be both fascinating and valid, never mind the wider issues of parenting and childhood.

Both Bechdels are fiercely intelligent and culturally versed women, passionate about books and art. However, instead of sharing their opinions in a conversation mutually appreciative of each others’ learning, Bechdel’s mother is instead given to pronounce while Alison’s predisposition is to rankle. It’s produced a certain degree of rivalry which also rears its head as professional jealousy whenever Bechdel hears of the success of others who make a successful career out of being a feminist – and more specifically lesbian – writer or artist. For, let us be clear, Alison Bechdel is very much a ‘lesbian’ comicbook creator. I’d never define someone by their sexuality but Alison does, as is her right, so there you have it.

For someone who complains about a lack of communication with her mother, you might think it odd that they’re on the phone to each other virtually every day. But what actually happens is that Alison phones her mother in the desperate but vain hope of finally hearing some words of approbation, and then her mother talks at her about her own current focus of interest while Alison just sits there, recording and acting as little more than punctuation marks in her mother’s self-absorbed discourse.

In keeping with making the private public, then, I can relate to that. On the rare instances my father would venture out of his Cheshire-based comfort zone to the sub-cultured city of Nottingham (once every other year for an hour and never staying over), he would bring with him an envelope; and on the back of that envelope would be detailed notes on the topics he wished to pontificate upon without pause to minimise the risk of discovering anything about my own life. He was a frightened (and so very angry) man, but that particular prospect terrified him, and so I fear it is with Alison and her mother who is far from homophobic but just wishes it wasn’t such a public part of Alison’s private life – i.e. in her comics.

“You’re not going to use your real name, are you? Couldn’t you use one of your funny names?”
“That would defeat the purpose!”
“I would love to see your name on a book. But not on a book of lesbian cartoons.”

None of those books, by the way, now collected as ESSENTIAL DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR would have likely seen the light of day without Ma Bechdel’s unconditional patronage in the form of cheques amounting to $5,200 to support her daughter’s creativity in a field she disapproved of. That, folks, is maternal altruism. Doubly unfortunate, then, that Alison’s moved into a second field her mother disapproves of: memoir, full of “inaccuracy, exhibitionism, narcissism”.

“The self has no place in good writing,” declares mother Bechdel. Or has her reaction to the genre been coloured by her inclusion within it? I certainly don’t believe it was an act of belligerence on Alison’s part as any reading of FUN HOME would make clear, and in any case inaccuracy is an anathema to her.

And so we come to the five A4 pages of notes I wrote while reading the proof copy, not one of which have I used here! “True Self”, “False Self”, and quotations like, “Patterns are my existence. Everything has significance. Everything must fit. It’s enough to drive you crazy.” But do you know what? They’re not for me to transcribe – let alone remember which pages they came from! – they’re for you to make for yourselves, or else why buy and enjoy the book for yourselves?

For the record, I like Ma Bechdel. She had a difficult life you’ll discover for yourself, and she has a genuine passion of her own for truth and discovery, even if some of those discoveries are at odds with what she believed:

“Wait, I just read something interesting about memoir, hang on. Are you there?”
“Uh huh.”
“It’s by Dorothy Gallagher. “The writer’s business is to find the shape in unruly life and to serve her story. Not, you may note, to serve her family, or to serve the truth, but to serve the story.””
“Wow.”
“I know! Family be damned!”
“Ha!”
“The story must be served!”

The story, I promise you, is very well served.

FUN HOME’s featured writer was Scott Fitzgerald; this one’s is Virginia Woolf. Excellent!

SLH

Buy Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Catwoman: When In Rome s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale…

Can’t quite believe I have never read this before, because it is excellent, every bit as good as this pairing’s classic Bat-works LONG HALLOWEEN, DARK VICTORY and HAUNTED KNIGHT. And actually, ties in perfectly with events in the weekly BATMAN: ENTERNAL title. Catwoman has taken flight, along with Edward Nigma a.k.a. The Riddler, but merely to Rome for a holiday. Well, it’s not quite all pleasure as our curious feline is after information pertaining to Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone. I am reluctant to give too much more away, but suffice to say whilst Selina’s preferred profession might be the pilfering and purloining of valuable trinkets, she’s not exactly a slouch in the detective department, either.

 

 

It was the act of taking a very precious item without the Roman’s permission which has set her on her current collision course of enquiry, and there are interested parties who seem most determined to ensure her investigation does not come to a successful conclusion, just a terminal one. Rather than Catwoman, this focuses more on Selina Kyle-related action, just like the equally artistically appealing and well constructed Brubaker and Cooke CATWOMAN VOL 1: TRAIL OF THE CATWOMAN – which is personally how I prefer it. She even finds time for a holiday romance too, not provided by The Riddler despite his multiple, odious, amorous attempts but a blond Mafia hitman who is seemingly unable to resist her feline wiles. It’ll end in tears – and blood, obviously – for she is a heartbreaker, our Miss Kyle, but will she find the answers she is looking for? And if she does, will they be the ones she wants?

JR

Buy Catwoman: When In Rome s/c and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong / Warsong s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Greg Land, Tyler Kirkham.

[Spurious “review” with in-joke apologies, this was originally written during the 2006 season of Big Brother and Grant Morrison’s run on NEW X-MEN when Magneto infiltrated the X-Men as new teacher Xorn. I can’t even recall who Big Brother’s Richard even was anymore. Sorry! – ed.]

First time if was ENDSONG, now it’s WARSONG; next time I anticipate LAPSONG SOUCHANG. It might go something like this, with Cyclops and Wolverine strolling down the hall and Professor Jean Luc Picard calling from afar…

[Off camera] “To me, my X-Men!”
“Did you hear something…?”
“Eh, you know how these corridors echo.”
“Well, I’m just going to take a look. It’s been months since the funeral, and not a word from Jean.”
“Dude, it was Jean’s funeral.”
“Your point…?”
[Off camera] “To me, my X-MEN!!!”
“There we go; he’s on the crazy paving again.”
“Professor!  Are the grounds breached?”
“Has your blanket slipped?”
“Are we under attack?”
“Do you need changing?”
“Scott, I’d dropped my saucer! My tea was getting cold.”
“You can’t drink tea from your cup?”
“Yes, but I like to pour it — into my sauce-er.”
“But, Professor, that’s what makes it go cold…”
“And listen, Chuck, can’t you just ask nicely? All this, “To me, my X-Men!” It’s a little –”
“Shakespearian…? Melodramatic…? Morrison-esque…?”
“Rude!”
“Yes, Logan, I see, I see… How about “X-Men, I’ve dropped my saucer! Do come and see that it’s righted!””
“Haven’t we forgotten a little something…?”
“’… Do come and see that it’s righted right now!’”
“…”
“’… Do come and see that’s it’s righted, my dears…?’”

[Strolling away]

“By the way, who’s that guy in the purple cape and helmet, with his gloved mitts in the mansion’s Milk Tray?”
“One of the new teachers, I think.”

[The Diary Room]

“Hello, Eric, this is Big Brother. How are you feeling today?”
“Vain, supercilious and monomaniacal.”
“Oh I’m sorry, Richard, I thought you were somebody else.”

SLH

Buy X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong / Warsong 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?

 

Velvet vol 1: Before The Living End (£7-50, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Escapo h/c (£18-99, Z2 Comics) by Paul Pope

Metabarons Genesis: Castaka h/c (£29-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Das Pastoras

Moomin Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip vol 9 h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lars Jansson

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer Complete Edition s/c (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Van Jensen & Dustin Higgins

Preacher Book vol 4 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Before Watchmen – Nite Owl / Dr Manhattan s/c (£14-99, DC) by J. Michael Straczynski & Adam Hughes, Adam Kubert, Joe Kubert, Eduardo Risso, Bill Sienkiewicz

Before Watchmen – The Comedian / Rorschach s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, J. G. Jones

Green Lantern: Lights Out h/c (£18-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, others & various

Amazing X-Men vol 1: The Quest For Nightcrawler s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Ed McGuinness

Avengers World vol 1: A.I.M.PIRE s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer & Stefano Caselli, John Cassaday

Superior Spider-Man vol 6: Goblin Nation s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos N. Gage & Giuseppe Camuncoli, others

Fairy Tail vol 39 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Full Metal Alchemist Omnibus vols 1-3 (£9-99, Viz) by Hiromu Arakawa

NGE: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project vol 14 (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Osamu Takahashi

 

ITEM! The cuddliest comic of all time AND the finest comics reportage ever! Forget Joe Sacco, Lizz Lunney investigates Berlin! Serious “Awwwwww… Factor!

ITEM! Loved this image from Luchie: subtle and ethereal, I stared at it for ages. Here’s Luchie’s blog.

ITEM! And this a detail (and what detail!) from a panel by Simon Gane of a graphic novel he couldn’t name yet.

ITEM! Exceptionally fine and thoughtful interview with Brian Michael Bendis on Marvel’s rise from bankruptcy to diversity and the perfect answer to “What’s the superhero comics industry’s biggest challenge?” Triple A+++ points to Abraham Riesman for taking the trouble to include the word “superhero” in that question when most others would fail to even think about it. It doesn’t affect the wider world of comics.

Clue: the biggest problem is some superhero readers’ abysmal failure to act like their heroes. “You know what Captain America would never do? Go online anonymously and shit on a girl for having an opinion”. There’s more, and it’s spot-on.

ITEM! From the creators of THE NEW DEADWARDIANS comes Dan Abnett & Ian Culbard’s WILD’S END mini-series – interview! Here’s Abnett  & Culbard’s DARK AGES comic referred to.

ITEM! Teacher includes Pokemon reference in maths test to perk up kids’ interest. One kid is smarter!

ITEM! Yet another fab Tom Gauld cartoon for the Guardian. Have you tried YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK yet? Includes the funniest three-panel strip I’ve ever read, reproduced there.

- Stephen

Reviews June 2014 week two

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

I love the way the colour of the crayon mutates to frame the picture it’s written round or to pick out certain elements within it. The drawings themselves are suitably wan in spite of the colours which are far from naturalistic. Hair might be bright red or – in the doctor’s case – in strands of green, yellow and a purple which matches and so complements his loose, short-sleeved smock.

 - Stephen on Everywhere Antennas by Julie Delporte

Petty Theft (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard…

“She chose my book. Of all the books she could have stolen, she chose mine. It’s flattering.”

Ah, Pascal… what are we going to do with you? Not sure who is less of a Lothario between Pascal and Joe THE POOR BASTARD Matt, but one thing is for sure, no matter how shy they are with the ladies, neither of them shies away from bearing their tortured souls and romantic disasters for our salacious amusement. Yes, whilst I bet writing autobiographical material can be cathartic, I feel it takes a certain… special… type of person to let us into their innermost thoughts and intimate emotions.

In Pascal’s case, between coming off the back of a failed relationship, considering quitting comics for construction, staying with a friend and his family, well, he’s not in a good place, frankly. All the wiser, therefore, not to pursue a young lady who frequents his favourite bookshop but seems to be rather averse to paying for her reading pleasures.

However, her selection of one of his books for her latest freebie, observed by him though not of course the proprietor, is enough to convince our hapless hero they could be star-crossed lovers who are destined to be together. That he’s prepared to go great lengths to see this happens, straying into territory most of us would consider stalking, convincing himself it’s under the auspices of getting the bookshop their books back, well, that’s Pascal for you.

Anyone who enjoyed former Comicbook Of The Month and guide par excellence of how best to embarrass yourself at a school REUNION, or the car crash relationship melodrama that is FANNY & ROMEO in conjunction with Yves Pelletier, will know exactly what they are in for. As with REUNION, though, Pascal has an almost Frank Spencer like ability to pull a happy ending of sorts out of the metaphorical bag, whilst nearly managing to suffocate himself with it in the process…

Great fun!

JR

Buy Petty Theft and read the Page 45 review here

Von Doogan And The Curse Of The Golden Monkey (£6-99, DFC) by Lorenzo Etherington.

Alert! Alert! Alert!

For expert-level, decrytological, bright-as-a-kite minds only, this is terrific!

This is both a thrilling, exotic, interactive Young Readers adventure comic (I know it doesn’t look like one inside but it most emphatically is!), and also a truly testing, multi-layered puzzle book which will require a little lateral thinking and an instinct for picking the single first thread which will then unravel the tapestry of each devious dilemma.

I am not kidding you. I was flummoxed for a while on several occasions then came away grinning my head off at Lorenzo’s wit and ingenuity.

There are no pedestrian mazes, no join-the-dots and no simple “Where’s Wally?” spot-athons; instead you will discover a sequence of site-specific conundra which you’ll need to solve in order to bluff your way out of trouble, escape incarceration, win a very cool card game you’ve never even heard of before and follow your informant from the first clue-clogged package he sends you to an island protected by so many ancient safeguards that even Dame Lara Croft might turn back from it in tears.

First you need to figure out this in order for find that which – only if you are quick-witted and eagle-eyed – will help you slip undiscovered onto the right boat, inspect snapshots of the crew then discern the captain through a process of keenly judged elimination before bumping into the first mate who, let me tell you, can spot a liar and a thief a mile away but has the memory of a prodigiously challenged piece of plankton.

And it’s comics!

It’s comics because it is a story told through a sequence of art which is absolutely essential to the narrative. That so much of said art is a metaphorical crossword so cryptic that arch-dunderhead I was occasionally fooled by it is irrelevant.

Plus the whole family can join in (if you let them) because multiple skill sets are invaluable.

All you will require in addition to this book is a pen or pencil, some scrap paper, a mirror and a pair of scissors. Don’t worry, you won’t need to cut up the book itself: you can download Doogan’s Danger Kit from the website address provided. Solutions are provided at the back (teachers and parents, rip ‘em up now!) as well as the logic by which they’re arrived at.

Plus the puzzles could well generate interest in further activity: want to try your hands at a dozen different rope knots which only sailors and scouts have ever mastered? They’re here!

Right, I’m off to tackle the Nine Vine Incline and I get vertigo on the bathroom scales.

SLH

Buy Von Doogan And The Curse Of The Golden Monkey and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 8: Rake At The Gates Of Hell (£14-99, DC) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon with William Simpson, Peter Snejbjerg.

“What was dying like?”
“Could’ve done it in me sleep.”
“You did.”

Completing the outstanding Garth Ennis run which was as much about friendships as anything else, not only does this reprint HELLBLAZER #72-83 but also the HEARTLAND one-shot set in Belfast which catches up with John’s ex-girlfriend Kit, reveals her family’s harsh history which has had a lingering effect, and takes a look at a city whose streets were habitually patrolled by armed British soldiers from the point of view of a complete outsider as well as a long-standing residents like Kit herself. As always with Ennis the troubles are given careful and level consideration and the dialogue comes with a light Irish lilt which is beautiful.

