Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week one

May 2nd, 2018

Featuring Gipi, Manuele Fior, Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson, Jeff Lemire, Tom King, Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Seth Mann, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee.

Land Of The Sons h/c (£24-99, Fantagraphics) by Gipi…

“What does the notebook say?”
“Notebooks don’t say anything. They don’t have mouths.”
“He never taught us to read.”
“I know.”

The man from Pisa returns with his darkest work yet, following two young brothers scavenging and scrabbling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Where they live, on a house in the middle of a lake with their father, would be idyllic, where it not for the poisoned waters, the bloated floating corpses, a paranoid survivalist who is probably the most normal of their neighbours, plus the ever-present threat of the marauding mob of the uberpriest, following the word of God Kool.

The brothers are managing, getting by, just, and growing up on the job under the extremely stern eye of their father, who has decided the best way to make sure they actually hit puberty is to hit them every time they misbehave. Or at least when he catches them, which they’re getting increasingly better at avoiding, unsurprisingly. Avoiding a battering is clearly a great incentive to improve your sneaking around and parent-deception skills.

 

 

It’s impossible to decide whether their father does have any affection for them, actually, certainly they no idea whatsoever. What also infuriates them, particularly the hot-headed younger brother Lino, is that their father writes about them in his journal. Given he’s never bothered to teach them to read, and he refuses to tell them what he’s writing, Lino has absolutely no idea what his father’s private thoughts might be. But after his unexpected death, Lino is determined to find out. He just needs to find somebody who can read. And that… obsession… is going to get the brothers into some serious trouble. A whole post-apocalyptical world of it.

 

 

Ah, he’s never been one to play it for laughs, our Gipi, and this is certainly no exception. Here, he’s crafted what I reckon is a pretty good approximation of just how bleak life would be if civilisation collapsed. What is different this time around is that this is purely a black and white work. I’ll freely confess, I was a tad disappointed when I opened this up and saw a lack of colour, because I think his watercolour palette is exceptional. But actually, the absence of colour only goes to highlight his excellent line work, minimal as it is.

 

 

He’s not even chosen to employ any real shading, either, it’s just perfectly placed thin, scratchy lines that build up to dramatic, powerful panels, often pulsing with palpable tension. It’s quite striking how if you flick through the pages very quickly, the artwork seems like it should feel weak, not least because there seems such an expanse of white, blank space. But once you actually start reading, the illustrations captivate your attention completely.

 

 

Also, whereas with many other creators, anything unusual such as seemingly strangely drawn facial details would immediately break my concentration, here I found myself fascinated by the composition and thus drawn deeper into the characters. It’s powerful stuff. He’s clearly a man entirely at ease with his own economy of detail. Most of the characters simply have black pin-sized dots for eyes, for example. Which ought to serve to remove such a degree of connection to the individuals yet somehow instead manages to accentuate every other aspect of their facial emotions. The level of expression he gets into eyebrows in particular would make even Roger Moore proud. So very, very clever.

 

 

He might not be particularly prodigious, but when Gipi does get something out, you know it’s probably nailed on to be a masterpiece.

JR

Buy Land Of The Sons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Blackbird Days (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior…

“The question you’ve gotta ask yourself at this point is:
“Why, of all people, me?”

There are a lot of answers to that question. For Mr. Marcuzzi, that particular query is about to be the least of his worries, as his day is about to get a whole lot weirder.  Mr. Marcuzzi is actually the chap pictured on the front cover, by the way, with his snazzy space age car. He also has a haircut that Mick Miller would be proud of but I’m not sure how many of you will get that demi-hirsute reference. Anyway… he’s off to visit a quarry where, well, let’s just say the laws of physics might just be having a holiday. A very relaxing holiday…

The question I was asking the universe at large when I finished this fabulous collection of ten short stories was what was going to happen next in half of them. Always the sign of a great short story, that, when you are desperate to know what happens next. The only reason the other half didn’t provoke the same response, I should add, is they are they are perfectly self-contained little nuggets.

 

 

 

This top ten are an extremely eclectic collection, both in terms of story and artistically. A couple would certainly immediately identify Fior to anyone who lapped up 5000KM PER SECOND which we made a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, but unfortunately currently remains stubbornly out of print.

 

 

 

But let me take a quick run through what you can expect here! So we have: parental anguish at losing a child in Berlin airport, obnoxious film students on a trip to Paris, an Italian girl visiting a small Norwegian town on an exchange, a couple on a driving holiday in Italy, a French soldier in the Napoleanic era who goes mutilatingly mad, the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin attempting to relax in the thermal baths near Naples, third-generation Laotian immigrants examining cultural self-sequestration versus integration in France, the aforementioned strange goings-on in a quarry including a telepathic deaf mute, a two-page commentary on racial diversity in France, and errr… giant robots fighting outside the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Yep, this collection really does have something for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

With a plethora of differing art styles too, some radically more so than others, Fior more than capably demonstrates he’s as versatile with the pens and brushes as Eleanor HOW TO BE HAPPY Davis. This work would undoubtedly be an ideal way to familiarise yourself with an exceptional Italian creator who is only going to go on to create more fumetti meravigliosi.

JR

Buy Blackbird Days and read the Page 45 review here

The Pervert (£15-99, Image) by Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell.

“I don’t want to do any of this sort of work as a girl.
“No amount of money, okay.”

Oh, this is such a lonely book, however populated.

The pale-coloured panels in their rigid grid are surrounded by so much white space that it echoes, while the snapshot short stories from Felina’s first-person perspective are themselves broken up by monochromatic landscapes, some rural, others suburban, but always eerie and empty. They are cold, often beautiful but bleak.

“Each day of this. I’m just part of someone else’s day.”

There is a huge sense of isolation, for not all conversations can be classed as communication, and Felina has erected barriers or set herself boundaries like the above to protect her. Some things she simply does not want to talk about. We don’t even learn her real name until close to the end: she only lets Tom in while on her way out, waiting on a plane to take her back home to Michigan.

 

 

Earlier:

“I came here because you only know what I let you know about me, yeah?
“You don’t know enough to hurt me.”

And Felina is indeed so very vulnerable throughout. Don’t get me wrong, she can take care of herself – physically at least, thank god – but the very fact that she has to eye a lampshade and assess its efficacy as a weapon in case her client gets violent says it all.

 

 

Felina, I should probably point out, is a trans woman earning her way in Seattle as a sex worker, and this graphic novel – some of which you might already have come across in the pages of the ISLAND anthology curated by Emma Rios and Brandon Graham – is as explicit as that implies, far more so than OMAHA THE CAT DANCER to which artist Remy Boydell pays tribute in the back.

 

 

Thankfully none of Felina’s nightmare scenarios manifest themselves, but you cannot help but fear for her safety because even off work – walking down the pavement, head bowed after being stared at and muttered about in a diner – she receives bigoted abuse from some stupid car mechanic who, like any bully, presumes that they’ll get away with it, almost certainly because he has in the past. This time he doesn’t, but any sense of temporary victory which Felina or the reader may or may not feel from the outburst of violence is both short-lived and pyrrhic, for the damage has been done and the final few panels alone in the shower are devastating.

‘Cut Throat’ is a particularly powerful piece of storytelling, carefully composed from start to finish. It begins so promisingly, so positively in friendship, kind words and sex for pleasure. It’s not all idyllic, as you’ll see, but hey. It’s on the fourth transitional page that Felina finds herself sitting alone, comfortable in her nakedness, reminding us exactly where she is in her own transition. But as she makes her way to that diner – initially through warm, autumnal colours – we’re shown a close-up of her cheek which is very closely shaved but still peppered with tiny flecks of black stubble. The final panel on the page pulls out to reveal the effect of its feel on Felina as she strokes it, gingerly. Thanks to Boydell’s immaculately judged portrait we are left in no doubt as to the severity of the blow, both to her immediate ease and long-term optimism.

It is then that we enter the diner with is whispering clientele, thence the pavement and the malicious mechanic.