Almost all of this book is illustrated by Garth’s collaborator on PREACHER, Steve Dillon, and there are few artists who can make a casual conversation – or even a loaded one – as attractive to read as Steve Dillon. His characters are vulnerable and their expressions are not simple but subtle – so many eyes averted or looking down – so when anger or violence explodes his art by contrast is truly shocking.

There are a lot of talking heads in HELLBLAZER: the power of the word can be the most endearing magic or devastating. But there is also a lot of violence.

HELLBLAZER at its best always combines the occult with very real horrors like domestic abuse, bigotry, political and police power misused at the expense of those whom they’re supposed to serve, illness, homelessness and helplessness. The finale partly takes place in the thick of London’s Tower Hamlets during the rise of the right including the B.N.P. and a police force not just systemically racist but overtly so. Crucially John is distracted by that throughout and by an ex-girlfriend he discovers so hooked up on drugs that she is barely coherent and in thrall to a very vicious pimp. He is distracted because he actually cares in spite of his culpable history when it comes to close friends.

Girlfriends are driven away by the shit he cannot resist either embroiling himself in or igniting, and we are reminded well in advance of both romantic and mortal casualties. The moment you even shake hands with John Constantine you are living on borrowed time. Of the friends Garth Ennis introduced us to only Kit, left-leaning urban psychic Nige, ex-army Header and Rick the vicar remain alive as this climax kicks off.

It all harks back to Ennis’s opening salvo, HELLBLAZER VOL 5: DANGEROUS HABITS, in which he gave John Constantine terminal lung cancer with but a few weeks to live. Get out of that one, John! He did, not through hocus pocus but by manipulation. He manoeuvred Satan, the First of the Fallen, and the Second and Third of the Fallen into a stalemate which kept him alive. Ever since then he has screwed over other entities like Archangel Gabriel in such a manner that they might be of use during the retribution he knows is inevitable while continuing to goad Satan himself. Among his many fatal failings, John Constantine simply cannot let it lie. Nor can the King of Hell.

John has always got by on his quick wits and knowledge but now he is neither as sharp as he used to be and – as I say – he is distracted. He has failed to keep track of his pawns.

At which point young Astra, condemned to Hell these sixteen years thanks to John the Con’s arrogance, comes before Satan’s presence with a song. It’s a song Satan’s never heard before: the true history of the Fallen. Let the casualties begin…

Every familiar face you can imagine making a reappearance does so, and a fair few you will never see coming. It is an impeccable climax on every level I’ll refrain from signposting here.

But just in case you think it’s all plot, it is not. Just as Ennis gives voice to life on the streets of Belfast, there is a key conversation between Constantine and the First of the Fallen which reveals what may originally have been Satan’s real role in the God’s Grand Scheme Of Things which is both startling and makes so much sense.

SLH

Buy Hellblazer vol 8: Rake At The Gates Of Hell and read the Page 45 review here

Everywhere Antennas (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Delporte.

I’m ambivalent about this one.

An evocation of misery and despair in brightly coloured crayon, it follows a young woman’s rapid decline as she begins to experience crippling headaches brought on, she is convinced, by the radiowaves emitted from what are now ubiquitous antennae and household devices from computers to mobile phones.

She is, in essence, allergic to modern living.

France, for example, has few if any “white zones” left free from radiowaves, and the only country to recognise the illness is Sweden. Reading is next to impossible.

“I manage a paragraph or two but I can’t concentrate. I keep at it, I start over… I feel like everything is a huge waster of time… And I feel like crying.”

What worries her most isn’t the imminent exam she would be doomed to fail, but her future which she feels certain she’ll fail too. All of it. “Could I even teach in this state?” The doctor is typically useless, prescribing antidepressants.

“It makes no sense to me. I don’t have headaches because I’m depressed – I’m depressed because I have headaches.”

Rather than give in, however, she tries a complete change of location and lifestyle in the country but although the headaches ease off, her obsessive worries have by now taken root, and her self-confidence has given way to self-loathing.

I suspect Delporte has just successfully given voice to thousands of misunderstood sufferers whose illness has gone unrecognised and therefore untreated. You can’t make sure massive, relatively sudden and unnatural changes to one’s natural habitat in and to which the human body has gradually evolved and expect there to be no repercussions.

It isn’t comics, it’s illustrated prose: take away the images and little is lost except eye candy. But I do love the way the colour of the crayon mutates to frame the picture it’s written round or to pick out certain elements within it. The drawings themselves are suitably wan in spite of the colours which are far from naturalistic. Hair might be bright red or – in the doctor’s case – in strands of green, yellow and a purple which matches and so complements his loose, short-sleeved smock.

I don’t know if this a complete red herring, but a few of the bits stuck on intrigue me.

“Would I have blown off the exam if my father had been around more? I don’t know.”

The word “know” covers another. Was it simply a spelling error or badly written, or does it replace another word or phrase like “care” or “think so”? “Obsessive” is merely crossed out.

There’s a bizarre choice of countries to move to later on given what we already know about radiowaves, and a curious anthropomorphic, black and white digression in the middle. The contents are perfectly relevant but I can’t fathom the relevance of the anthropomorphism. As to the image sitting aside an anecdote about a young Buddhist monk, I am completely baffled.

Ambivalent, as I say, but I’m pretty sure that the plural of “antenna” is “antennae”.

SLH

Buy Everywhere Antennas and read the Page 45 review here

Jonathan Starlight (£2-99, self-published) by Ethan Wilderspin…

“I’ve not been sleeping lately. Maybe it’s because I’m unhappy.
“Am I happy?”

Ah, now that’s a big question to start every day with. Fortunately for Jonathan Starlight, a teenager who bears more than a passing resemblance to an alien with a Santa Claus hat-like bobble quiff, he seems to have his head screwed on and priorities straight. Faced with the endless billboards on the way to school that suggest happiness is a mere purchase away, he knows being suckered in by mindless consumerism won’t make him happy. Until he sees the advert for the Zombie Slayer 2 game, that is. But, even then, it seems as though mindless video game violence doesn’t quite fill the angst-shaped hole in his heart. I wonder what might?

 

This 16-pager is Ethan’s first comic and it’s a hoot. I was greatly amused by the not-so-subliminal advertising messages pushing society’s various distractions, and those alone show a wonderful sense of comedy. The punchline and cure for Jonathan Starlight’s insomnia when it comes, made me chuckle too. Hand-bound with green yarn in simpatico with the cover just for good measure, you can see Ethan has a care for his craft which I am sure will take him places. Having heard some of his and his cohort James’ plans for future output I don’t doubt that is the case. Prison being one of them possibly…

Watch this space!

JR

Buy Jonathan Starlight and read the Page 45 review here

Afterlife With Archie vol 1: Escape From Riverdale (£13-50, Archie Comics) by Roberto Aguirre Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla…

“Sorry to disturb you, sir. But, Mr. Lodge, I’ve been trying to sneak into your daughter’s room for as long as I can remember, and I know what a fortress this place is…
“If humanity is going to be making its last stand in Riverdale, it’s gotta be here, at Lodge Manor.”

Okay, first up, you don’t need to have read any all-ages Archie comics to enjoy this work, which arguably manages to simultaneously be a parody and pastiche of its ultra-innocent self, given that it both mocks and celebrates one of America’s longest running comics which began way back in 1941. All you really need to know is that Archie and Jughead are best friends, the latter usually rescuing his somewhat headstrong mate from yet another scrape of his own creation, and that Archie seemingly has the hots for every attractive girl in town. Two of them form his main, if not by any means exclusive, love interests: the ever-attentive girl next door Betty and the well-to-do arch-manipulator Veronica, resulting in an endless love triangle that has produced more mystery and mayhem over the years than even the Bermuda one.

We did for many years have a mysterious Beeston Triangle in Nottingham that afflicted young Tom’s attempts to get into work from said suburb by bus, breathtakingly described to me as “passing the QMC”. Which itself could take a good hour.

Moving more swiftly on, following the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse everyone is safely sequestered inside the relative safety of the formidable residence of Riverdale’s richest man, awaiting rescue by the authorities. Now what could possibly go wrong?

“One last thing, are all the children safe? And accounted for?”
“Yes, sir. Err… well… that is… except for one…”
“… Andrews.”

Yes… Archie Andrews, the bane of Hiram (father of Veronica) Lodge’s life. Having got all the kids who were at the High School dance to Lodge Manor, Archie has slipped out through the secret passage he was more used to using for nocturnal trysts with Veronica, this time to try and rescue his parents. I’m quite sure Hiram Lodge is hoping Archie doesn’t make it back intact, as it would be fair to say that he doesn’t have the highest of opinions regarding Riverdale’s resident heartbreaker extraordinaire. Events after this point really don’t go to plan for Archie, or indeed anyone else, and I have to say I was genuinely surprised by how moved I was by what happens.

I have no idea who came up with the genius stroke of deciding to do what is effectively an Archie / WALKING DEAD mash-up, but they deserve a medal, because this manages to be both hilarious and genuinely affecting at the same time. All the various characters foibles are dialled up to preposterous levels for maximum comedic effect, whilst the horror, when it begins in earnest, is played completely straight. It’s actually a very clever manipulative trick to put such typically comedic characters through the horror wringer, because subconsciously I just wasn’t expecting it to get as heart-wrenchingly dark as it very quickly does.

Suitably spooky art from Francesco Francavilla, most definitely designed to evoke the style of the classic CREEPY COMICS and EERIE COMICS, this just proves that even when you think that a comic’s title as old as time has surely run its course, done everything it can possibly do, there’s still some life in it yet… until a zombie sinks its teeth in.

JR

Buy Afterlife With Archie vol 1: Escape From Riverdale and read the Page 45 review here

Attack On Titan Colossal Edition vol 1 (£42-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama –

Whopping great new edition of the £8-50 softcover (still in stock) reflecting the scale of the problem at hand! It’s album-sized, reprinting the first five books (oh yes!) and contains (some) colour pages which weren’t even in the original Japanese editions!

We now return you to our Dominique:

ATTACK ON TITAN is set in a world which has been all but overrun by giant humanoid beasts many metres tall. No one knows where they came from or what they are; the only thing they seem to want to do is eat human beings whole. And so, over 100 years after the beasts emerged humanity has been pushed back into one little corner of the planet. A few small cities (well, more like large towns, really) exist inside a series of walls which are constantly guarded in case the behemoths should attack again. But it has been a century since the wall was last breached so everyone is probably safe right? Yeah…

When we meet the group of youngsters we are going to follow through the story we see some familiar themes. A headstrong young man who wonders about the world outside the walls. He dreams of joining the Survey Corps who undertake the dangerous mission of going out into the world to try to make sense of everything. His group of peers, some of whom share his dream while others thinking he is barmy and his sister, who never leaves his side, muttering something about her duty to protect him after she was brought back from the dead. She never seems particularly happy, sad or anything else. Just resigned and, occasionally, worried. We never see her without a scarf around her neck.

Though we begin with a perfectly normal day things, of course, soon go to pot. One minute our guy is having dinner with his family, his father (slightly incongruously) promising to finally show him the big secret in the basement. Then the alarm sounds and chaos descends as a colossus appears and begins destroying the wall. In fact you can see him *over* the wall, at 50 metres tall he is many times the size of a Titan. 100 years of preparing for an attack evaporate in a heartbeat as the outer wall is devoured by this new monster. A desperate evacuation follows but many lives are lost.

A year later we find our group (those who survived, anyway) about to graduate from their training and humanity holed up inside an even tighter boundary, the lands behind the first wall lost to the Titan invasion. The colossus is still out there, the Titans are still out there and it feels for all the world like humanity is just waiting, maybe even hoping for the coup de grace. What can our heroes do in the face of such (literally) massive opposition?

So this manga has a bunch of classic elements: wilful protagonists, family tragedy and a foe so hideous it seems like a case of when, not if humanity will be destroyed. There are a few touches and elements which set it apart from run of the mill, though, which is probably why the manga has proved so popular in Japan. There are flashes of repressed memory which get you thinking that all may not be as it seems inside the walled enclave. It seems like there are lots of secrets and undercurrents to be explored. And there is a very detailed and ingenious combat system involving lines and winches which allows the tiny humans to actually go into combat with the giant enemy, though always at great personal risk. There are no punches pulled when it comes to that combat: death isn’t by a tidy death ray or an annihilating stomp. It’s all bitey and disgusting and in places really quite disturbing, which actually brings the characters closer to your heart because, bless them, they don’t have it easy.

Most striking for me was the sheer ickyness of the Titans. They are so close to being human and yet so obviously inhuman, all teeth and unsheathed tendons. They seem mindless, except for their determination to devour their prey and their lack of obvious reason or communication skills leaves any negotiation or bargaining out of the question. They give me the same visceral heebie-jeebies as the album cover to News of The World by Queen used to as a kid, or the sleeve art to the Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds. Just… *shiver*. I can see why this series is so popular in Japan and I can’t wait to read more.

DK

Buy Attack On Titan Colossal Edition vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Toshiro s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Jai Nitz & Janusz Pawlak…

Long-gestated project which at last gets a publisher that, as one of the creators’ comments in the afterword, will finally outlive the character. It’s a steam-punk / samurai / zombie / Lovecraftian mash-up as the titular character, a steam-powered robot samurai, fights for the forces of good alongside a mysterious American adventurer in Victorian England.

I did quite enjoy it. There are some interesting plot devices and amusing dialogue, though I found the art a trifle confusing at times. If you like steam-punk material generally, or some of the period B.P.R.D. spin-offs like ABE SAPIEN VOL 1, or maybe even samurai shenanigans like USAGI YOJIMBO at a stretch, I think it will have some appeal. It’s certainly no NEW DEADWARDIANS in terms of horror with a twist, though it is written well enough.

JR

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

Guardians Of The Galaxy / All New X-Men: The Trial Of Jean Grey h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Sara Pichelli.

Kitty Pryde: “I hate space. I’ve had very bad luck in space.”

Yes, you have.

Third book of the current GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series and the fifth book of ALL NEW X-MEN both written by Bendis with a great deal of mischief and charm. Moreover Pichelli and Immonen are such a perfect match that you won’t see the join.

They’re thrilling and yet subtle artists with complete command of body language and interaction which is vital when you’re working with Bendis because interaction is all. Also, I see so many teenage superheroes bulging with muscles whereas here the young X-Men are as lithe as you like.

In MARVEL MASTERWORKS: UNCANNY X-MEN VOL 5 an adult Jean Grey lost control of the Phoenix Force and gobbled up a sun, effectively committing genocide as its orbiting planets’ populations went with it. The Shi’Ar put her on trial, not least because she turned rather tetchily on them as well. They basically made sure she was dead.

Now a much younger Jean Grey has been whisked from the past to the present along with her team-mates, the Shi’Ar have found out, want to put her on trial and basically make sure that she’s dead. The point is put to the Shi’Ar’s Gladiator over and over again that this Jean Grey has not yet committed the crimes she’s being charged with and possibly never will. Gladiator really doesn’t care. He’s not interested in justice, he’s out for blood. He basically wants to make sure that she’s… yup.

Guardians and X-Men to the rescue.

It’s some of Bendis’ best writing recently, with Shi’Ar telepath Oracle acting as counsel for Jean Grey so effectively stuck in the middle. There’s plenty of playful dialogue between both sets of friends, like Star-Lord to Gamora:

“What is a Canada?”
“It’s cold and distant. You’ll love it.”

Rocket Racoon has christened Gamora and Angela the Murder Girls. They are effective, Angela believing in decapitate first, ask questions never. Sending her into battle as your advance party is good strategy.

“Gentlemen… It’s time to move to the second part of the plan. But I have to warn you… it’s a little messy in here.”
“Angela, will you marry me?”
“You’re too short, Rocket.”
“This is Gamora..”
“Oh. Then I’ll think about it.”

One of Bendis’ many endearing trademarks is the complete lack of defensiveness he imbues his characters with when it comes to gender and sexuality. Here’s the delightfully juvenile Bobby Drake (Iceman), given to squealing “Yike-a-hooty!” when attacked and who, as drawn by both artists, continues to be an absolute sweetie.

“I just like talking to the talking raccoon. It makes me feel like a Disney princess.”

“We’re here because… princess?”
“What? I’d make a better princess than you.”

Amazingly the Guardians’ sentient, bipedal tree’s singular declaration “I am Groot!” has yet to wear thin. His name is indeed Groot, but he’s not necessarily introducing himself. “I am Groot” could mean any number of things from, “I don’t like line dancing at the best of times but you’re treading on my toe” to “If you think I’m wearing mauve, you are very much mistaken”.

Dale Keown and Jason Keith’s cover to ALL NEW X-MEN #23, published in the back, plays with this beautifully.

SLH

Buy Guardians Of The Galaxy / All New X-Men: The Trial Of Jean Grey h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Stormwatch vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Tom Raney, Bryan Hitch, various.

“Think for yourself and question authority.”

That is the single best piece of advice that was ever given to me, by a maths master when I was twelve. Actually, he instructed, “Always ask why”.

Stormwatch are the UN-sanctioned international, satellite-stationed, superhuman taskforce orbiting the world in order to keep an eye on it and, using that eye, keep it in order. Its leader is called The Weatherman and its current Weatherman is Henry Bendix. Henry Bendix is pathologically insane.

In this second half Ellis’ run on STORMWATCH which runs smoothly into THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 by Ellis & Hitch (you will hear much mention of the word “authority” right from the get-go), Stormwatch finds itself stymied again and again by an America with vested geopolitical interests. They will also find themselves stifled, for Henry Bendix has vested interests of his own.

First they encounter The High who has been contemplating the human condition for decades. An anti-establishment superman who loathed those who preyed on the poor, he once engaged in liberating tenants from corrupt landlords etc. Indeed he once dallied with Stormwatch Black’s Jenny Sparks, now almost a century old but looking a little under thirty (the bitch!). But he left to meditate, to cogitate on what more he could do than to save but a few. Now he has gathered cohorts around him and the man has a plan as broadcast to the globe thus:

“Fighting crime is no good unless you look past crime, to its root. Saving the world is no good if we leave it the way we found it. It is our intent to hand you a saved world, to offer you tools that will make you great. And then – you will never see us again.
“When we are done, you will be able to provide for yourselves, for free. You will want for nothing. All of your society’s structures will be removed. No laws, no authoritarian structures, no crime, no war. In a few hours it will begin.”

He offer us a Utopia, and the freedom which comes with it. It’s the ultimate in altruism and The High genuinely means it. He seeks no control, only to assist. Here’s what’s on offer:

“The Engineer will seed nanotechnological oases across the planet, and inform you of their use. These will be your horns of plenty.”

Oh dear, he’s anti-capitalist.

“The Doctor will initiate a program of education about the natural resources of this world, its plants and magic. He’ll show you the door to a whole new world just sideways to this one.”

Uh-oh, he’s pro-personal-enlightenment.

“And I’ll talk to you. We’ll share ideas I’ve had. Use, them, ignore them, whatever. During the coming days you may see some of my friends in your cities, towns and villages. They’ll speak your language. Talk to them.”

Now he’s about breaking down borders and instilling worldwide cooperation.

“One final message. There are those of you who will seek to stop us. Don’t. Please.”

They do.

Under Ellis STORMWATCH began changing the landscape of superhero comics: its potential, political emphases, its wit, its sexual mischief and its periodical instalments’ structure. He even found novel ways of explication without insulting the intelligence. With THE AUTHORITY VOL 1 Warren Ellis terraformed it, so paving the way for Millar & Hitch’s THE ULTIMATES, the very pinnacle of the superhero science-fiction subgenre including – I kid you not – WATCHMEN. But the changes, they begin here and it is fascinating to watch.

It is a series packed full of political intrigue, international espionage, strategy, subterfuge and personal betrayal. In The High, Henry Bendix has met his match in terms of second-guessing, precautionary measures and indeed ruthlessness. Without Bendix I confess that the series does falter, not least because Rayner is replaced by an artist so insipid we cannot even be arsed to name him.

But wait! THE AUTHORITY’s Bryan Hitch is on the horizon and he brings with him Apollo and Midnighter, first seen post-coitally pulling their clothes back on even though no one spotted that at the time. No one! It’s not just Hitch’s neo-classical figure work which will wow, either: his storytelling transforms the series, injecting a kinetic awe, and you wait until you see his dazzling cityscapes at sunrise as enhanced by Laura DePuy.

Appropriately this book begins and ends with blonde Brit iconoclast Jenny Sparks whose middle name is so evidently Attitude. Along the way you will pick up hints of what is to come: an Engineer (male), a Doctor (black), Apollo and Midnighter in the buff (I may have mentioned that), plus Swift and Jack Hawksmoor because I can promise you that – other than them – there is no one left alive at the end of this series.

An asteroid threatens to enter Earth’s orbit, so a team of two shuttles is dispatched to land and lay explosives so sending its trajectory into the sun. Two problems: a) it isn’t just an asteroid, there’s a spaceship within; b) one of the shuttles successfully makes it back home…

There is an episode missing from this, yes. There’s not much that even DC owned by Time Warner can do about that. Lord knows what price they paid for publishing the periodical in the first place. Still, at least Jenny Sparks and co. thereby discover the transdimensional Bleed.

Leads straight into Ellis & Hitch’s THE AUTHORITY VOL 1.

“There has to be someone left to save the world.”

SLH

Buy Stormwatch vol 2 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?

 

Hoax Psychosis Blues h/c (£19-99, Ziggy’s Wish) by Ravi Thornton & Hannah Berry, Karrie Fransman, Leonardo M. Giron, Julian Hanshaw, Rozi Hathaway, Rian Hughes, Rhiana Jade, Ian Jones, Mark Stafford, Bryan Talbot

New Lone Wolf & Cub vol 1 (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Hideki Mori

Baltimore vol 4: Chapel Of Bones h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck

Cat Person (£13-99, Koyama Press) by Seo Kim

Doctor Who: The Cruel Sea (£14-99, Panini) by various

Showa 1939-1944: A History Of Japan vol 2 (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Shigeru Mizuki

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane s/c (£10-99, Harper Collins) by Neil Gaiman

Catwoman: When In Rome s/c (£10-99, DC) by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

JLA: The Deluxe Edition vol 5 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Mark Waid & Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary

Red Hood And The Outlaws vol 4 s/c (£12-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Julius Gopez various

Deadpool: Night Of Living Deadpool s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Ramon Rosanas

Wolverine: Worst Day Ever h/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Barry Lyga & various

X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong / Warsong s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Greg Land, Tyler Kirkham

Gangsta vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Kohske

Ranma 1/2 2-in-1 vols 3 & 4 (£9-99, Viz) by Rumiko Takahashi

 

ITEM! Haha! They so cute! Jonathan Edwards & Felt Mistress’ mascots for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in a boardroom meeting. If I owned that photo I’d turn it into a caption competition.

ITEM! Luke Pearson on his five new Charlie Mortdecai Penguin Book covers – and the covers! Delicious colour scheme.

ITEM! Stewart Lee interviewing Alan Moore on BBC Radio 4 in 2009.

ITEM! Marc Ellerby draws a new CHLOE NOONAN comic about his comics to help fund his… comics. Brilliant!

ITEM! Lots of lovely original festival sketches via Jock.

ITEM! Massive tidal wave by Marc Laming. Phenomenal sense of weight, power and tension.

ITEM! Two poignantly contrasting Chris Ware covers for the New Yorker.

ITEM! Time lapse vimeo of Oliver East painting his giant murals for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

ITEM! Dave Sim on CEREBUS past, present a future plus new work. Best interview with Dave I’ve seen in a long, long time.

ITEM! Goodness! CALVIN & HOBBES creator Bill Waterson really has returned to comics – in secret – and here’s how. Funny!

REMINDER! This is your last chance to vote for Page 45 as your favourite Nottingham Independent Business 2014. Only the ten most popular businesses will get through to be secretly shopped and assessed by the judges! Please take a moment to vote!

How To Vote:

1. Tweet @itsinnottingham with “I vote for Page 45” or something similar. Takes two secs!

2. Comment “I vote for Page 45” on the It’s In Nottingham Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/itsinnottingham. You might even add “You can tell I really mean it because I’ve taken the trouble to wade through this deeply unfriendly, over-the-hill quagmire of a social medium in order to do so”.

3. Email info@nottinghambid.com with (you’ll never guess) “I vote for Page 45”!

4. Fill in voting cards at Page 45 itself by Wednesday 18th June.

They’re on the counter next to the big batch of free newspapers on page three of which you’ll find that fame-addled idiot Stephen L. Holland extolling the virtues of Independent Retail.

- Stephen’s Mum

Reviews June 2014 week one

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Please vote for Page 45 as your Nottingham Independent Business 2014 via Facebook, Twitter or email! Details at the bottom of the blog! Thank you!

 - Stephen

Umbral vol 1: Out Of The Shadows s/c (£7-50, Image) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten.

Oh, this positively glows – it glows red and purple!

It’s a formidable artist who can slash out choking-smoke nightmares that are both amorphous and fully formed: to be as intangible as a shadow yet as vicious as jagged rows of sharp sharks’ teeth, their eyes and mouths blazing with fire as if furnaces fuel their pitch-black souls.

Basically, I’d run.

But where do you run to when you’re trapped in the Umbral? The only apertures in this other dimension are riddled with skeletal spikes like a giant lamprey’s mouth and risk snapping shut like a Venus Flytrap. The ground could give way any minute. And Rascal is not alone in there.

Fans of PORCELAIN are going to lap this up.

A solar eclipse approaches the kingdom of Fendin. On such an occasion the day dawns twice and then, the songs say, “Shall the dark shadows fall”. The crowds are gathering to see King Petor and Queen Inna wave from the balcony to reassure them that all is well. More specifically they want to see the Mordent – a staff that has survived three rebellions, two wars and dozens of King Petor’s ancestors – grasped by King Petor, safe and sound. Petor is fretting; the more confident, no-nonsense Inna is irritated at the absence of their son.

Their son is Prince Arthir and he… has a date. A date with young orphan Rascal, raised by smugglers and trained by thieves. Oh, it’s not that sort of date, though they are more than a little fond of each other. Rascal is a member of the Thieves’ Guild and she has acquired a vial of the Mist. That will help them steal through the trophy room’s cage and acquire the sacred Oculus, a purple orb whose true purpose has been “lost to time and myth”. But whatever it was that spell-caster Prince Arthur intended to do with the Oculus is rendered irrelevant, for the Oculus is missing and high Redguard Borus lies slaughtered in his own congealing blood. Worse still, the trail of blood looks like it leads to the throne room…

As for what follows, the nimble, quick-thinking and ever resourceful Rascal is in for some mind-melting shocks and a run for her bloody life. She runs full-pelt throughout most of this book through caverns and taverns, trusting few who come near. The Umbral are shape-shifters, you see, and they’ve been here before. Some of them never left.

This is dark fantasy and world-building at its best: power struggles are already in play by the time it kicks off, some of them going back centuries if not millennia. You will learn why magic and religion are illegal, which wars are still raging and the origin of the Umbral themselves; but crucially you are going to have to wait a full six chapters to do so. A series seeking to prove its own cleverness by bludgeoning you with everything immediately and all at once only bogs itself down and can bore early readers to bits. Instead this thunders along at a furious pace giving Rascal little time to take stock. You learn as she learns, and I hope she learns fast because some of those she once trusted are not as they seem.

Old man Dalone has me most intrigued but it’s the one-eyed smuggler called Shayim who makes me laugh, flashing her blade at everyone and everything:

“I will open you up from mouth to moon.”

Ouch. She has a colourful way with words.

John Rauch, Jordan Boyd and Thomas Mauer provide the colours and lettering and the whole package is exquisitely designed. I’m completely in love with the symbol language of spell casting which manifests itself as crimson, purple and yellow speech orbs. Also, wait until you discover the subterranean Mistwalker merged with the rock to guard its treasures. It’s like something out of early Tombraider: you can tell Johnston also writes games.

He’s also a dab hand at dialogue which is both effortlessly entertaining and deliciously free from the sort of portentous claptrap and mystical mumbo jumbo other occult-orientated series bore me with. The Umbral swear like nobody’s business.

Johnston & Mitten are the creative team behind the fast-closing, post-apocalyptic WASTELAND about which Warren Ellis declared, “Mysteries within mysteries and an original mythology to become immersed in”. Antony is also the manipulative mastermind behind spy thriller THE COLDEST CITY whose 50 exclusive Page 45 bookplate editions we sold out of very, very quickly and £7-50 for six issues is an absolute steal.

SLH

Buy Umbral vol 1: Out Of The Shadows s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bunny vs. Monkey Book One: Year One January – June (£6-99, DFB) by Jamie Smart.

“What are these things? Can I eat them?” CHOMP!
“They’re hedgehogs.”
“Argh!”
“And no, you can’t.”

Haha! Immaculate comedy timing as ever!

From the creator of FISH HEAD STEVE and abducted from the pages of the weekly PHOENIX comic for kids, watch bewildered beasts Bunny, Monkey, Weenie, Skunky, Pig, Metal Steve, Le Fox and Action Beaver “Eeek!”, “Shriek!”, “Screeeam!”, “Ftung!” and “Whoosh!” their way through two-page parcels of manic mentalism.

Monkey will not tolerate anything vaguely lovely. Woodland bluebells? I don’t think so.

“SHRIEK! Monkey, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m lawnmowing these things into oblivion!”
“But they’re beautiful!”
“They’re a virus! They make me feel awkward!”

The sun?

“Nope, it won’t do. This place is becoming disgusting and pretty, and I find it offensive. I’m taking these hedgehogs and I’m going to prang everyone’s bottom with them.”