 

 

 

It’s not all melancholy, though, I promise. Your expectations will be overturned again and again. Tom’s first encounter with Felina, for example, proves him to be as comically dim-witted as he is later determined to be kind, supportive and attempting to understand Felina’s complexity. People are complicated, relationships are complicated and that argument on holiday hit home. Keeping everyone happy can be difficult. Experiences will be revisited (like that argument on holiday) because the structure of the whole is not necessarily linear.

 

 

What Perez and Boydell have crafted is candid, explicit, humane, tender, painful and actually quite deliciously blunt.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of representation (THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS and BINGO LOVE, for example) and why it matters so much, but in addition diverse perspectives are essential if we’re going to understand and so empathise with each other a bit better.

SLH

Buy The Pervert and read the Page 45 review here

Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire…

“I start to feel really weird.
“I start to feel like the colour is being drained out of everything.
“I start to feel like I’m finally really all alone.
“That’s when I hear someone out in the woods…
“That’s when I find her. And for the first time I realise that maybe two people can be all alone together.”

Royal City returns for a mesmerising second arc, transporting us back in time to 1993 to afford young Tommy the luxury of recounting the story of his last few months. The rest of the then teenage Pike brood are as individually and collectively dysfunctional as ever, I should add, though nowhere near as emotionally damaged and inept as their future shelves will become. Just typical, normal teenagers in other words.

As Tommy takes us through the events leading up to his untimely death, what struck me most was how utterly unsuspecting and therefore completely unprepared the family are for the tragic shattering event that is shortly to follow. Which is entirely understandable, particularly given that Tommy seems to be the one that all the others have the most affection for. His passing is going to leave a very big hole in all their lives.

 

 

Also absent is the mystery of the opening volume, in that Jeff chooses not to reveal a single iota more regarding precisely how it is that Tommy is acting as our narrator or how his grown up siblings can occasionally see him.  Though… perhaps a sketch in Tommy’s notebook following a doctor’s appointment may reveal a clue of sorts in that respect. A CT scan shows something in Tommy’s brain that the doctor finds puzzling and he’s scheduled him for a follow-up with an out-of-town specialist.

I found Tommy’s drawing, whilst being driven home by his mum – naively assuring him everything would be alright – tantalising for its content… Particularly whilst bearing in mind what his father begins to obsessively collect, something we see the very beginnings of here. Actually, now there’s a scene which upon re-reading I do wonder whether there isn’t a little more to it than first meets the eye. Hmm…

 

 

Much like everything he writes, Lemire here is all about the characters and their frequently excruciating interactions. ROYAL CITY is shaping up to be a fascinating character study of the individuals that nominally form this ‘family’, riven by the tragedy of the sudden erosion of their emotional centre.

 

 

For some of the Pikes, I have a degree of hope that they can finally overcome this loss and achieve happiness. For one in particular, though, I’m not sure that is ever going to be possible. But then I very much doubt Lemire would let everyone have a happy ending… I really don’t think that’s in his nature! As for the part Tommy will undoubtedly play in directing the course of his siblings’ futures, or at least attempting to, for that, we will have to wait for volume three.

JR

Buy Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sleeper Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson.

“But just as I’m trying to focus and push my worries about Peter Grimm’s suspicions out of my head, a face in the crowd jumps out at me…
“And then mine jumps out at her.
“And everything falls to pieces.”

Hair-tearingly tense espionage thriller deftly conducted by the creators of CRIMINAL, THE FADE OUT, KILL OR BE KILLED, THE SCENE OF THE CRIME plus the noir-horror hybrid FATALE, this doesn’t just avoid the pothole cop-outs of most superhero tales when it comes to crime and consequence, it pole-vaults over them and plunges the protagonist into a world where there’s no soothing alternative to ruthless expediency.

Field agent Holden Carver was sent deep undercover just before his boss was sent deep into a coma.

Unfortunately a) the cover in question is as hired thuggery for Tao, a ruthless powerbroker who is preternaturally perceptive, b) his comatose boss, John Lynch, was the only one who knew he’d been sent undercover so c) there’s no one around to extract him. With no light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t turn out to be a train, Carver’s only option is to complete the missions for the slime he now works for without killing his conscience or his former friends who now think he’s defected. Not a lot of recourse, there.

 

 

Carver has to convince one of the most astute manipulators on the planet that he has sincerely switched sides and isn’t a double-agent; he has to earn and maintain the trust of his new, vicious and suspicious peers; he cannot forewarn his former cohorts of what’s up to (they’d never believe him anyway), so he must somehow either sabotage some of the assignments whilst making it look like someone else’s fault, or carry them out correctly without killing too many innocents, and hope that the results don’t tip the scales irreversibly in the terrorists’ favour.

 

 

How many innocents can Holden kill before the total begins to chime with his moral concept of “too many”?  What happens when he’s sent up against the love of his life and her new husband? And how long can he keep this up before his new boss discovers the truth, Carver gives up completely or – worse still – throws in with the other side? He has, after all, made friends in that camp.

 

 

Sean Phillips’s intense, brooding, twilight pages are full of a palpable sense of foreboding, on which anything can come round the corner, and because so many faces are cast in half-shadow, no one’s at all sure what the others are really thinking. This includes the reader. I found myself so successfully immersed in this deadly, murky and often angry arena that I was fretting throughout and trying to peer round corners and up flights of stairs on Carver’s behalf. I actually angled my head!

Best of all, while his visual storytelling is so fluent and fluid, he’s also as brutally solid as anyone else, seen here – 15 years ago – with more jaggedly angular faces than we’re used to by now, perfect for people this raw. He hasn’t yet settled on the three-tiered grid as seen in the books above; instead the panels cascade down over the background, and that contributes a more disorientating, action-driven tension.

 

 

Meanwhile, Brubaker’s tour de force here lies not only in the plotting, but in the internal monologues wherein Holden Carver attempts to justify his actions to himself, wriggle his way out of inconsistencies and uncover as much as he can, whilst staying alive – albeit battered – in the process. Wrestling to make the right choices isn’t easy, either, right up until the last minute.

Along the way there are some very funny superhero origin parodies, and you’ll love Ms. Misery for whom happiness is a life-threatening disease.

Lastly, prepare yourself for the most excruciatingly ironic final few pages while you wait for the second half. It should be noted that we were never guaranteed its second season, so it could all have ended here.

 

 

Point Blank:

Never argue with the woman serving you at the bar!

“And who said I wasn’t already post-human? You guys always assume just ‘cuz I’m tending bar that I’m normal…”
“Oh really, so what are your powers?”
“Honey, I get better looking every drink.”

The prologue to Brubaker and Phillips’ SLEEPER, I found a second reading of POINT BLANK infinitely more enjoyable for having since relished the nail-biting noir of the main series itself. I own, however, that they are on two completely different levels. SLEEPER is the mature, fully formed Brubaker you know now, operating in his own theatre on creations that are almost all his; POINT BLANK is him negotiating his way there, having to use characters which – other than the lead and chief antagonist – really don’t suit him. It’s good but not great, so DC’s decision to repackage it at the front of this book comes with the warning that you should please not judge the main meal by its entrée.

 

 

Cole Cash is drinking at a bar.

He really doesn’t want to be there, but he made his old colleague a promise, so here he is. His old colleague is John Lynch, former head of International Operations, the Wildstorm universe’s covert anti-terrorism organisation. But Lynch is late and something’s not right. For a start, Lynch is never late – that’s usually Cash. But it’s not just that: he hears echoes of a past conversation he can’t place.

It’s as if Cole’s forgotten something…

 

 

As Cole tries to recall the last several nights, some bits come back easier than others: Lynch on the trail of someone called Carver, erasing the memories of those he catches up with in case they recall the encounter. But when he finally quits the bar to investigate, he finds Lynch shot and deep in a coma. No one can get the drop on Lynch – probably not even Cash – it’s how he’s survived all these decades in the most dangerous job on the planet.