Like a sugar-stuffed blackcurrant cordial, this is chaos concentrate distilled for mass destruction and maximum disaster with Monkey enlisting Skunky to build ever more insane inventions like Caterpillarzilla consuming every last trace of nature with its nitro-chomp! Action Beaver’s vocabulary consists of solely of sound effects while Weenie the squirrel and Pig the pig have the collective memory of a goldfish.

None of which would work were the cartooning anything short of the most carefully controlled and cleverly conducted insanity. Each element within a panel is just-so: the sound effects are arranged like scores on a sheet of music.

“It was a quiet morning, until…
“AUGH!”
CRASH!
“TAA-DAAAA!!”

Even the volume levels are precisely regulated. It’s not as easy as it looks. On the surface it’s a bunch of hyperactive delinquents making Bunny’s love of a quiet life a loud and bombastic nightmare.

Okay, at its heart it’s also a bunch of hyperactive delinquents making Bunny’s love of a quiet life a loud and bombastic nightmare. But chaos needs order to work so well, and bonkers needs logic to thrive.

“It’s lucky I lost the map, or this might be the wrong way!”

Stick that in your sat nav and steer it.

“Oh, I blocked your toilet by the way.”

SLH

Buy Bunny vs. Monkey Book One: Year One January – June and read the Page 45 review here

Trees #1 (£2-25, Image) by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard…

“I was there ten years ago when they landed, Del.
“I remember the panic. ‘We’re being invaded by alien spaceships!’
“I remember the fighter jets. I was there for the first flooding when the leg went through downtown.
“I remember days going by before we even found out it’d happened anywhere else.
“Weeks before we found out nukes and biochem inactivate when they go near a tree.
“Months going by, and nobody ever coming out of one or communicating from one.
“I remember years later, when all the Trees became normal. Just things that stand on us.
“You know what I remember best?
“No cop lifting a finger. Fending for ourselves. Building our own infrastructure from debris.”

Somewhat perturbing that this particular speech-maker wants to be mayor of New York, but then why should post-apocalyptic politicians be any less corrupt or criminal minded than their predecessors? Not that we are in a full scale post-apocalyptic scenario, for aliens do indeed seem to have landed, but then done absolutely nothing else. Consequently whilst everything has changed in an instance, people are just getting on with their lives, doing exactly what they were doing before. Humans are a pretty adaptable species, after all. Transplant us from one place to another, either as individuals or en masse and we will start to thrive, working our way into the local ecosystem. Much like plants…

 

 

 

What we have therefore established is a backdrop against which Warren begins to introduce some of the various characters which I presume are going to feature heavily in this series: politicians, scientists, artists, and of course everyday folk. And be assured this invasion, if that really is what it is, is on a global scale. No one knows exactly how many trees there are world-wide, at least that hasn’t been revealed yet, but they are literally everywhere from the Antarctic to the equator, standing solitary in the remotest regions and also piercing the centres of bustling metropolises.

I am quite sure however they aren’t going to stay so passive forever… Just a hunch that, but we do know how Warren likes to build the tension up first, before letting all hell break loose! Very nice art from Jason Howard, not someone I am familiar with, but I would wager he is a fan of Guy Davis.

JR

Buy Trees #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Brass Sun #1 (of 6) (£2-99, Rebellion) by Ian Edginton & I. N. J. Culbard…

“Heed not the dissenter! Be not lured from the winding way by their wild abstractions!
“Stay constant!
“Stay steadfast!”

No, not Stan Lee proselytising on avoiding non-superhero comics at all costs, but the followers of The Cog extolling the virtues of being vigilant against the temptations of believing in The Watchmaker. And as the Archimandrite himself is behoved to exhort upon hearing Speaker Eusabius mention such a blasphemous term…

“Speak not that name in these halls! The Cog is, was and always shall be! The Cog was not created by a charlatan prophet! The Cog is creation!”

Maybe, maybe not. It would seem to be a question of faith, misplaced or otherwise… Me, I can’t say I’m a true believer, no matter how hard Stan preaches, but what cannot be disputed is The Cog itself is very real indeed, as yet another epic astronomical introductory sequence by Culbard makes clear. It really is becoming quite the trademark. The world Edginton has created, of a technologically devolving society, living on what seems to be a planet somehow mounted on an impossibly complex mechanical structure bearing, I should add, more than a passing resemblance to watch parts (waiting tensely for divine bolt of lightning to sizzle my private parts), is equally grandiose in concept, magnificently so in fact, both in scope and design. Design… hmm…

The populace at large, though, are almost singularly unaware of their situation. Those who think they know the truth, far fewer in number than the hoi polloi, but of course who have control, are doing their best to avoid dealing with the fact that their world is gradually, year on year, getting colder, with summers shortening and the winters becoming ever more harsh. Almost as though a watch were winding down (air positively crackling now!)…

The one person who does seemingly know the real truth, or at least considerably more than anyone else, a former high official of the church of The Cog, is about to commit a very elaborate form of suicide, both to save his granddaughter from the authorities and also to attempt to absolve himself for a frankly irredeemable sin. That this act will enable his granddaughter to undertake a revelatory journey, both for her and by extension us, is also part of his intentions. Without wishing to spoil anything, it’s perhaps suffice to say The Watchmaker, well, it might not be an entirely abstract concept. But then worlds don’t just make themselves? Or do they?

What a brilliant opening issue. I’m hooked, and if Rebellion are planning on further titles that can match this quality, because frankly both the writing and the art are brilliant, the two Ians have truly done a sterling job here, then we could be looking at an excellent new monthly publishing imprint for this type of material. It is apparent publishers like Rebellion, Titan and Dark Horse have looked at the success of Image over the last few years and are beginning to try and emulate it. Rebellion are off to a great start with this mini-series.

JR

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

Ordinary #1 of 3 (£2-99, Titan) by Rob Williams & D’Israeli.

“You let people down. It’s… who you are.”

Drawn with such energy and coloured to sunshine perfection, I came away laughing, “What the serious fuck?!”

Truly, we are on the road to random. Utterly bananas.

Michael is a muppet. A divorced plumber with a son in school… somewhere… he is perpetually late, increasingly broke, in debt to some thugs and in spite of a widow’s peak of raggedy, receding hair he dreams of his chances with actress Scarlett Johansson.

Today he is late assisting his mate with an octogenarian’s crapper. The assistance in question is taking on the old biddy’s verbal incontinence while Brian finally gets down to the plunging. On his way he encounters said thugs and in the middle of “negotiations” a plane breaks down. Well, its engine goes boom. Then everything starts to change.

Well, every one. I don’t want to spoil the surprises but even the taxi driver appears to have experienced an epiphany of sorts – calmness, satori, enlightenment. If he was in London, he might even drive south of the Thames.

Everyone except Michael, that is, who is freaking the fuck out and I seriously can’t blame him.

I have absolutely no idea where this is going, but I suspect it will be another waterslide ride like Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s DOOM PATROL: totally mental but you cannot stop and sure can’t get off so you might as well sit back and adore the insane trajectory.

D’Israeli delivers on the sweaty, weeping desperation department swiftly followed by the stooped head and sunken shoulders of a broken man.

Also: lovely, subtle foreshadowing of strange things to come in the form of a kid’s golden aeroplane.

Here, have an interview: http://scifipulse.net/2014/06/comics-writer-rob-williams-chats-about-ordinary-doctor-who-and-more/

SLH

Buy Ordinary #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin And The Golden Tail (£6-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

“It’s been worrying me for days. Yes! It is getting thinner! What will Snork Maiden say if it goes bald?”

He’s taking about his tail.

It is a worry, isn’t it, male pattern baldness? Some find it so stressful that their hair falls out.

Moomintroll’s so embarrassed and upset that he’s taken to bed and is cowering under the blankets. Hilarious cartooning! Still, the family physician is at hand with a stethoscope.

“Breathe! Stop breathing!”
“But there’s nothing wrong with my tummy… It’s my tail.”
“Oh that… that’s only symptomatic.”
“Good heavens, don’t let my tail go symptomatic…”

Moomintroll’s prodded and poked and X-Rayed and “observed” until Moominmamma’s had enough. She’s really quite cross.

“Now I’m getting tired of all these cryptic specialists. I’ll cure the boy myself. Ah! Here it is! Grandma’s recipe for a magic potion…”
“Mamma, where are you going?
“Back to the Middle Ages.”

Against all expectations the spell works like a dream, hence the title. The repercussions, however, are enormous.

Tove Jansson was ahead of her time on so many issues like ecological disaster so MOOMIN hasn’t dated one jot, and this in particular is as pertinent as ever. In for some merry mockery over 50 full-colour pages are: fame, hair loss tonics, quacks of all kinds, tabloid journalism and its lies, lies, lies; fan mail, flattery and the follies of fashion; opportunistic merchandising, tyrannical management and interminable, deliberately protracted lawsuits than make only the lawyers any money. Worst of all – oh dear God – the most excruciating endurance tests ever conceived… the dreaded cocktail party!

SLH

Buy Moomin And The Golden Tail and read the Page 45 review here

Glacial Period h/c (£16-99, NBM) by Nicolas De Crécy.

The first and finest of the Comics Lit / Louvre collaborations returns in a much classier, album-size hardcover on matt cream paper which really shows off the winter colours. There’s a constant chill in the air and some of the skies are phenomenal.

Highly edifying as well as hilarious, the book follows an expedition consisting of one woman, some talking dogs and several men rife with rivalries as they explore the frozen wastes of the future before a giant structure which used to be the Louvre in Paris erupts through the ice and draws them down into its long-lost corridors.

Struggling to make sense of their discoveries, they get it all wrong. It seems we’ve lost more than our history – we’ve hit another dark age of art:

“How is it done? It’s flat, yet you sense the depths. It’s an avalanche. You can imagine its breath.”
“It’s a coded message, or a simple representation of their lives.”
“Yes, it’s a message meant for us. They knew they were doomed, hemmed in by the cold, and, since they didn’t know how to write, they drew like children.”

Yeah, well that particular painting was Louis Hersent’s “The Monks of Saint Gothard” so nul points for accuracy there.

Other blunders include mistaking the ecumenical for the erotic, the pagan for the pornographic, and a mythical satyr for a real-life genetic anomaly. In fact they mistake all these individual exhibits for a single historical narrative – a graphic novel, if you will. Brilliant!

SLH

Buy Glacial Period h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Science vol 1: How To Fall Forever s/c (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera, Dean White…

“Sequestered in my lab… there was a beauty in the self-imposed loneliness.
“And when it was too much there was Rebecca.
“Wedding vows… more rules I wouldn’t follow.
“Built my anarchist league of scientists on reason and empiricism.
“No tolerance for blind obedience, financial motivation, ego, or politicking for station.
“Built on one rule… there is no authority but yourself.
“After a lifetime of powerlessness and insecurity, opposition to authority forced me to have faith in myself.
“To trust my own judgement… to prove, motivated solely by the fire within… a self-educated main could master the laws of the universe.
“To prove that there is only one type of person capable of breaking down such barriers…
“…an anarchist.”

Rick ‘The Mindbender’ Remender unleashes the unfettered power of his weird imagination upon us in this surrealist science fiction adventure. I do like Rick’s work, really enjoyed his sci-fi-esque take on UNCANNY X-FORCE and semi-quasi sequel UNCANNY AVENGERS, which, I think, is on the verge of concluding. He takes no prisoners when it comes to comprehension – you of him, that is – which has possibly reduced his readership numbers on the Marvel front, vol 2 onwards of UNCANNY AVENGERS (when it really gets going properly) being too self-referentially complex and convoluted for some, for example, but it has certainly bolstered his core fanbase who like the cut of his jib. The man can write a damn good yarn.

Now, on Image, casting the capes and tights aside in exchange for spacesuits and blasters, he’s commenced what instantly has the feel of a pulp classic of the genre. Drama, humour, mortal peril and crazy technology, it’s a nice blend of ridiculous which blasts into life right from the first page. Grant McKay, leader of the Anarchistic League of Scientists, who let’s be honest, sound like a complete bunch of nutters straightaway, has had a slight, if unsurprising, accident with his bleeding edge Black Science technology. Cast adrift in the endless realms of the Eververse, amidst alien worlds so weird it makes your head hurt – giant toads, that’s all I’m saying – can he lead his team home? This title feels like it is in part inspired by the classic Weird Science and Weird Fantasy comics, whether they are something Rick has an affection for, I have absolutely no idea. I am pretty sure he is having great fun writing this, though, that is gleefully apparent.

With Matteo Scalera on art duties, a man who rivals Sean Murphy for drawing the most pointed proboscises in all of comicdom, there are myriad panels I would swear Murphy had drawn if I didn’t know otherwise, and a cerise and cyan-tinged colour palette which will seem not entirely unfamiliar to UNCANNY X-FORCE and UNCANNY AVENGERS readers – something I am starting to wonder if Remender has some serious input on, actually – this helps give the book a gritty, stylish retro-modern look.

JR

Buy Black Science vol 1: How To Fall Forever s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sledgehammer 44 vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Jason Latour, Laurence Campbell, Mike Mignola…

“Jeez, was this trip necessary? I mean, what’s so damn important in that armoury, anyway? And where’s our air support?”
“For Pete’s sake, Redding! Weren’t you even listening at the briefing? Tonight we’re the support!”

Indeed they are, not that the titular Sledgehammer needs support or even a warm up act. Well, maybe he does, actually… The grunts on the ground think Sledgehammer is a man encased in armour, which in a sense he is, but in other very important ways he most certainly is not. There are supernatural forces at work, precisely as we would expect in a story set in the HELLBOY universe penned by Mignola. I mainly read this to see whether it was required material for HELLBOY / BPRD readers, or whether it was a spin-off.

It is the latter, but it is excellent. It does feature Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and Doctor Gallaragas, whom I presume is Professor Gallaragas’ daughter, inventor of the V.E.S. (Vril Energy Suit) as seen in LOBSTER JOHNSON VOL 1: THE IRON PROMETHEUS. Time and technology has moved on since then, so I am sure you can join the dots for yourself as to what power source the allies might be using for Sledgehammer.

As I say, you don’t have to read this as it doesn’t tie-in in any way with current events in HELLBOY IN HELL VOL 1 or BPRD: HELL ON EARTH, but if you like all the various character spin-offs such as the LOBSTER JOHNSON material or, like me, in particular the BPRD: 1946, 1947 and 1948 arcs featuring Professor Bruttenholm, I think you will really enjoy it. Also, the supernatural Super-Nazi with the highest and hottest hairdo on the battlefield, the Black Flame, returns… Art from occasional BPRD contributors, so in keeping with that title’s typical rough and ready style.

JR

Buy Sledgehammer 44 vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Miracleman Book vol 1: A Dream Of Flying h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Alan Moore, Mich Anglo & Gary Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon, Paul Neary…

“I’m Miracleman… I’m back!!”

Indeed. I really can’t be bothered to get into the whole ‘original writer’ shtick. It’s Uncle Alan Moore, for the one person in all of comicdom who doesn’t know. The first part was originally published in March 1982, in the very same issue of Warrior as the first part of V FOR VENDETTA, so Moore was already into his full creative flow and this was around the time he also was doing a fair few futureshocks for 2000AD (prior to THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES in 1984) and also some pretty seminal, and frankly pretty out there for the time, CAPTAIN BRITAIN stuff for Marvel UK with Alan Davis.

Re-reading this material for the first time in a good few years, as indeed whenever I re-read V FOR VENDETTA, you can easily forget what an expansive yet eloquent writer Alan was at the time. I’m not saying he isn’t now, but it’s hard to get away with being so verbose, so wordily dense, in comics, yet here, as with much of his SWAMP THING run, he carries it off easily. It’s almost comics with an overtone of narrative prose in places. Perfect for setting the scene, or unsettling the reader… for whilst your eyes are telling you one thing with the artwork, Alan is in fact implanting something into your subconscious that is slightly different, a little deeper, and also darker with the narration.

In fact, this material does indeed have a mild flavour of horror to it, but that may also be with me knowing where the story is eventually going… Yes, it’s superheroes, but there’s an definite edge to it which is just as equally apparent as compared to the more overtly political V FOR VENDETTA. I do remember, though, when I first read the whole run, including the subsequent Neil Gaiman material, wondering if Alan had a clear idea of precisely what, if anything, he wanted to achieve in a wider sense with MIRACLEMAN when he started. Maybe he did have something in mind, though maybe he had more than enough going on in that respect with V FOR VENDETTA. I’m intrigued to see if I have that same sense this time around. Lovely art from Garry Leach too. Not sure why he didn’t go on to do a lot, lot more in comics. I have a strange recollection he did at least draw one issue of GLOBAL FREQUENCY.

Do you need to read this? Should you read this? The answer for me is definitely so. It is a seminal work in many ways, which clearly influenced much of what was to shortly follow in the rapidly darkening superhero genre (remember, Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN weren’t until 1986) but also in a wider comics sense. Superhero comics have often been, are, at their most interesting with heroes who are fundamentally flawed, riddled with doubts and insecurities and, most of all, that unforgiveable cardinal sin in the superhero credo, vulnerable instead of just plain, well, invulnerable. Yes, there were comics before this one that did that, but this work in my eyes does represent something of a turning point, however small, for the genre in and of itself. Anyway, read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Contains the first four recent reprints and a wealth of extra back-up material including scans of original art, preliminary roughs, WARRIOR covers, house ads, more.

JR

Buy Miracleman Book vol 1: A Dream Of Flying h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Boy s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & J. G. Jones.

Matrix action half-baked with INVISIBLES meta-language to produce the ultimate in contra mundum, as a young alien with a ferocious line in diplomacy finds himself shot out of the skies by a technology thief calling himself Midas.

The assault kills all Noh-varr’s colleagues, leaving him alone to escape torture and dish out the global reprisals, carving “FUCK YOU” in sky-scraper-sized letters and then take on Hex, a living corporation, all of which he performs in his cycling shorts.

Here comes the language:

“He’s seething with submicrotech! His body fluids are nanoactive! Xenohazard alert!”

With slick and sexy balletic art from J. G. Jones of Mark Millar’s WANTED etc., this completely self-contained series was the very first appearance of YOUNG AVENGERS’ Noh-Varr.

SLH

Buy Marvel Boy s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cataclysm Ultimates Last Stand h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, various.

Some sources said this was to be the death knell of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. I wasn’t sure whether I should be pinching salt or tickling its ribs, but it was far from improbable given that interest in the various series outside of Miles Morales’ had plummeted.

And in some ways it was its death knell because – once more outside the subsequent Miles Morales relaunch which came with quite the cliffhanger – there is now zero interest in any of the abominable titles that lamentably limped from this wreckage.

Following events during the AGE OF ULTRON, a hole has been torn in the time-space thingummybob and globe-gobbling Galactus has found his way through to a brand-new dinner table: the Ultimate Universe. It is woefully unprepared, and not just in the crockery department.

This invulnerable grim reaper, so vast he makes Manhattan look like Legoland, has made it to Earth and trampled the whole of New Jersey to dust. Nothing the Ultimates have found to throw at it has even raised its eyebrow. In the regular Marvel Universe only Reed Richards successfully managed to stave off the ravenous appetite of this world eater, but the Reed Richards of the Ultimate Universe has chosen the distinctly different career path of monomaniacal would-be world tyrant.

What’s to do? as Victoria Wood might say.

Bagley’s interior art delivered the sense of scale which this cover does not while Bendis fell relatively silent for the initial onslaught, letting the action rip across the page right from the start, but since this includes every single mini-series which attended and even preceded the event (like HUNGER), the rest is a very mixed bag.

Among the 20 issues here is the prologue which smoothly and succinctly explained everything you needed to know about the situation as it stood, regardless of whether you’d picked up AGE OF ULTRON or indeed a single Ultimate comic before, whilst delivery an affecting tale of love understood just in time to be too late.

SLH

Buy Cataclysm Ultimates Last Stand h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Hellblazer vol 8: Rake At The Gates Of Hell (£14-99, DC) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, William Simpson, Peter Snejbjerg

Von Doogan And The Curse Of The Golden Monkey (£6-99, DFC) by Lorenzo Etherington

Adventure Time Eye Candy vol 1 h/c (£14-99, Titan Comics) by various

Adventure Time vol 3 Mathematical Edition h/c (£14-99, Titan Comics) by various

Afterlife With Archie vol 1: Escape From Riverdale (£13-50, Archie Comics) by Roberto Aguirre Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla

Jonathan Starlight (£2-99, ) by Ethan Wilderspin

Morning Glories vol 7 (£9-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma

Star Wars Ongoing vol 2: From The Ruins Of Alderaan (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly, Alex Ross

Mass Effect: Foundation vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Mac Walters & various

Toshiro s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Jai Nitz & Janusz Pawlak

Batman And Robin vol 3: Death Of The Family s/c (£10-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Scott Snyder & Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Gerg Capullo

Batman And Robin vol 4: Requiem For Damian h/c (£18-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason

Before Watchmen – Minutemen / Silk Spectre s/c (£14-99, DC) by Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner

Stormwatch vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Tom Raney, Bryan Hitch, various

Swamp Thing vol 4: Seeder s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Kano, Jesus Saiz, Alvaro Lopez, David Lapham

Uncanny Avengers vol 3 (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Steve McNiven, Daniel Acuna

Attack On Titan Colossal Edition vol 1 (£42-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

 

Nottingham Independent Business Award

Voting has begun in the first stage of the Nottingham Independent Business Award 2014 and only the ten most popular businesses will get through to be secretly shopped and assessed by the judges!

Thanks to your votes not only did Page 45 get through in 2012 and 2013 but we won both years! Yippee! Here on page 3 is silly old me, Stephen L. Holland extolling the virtues of Independent Retail in the Nottingham Independent Newspaper June 2014.

Please, please vote! You don’t have to be local – that’s half the point – a Nottingham business that generates tourism!


Here’s how:

1. Tweet @itsinnottingham with “I vote for Page 45” or something similar.

2. Comment “I vote for Page 45” on the It’s In Nottingham Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/itsinnottingham I’m sure you can elaborate if you want to!

3. Fill in voting cards at Page 45 itself by Thursday 19th June.

4. Email info@nottinghambid.com with (you’ll never guess) “I vote for Page 45”!

This may sound greedy, but I very much want the hat-trick on the year of our 20th Anniversary after which I promise to leave you in relative peace.

Your votes won’t guarantee Page 45 wins by any stretch of the imagination – after that it’s up to us to provide the level of personal customer service you’re used to and dazzle the judges with our effortless wit and charm (ruh-roh!).

Big love to Diane, Judi et al at Gemini PR & Marketing for all their kindnesses over the last two years. Splashes like that lovely page 3 are invaluable in helping us reach a wider public and introduce it to the comics and graphic novels we all adore!

Cheers,

- Stephen x

Your regular ITEM!s will return next week. Linking some up as we speak!

Reviews May 2014 week four

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

If you want some of the most impassioned and eloquent writing in comic check out the dialogue below on the US Death Penalty.

 - Stephen on Ex Machina Book 2 by SAGA’s Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris

The Boxer: The True Story Of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist…

“The man hadn’t volunteered. Now I knew what was meant by… ‘when one of you can’t fight any longer.’ I was sure they’d shoot me if I refused.”

I am pretty sure he was right, given that is precisely what ended up happening to the losers shortly after Harry Haft – or Hertzko to use his birth name – had knocked them out. The fights in question took place in concentration camps, purely for the purpose of entertaining the German guards and their guests.

I could write a whole essay, several actually, on the barbarism and inhumanity to man which took place during the Second World War, but given what else took place in the concentration camps themselves, it is not remotely surprising that Harry did what was necessary to survive in any given moment. There comes a point beyond which, if you want to survive, if you have a strong enough reason to endure such unimaginable horror and suffering, it inevitably becomes every man for himself. Win and survive, lose and die, Harry fought 76 fights, effectively to the death, in the Jaworzno concentration camp…

In Harry’s case, it was the thought of a woman called Leah he was about to marry. The thought of being reunited with her drove him to fight to stay alive. And those fighting instincts carried him through his internment, and subsequently ensured he took his chance to immigrate in somewhat quasi-legal circumstances to America. Even once there, in the relative comfort of Brooklyn, he never forgot Leah, in fact he was convinced she also had made it to the promised land of America, he decided to re-enter the boxing ring. Unable to track her down, assuming she had entered the country under a false name like he had, he figured if he could make a name for himself as a boxer, she would get to hear about him and know he was alive.

Whilst Harry did indeed achieve some measure of success, winning his first twelve straight pro fights, proudly sporting a Star of David, yellow in ironic appreciation of the Nazis’ badge of shame for the Jews during the war, eventually he came up against the unstoppable force that was Rocky Marciano, a fight which brought the curtain down on his career. There were subsequent claims of Mafia threats to throw the fight, never proven, but the loss was devastating enough to make Haft realise he had taken his personal journey into the realms of the sweet science as far as he possibly could. Opening a corner store, taking a wife and having three kids, he moved on whilst never quite forgetting his first love. Which brings us neatly to the road trip an older Harry and his son Alan took whilst they were on holiday as a family in Miami, 1963. The unscheduled excursion neatly bookends this traumatic tale of one man’s determination to achieve his heart’s desire, and proves that sometimes all you have to do is have the iron will to see it through.

Some of you may be familiar with the creator Reinhard Kleist from his excellent biography of CASTRO. There is something about Reinhard’s gritty black and white art style which lends itself perfectly to such pieces. I can see various influences and comparisons, not least the great Will Eisner. This is a brilliantly told work of one man’s story which, like so many others from that time, should, indeed must not be forgotten.

JR

Buy The Boxer: The True Story Of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft and read the Page 45 review here

MPH #1 of 5 (£2-25, Image) by Mark Millar & Duncan Fegredo.

It’s a joy to see Duncan Fegredo back in the real world again – well, something more approximating it than HELLBOY: MIDNIGHT CIRCUS. That was an ethereal beauty and Fegredo was perfect for a series starring a big red guy with enormous hands. The hands!

However, it’s the cool and contemporary I love most about him – the arched expressions and Rodin-like wrists, often at angles in TALES FROM THE CLERKS, for example. There’s a gloriously subtle sequence kicked off when Chevy looks away from a bearded, bald biker dude just as that dude takes an interest in him. It’s a perfect panel, all the important elements including their stares composed along the lines radiating from its vanishing point, far right. Story page nine, panel two once you’ve bought this. I won’t tell you where it’s set: this review’s spoiler-free, I promise.

In 1986 the first and only sighting of a superhuman occurred late at night after he “ran out of juice” in Missouri. Rocketing uncontrollably at such an impossible speed across multiple speeds that he left a tornado-level trail of destruction in his wake, ploughing up compacted earth and asphalt, busting through buildings and shattering glass, Mr Springfield staggered to a halt and was promptly arrested, drugged and locked away in solitary confinement by the United States Army.

 

That was it for superhumans for nearly thirty years. Now it’s 2014 and young, ambitious, forward-thinking Roscoe, a courier in bankrupt Detroit, is in for a shattering experience of his own. That’s long before he experiences his own MPH.

Anything more than that would constitute spoilers and I made you a promise. Besides, I have many more questions than I have answers – especially after the final page – and that’s just as it should be for any opening salvo.

Coming back to Fegredo, however, and I told you he was a dab hand at contemporary, so I leave you with the cover to MPH #2.

Now that’s how you stand out on shelves.

SLH

Buy MPH #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Polina h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Bastien Vives…

“Hello Mrs. Litovsky, I would like to talk about Polina.”
“Tell me, Mr. Bojinsky.”
“I would like her to dance in a performance, and I’ve come to consult you about when I could borrow her for rehearsals. With your permission of course.”
“Absolutely not, Mr. Bojinsky. There’s the end of year assessment. And Polina needs to work hard to reach the right level; if she fails she won’t be able to move up to the next year.
“On top of that, for your information, I’m having a hard time correcting all the horrors you put into the heads of your former pupils!
“So I find you extremely impertinent coming here asking me something like this.
“As you well know, I don’t share your conception of dance one bit!”
“I must confess, I do try to train my pupils for work beyond musical comedies and folk entertainment.”
“You repellent man! I would rather leave than listen to this kind of nonsense. Goodbye, Mr. Bojinsky.”
“Goobye Mrs. Litovsky!”
“Polina… tell me, can I count on you? We’ll find a solution for the rehearsals.”
“I’d be delighted, Mr. Bojinsky.”

Wonderful absorbing character study from the man who brought us A TASTE OF CHLORINE. (By the way, if there is anyone out there who knows what the woman says to the boy underwater in the conclusion of that work, please, please tell me, because I would dearly love to know!) Polina wants to be a dancer, and she has natural talent and aptitude. But more than that, she has the attitude and single-minded determination to succeed. Whilst the other girls eventually succumb to the distractions and socialising down the pub and the temptations of boys, Polina’s focus remains firmly on being a dancer.

 

In that respect she is aided, indeed directed in her early years, by the somewhat stentorian Mr. Bojinksky. Not in the vocal sense, but he has the manner of someone who simply brooks no dissent. If you are not interested in doing it his very exacting way, well, you will be shown the door. He isn’t mean or cruel, but he rarely shows approbation either. Not that this is a stereotypical story of the early years of someone destined for stardom, moulded by a rigid disciplinary, though. The time soon comes when Polina begins to question where she is headed, both artistically and as a person, and decides to strike out on her own. But, undoubtedly, Mr. Bojinsky remains the primary influence upon her, even subconsciously. So, when she finds herself at a cross-roads in her career and personal life, it’s perhaps not surprising she turns back toward to the bedrock of stability whom she has always been able to rely on.