So who finally did the job, who is this Holden Carver and why was Lynch so desperate to find him? Ah, now you see why I mean about hindsight!

As Cash delves deeper, he gradually realises that he’s running the very real risk of buggering up the biggest subterfuge of them all, but nothing will prepare him for the final blow.

 

 

Set on the periphery of the Wildstorm Universe, there are very few capes. Oh wait, there’s The Midnighter from THE AUTHORITY, but then that black leather costume to him is just casual clothing. It’s what Brubaker does better than anyone else: genre-splicing action / espionage with powers.

Colin Wilson provides decidedly European-style art (I know, I know, that’s a sweeping generalisation) which manages to be both exceptionally clean yet rugged at the same time. I’d probably classify it as “cinematic, ne’er do well chic”.

SLH

Buy Sleeper Book 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Seth Mann.

“Shall we?”
“This… could be fun.”
“This will be fun.”
“No.”

For once I’m going to have a little think now before I write something truly contentious.

While I’m cogitating, please note that should I persuade you to read this book, the fifth in a series, you honestly won’t have to have read the other four. I haven’t.

Okay, I’m done.

This is the best BATMAN book that I have ever read.

It’s also the best SUPERMAN book that I’ve ever read.

You may have enjoyed many for the spectacle of acrobatics and of combat; there have been some boasting extensive, razor-sharp plots realised with beat-perfect timing and thematic hearts which have been eloquently expressed, like IDENTITY CRISIS. But few superhero books – so focussed on fisticuffs – are renowned for being joyful, for being fun.

Whereas this, I swear, is a scream, bursting with character-driven wit, fulsome affection and fun. I’ve long made a joke about how you’re unlikely to see a superhero comic in which everyone settles down in a park for an uninterrupted picnic, but that is almost exactly what happens for the whole of one chapter here when Lois Lane, Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) decide to visit Gotham County Fair in their civvies. It’s taken them a whole hour to agree on this venue and Selina is starving. But there’s a slight problem: it’s superhero cosplay night. Says the spod at the entrance, “And you all ain’t superheroes.”

 

 

Back at the car park, Lois observes, “Well, there is a solution, right? It’s not as if you don’t have costumes.”

Bruce: “No.”

Clark’s rather worried that they might look too much like the real things (!!!), so Lois suggests that they switch costumes.

Bruce: “No.”

Selina, one hand on Bruce’s shoulder, the other on his lapel:

“What my kind, patient, fiancé means is that he sees that his kind, patient fiancée is tired and hungry.
“And he’ll do what he needs to do to remedy that situation.
“Isn’t that you mean?
“Darling.”

Bruce: “No.”

With all the comedic timing of Gerald Durrell’s family house-moves in Corfu, the very next page shows Bruce having resentfully given in. He’s donning Clark’s red, yellow and blue in a changing room cubicle while Lois slips into Selina’s slinky black (“It stretches.” “It better.”) and Clark contemplates the Kevlar. Selina is going to wear Lois’s sharp purple dress which obviously isn’t a superhero costume, but she has a solution.

“It’s… subtle.”

It isn’t, but it was always going to work.

 

 

Which is where we came in, on a magnificent, full-page, Clay and Seth Mann masterpiece of Lois and Selina escorting Bruce, unshaven and so stubbly (clever – I’ve never seen Superman unshaven) striding out, fists as tight as Superman’s often are, and Clark bringing up the rear in Batman’s full cape and cowl with glasses on top: glasses which he does not need.

There is enormous humanity in Clay and Seth Mann’s figures and faces – exceptional stature too, reflecting their capability. The ladies are precisely that: soft-faced and exceptionally attractive but in no way sexualised in their postures. Well, you know, apart from the page in which Lois and Clark then Selina and Bruce react somewhat differently to their times in The Tunnel of Love!

 

 

There’s an increasingly tender intimacy between Lois and Selina as the evening progresses, until they’re sneaking a few snifters from a hipflask they share and Lois cracks a joke designed to boost Selina’s sense of identity. Then they collapse to the floor in laughter, Selina nestling her head against the Catwoman mask worn by Lois: two new friends completely at ease, enjoying the moment to its fullest.

 

 

If I’ve so far failed to mention that Batman and Catwoman have recently become engaged, I do apologise. That evidently happened in another book. These are the immediate ramifications including Bruce’s current and former wards finding out (not via Bruce but from Alfred the butler, which irks them something chronic) and this evening which is primarily about the girls getting to know each other better by exchanging confidences after meeting for the very first time in the preceding chapter.

It’s also about Superman taking it all as graciously in his stride as he can, because that’s in his nature, and Batman feeling extremely awkward because he’s about as far out of his comfort zone as you can imagine! Haven’t you always wanted to see that? Out of his comfort zone, I would emphasise, without there being any clear or present danger.

In that preceding issue Lois and Clark and Bruce and Selina do approach a clear and present danger from different directions, unknowingly, until they eventually bump into each other after exiting elevators halfway inside a skyscraper. Lois and Clark have taken an elevator up; Bruce and Selina have opted for descending down its twin shaft.

 

 

On their way there, the action flips between each party’s perspective in very brief bursts, with one couple’s conversation often being continued by the other. Yes, they are working on their investigative goals, but more interestingly they’re focussed on friendship. Specifically, they are focussed on why Bruce is not picking up the phone to talk to Clark about his engagement to Selina, and why Clark isn’t making the first move, either. Both Lois and Selina take the maternal role in trying to cajole the obstinate ‘children’ into communicative action. It’s not as if either Bruce or Clark is being churlish, they’re just being obdurate, tight-lipped men!

But while describing each other to their loved ones, both display the most moving awe, respect and deep-seated admiration, as well as a far greater understanding of each other than they have of themselves.

I’ve seen this reflective and reflected to-and-fro attempted in a prior series over a decade ago which I will not name and shame even though it was a toe-curling, cringe-inducing, cliché-ridden, heavy-handed and mawkish atrocity. This, by comparison, is light, bright, poignant and beautiful.

 

 

The final stroke of genius, however, is that although both Bruce and Clark erroneously conclude by declaring that you cannot possibly be best friends – or any friend at all – with someone like the other (because they’re simply far too remote and impressive), the consequent funfair fiasco proves the exact opposite, while Selina and Lois – curious about each other’s choice in men – hit it off big time.

This is possibly my favourite line, in which Selina Kyle (career criminal now on the rocky road to reform) confides what lies so deep in her heart that she has committed to a man who has made it his partial mission to bring her in. This to Lois Lane, who has spent half her adult life being defenestrated:

“It’s just when I fall, he catches me.
“I know. It’s stupid.
“Does that make any sense at all?”

All of this proves part of a refreshingly new dynamic even during the first three combat chapters after the newly engaged couple encounter Talia Al Ghul, Bruce Wayne’s potentially a-mortal and decidedly lethal ex-lover, mother to his own son, Damian. Once more King eschews the obvious on all counts, so don’t expect petty jealousies: Selina Kyle is far too self-confident.

You can count on Damian for that instead.

 

 

It’s called ‘Rules Of Engagement’, one of which, obviously, is that you have to keep your loved one happy, and it’s funny witnessing Batman (very much Batman, rather than Bruce) deferring, back-tracking, almost apologising, and attempting to master the art of flattery when his fiancée can see straight through him.

Bellaire’s colours initially contrast the cool of the study with the heat of the dessert as Batman and Catwoman approach Khadym while Alfred breaks the news of the engagement, artfully preceding this task with a seemingly unrelated “The mansion, like this family, is as large as it needs to be”. He has complete command of every situation in that first chapter, including the seemingly uncontrollable dog. But will you notice, I wonder, Bellaire subtly controlling the oranges then reds of the dessert until the unseen sun finally sets and the fight continues well into the night?

 

 

King finds time to further explore the relationship between the current Robin, Damian, and the original, Dick Grayson (now Nightwing but at one point Batman to Damian’s Robin), which is very much as little / big brothers. Damian, aged all of thirteen, has a habit of superciliously chiding others as “children”, and Joëlle Jones provides an exquisite panel of expression when Damian tries it on Grayson, eyes and eyebrow disdainful, but lower lip jutting out with boyish petulance.