As with A TASTE OF CHLORINE, much here is about what is not said, both what doesn’t need to be, and what people are incapable of expressing. He understands the subtleties of human emotion, does Mr. Vives, and, better yet, is capable of illustrating it so delicately in this form. And as with that previous work, there are turning points upon which the story hinges, where your heart will either melt or break. One of the most powerful moments in this work for me comes when Mr. Bojinsky removes his glasses: there’s a transformation which takes place, on many different levels, that is as revealing as it is remarkable. It’s such a subtle nuance, but then the glasses are replaced and, whilst everything is seemingly exactly as it was, it has undoubtedly changed forever.

Art-wise, whilst there are some similarities of style, it is a different approach from A TASTE OF CHLORINE. Understated yet expressive. Graceful and poised, like a ballerina, it shows what a truly accomplished talent Bastien Vives is.

JR

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

The Last Broadcast #1 of 7 (£2-99, Archaia) by André Sirangelo & Gabriel Iumazark.

Dominique spotted this one.

I think the art said BEDLAM to her and she loves her Bedlam, does Dee. There’s a bit of Ben Templesmith going on too, only more angular. Ashley Wood. Those sorts of comparisons.

There’s a cracking full-page shot of urban exploring 100 feet below San Francisco, looking up from ankle level at gas-masked Niko and Harumi, the two on the cover.

“Look at that crazy door. I think the map is legit after all.”
“If the map is accurate, crazy door is just the beginning.”

It is indeed. Cogs whirr and the metal hatch – the sort of thing you’d find on a submarine – opens – and there’s quite the room inside. The sequence puts me in mind of Riven or Myst. Not stylistically, but in its overall effect of haunting strangeness and thrilling discovery.

What’s uncovered is not unconnected to Ivan The Intrepid, a young escapologist with confidence issues. He’s about to bugger up an audition during which he relates the doomed career of Blachall The Incredible, “a master of shock and awe” who hit it big in 1925 at the Paris World’s Fair. Then he bit the bullet in London, 1934, after a staged game of Russian Roulette went wonky.

This too is about to go wonky but with less catastrophic consequences… so far. Ivan doesn’t lose his life; he loses Alex, his business partner whom Ivan treats as his assistant. It’s partly because of that and partly because Alex has stopped taking his meds. They were making him sluggish, which is bad news for an escapologist. I anticipate further bad news nonetheless: he’s been off them for 48 hours.

With his income teetering on the non-existent Ivan begs magazine publisher Dmitri for work, but Dmitri has lost his last sponsor. What he gains is something altogether unexpected.

In precisely which ways this all fits together remains a mystery, but in any case all this takes place 8 weeks before the explosion at a funfair in San Francisco.

SLH

Buy The Last Broadcast #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Graphic Novel Man DVD: The Comics of Bryan Talbot (£15-99) co-created by Russell Wall and James Guy with substantial contributions by Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Joe Sacco, Ian Rankin, Michael Moorcock, David Lloyd, Dougie Braithwaite, Dr. Mary Talbot, Hunt Emerson, D’Israeli, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Al Davison, Andy Diggle, Paul Gravett, Dr. Mel Gibson, Charlie Adlard, Dez Skinn and more!

Fascinating, thrilling and completely accessible, this is a well deserved and worthy tribute to one of the world’s greatest comicbook creators, truly a “Renaissance Man.”

Seeing whole pages or even the tiniest details blown up in such crystal-clear definition is a joy.

Watching Bryan draw is magical.

Listening to him enthuse about his influences is infectious.

If you love comics but haven’t yet read a word Bryan has written or seen a page that he’s drawn you will still love this three-programme documentary, be fascinated by Bryan’s craft, then be galvanised into seeking out whichever of his diverse graphic novels appeals to your personal predilections: ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT, DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES, GRANDVILLE… Oh, pop him in our search engine!

You might want to take another look at his SANDMAN contributions too once both Gaiman and Talbot have explained the creative decisions each made for ‘August’: verticals, horizontals, diagonals and so much white! And yes, you might not notice it but the shadows do shift from west to east according to the time of day!

I didn’t know what some of these comicbook creators lining up to heap praise on Talbot actually looked like until. Who knew Andy Diggle was so young? Joe Sacco looks far more svelte and handsome than he draws himself, while Warren Ellis is a million miles away from the cranky cadaver he pretends to be, positively beaming with affection for Bryan’s craft. I haven’t seen Charlie Adlard for decades – wouldn’t recognise him.

The first programme covers the creator’s life and career with plenty of old film footage of him acting his socks off in horror films he made as a teenager. As you’d imagine, Dr. Mary Talbot is on hand to elaborate on the scenes from DOTTER OF HER FATHER’S EYES in which they met and married, and Bryan was introduced to Mary’s domineering father. Bryan recounts how he took a Foundation Course taught by three abstract artists who forbade figurative work completely! So that doesn’t go well. It’s all put into comicbook context so you’ll find potted histories of genres from underground comics to steampunk.

The second feature deals with Bryan’s approach to creating comics from extensive research, note-taking and photography (“obsessing”, basically, and often for years), then meticulously mapping out the structure of each book on enormous sheets of paper stuck together and arrows going every which way so that events can be foreshadowed and bits of dialogue dropped in… to finally cracking into the pages themselves. Once more his creative peers are on hand to extol the artist’s virtues and point out bits and pieces we may have all missed.

In the third episode you actually get to watch the man at work on GRANDVILLE. Whoa!

Each instalment is so seamlessly edited, deftly cutting to form one long, fluid narrative – an entertainment, in fact.

I have only one criticism in the vein of “Never judge a book by its cover”: don’t be put off by the cover’s woefully out-of-date design, its hideous type-face on the front and back, and the initial, endless repetition before each programme of Digital Story Engine’s logo and website address. Push past them! The films themselves are as slick as can be.

One small warning too: this DVD contains a great deal of me, popping my head up above the comics counter and mouthing off just when you least expect it. Sorry.

Also: THAT IS NOT MY LIVING ROOM; IT IS UNDECORATED PAGE 45 STORAGE UPSTAIRS!

SLH

Buy The Graphic Novel Man DVD: The Comics of Bryan Talbot and read the Page 45 review here

Moomin’s Desert Island (£6-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson.

“Help!”
“Pirates!”
“Are they after us?”
“I hope so!”

Everyone loves to be chased.

Thirty-five pages of full-colour whimsy from one of the black and white MOOMIN hardcovers in which our flailing family of unceasing optimists finds themselves marooned on a dessert island. They don’t mind: in MOOMIN VOL 7 they actively set out to shipwreck themselves, and found it surprisingly difficult!

Moominmamma’s immediate priority is to go foraging for food, carrying her handbag – as you do – and hunting a wild boar with her compact. I’m not even kidding you. She blows make-up powder up its nose and into its eyes, seasons it with salt (it’s a well equipped handbag) and sets fire to the poor brute, shaggy coat and all.

However, Moominmamma isn’t the only Moominmummy on the island. Plus Moomintroll discovers a message from The Mymble bobbing in a bottle on the sea.

“Help! I am the beautiful prisoner of the pirates on board the black shark!”

Beautiful? Uh-oh. Well, it wouldn’t be MOOMIN if Snork Maiden didn’t sulk. It’s so like Tove Jansson to be that random: Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll and … Snork Maiden. Maybe Moomin’s the name of the family, not the species – that’s only just dawned on me!

The laugh-out-loud sequences involve the Professor who boarded the helicopter against his better judgement having forecasted a storm. A death-obsessed doom merchant, his umbrella was up before the first drop of rain and remains firmly aloft on each and every page until the, err, accident. It’s an exquisite piece of timing when, after a dozen or so gloomy projections, the imminent disaster is left hanging in the air on the last panel of a page, just like the agent of destruction above the poor Professor’s head. I don’t think that umbrella will help much.

SLH

Buy Moomin’s Desert Island and read the Page 45 review here

Operation Paperclip (£7-99) by Patrick Goddard…

“Can you even be guilty? For something you haven’t done? For a potential?”

Good question. If you have the potential for not picking up your standing order, I would say so. But, for our put-upon protagonist, it’s a rather more all encompassing problem. Already unpopular at school, just because he isn’t one of the popular kids pretty much, it certainly has the potential to get much, much worse. He’s just received a letter from Julian Assange informing him that in one week’s time, Wikileaks will be leaking US government documents which categorically prove he is a clone of Hitler. For a teenager who was adopted by a Jewish family but who can’t be considered as Jewish due to no one knowing if his birth mother was Jewish, but still expected to act like one and thus unsurprisingly already struggling with identity issues, it’s a bombshell he could have done without.

The title of this work comes from the factual US appropriation of various Nazi scientists following WW2, including several whom could be said to have worked in the field of… medical science. For example, it’s well known that various rocket scientists like Wernher von Braun were assimilated into the US space program, but it’s far less well known that characters like Dr Hubertus Strughold, responsible for experimentation on humans at Dachau, were employed in high ranking medical positions in the US establishment. Their new paperwork and IDs, erasing their past mis-deeds, were all neatly and simply held together with a paperclip.

Our by now somewhat paranoid hero has always had an interest in Nazi conspiracy theories, a fact which only serves to convince him this stunning revelation must be true. By the time he’s finished espousing these theories for the benefit of his bemused friend, you might well be convinced too. But in reality, this is a work about consequences. Actions most assuredly have consequences, you can call it karma if you wish, and there is a rather amusing little ramble about that: the consequences of our actions do not always fall upon our own shoulders, but sometimes the actions of others do, with devastating effect. I think we can certainly say this is a black comedy. I chuckled throughout because, let’s be honest, we can all laugh at the misfortune of others, especially when it is so comedically portrayed. But maybe we’re just being set up for the punchline and the joke will turn out to be on us…

I loved this work! Self-published, self-bound even (I know because Patrick told me!), this story shows a creator with rich storytelling potential who understands how to unsettle and jangle the emotions of the reader whilst simultaneously extracting a laugh or two. The art style reminded me of Gareth Brookes (THE BLACK PROJECT) in places and actually Gary Spencer Millidge (STRANGEHAVEN) too, particularly in terms of the somewhat haunted faces.

JR

Buy Operation Paperclip and read the Page 45 review here

Saga #19 (£2-25, Image) by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples…

“I will never stop cringing.”
“You encouraged us… just a second… you encouraged us to respond to the audience more.”
“No, I told you to be aware of the fourth wall, not to punch a glory hole through it. You’re fired.”

Aha, possibly the most dysfunctional family in comics is back!!! So if you don’t want to wait another eight or so months for the next collected trade, it’s time to jump aboard the crazy comics ride that is SAGA in single-issue form. Now living undercover, trying to keep a low profile, whilst Alana quite literally broadcasts herself across the universe in the guise of a farcical soap opera-esque improvisational troupe member, our collective bunch of oddballs bicker near-continuously and attempt to out-profane one other, whilst they all go gradually ever more stir crazy.

Also, the first page of this issue finally manages to out-do the very first page of SAGA VOL 1 for utterly insane, weird grossness. Once again, childbirth is involved, but nearly a week later, I simply cannot unsee the image that has been seared into my brain. Vaughn, Staples, you are bad people…

JR

Buy Saga #19 and read the Page 45 review here

Ex Machina Book 2 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris, Chris Sprouse.

From the writer of SAGA.

If you want some of the most impassioned and eloquent writing in comics check out the dialogue below on the US Death Penalty.

Plus Tony Harris: the writing’s so good I rarely mention Tony, do I? Just the right level of anchoring photo-realism – the saggy jowls and all – for a political thriller.

EX MACHINA stars the mayor of New York who can communicate with machines (and do so imaginatively as the courtroom highjack will amply demonstrate) and who reads WONDER WOMAN but has to hire a detective to buy the back issues for him because, like, if it ever got out that the mayor of New York City read the funny papers they’d think he was ripe for the funny farm. The press’d be all over that one.

Terrorism returns to New York, bringing with it personal tragedy for Mayor Hundred and ugly reprisals on the street. Skinheads indiscriminately target Sikhs as well as innocent Muslims, police officers shoot the wrong person on the underground (hmmm…?), and no one’s looking in the right direction. Meanwhile, Hundred gets sick of being stitched up on air, and decides to do something about it:

“Dre, you asked me to come on your program so we could discuss extending Rent Regulations, not –”
“It’s a simple question, sir. Do you or do you not support Capital Punishment?”
“<sigh> The Death Penalty is arbitrary and capricious, an anachronistic throwback that’s looked upon with disgust by nearly every other democracy in the world. Practically, it’s way more expensive than life without parole, and morally, it’s applied in a manner that’s totally unfair to anyone who can’t afford my lawyers. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that those convicted of killing Whites are significantly more likely to be executed than those convicted of killing Blacks.”
“But you’d agree that it’s an effective deterrent against future crimes?”
“No, I wouldn’t. Murder rates often go up immediately following executions. We’re sending a message to Americans that killing is the correct way to solve problems. Look, I realise we live in a culture where a story isn’t satisfying unless the bad guy dies at the end, but unlike the movies, death really is permanent. How can we implement a decision that can’t be overturned when we know how fallible our justice system — how fallible we — can be?”
“And Osama Bin Laden? If he were captured tomorrow, you’d argue to the families of his victims that he should live?”
“… Motherfucker.”
“Dump out! Dump out! Don’t let that go over on the air! What in God’s name is wrong with you? You can’t say stuff like that on a public broadcast!”
“Yeah, well, now you know how it feels like to be sabotaged. Enjoy the rest of your show, Dre.”

|Outside|:

“What was that all about, boss?”
“Doesn’t matter, Bradbury. Come on, sneak me out of here before my Press Secretary shows up to scream at me.”
“But I didn’t hear your answer to whether or not you’d ice Osama.”
“And neither did anyone else. It’s a “Have you stopped beating your wife?” trap. If I say I’d kill him, I look like a hypocrite. If I say I wouldn’t, I sound weak on security. Sometimes it’s best to let your record speak for itself, you know?”

This new edition takes you right up to end of the fourth original volume, so you can carry straight on with EX MACHINA VOL 5

SLH

Buy Ex Machina Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by David Camus & Nick Abadzis.

The final flourish of fourteen pages – as an increasingly confident comet of living white light rises through the multiple strata of clouds cast in a golden light, and bursts across the stormier masses before making a mad dash towards the heart of a shimmering sun – are breathtakingly beautiful.

The multiple marines and citrus yellows are as exquisite as the execution is thrilling and, however achieved, the effect is of pastel or dry brush on coarsely textured watercolour paper thick with paint. The creamy lemon then white-hot sun radiating over the sea comes close to a religious experience.

I wish to God that the rest of the book had been rendered like that. Nick Abadzis, the creator of LAIKA, is an award-winning artist whom we adore and whenever Conchita Marquez – Cuba’s most celebrated cigar roller – appears on the page he brings her alive in all her big, hot, pungent beauty and the dream sequences are divine.

His Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, however, are as stiff, awkward and artificial as the writing which I found mundane, clunky, irritating and even embarrassing in places.

It was only during the injustices heaped on Conchita – so in love with tobacco and so dedicated to her craft – that my interest picked up. I wanted to learn all about this woman but the details were scant. Instead the focus began and then strayed back to Welles puffing on multiple cigars, Rita being cranky, and a cheesy supernatural conceit which left me completely cold.

Astonished.

SLH

Buy The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

Umbral vol 1: Out Of The Shadows s/c (£7-50, Image) by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama s/c (£11-99, Mariner) by Alison Bechdel

Black Science vol 1: How To Fall Forever s/c (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera, Dean White

Bunny vs. Monkey Book One: Year One January – June (£6-99, DFB) by Jamie Smart

Everywhere Antennas (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Julie Delporte

Glacial Period h/c (£16-99, NBM) by Nicolas De Crecy

Petty Theft (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard

Phantoms Of The Louvre h/c (£22-50, NBM) by Enki Bilal

Savage vol 2: The Guv’nor (£14-99, Rebellion ) by Pat Mills & Patrick Goddard

Sledgehammer 44 vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Jason Latour, Laurence Campbell, Mike Mignola

The Girl Who Played With Fire h/c (£22-50, Vertigo) by Denise Mina &Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso, Leonardo Manco

Catwoman vol 4: Gotham Underground s/c (£13-50, DC) by Ann Nocenti & Rafael Sandoval

Fairest vol 3: Return Of The Maharaja (£10-99, DC) by Sean Williams & Stephen Sadowski, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes, others

Red Lanterns vol 4: Blood Brothers s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule, Robert Veniditti & Alessandro Vitti, various

Shazam s/c (£12-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

All New X-Men vol 4: All Different (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Brandon Peterson

Avengers Assemble: Forgeries Of Jealousy s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kelly Sue Deconnick, Warren Ellis & Matteo Buffagni

Cataclysm Ultimates Last Stand h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Joshua Hale Fialkov, Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley,various

Guardians Of The Galaxy / All New X-Men: The Trial Of Jean Grey h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Sara Pichelli

Iron Man vol 4: Iron Metropolitan (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Joe Bennett

Marvel Boy s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Grant Morrison & J. G. Jones

Marvel Masterworks: Iron Man vol 3 (£18-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Al Hartley, Roy Thomas & Don Heck, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby

Miracleman Book vol 1: A Dream Of Flying h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Alan Moore, Mich Anglo & Gary Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon, Paul Neary

Ozma Of Oz s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Revolutionary War s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Andy Lanning, Kieron Gillen, others & various

Battle Angel Alita Last Order Omnibus vol 3 (£14-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Claymore vol 24 (£6-99, Viz) by Norihiro Yagi

Fairy Tail vol 8 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Soul Eater vol 20 (£9-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

Vampire Knight vol 18 (£6-99, Viz) by Matsuri Hino

 

ITEM! One of Tom Gauld’s best-ever cartoons: “My Library”! Too, too funny! Here’s our review of Tom Gauld’s YOU’RE JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK with his absolute best-ever cartoon to click on!

ITEM! Preview of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

ITEM! I love Marc Laming’s hair – and the way he draws it! Marc Laming’s indescribably beautiful hair.

ITEM! Michael Eaton & Eddie Campbell reprise Charlie Peace in comic form in DAWN OF THE UNREAD #3 There’s a neat little surprise halfway through, and finishes with a redefinition of the term “page-turner”. Are you sitting at your computer as well right now? Hmmm.

ITEM! Culture has climaxed! Neill Cameron’s Lego Panda Battlesuit.

ITEM! Jade Sarson wins Myriad Books’ First Graphic Novel Competion 2014 with the gloriously titled FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE! Jade Sarson’s website.

ITEM! Ulli Lust’s acceptance speech for her LA Times Best Graphic Novel award in comic form! Genius! She won it for TODAY IS THE  LAST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

ITEM! I want hugs! These folks are some of the glorious 3-D mascots for The Lakes International Comics Art Festival designed by Jonathan Edwards and made by fabulous Felt Mistress! Felt Mistress’ CREATURE COUTURE is in stock at Page 45!

ITEM! Lastly, this may look utterly self-serving but, from the New York Times: the latest tactics from Amazon are horrifying. If you want discounted prose and DVDs there is an alternative to Amazon called HIVE which you can use via Page 45 and even collect in-store if you want, so saving you postage!

ITEM! No, wait! Big blog about all the comicbook creators in The Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2014 in October! Includes bits on Page 45!

Cheers,

- Stephen

Reviews May 2014 week three

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

I’ve seen this sort of thing done very, very badly by those who think comics is anyone’s game. It’s not. It’s a medium which requires specific talents, discipline and very careful judgement.

- Stephen on Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. She has all three in abundance.

Remember, you can click on our interior art to enlarge it!

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? h/c (£20-99, Bloomsbury) by Roz Chast.

“I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly “done”, there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-orientated. Perhaps opium, or heroin.”

Yep, that’s been on my To-Do list for a very long time. It’s far from sustainable in the long term – especially if you have any actual plans – but if the time’s drawing near then I want some gear. Some serious gear. Call it a pleasure deferred.

Roz Chast has achieved the virtually impossible: she has written and drawn a graphic novel about the single most painful subject most of us have buried along with our heads in the sand… and, through the skill of her cartooning and selective wisdom, made it a page-turner rather than something I would desperately prefer to look away from. The short-burst presentation helps too.

The subject isn’t one’s own mortality nor even our parents’ mortality, but the possibility of prolonged and ever-increasing frailty before death.

As the book opens Roz Chast’s parents are living in a god-awful rented flat in Brooklyn which Roz escaped as soon as she could aged 16. You’ll see why. Her mother and father are, however, content with their habitat – however rough, ready, cold and grimy – and as independent as they are co-dependent. They are inseparable and self-supporting. It’s all perfectly viable for the moment, but they too have their heads in the sand, hence the title. It’s roughly 50% optimism, 50% denial, equalling 100% oblivion.

Her mother is assertive, confident, uncompromising, obstinate, bossy. She had quite a temper on her, manifesting itself in what she proudly described as a “Blast from Chast”! Her father is happy to be hen-pecked for he adores Elizabeth. He is meek and sensitive – what you might call a worrier. Unfortunately, with the onset of senility, it deteriorates into such outright paranoia that he cannot be left on his own and when her mother’s overconfidence drives her to use one step-ladder too many, it is the beginning of a very protracted end.

“I had had no idea that my father was so far gone. When he was living with my take-charge mother in familiar, never-changing surroundings, his symptoms of senility had seemed pretty low-key. Certainly not this level of confusion.
“One of the worst parts of senility must be that you have to get terrible news over and over again.
“On the other hand, maybe in between the times of knowing the bad news, you get to forget it and live as if everything is hunky-dory.”

Alison Bechdel’s a big fan, calling it a “grim, side-splitting memoir” and that’s a neat little trick, juggling the horror with the humour. The horror her father feels each time he’s told the news he keeps forgetting – that his wife and soul mate is in hospital – is in fact hilarious.

“Speaking of which, where’s Mom?”
“Mom is in the hospital.”
“OH MY GOD!!! WHAT HAPPENED?!?!?”

Each and every time. It’s a cumulatively funny joke based on repetition.

It doesn’t hurt that Chast is Edvard Munch’s comedic second-cousin. Rarely has eye-popping, wits’-end, freak-the-fuck-out been so explosively expressed by a pen on the page. Exasperation too. We’re talking Roberta Gregory (NAUGHTY BITS) amplified by Gary Northfield (TEENYTINSAURS).

 

She’s also a dab hand at wobbly-lined fragility, and I’m afraid you’ll be witness to an increasing amount of that as her parents’ conditions deteriorate, excruciatingly so.

As Chast herself surmises, what may have helped her examine the stark proceedings with both candour and sanity is a certain detachment to her mother’s condition born of that bad temper which Roz was so often subjected to when a child; along with the blunt bons môts, “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother”.

There’s a photo of Roz Chast aged 11 in which she looks 30. There are heartbreaking photos of her parents’ effects taken when the cartoonist clears out their flat. There are photos of approximately two hundred pencils found in different draws. There are photos of clutter – the debris of a life left behind. There’s also a very curious photo of the inside of their fridge.

“The tins are from Meals On Wheels. The turquoise bin with all the tape on it is one of my mother’s inventions and has been since the mid-1960s. It’s called the “cheese-tainer” and held – obviously – cheese. Don’t know about the empty Styrofoam egg cartons.”

Twenty-four hours after reading this I began my own clear-out back home. Try it! Start filling the first bin! It’s very therapeutic.

I’ve seen this sort of thing done very, very badly by those who think comics is anyone’s game. It’s not. It’s a medium which requires specific talents, discipline and very careful judgement. Roz Chast has a long career as a highly acclaimed professional cartoonist under her belt and it shows on every page.

I leave you with some figures to frighten the fuck out of you and your wallet: when Chast’s parents were relatively able-bodied (all things become relative), The Place which she finally persuaded them was inevitable accommodation cost $7,400 a month before extras. Extras soon rose to $1,200 a month. Eventually the total for her mother alone rose to $14,000 a month.

What kind of salary are you on?

SLH

Buy Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 5: The Witch Next Door h/c (£18-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.

“How did you know you could trust me with witchcraft?”
“I didn’t. And I was right, as I recall.”
“What if I used it against you?”
“Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know. But if I did…”
“Maybe I’m a fool, but I think every young witch should have the freedom to make mistakes. Good judgement comes from dealing with the consequences of bad judgement. Besides, there are ways to take magic away if need be…. Just be careful I never need to use them on you.”

Brrrr… That’s Uncle Aloysius to our young Courtney, and by the end of this penultimate volume of COURTNEY CRUMRIN things will have come to a head.

“Good judgement comes from dealing with the consequences of bad judgement.”

Courtney will have to exercise some seriously swift judgement here following some catastrophically bad judgement in teaching Holly Hart, the new girl in town, witchcraft. Oh, Courtney once made the same initial mistakes that Holly does with spells to make herself popular, but Courtney recognised those for the mistakes they were. The only thing Holly realises is that Courtney may rescind her privileges: Courtney has been a liability, a threat – one best dealt with swiftly.

Ingeniously Ted mirrors the whole of the first book in the second chapter here, right down to the Goblin market, and then in the third chapter you’re witness to Holly’s point of view. In the first chapter you’ll learn far more of the history of warlocks in Hillsborough than has previously been revealed, and in particular an early assault on Uncle Aloysius’ authority via his heart.

Naifeh really let’s rip with the actions and fireworks later on. I think we can safely say that Courtney has “levelled up”. There’s always been a steeliness in her eyes, but now she doesn’t even flinch. There’s also the reintroduction of many a familiar face most unexpectedly, so for maximum satisfaction I’d make sure you’ve read the previous instalments of COURTNEY CRUMRIN, reviewed quite extensively, first.

“How do you live with knowing what evil you’ve done? Knowing you’ll do more?”
“I feel like a jerk. But then I get on with my life, and try not to screw up so bad the next time. We’re not faeries, Templeton. We don’t have forever.”

No indeed. Now time is running out.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 5: The Witch Next Door h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Samurai Executioner Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima.

More brutal, feudal Japan, from the world of LONE WOLF AND CUB (extensive review), this time focussing on its Decapitator Asaemon. His job entailed testing swords, looking stern, and chopping people’s heads off.

Most of the tales involve dilemmas for the executioner to sort out all Solomon-style based on codes of conduct slightly more obscure than which way one should pass the port, but in the end it’s usually resolved in a manner which makes “cut the baby in two” look positively restrained.

SLH

Buy Samurai Executioner Omnibus vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

United States Of Murder Inc #1 (£2-99, Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming…

“In my day this ceremony went a little differently. It was done in a backroom. Away from the world. And you had to earn it with a lifetime of service. You had to be more than just blood.
“You had to prove your worth and loyalty.
“But your father, and his father before him… they were truly honourable men. In many ways they were the backbone of this organisation, this family…
“I would make an exception for you, Valentine, even if our ways had never changed. Take the knife.
“Who we are is who you are. Do you agree?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Show us.”
“You honour your father and your father’s father with this blood oath to the family.
“If you betray your family… your flesh will burn like this saint.
“And that’s that. Let’s eat!!”

Wise guys… surely up there on the all-time most contrary oxymorons list, in addition to the most wanted? There is a reason why the particular type of ceremony the padrino is referring to is no longer required to take place behind closed doors, and that is because in this world, the mob has managed to carve a legitimate territory out for itself being, I think, Baltimore, though it may well turn out to be elsewhere too.

 

The how and the why, those have yet not been revealed, but I am pretty sure it involved a combination of blackmail and briefcases stuffed full of money, aimed in the direction of suitably malleable politicos. Talking of blackmail and briefcases stuffed full of money, Valentine’s first mission as a made man is to take a present, and of course a message, to a politician in Washington. The message is received, the present is accepted, but [redacted].

So that’s going to give Valentine something to chew over.

Then, just when you think you’ve got a handle on what is going on, precisely where the knife has been stuck in, Bendis gives it an almighty twist. Oh yeah, I did not see that coming.

This title contains everything you would expect from Bendis, with the snappy patter and witty dialogue, and, as with POWERS / POWERS BUREAU, Oeming’s solid, angular, shadow heavy art compliments it perfectly. Great start to what has the potential to be a really top-notch crime comic, which lest we forget is the genre in which Bendis cut his teeth long before flossing with capes. I fully intend to keep to reading this one myself.

JR

Buy United States Of Murder Inc #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The True Lives Of Fabulous Killjoys s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon & Becky Cloonan…

Hmm, the first non-UMBRELLA ACADEMY material from Gerard Curds n’ Way and I can’t decide if I think it is merely good, or great. In fairness, Gerard and I have previous form in this respect, because I felt exactly the same about the first volume of UMBRELLA ACADEMY, whereas when I read the second I loved it. And, upon re-reading the first volume, I did subsequently ‘get’ it and found it much more enjoyable. I guess therefore what I can say is THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS is to sci-fi what UMBRELLA ACADEMY is to superheroes. Rather bonkers, bordering on daft in places.