I’m going to leave the final story for you to discover for yourselves because you really shouldn’t see it coming especially Michael Lark’s quiet, tender and quite deliberate, crisp-leafed, autumnal contrast to Lee Weeks’ energetic early-days engagements of a completely different nature… although Catwoman is quite clearly flirting from the very beginning.

 

 

Weeks pumps the pages to bursting point with cat-and-mouse, catch-me-if-you-can, youthful balletics and such torrential, driving rain that you’ll feel both drenched and exhausted by the time they catch up with each other. Watch out for the wine glass as well.

SLH

Buy Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 2 – Great Responsibility s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko.

“I did it! I’m free!”

Quite an iconic moment there as Ditko’s Spider-Man lifts himself from under tonnes of steel fallen into the water of Doc Ock’s subaquatic dome. The willpower comes from the certain knowledge that without the serum he’s stolen, Aunt May will surely die.

The truth is, metaphysically speaking, that poor Peter will never be free, no matter how much he tries to atone for the death of Uncle Ben. And Aunt May has more trips to the hospital bed ahead of her than Florence Nightingale managed in her medical career.

If you look carefully you’ll find some exemplary body language and facial expressions in Steve Ditko’s art.

Just take pages 8 and 9 of #31. Page 8, panel four, shows a college student gesturing over and away from his head with an “I’ve clocked you” hand signal whilst the girl catching up with him reaches out to grab his attention instead. In panel six, meanwhile, Gwen Stacy’s eyelashes are Rimmelled up to the Max Factor, far more of a vamp than John Romita’s imminent swinging-sixties’ doll which is what she needed to be to attract poor Peter later on. Meanwhile, Flash and Harry’s contempt for poor Peter (I’m not sure it’s possible to type “Peter” without “poor”) in the following panel is obvious (Flash’s is a face-palm “D’Oh!” whereas Harry’s sneer is simply withering), but on page 9 panel six shows Peter in a phone booth asking the hospital about his Aunt’s condition, and his expression is one of forlorn, selfless anxiety, no weaker for its puppyish purity.

As a bonus Ditko’s pencils to #31 are reprinted in the back, along with his original cover to #35. Here’s that iconic sequence I mentioned earlier, by the way, in full, after the cover. Note how Peter’s weighted down not just by the machinery (and pressure) but also by the number of panels which gradually give way as he exerts increasing upward pressure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Green Goblin becomes a virtual co-star in a substantial subplot which will explode next volume when John Romita Sr. takes over the art.

In the meantime, Peter Parker finds his first love affair swimming swiftly down the swanny when Ned Leeds returns to the arms of Betty Brant who’s always looked a bit weird, no more so than on page 15 of #25 in her frosty face-off with Liz Allan, her blonde twin / clone with a perm.

“Well! Fancy meeting you here, Miss Allan! Do you always travel in a pack like that??”
“Why, no, Miss Brant! But sometimes it’s hard to get rid of all my admirers! I’m sure you don’t have that problem!”

They’ve both come to see Peter and they’re actually fighting over him. And yes, that is indeed the first appearance of Mary Jane Watson, her face hidden behind a drooping dahlia, her hair within a headscarf, introduced to Liz and Betty by Auntie May:

“Mary Jane, this is Betty Brant, and this is Liz Allan! Girls, I’d like you to meet Mary Jane Watson! She just dropped in to visit my nephew!”
“Hel-lo, girls!” she sings, musical notes floating to emphasise her self-confidence.

 

 

“She’s a friend of Peter’s??” thinks Betty, incredulously. “She looks like a screen star!”
“He’s been hiding her from us??” puzzles Liz. “Our shy, bashful, studious Peter Parker??!”

No, he’s never met her and won’t for many more issues as Mary Jane continues to “drop in” to visit Aunt May’s nephew while (poor) Peter Parker is otherwise engaged as a metahuman punch-bag. That’s what he’s been hiding from you, ladies. Ooooh, the irony of it all!

Contains AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #18-38 and Annual #2.

The first page of #27 looks a little bit dodgy. I wonder what the title means?

 

 

For far more substantial Stan-Lee satire (I was gentle here, but normally I really cannot help myself), please see AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC VOL 1, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC VOL 1 plus AVENGERS EPIC VOL 1 and VOL 2 which does actually contain a commendable tirade about racism.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 2 – Great Responsibility s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Ghost & The Owl h/c (£8-99, ActionLabComics) by Franco & Sara Richard

The Interview h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Permanent Press (£10-99, Avery Hill) by Luke Healy

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer (£17-99, El Capitan) by David Lapham

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c (£18-99, Walker Studio) by Kevin Crossley-Holland & Jeffrey Alan Love

Reborn s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo

Green Arrow vol 5: Hard-Travelling Hero s/c  (£14-99, DC) by Benjamin Percy & various

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann, Cavan Scott, Nick Abadzis & various

Assassination Classroom vol 21 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Berserk vol 10 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 7 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 8 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 9 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Chi’s Sweet Adventures vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

Erased vol 4 h/c (£21-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanabe

My Hero Academica vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Platinum End vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

The Promised Neverland vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week four

April 25th, 2018

Featuring Thi Bui, Sarah McIntyre, Sarah Andersen, Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Steve Lowes, Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr. more!

Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker.

“They Will Devour Us Whole.”

Do you know the definition of ‘dominion’?

“Sovereignty; control: God’s eternal dominion over man.”

There have been many gods, but man is fickle and man forgets.

What happens when man forgets is that gods lose their power. But the one true God who has ensured that He will never lose His dominion over man is called Mammon; for Mammon has forged money, so that we will remain forever in His thrall.

In our substantial review of BLACK MONDAY MURDERS VOL 1, so remarkable in its prescience, design and complexity that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, I summarised the series glibly yet succinctly as a “big, fat-cat package of occult crime fiction exposing investment banking as a deal with the devil.” You have already met the banking dynasties who have vied for their own power within this domain. Now you will meet the devil.

 

 

After multiple warnings and hours of earnest dissuasion Dr. Tyler Gaddis, professor of economics, is going to lead Detective Theodore Dumas to the Capitol of all western capital: the Federal Reserve.

The password is this: “We come to trade.”

What they will discover underneath, hidden in the Abyss down a thousand stone steps, each laid one upon the other against only one wall, is akin to a court in session. Gaddis and Dumas are advised thus:

“The face of god is mighty and terrible. His appetite is eternal. His patience is not.”

 

 

What Gaddis offers are Aramaic coins; what they both seek are answers. Detective Dumas wants to know who killed Daniel Rothschild of the Caina-Kankrin Investment Bank. Dr. Gaddis wants to know why his algorithms designed to predict a market crash and mitigate its impact on emerging blue-collar investors don’t always work.

“It should have, but it didn’t. I discovered inconsistencies. Events that fell out of predictable models.”

Soon he will know why, and so will you, and it will all begin to make the most appalling sense.

 

 

Mammon’s proclamations, translated from glyphs, are beautifully written with a stark, impassive eloquence and lettered by Rus Wooton for maximum, echoing chills as they emanate from a skull crowned with antlers.

Tomm Coker has exercised enormous restraint during all the conversational pieces in the boardrooms et al, furnishing them with an intensity born of minimal emotional tells until anger erupts and does so, therefore, with a startling impact. The shadows Coker casts are exquisite, while Michael Garland ensures that every page broods, sometimes breeds, and glows.

But now that we’ve gone subterranean, both line and colour artists take full advantage of the opportunity to be gruesome, not with gore, but with that which truly chills. The descent – the steps leading down into darkness which I don’t have for you here – is truly terrifying in that there is only one wall and in that the drops looks eternal. Oh wait, last-minute find: here it is!

 

 

The design of the immaculately preserved courtroom / library / throne is gloriously gothic in its architectural sense, while its occupants meet every requirement in its other. In particular, I loved the boutonnière, linen jacket and waistcoat worn by ram-skulled Mammon. and the finery of his silent, spider-masked second, holding the antlered skull aloft by its segmented spine.

 

 

“Eternity has two seasons. Day and night. Wake and slumber.
“When I wake, I hunger, and when I hunger, I consume.
“This indulgence upsets the carefully cultivated balance that my schools maintain in this world. The market reacts as I eat – the scales becoming unbalanced – and a correction must be achieved.
“So man pays until my hunger subsides.”

Please don’t think that’s the secret. The secrets lie in the schools.

Please read our review of BLACK MONDAY MURDERS VOL 1 in which I write about the feuding dynasties and their role in our many misfortunes; about the elegance of the art and the hastily photocopied dossier pages which pepper each chapter inviting you to join their dots and do your own detective work within this detective horror fiction. Otherwise I’ll have to repeat myself.

But the two other main threads which weave their way so tightly together here are the wholly unexpected histories of Daniel Rothschild and his former private bodyguard turned Caina-Kankrin security chief… and the return from exile of Daniel Rothschild’s sister Grigoria, initially recalled to take his seat, but now moving swiftly to exact her revenge on her Daniel’s murderer and savage control over Caina-Kankrin in doing so.

Ah, yes, the Rothschilds – now there’s a family that truly consumes. Her normally inscrutable, white-haired femme familiar has quite the appetite too.

 

 

But the other seats in Caina-Kankrin will not let Ria wrestle control without resistance, especially Beatrix Bischoff:

“There are tremors in the Market, Ria. Mammon wakes.”
“It sure feels that way, doesn’t it? What are the words?”
“”The sheep cry and scream – there are beasts in the field.””
“Yes. And I am one of them.”

She surely is. I wonder what she was up to while in exile…?

Now, where did we come in?

Ah, yes, “dominion”. If you’re reading this in our illustrated blog, behold the “full” definition as presented with witty redactions. If you’re reading this in the product page, you’ll find it, seven down, to your right.

 

SLH

Buy Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dinosaur Firefighters (s/c £6-99; h/c £12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre.

There’s a poster pinned to the wall in the staff room, sub-titled ‘A Handy Guide For Firefighters’. It’s quite succinct.

“IS IT ON FIRE?”

Below are depicted two houses, identical but for a single salient feature: one them is bursting with flames (√ On Fire), the other is entirely inert (X Not On Fire).

Glad that’s sorted, then. We wouldn’t want to waste water.

Action stations!

Do your young ones dig dinosaurs? Of course they do! They dream of little else! Are fire engines – lights flashing, their sirens NEE-NAR-ing – the most thrilling way to travel? Yes, indeed they are! Preferably through an indoor shopping centre at lunchtime.

 

 

Behold, then, this Early Learning heaven which wastes no time in charging straight to the rescue of Snookums the cat, stranded on top of a pre-historic fern, the centre-piece of a quiet, cobbled courtyard on the coast. Dipsy the Diplodocus has just joined the crew and knows what to do!

“Her long neck was just right for reaching up to the top branch,” we are told in letters that travel up her long neck to the branch. Neat! Nimbly, she grabs a giant frond in her mouth, pulling the cat closer. “But…”

Can you tell what well-intentioned Dipsy might have done wrong yet? I might have opted for securing Snookums by the scruff of its neck, myself.

It’s already been visually established that friends and families are sitting relaxed around this piazza, sharing a pizza or drinking a cafetiere of coffee. Someone is selling ice creams. All eyes are on dynamic Dipsy! Over the page, however, the mayor is shown, cutlery poised, about to dig in to an enormous pink pudding, all wobbly and covered in cream. I’ll write that again: all wobbly and covered in cream.

 

 

Your eyes cannot help but be drawn to it by the full-page parabolic arch which begins, bottom-left, with Dipsy’s fellow firefighters, eyes wide, mouths gaping agog, all staring diagonally upwards from their lurching red and yellow fire engine; then there is Dipsy herself, long neck also curved round to the right as the frond snaps in two and the fern catapults poor, fluffy Snookums on the same curved trajectory, out towards the reader and the inevitable, jellied destination as the mayor eyes her prize, oblivious.

Both ellipses are invaluable to the comedy. On any second read through I can hear youngsters giggling in anticipation even as early as “But…”, so by the time Snookums is sailing through the air towards its date with the cake they will be squealing, then SPLAT!!

 

 

Snookums seems quite delighted by the final sensation. Mrs. Mayor, maybe not.

More mirth from Sarah McIntyre, then, the creator of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wraps its warm heart round the welcoming of strangers, THERE’S A SHARK IN THE BATH which will cure any aversion to immersion, and the co-creator of JAMPIRES, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, PUG-A-DOODLE-DO! etc, all of which you can find reviewed with gusto in Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section. Hurrah!

Don’t worry that Dipsy the Diplodocus doesn’t get it right first time round, or even the second time when Trevor the T-Rex gets stuck in the climbing frame… again! The absurdity of that page is a scream. A) What does a T-Rex that large even want with a climbing frame? B) How did such an enormous beast get onto or even into the climbing frame in the first place, let alone then stuck in it and C) … AGAIN?!?!?!?!

 

 

Everyone messes up a fair few times at first, but perseverance is everything and Dipsy will remain determined to do her best, quickly discovering that her individual attributes which made her an awkward fit for fire-fighting at first (the standard uniform jacket barely covered her neck – they have to order an XXXXXXXL especially) will be the very things to save the day when a real emergency strikes and the fire engine breaks down.

She might even make up for her mishap with the mayor. I hope so! Because that dry cleaning bill can’t have been cheap.

 

 

One of the things I love most about McIntyre’s work is that, along with the exuberant, colourful comedy, she so often has something important to impart to impressionable young minds, digging into her own awkward experiences to do so. With THE NEW NEIGHBOURS it was her insight as an American immigrant to England, so often asked when she’s going back (!), which suggested to her that now would be a very good time indeed to create a picture book about welcoming strangers, appreciating the fresh things their individuality brings to any community, and most emphatically not listening to ill-informed gossip nor spreading it about in the first place!

 

 

Now, I’m not sure if you’ve met La McIntyre (she’s so often touring and performing, inspiring young people to create for themselves, so you must!) but she is really rather tall. Amazonian, in fact! And in her online journal she confides that when young she too felt as awkward as Dipsy the Diplodocus when it came to standard-sized kit: https://jabberworks.livejournal.com/803407.html Now Sarah’s stature – and wow factor fashion-wizardry – helps her stand out a mile, drawing excitable kids straight to her. So it is with our pre-historic protagonist, who will discover that her shape and size, while making her feel a little clumsy to begin with, will in fact prove pivotal to saving all and sundry. It’s difficult not to compare yourselves to others, even as adults, but any book that helps improve a vulnerable child’s self-esteem – when we all grow at different rates – is a winner for me!

The forms are truly gorgeous, filling each page to bursting. Dipsy especially can scarcely be contained, doubled over in the confines of the staff room when at her most disheartened. That’s a very clever melding of cause and consequence, of physical discomfort and body-language embarrassment. The eyes there are ever so expressive, the pink flush of her cheeks standing out against her otherwise blue markings as she’s offered a consoling beverage, and that those are so watery makes her stand out from her colleagues.

 

 

Although one of her peers on that very same page made me chortle with his horns fanning out like a punk’s egg-white-stiffened hair.

Other random background observations (there really is so much to spot): I loved the traditional cuckoo clock which is given a bone- and Pteranodon-tweak, and that the fashions are a mix of contemporary and quaint (see mayor once more), with transistor radios sitting alongside laptops. I imagine this is the first time I’ve used the word “crockery” in a review, but that’s worth a glance too.

I also adored that the mayor’s Chain of Office appears to be made out of red- and blue-centred Jammy Dodgers, with a final berried biscuit in the middle. Mine would be too! Do you think that’s a vote-winner?