The KILLJOYS is also very pretty – huge kudos to Becky Cloonan on art duties – so what we end up with is a tasty piece of candy floss speculative fiction that has a few interesting-ish things it is trying to say. It succeeds, to an extent, simply because it is slickly done without dwelling on the deep and meaningful for too long before zapping onto the next scene. Overall it feels rather like an artfully directed expensive music video, actually, probably exactly what Way was going for consciously or otherwise. I did find some of the future-speak soundbite dialogue a touch grating, but on another day that might have just washed over me. Still, decent enough to guarantee a place on Top Of The Pops…

 

JR

Buy The True Lives Of Fabulous Killjoys s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hellboy In Hell vol 1: The Descent (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola…

“I promise you, you have nothing to fear in this place.”
“Because we’re invisible?”
“No.”
“Really? I thought for sure we’d be invisible.”
“No need… there’s no one here to see us.”
“You sure about that?”
“At the news of your coming, your death, and your descent into hell, they all went in a rush to hide themselves in their own far countries.”
“They?”
“All the Princes and ministers of Hell… all the Dukes, Marquis, Earls, and Knights… all fled, along with their legions of demons.”
“Not that I’m sorry to have missed them but why?”
“This way… the citadel of the fly, once the seat of… the beating heart of pandemonium… but no more. They are all gone now… save one.”
“You better not mean me, because I’ve been through all this crap before.”
“No. Not you. You’ve made your position very clear.”

Ah… easily the best HELLBOY arc I have read in the last few years. As ole Red’s saga eventually draws to a conclusion, it suddenly feels like it is right back on form. Even including the action-packed previous volume HELLBOY VOL 12: THE STORM AND THE FURY, whose cataclysmic events have resulted in Hellboy’s potentially one-way ticket home being issued, it felt like things were treading water slightly for the last three volumes or so. I have a sneaking suspicion regarding precisely why that may have been, all to do with the epic events ongoing over in BPRD: HELL ON EARTH, that perhaps Mignola was getting things… aligned… for the grand finale, as there is still rather a lot of story to be told in that particular title, but possibly not.

Anyway, this first part of the ‘Hellboy In Hell’ arc, storyline has many of the touches of truly classic HELLBOY material from over the years, with brooding mystery and arcane mythology expounded in elaborate detail, as Hellboy whips out the wisecracks all the while. Also, it’s nice to see Mignola on the art again. Whilst I have enjoyed everyone else’s work on this title over the years, especially Duncan Fegredo and excepting Richard Corben (purely a personal preference, I know many of you love his rubber faced antics), it is great to see Mignola returning to finish his labour of love off personally. Not so much a jumping on point then, as a long kiss goodbye…

JR

Buy Hellboy In Hell vol 1: The Descent and read the Page 45 review here

The Authority vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Bryan Hitch.

“We are The Authority. Behave.”

THE AUTHORITY was one of the first superhero series I ever endorsed, back in 1999. It hit the tarmac running and punched you in the socio-political face.

With its clipped, military precision, it reset the standard once monopolised by WATCHMEN. It consciously or subconsciously inspired Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s four ULTIMATES books, and I’m here to tell you that it withstands the test of time. If you want testosterone, it will give you testosterone, but with a great deal more cranial activity to boot.

Guess who’s got the most of both? Jenny Sparks, pragmatic blonde Brit and the sharpest female lead in superhero comics. Naturally she doesn’t wear spandex, she wears an exquisitely tailored, loose cotton suit over a Union Jack t-shirt, but she has more attitude than her entire team together, even if she doesn’t once throw a physical punch.

That job goes to Jack Hawksmoor, at one with Earth’s cities, and boyfriends Apollo and The Midnighter who – contrary to the despicable gay cliché – are neither maladjusted nor lightweights. Neither in the closet nor in your face, no one gives a shit, thank fuck. “Get a room, you two,” is about as much signposting as you’re going to get under Ellis. Apollo smiles with a boyish optimism and he shines as bright as the sun. The Midnighter does not.

“I’ve already planned this fight in my head, a million times, from each and every angle. You think your Kaizen Gamorra’s pretty damn good, I know. But my talents were built in by Henry Bendix, the biggest bastard on Earth, and trained by five years living rough and fighting on the streets of America.
“I won this fight before you even turned up.”

So where does the cranial come in? For a start in the form of The Carrier. Fifty miles long, thirty-five miles high and powered by a caged baby universe, it tacks into The Bleed between alternate universes, “sailing the outer oceans of ideaspace during the spawning season, keeping pace with a school of Obsession Fish”.

Also the new recruits: The Engineer and the Doctor. I can’t tell you how they solve problems, it’ll spoil all the surprises, but the Doctor’s final solution for an alternate-Earth Italy was … imaginative.

Also it’s the quiet moments, most harmoniously explored in the third chapter of this complete Ellis and Hitch run, as when Angie The Engineer marvels at being in outer space with her view of the moon and laments man’s all too-brief encounter with our lunar sister or relishes her view of The Bleed.

All of which – the quiet wonder and sheer, visceral thrill of seeing spinal chords ripped from their fleshy housing – would be far less effective and affecting were it not for Bryan Hitch, the neo-classical artist behind ULTIMATES and the rejuvenated, resigned Doctor Who TV series a decade or so ago. Damn, that man can do scale!

Pity his poor final-inks artist Paul Neary each and every time Bryan Hitch sent him a city-scape or double-page spread of The Carrier so vast and detailed that any normal human being would have simply cried then gone back to bed. There is another double-page spread of a sadistic shoal of cloned, superhuman, black-clothed assassins speeding towards you out of a point of perspective which will fry your fevered brain. All lit, I might add, to sunrise perfection by colour artist Laura DePuy. There’s also plenty in the backgrounds to amuse if you look closely enough: the multiple pizza-deliveries discarded in Angie’s New York flat or the pantheon of prior shamen who called themselves The Doctor.

So. Under Jenny Sparks, The Authority intend to make the world a better place, whether we like it or not. They will not tolerate an extra-terrestrial invasion, a despotic Eastern assault or a trans-dimensional incursion by a Sliding Albion hell-bent on turning the entire planet into one giant rape-camp.

“Bad things happened when I run teams. And bad things happen when I don’t run teams. This is a hellish gamble for me, Apollo.
“But there had to be someone left to save the world.
“And someone left to change it.”

Jenny Sparks stopped aging at twenty but has protected this planet for nearly one hundred years, for she is the spirit of the 20th Century.

It is now 1999. I repeat, it is now 1999.

“Game on.”

SLH

Buy The Authority vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Twelve: The Complete Series s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Chris Weston.

Occasionally, just occasionally, you find a Marvel comic that transcends its trappings and truly surprises you. THE INHUMANS by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee was one of the first, as quiet and eloquent as Neil Gaiman with every panel an essay in chiaroscuro.

Twelve heroes lost to cryogenic suspension during World War II find themselves revived in the 21st Century and a world they find baffling.

It’s not just the technological marvels, it’s the way society has moved on in their wake. For most it is progress, but not for all. And sixty-odd years in suspended animation give you no free passes for past deeds. Not when we can now match DNA; not when some contracts are open-ended through their signatories’ immortality; not when you’ve alienated your now dying family with your shame about its true heritage. If the world has moved on then these individuals haven’t: they awaken with desires still aflame, words yet unspoken, and businesses far from finished.

Adapting to modern life proves hard for some and impossible for others, with consequences that are decidedly worrying. One superficial show-off makes an utter TV tosser of himself, one has his heart-broken by the realities of life for kids in some urban schools, whilst another sultry sexpot conjoins vamp and ire to redecorative effect on her late-night assignations outside of the lesbian goth circuit she is wont to frequent.

At the centre of it all is a modern mystery: a whodunnit, a whydunnit, as a gay bar in New York City is trashed, its pool-playing revellers torn apart, stamped on, stamped out. It’s not as obvious as you might think and its mechanics will keep you guessing until the moment the truth is exposed for all the world to see. Come back and read this review in hindsight, for I have chosen my words with care.

Straczynski has taken the old sort of superheroes created in innocence and transposed them, golden-age-tinted glasses and all, into the liberal/decadent/permissive (delete as appropriate to your world-view) 21st Century where they have as much to say about the there and then as the here and now.

“I was supposed to be… I was meant to be… the perfect man. The man of tomorrow. The man of the future. That’s what they always called me. The press. The public. Even my father. I was supposed to protect the world so it could become the perfect future, and once that happened, I would fit in. I would be home. But I don’t… I can’t understand this future. This world. It’s not what it was supposed to be. Clean. Pure. Perfect. There were supposed to be flying cars, and jet packs, and no more poverty, and buildings five miles high, and lunar colonies, and —

” — And instead it’s a place of even more despicable crime, more depraved behaviour, people crawling on the devoured rind of the earth. I stay in the air because I can’t stand the stink of it. I keep moving because that way I don’t have to think, is this the world we fought so hard to save? A world I don’t understand?”

That’s the so-called Dynamic Man for whom “depraved behaviour” includes mixed-race marriages. Everyone is beneath him, whether he’s flying or not.

Chris Weston’s depiction of this Aryan uber-man is harrowing: his snarling sneers and body-builder poses ripped from mid-1900s German magazines, as repellently grotesque as he is physically fit.

Indeed, Weston has done a stunning job of capturing both time periods. So many remarkable little details like Captain Wonder’s exposed, hairy legs making his antiquated costume even more dated. Best of all I relished Master Mind Excello’s sour, pursed-lipped profile. More than that, however, it’s comicbook storytelling at its finest on every single page: flawless choreography rich in detail and fierce in expression.

Weston’s one of those troopers like DAN DARE‘s Gary Erskine and indeed Bryan Talbot who marry British (and other) comics’ past and present to perfection. See Ellis & Weston’s MINISTRY OF SPACE once it’s back in print.

SLH

Buy The Twelve: The Complete Series s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Walking Dead #127: A New Beginning (£2-25, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard…

“I want you to know, I really do appreciate our little talks. It… really breaks up my days. Helps me… mark time. I think they’re good for you, too, having someone to talk to.”
“Sure. I’ll try and come back tomorrow.”
“Wait… before you go…”
“Yeah?”
“After all this time… all these talks… the things we’ve shared. Do you still want to kill me?”
“Yes… you know I do.”

I have deliberately left out whom is talking to whom there for the benefit of those who are not completely up to date, but what I will clarify is time. Two years have passed since the events of ALL OUT WAR, and much has changed. It would seem there has been little in the way of confrontation since then, indeed the communities Rick is now fully in charge of are prospering, despite the ever-present threat of zombies. Often the device of shifting forward in time is done when a writer is running low on ideas, but here it is used to great effect to instantly set up several interesting new potential plot threads, and allow the mass introduction of several new characters, plus radical new haircuts and facial topiary on existing ones…

I am sure there will be some retrospective references that will allow us to fill in the blanks about what happened in the aftermath of the war, but after wondering how on earth Kirkman was going to follow that epic arc, and wondering if it was all going to go a bit flat for a while, I’m now reassured it will be quite the contrary. Also, it does provide an excellent starting point for new readers in terms of the single issues. Alternatively, just start at the very beginning with WALKING DEAD VOL 1 or why not WALKING DEAD COMPENDIUM VOL 1 if you’re feeling flush / want to have something really heavy to hand just in case the zombie apocalypse begins…

JR

Buy Walking Dead #127: A New Beginning and read the Page 45 review here

God Is Dead vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa & Di Amorim.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

- WB Yeats, The Second Coming

May 2015, and over the course of two or three days Greece, Norway, Egypt, the Yucatan and India are all visited by disasters so catastrophic they cannot possibly be natural. Two weeks later the Vatican in Rome, Italy, is visited by a man in sandals and a big white beard. He gazes scornfully up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, at God bequeathing life unto Adam.

“I see. Ridiculous.”

It’s Zeus. The Gods have returned – and not just one pantheon: Odin, Thor, Loki; Horus, Anubis, Bast; Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca; Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma; Zeus, Ares, Aphrodite.

The world goes wild – mass hysteria on a global scale. Human sacrifices are reinstated, governments are toppled, voices of reason experience conversion and the President of the United States of America sits shaking and crying. Meanwhile, down in the sewers, an underground Collective of atheists has assembled, some of whom you may find familiar. As it is below, so it is above: a conclave of all five pantheons gathered in Valhalla with a map of the world spread out before them. I think we can consider this war.

Funnily, I thought I was reading another creator-owned Image comic. If you’ve picked up the regular cover (and why would you not, with its Jonathan Hickman trademark design?), you probably thought so too. When I discovered the Avatar adverts in the back it all made perfect sense.

The interior art is stiff on the figure and face front, but Zeus on the Vatican throne is reasonably impressive, as are the worldwide snapshots both early on and as Odin sends forth his obsidian messengers to various tombs and temples. The colours are best there too – subtle yet glossy.

Initially I thought, “There’s no padding here”. It’s immediate, direct and concise: a succession of gongs banging like Big Ben chimes, and I think you’ll find the American army’s reaction hilariously predictable.

“Cut the hardline, son – we’re going off the reservation. Time to show everyone why even God should fear the United States military. Now go over there and fish me out the launch codes.”

Eventuality I concluded it was simply a lack of consideration and depth.

SLH

Buy God Is Dead vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.

 

The Graphic Novel Man DVD: The Comics of Bryan Talbot (£15-99)

Ex Machina Book 2 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris, Chris Sprouse

The Boxer: The True Story Of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist

The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by David Camus & Nick Abadzis

Moomin And The Golden Tail (£6-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson

Moomin’s Desert Island (£6-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Tove Jansson

The Manhattan Projects vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra

Slaine vol 9: Lord Of The Beasts (£17-99, Rebellion) by Paul Mills, Debbie Gallagher & various

A.B.C. Warriors: The Mek Files vol 1 h/c (£25-00, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Dave Gibbons, Simon Bisley, Brendan McCarthy, Kevin O’Neill, others

Adventure Time: Seeing Red s/c (£7-99, Titan) by Kate Leth & Zachary Sterling

Batgirl vol 3: Death Of The Family s/c (£12-99, DC) by Gail Simone, Ray Fawkes & Daniel Sampere, Ed Benes

Batgirl vol 4: Wanted h/c (£18-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Daniel Sampere, Fernando Pasarin, Jonathan Glapion

Deadpool vol 4: Deadpool vs. Shield s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn & Scott Koblish, Mike Hawthorne

The Immortal Iron Fist: Complete Collection vol 2 s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Duane Swierczynski, Jason Aaron, David Lapham, various & various

 

ITEM! We have announced the final details of the Page 45 20th Anniversary at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October including Scott McCloud and Glyn Dillon signings, 3 free themed Show & Tells, and The Art Of Selling Comics, my ticketed talk for the show which you will need to book in advance.

ITEM! We’vee kicked off our Page 45 2014 campaign for Young Adult graphic novels with a blog for our School Libraries Association Show & Tell in June. Every book listed is linked to its review! Literacy is important and kids’ comics are cool!

Looking at our stats, it’s already proved the most popular blog I’ve ever written. If you like it, I would be enormously grateful if you could spread the word to teachers, school librarians, families or the even the worldwide Twittersphere. I’m @pagefortyfive – thank you!

- Stephen