Lastly I’d add that if your young ones love this, then their next step up the Young Readers ladder should be to Gary Northfield’s TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS which still makes me chuckle and is reviewed. If memory serves (it does so decreasingly) Gary and Sarah shared a studio once, and now they share shelf space. Hooray!

SLH

Buy Dinosaur Firefighters s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Dinosaur Firefighters h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Best We Could Do s/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui.

New softcover edition of a best-selling book so profoundly moving that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.                                      

So often the best route to true understanding lies in the lives of others.

And no one lives solely in their present.

Every individual is coloured by their experiences which have informed their decisions which have in turn brought them to where they are today. It is in these histories that lies the context, and context is everything.

It is not enough to be aware of the bigger picture if you cannot comprehend it, and the best key to comprehension is through the eyes of those individuals who are living it or have lived through it; or those who subsequently died during it.

So it is with those of us looking in from outside; and so it is within families themselves.

“Travis and I moved to California in 2006 to raise our son near family, trading the life we had built and loved in New York for a notion I had in my head of becoming closer to my parents as an adult.
“I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I recognise what it is not, and now I understand…
“Proximity and closeness are not the same.”

 

 

This is a story of parenthood, of childhood, of a generation gap which seemed like a chasm, and if you thought Belle Yang’s search for understanding in FORGET SORROW doubled as a fascinating account of one life in early 20th Century, this is an even more involving and personable account of two separate lives in mid 20th Century Vietnam which eventually and improbably converge. Through this Thi Bui begins to know her parents for who they are in greater depth, and so come to terms with her own strange childhood after the family’s terrifying escape in 1978 from Vietnam via Malaysia to America, then feel far more at ease with her own place within it all.

It is rich in detail and extraordinarily articulate, partly because it is so well structured.

It begins with the excruciatingly difficult birth of her own son which her mother flew all the way from New York to attend but then kept her agonised distance. The following hours in hospital aren’t easy, either, the practicalities of motherhood not coming naturally to Bui. She bonds with her mother over the pain of childbirth, then…

“Ma leaves me, but I’m not alone and a terrifying thought creeps into my head.
“Family is now something I have created, and not just something I was born into.
“The responsibility is immense.
“A wave of empathy for my mother washes over me.”

Bui will return to her own motherhood only towards the end because this is not about that, but all which led up to it.

 

 

“My father always said he had no parents. In my twenties, I learned that my grandfather was alive in Vietnam and wanted to meet us.”

Her father refuses to join them. He is adamant. He does not want to see his own father again, but he won’t explain why.

“Soon after that trip back to Vietnam (our first since we escaped in 1978) I began to record our family history, thinking that if I bridged the gap between the past and the present I could fill the void between my parents and me. And that if I could see Vietnam as a real place and not a symbol of something lost, I would see my parents as real people and learn to love them better.”

We will all see her parents as very real people and understand precisely why her father or “Bo” will not return and will have nothing to do with his own father. It is extraordinary, I promise you. You cannot begin to imagine.

 

 

Before we delve fully into the structure, I want to talk about the art which is soft and tender, and full of lyrical flourishes like a boat on the sea behind a quiet conversation, lush landscapes and so much more swirling water at one point doubling as a birth. The page just quoted also depicts the tumultuous oceanic crossing, while beneath it a young Thi stands naked, with her back to us, a map of Vietnam carved out of her body where her heart should be, bleeding out of her, up towards the sea or perhaps bleeding down into her to fill that void with fresh understanding.

“How did we get to such a lonely place?
“We live so close to each other and yet feel so far apart.
“I keep looking toward the past…
“Tracing out journey in reverse… over the ocean… through the war, seeking an origin story that will set everything right.”

The first part of this story – her mother’s six baby births – is indeed told in reverse. None of them are easy. The most recent was in the coastal Malaysian refugee camp, another during war; her mother’s firstborn wasn’t stillborn but she didn’t last long, the first parental shadow falling over the proceedings in the form of her own aloof mother’s advice not to breastfeed. Is that where it all began?

“How does one recover from the loss of a child?” she asks as we stroll down a leafy lane. “How do the others compare to the memory of the lost one?”

This triggers memories of Thi’s early childhood in a dark apartment in California, left with her younger brother in the care of her father while her sisters go to school and her mother takes the only job they can get because their degrees aren’t recognised – assembly-line work on minimum wage – which her father refuses.

“That sounds terrible.”

Instead he just sits there smoking, occasionally erupting, while forbidding them to answer the door. Her brother cowers in the closet when anyone comes knocking.

 

 

But what happened to her father when he was their age? There will be cowering there too. Cowering on an almost unimaginably dark scale; also our first history lesson, post-WWII – of France’s return to Vietnam to take back what they saw as colonially theirs (perhaps out of pride after being occupied by Germany) – after Ho Chi Minh had declared independence on behalf of the Viet Minh. So begins the geographical divide and the first atrocities…

It is there that we leave him for now, aged seven, with few or no prospects.

“And in the dark apartment in San Diego, I grew up with the terrified boy who became my father.”

 

 

This is what I mean by structure: each particular element informs a specific other.

So it is with her mother’s story, which could not be more different and which is brought to bear on Bui’s low self-esteem in comparison to her mother’s beauty. Hers was a much more exotic upbringing, as the youngest daughter of an affluent family and a daddy who doted on her, educated and thriving in French schools. She made friends with an older servant girl who took her to live with her family during the school holidays, sleeping under the moon in the countryside.

 

 

But when the servant is married off and so leaves the household, marriage as a trap begins to form in her mind while education represented freedom instead. She aspired to be a doctor. Evidently that didn’t happen, but why? How did she end up married to Thi’s father? Through education, ironically. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent…

Again, the structure is so well judged, Thi Bui seeking to understand her parents thoroughly and independently, before they even met let alone got married and had children. You will see all those births again, this time in the order they occurred, fleshed out as so many dots are joined and – oh! – there was a brief moment before those children when, against all odds, it all seemed so idyllic: teachers with two incomes in a beautiful small town in the deep southern part of the Mekong Delta.

They’d survived the First Indochina War, the Land Reforms – both with catastrophic casualties – but then came the Americans in 1965, destroying Vietnam’s agriculture with their defoliants and its economy with their imports, the descent of cities into police states, and thirteen more years, fully fleshed out for us all to comprehend just how unlikely they were ever to have escaped, and the toll that mere survival took on both of them. You can even spot almost the exact moment of Bui’s father’s collapse from provider to withdrawn brooder while her mother desperately, indefatigably soldiers on, for what other choice is there for a mother?

That’s not the end of the story, obviously, even after the refugee camp and the flight to America.

Once more there’s the question of provision, assimilation, finding your own place in a strange country and foreign climate, re-education after those degrees aren’t recognised, and the painstaking accumulation of fresh documentation both for the family and each of their children separately. It is so very impressive, yet it is humbly titled THE BEST WE COULD DO.

 

 

Sarah McIntyre’s all-ages THE NEW NEIGHBOURS wraps its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers, and along with Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, Sean Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, Kate Evans’s THREADS and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS, THE BEST WE COULD DO is another book with which to bang on the head of anyone tempted to think for even one second that seeking asylum is easy or believe the hate-mongering lies of the right-wing press and politicians that refugees are idle, disrespectful, sponging drains on our resources.

In rebuttal Thi Bui could offer you the nightmare of random raids in a police state and the fear of being disbelieved, the horror of a sea crossing when you could be caught at any second, the generosity of Malaysian villagers with so little to give, the values instilled into their children by Thi Bui’s parents and the sheer hard graft of the mother in order to build something from nothing and set her children up to be educated at length, thrive in peace, and so that one of them could be in a position to write and draw this extraordinary graphic memoir over many years – while teaching in a high school for immigrants in Oakland which she helped create – in order to pass it all on to us for a greater understanding of others.

But, of course, this isn’t a rebuttal. This isn’t a polemic.

This is one woman seeking to gain understanding of herself and her relationship with her parents, in order to relax into parenthood herself.

We’re just lucky enough to be privy to this personal story, and so benefit from it ourselves.

SLH

Buy The Best We Could Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Herding Cats (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen.

“This is petty. I need to let it go.
“ANGER, I RELEASE YOU!”

Sarah dispatches her gnawing, pent-up, stress-inducing, self-destructive wrath into the distance with no uncertain force.

“I’M FREE!”

But this is the cleverness in her cartooning: only now do we discover that what she had thrown is in fact a whirling, twirling boomerang.

Three years later: BONK! “That bitch.”

What’s so desperately vital in any book of behavioural one-page comic strips is the crucial recognition factor: do you recognise your own ridiculous yet so often recurring frets and foibles in Sarah’s self-deprecation? For me, they tick every recognition box and I laughed at myself, raucously, right up until the serious section with its warm heart of nurturing gold which we’ll come to in a bit.

 

 

If, however, you want to stand out from the masses, you need ingenuity in your presentation, to see what is commonly observed from an unexpected angle. So it is that we come to workload and procrastination. The first is one of the greatest pressures in my life, the second is one of my greatest of very many flaws: putting off something which I know definitely needs doing, all in the vain hope that it doesn’t. What a buffoon! However, we all know that sharing any workload helps enormously, so Andersen’s split herself in two.

“Present me: “So much work…”
“Future me: “That’s okay! If we divide the work equally, neither of us have to –“

In a blur of instantaneous action ‘present’ Andersen on the left SHOVES both enormous stacks of paper in their entirety at ‘future’ Andersen on the right who flails to the floor, buried under their weight. In the fifth and final panel irresponsible Andersen, still in a frenzied blur, scarpers off gleefully, stage-left, leaving future Andersen to “ – suffer”.

 

 

Like Andersen’s ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH and BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP, the comedy is ever so contemporary, full of failure to care for oneself which ensuring one looks after others, anxieties, self-consciousness and self-doubt. It would serve anyone very well who’s looking for more Allie Brosh (HYPERBOLE AND A HALF). Yes, as the purple fur-trimmed cover suggests, there are many, many preferential-treatment cat comics to coo over too, but this is the Age of the Internet and social media with all its abundant resources and so many of its flaming consequences.

“Today’s question!” reads Sarah. “Will people on the Internet argue about anything?”
“YES!” bellows a furious crowd, startling Sarah to her left.
“NO!” screams an indignant, antagonised anger mob to her right.

As you can imagine, what follows is pitchforks at dawn, and they won’t stop waving even after dusk.

 

 

Which is funny! But there’s a darkness discerned too, which Andersen explores in the now traditional extended essay in the back. When Andersen was starting out the accessibility of the internet made it an invaluable vehicle and venue in which to post her comics, gain a following, and grow in craft, confidence and stature. But now nascent artists beginning to explore and hone their creative talents online can be subject to thoughtlessly (or even maliciously) harsh criticism and even outright bullying with seriously deleterious consequences to their self-confidence. Unlike a spider’s this web wasn’t designed as a trap but that, to those vulnerable, is what it can become.

“It turns out, when you give people endless access to a shroud of anonymity and a soapbox, the results might just be disastrous. Whereas users congregated in small pockets before, social media has enable the rise of mass movements that use trolling as a deflection tool for “doing the most damage I can do and then saying it was just a joke.”

 

 

There are plenty of comics – all new, I think – to illustrate her arguments, but Sarah also offers encouraging ways in which to survive criticism which, when offered constructively, is an essential part of self-improvement. And it’s difficult to take even when couched with kindness:

WHAT THEY SAID:
“Good thing, good thing, good thing….
“Bad thing. BUT! Good thing, good thing.”

WHAT YOU HEARD:
“…………………………………
“Bad thing! Only bad thing. YOU are a bad thing.”

Sarah’s suggestions are practical, understanding and supportive, eventually concluding with: do for goodness sake take breaks in the real world, but don’t let the idiots win – keep creating!

 

 

What other topics has Andersen taken up this time? Childhood heroes, doomed to disappoint or disgust you. Self-destructive fandom in-fighting… Ah yes, resolutions: “I will set my alarm for 7:30. And I will wake up at 7:30! No snooze!” Then you sleep blissfully, optimistically in YOUR BED OF LIES.

 

 

Now picture this: you’ve just made the mistake in a shop of holding a folded shirt up against you to see if it will fit or perhaps you’ve tried it on… and then you have to fold it back up with store assistants watching and it’s impossible, it won’t match the others whatever you do!

 “You ruined it.” You begin sweating self-consciously, eyes darting about as all the other shirts start to unravel, turning into big, mushy, unhappy lumps. “You ruined everything.” Now the entire department is on fire… “How?? How did you mess up this badly? “Oh God I’m sorry.””

 

 

Yup, that’s me. Again, I cannot emphasise how much the lateral thinking – of the other shirts unfolding and the clothes store igniting – is vital in its hyperbole to the humour. Below, it’s about the timing. One panel only devoted to merrily holding forth with friends in a pub…

“Contrary to popular belief, being introverted is not about your ability to socialise.”

… a single panel leaving, contentedly…

“It’s about what you do after.”

Three whole panels curled up in a cocoon on your bed or sofa, mind-whirring, paralyzed.

SLH

Buy Herding Cats and read the Page 45 review here

Hard Core Pawn #1 (£4-00, A Heavy Manners Comic) by Steve Lowes…

“I am grateful I live in a democracy where my vote is equal to that of the next persons and that my opinion really counts…”
“… For fuck all. The masters of mankind must maintain an illusion of democracy to remain in control. Thus the need to impose democracy upon those not yet within our power.”

He has a point regarding the illusion of democracy, if you stop and think about it. Well, two to be precise: the illusion of democracy, and the need of those in control to impose it upon others, elsewhere.

Facts that perhaps more and more people are waking up to. Or “getting woke”, as the kids with their annoyingly grammatically inaccurate ways are currently wont to say.

What makes this exchange so striking is that the first statement is from one chess piece, a black pawn, putting a ballot paper into a ballet box, whilst the second, coming from a white king, has shredded paper going directly into a waste bin.

All the characters in the various strips in this work – be they based on existing songs and poems such as ‘Strange Fruit’ made famous by Billie Holiday plus also some original material written by the creator – are chess pieces, frequently pawns and kings, hence the title, HARD CORE PAWN.

 

 

The strips cover a range of pertinent hot topics such as capitalism, gender politics, racism and terrorism, always presented from that black and white gaming-piece perspective. As conceits go, it certainly allows Steve to concentrate on the punchlines, which are hard-hitting and occasionally outrageously amusing.

Art-wise, as you’d imagine, it’s not too testing to draw chess pieces, but that’s not the point. It allows us all to very easily slip into the position of the pieces.

My favourite strip was probably ‘Alcocapitalism’ in which Steve charts the rise of alcohol consumption and its subsequent impact on the global economic structure. The punchline there, a slightly reworked reprise of a repeated beat throughout, had me howling. It just goes perfectly to show that politics and farce go hand-in-hand, but we all knew that right?

JR

Buy Hard Core Pawn #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Fight Club 2 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart…

“Throughout childhood people tell you to be less sensitive.
“Adulthood begins the moment someone tells you, “You need to be more sensitive”.”

I swear on my psychotherapy couch that you do not need to have read the original prose novel to relish this original comic actually written – not suggested – by Chuck Palahnuik himself. I read the book many moons ago but can barely remember a word.

I seem to recall it was at least partially about smashing the system: rising in up in rebellion against corporate conditioning, financial finagling, governmental authoritarianism and the pervasive mediocrity we can obliviously settle for during our everyday, oh-so-short lives; about waking up from the ubiquitous mass hypnotism of messed-up humanity… whilst enthusiastically submitting to someone else’s indoctrination. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

It’s why Jonathan Hickman’s scathing NIGHTLY NEWS rang such a bell with me. The first paragraph of our NIGHTLY NEWS review reads:

“Terrorism. Communication. Authorative anti-authoritarianism. One man’s enlightenment is the same man’s indoctrination. Stop being a sheep, and be part of my flock instead!”

The cult of personality, eh? Unless it’s mine, I’m always suspicious.

 

 

As I said, however, Fight Club could have been about something else entirely, like hitting people. I imagine that’s why many went to see the film.

Fight Club 2 begins with a similarly iconoclastic personal survey in which you can discover, “Are You Space Monkey Material?” It poses 12 questions with mirth-inducing optional answers. Let’s try a few.

“MY GREATEST REGRET IS…
A. The adverse effect my carbon footprint has on the intricate web of sensate life forms.
B. My past insensitivity to others whose cultural milieu and genetic makeup vary from my own.
C. My unexamined participation in the context of an entrenched capitalistic power hierarchy.
D. Nothing. Sir.”

We’ll leave aside “DO YOU GET OUT OF THE SHOWER TO TAKE A LEAK?” – it is funny, though – and skip straight past the increasingly angry activism of no-nonsense D to question number 12:

“THE GREATEST THREAT FACING OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS…
A. Failure to recognise and reign in the scourge of white privilege.
B. The impending collapse of world oil reserves.
C. Dwindling honeybee populations.
D. Me.”

As you may have gathered — whoops, I was about to tell you what to conclude! Someone really should shoot my autopilot.

Okay, so the graphic novel itself kicks off with the narrator addressing the audience directly.

“Look at him. He calls himself Sebastian these days. Ten years ago he was destined to be another Alexander the Great. A new Genghis Khan. But Sebastian… he calls himself happy.”

Well, with the aid of some tranks, anyway.

 

 

Back home his son is being nannied by a woman wielding a carving knife. But then his young son is having a time-out after being caught synthesising explosive compounds from local debris like dog poo.

His wife Marla is unsatisfied and so dissatisfied, calling for a certain, so-far off-stage Tyler to “deliver me from this bland, boring life”. (First-time readers: you’ll see, you’ll see.) “Please, rescue me from my loving husband…”

By the end of the first issue-worth of material Tyler may just have done that, but in the meantime Marla’s begun to take evasive manoeuvres of her own and Sebastian is swallowing them whole. Chic and suited, she’s quite the self-obsessed piece of work, invading a counselling session for those with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (such rapid aging that 10-year-olds appear to be 60) while complaining about her wrinkles – “They’re all on the inside!”

Chain-smoking throughout, she’s drawn by Cameron Stewart with a superb sense of insouciance that puts me in mind of Mrs Quinn, the rich bitch in Nabiel Kanan’s THE DROWNERS, though there’s more than a touch of Sean Murphy in her angular face.

 

 

My favourite pages are those on which pills or petals – rendered to striking contrast with three-dimensional modelling complete with shadows which fall over the panels beneath them – are imposed over what is being said by the narrator or the narrative’s participants. Whereas the dog’s barking merely drowns thoughts out like ASTERIOS POLYP talking over his girlfriend, the effect here is different because you can discern what lies below – with the romantic rose petals at least – suggesting that the bunch of flowers Sebastian has bought his missus is merely a smoke screen hiding the lie of their messed-up marriage.

“Happy Annive -”
“I lo – you -”
“Take your pill.”

There’s no hiding that last line.

Sebastian, meanwhile, is the epitome not so much of exhausted but sedated. Everyone’s more got more life in them than he has. Even his neighbour.

“Studies conducted by the United States Military prove that what women fear most is physical pain… What men fear most is being humiliated, losing social status, public ridicule.”

 

 

Sebastian used to be a fighter once, but he’s fallen asleep. Now it’s time to wake up.

I think I can hear alarm bells ringing.

What you should now be asking yourself, is just who set off said alarm…?

Aficionados of Fight Club, the prose work that is, will absolutely devour this. It does everything they will have ever craved for in a sequel, which they probably never actually expected to happen, and so much more besides. They will learn who Tyler Durden truly is. Chuck Palahniuk will speak to them, and his characters, directly. No really, and their worlds will crumble into dust and ashes around their ears. Okay, maybe not that last bit, at least not for the readers, but I genuinely didn’t see where this was going until the big reveal and even then, armed with that particular piece of knowledge, I couldn’t see precisely how it would all end.

 

 

As exquisitely complex and tortuously dark as the original, I sincerely hope this encourages more prose literary figures to try their hand at comics writing (as William Gibson has just done with the excellent ARCHANGEL). I’m not sure I want a sudden raft of sequels to prose works in comics form, I think there are more than enough sequels generally already thank you, but given the original work was such a distinctive, vicious piece of satire regarding the culture of consumerism and the decay of Western civilisation, that has been proven so acutely accurate in the interim since its release, I think Chuck deserved his opportunity to play Tyler’s story out to its ultimate, nasty unavoidable end-game. In other words: FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! The nagging question though, is what exactly is Tyler fighting for?

SLH & JR

Buy Fight Club 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max: The Platoon s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov…

Welcome back, Frank!

I have to say, I’ve missed you, buddy. Nobody but nobody writes Frank Castle better than Garth Ennis and the character is never better than when removed from the chaffing restrictions of the capes-and-tights milieu and placed squarely smack bang into a real world of pain.

“FIX BAYONETS!”

“And that is not an order you ever expect to hear. But that was the thing. He had the instinct for it.
“The rest of us knew how to survive, but at the end of the day we were civilians in uniform. A bunch of conscripts, getting short, waiting to go home… which we knew we’d do without a backward glance.
“He’d been in-country a week, but he just knew without having to be told. Him and Dryden.
“There was only one answer to this.
“And not just violence. That’s too simple a word, it doesn’t cover it.
“This was something else, this was forgetting everything else you’d ever been taught about the very idea of civilisation…
“You had to…kind of let the devil in the door.”

 

 

The surviving members – well, all except one – of Fourth Platoon, Kilo Company, Third Battalion of the Twenty-Sixth Marine regiment have gathered in a bar at the behest of writer Michael Goodwin, whose book ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’ about the massacre of an entire Marine firebase and the subsequent creation of the Punisher following the loss of his family in Central Park won Goodwin several plaudits. He’s interested in interviewing them about their recollections of their absent comrade, their former commander, one Second Lieutenant Frank Castle…

So, just in case you were in any doubt, we are well and truly back in the brutal world of PUNISHER MAX, and indeed back in ‘Nam, the veritable world of pain I was just referring to.

 

 

So what angle is Michael Goodwin taking this time?

“I guess I was thinking about the innocence we had about ourselves: I’m of that generation too, remember, I was just too young for the draft. But that isn’t… Okay, I wrote a book about Firebase Valley Forge and the Punisher. Castle sees his family killed in front of him, and I don’t think it’s hard to find the roots of what he does next in that third duty of duty.
“But what about his first tour? The one he returns from at the end of ’68 and nothing else happens? The one where – just maybe – he still has a chance.
“You see, it’s not just about the war and what was lost to it. It’s not just about the country, either. It’s about the guys who came home. Well, he came home from his time in Vietnam, the time that changes everything about America. He had a life before the Punisher, and I’ve been thinking about this ever since my book… I…
“The way I see it, all I did was write the ending.
“I never wrote the story.”

He has, though, (thank you Garth!) just pretty much written my review for me. I wouldn’t normally quote so much from a comic, but I think it’s important for you to understand, if you are not already familiar with Garth’s PUNISHER MAX material, that this is not a superhero comic. It’s a war comic, and more importantly – as in the tradition of the very best war comics – it has something important to say about the profound impact combat inevitably has on the people who go through it. Even a fictional character like Frank Castle. How they are changed. For one cannot go through the horrors of war without being transformed. For some it’s only a little, perhaps a shifting they can learn to live with, in time. For others… there is really no way back home ever again. Not in the emotional sense, certainly. Some… well, some perhaps find what they’ve been searching for all along…

 

 

This work is a perfect coda to the Vietnam-based elements, ‘Born’ now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1 and ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’ now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. Yes, technically it’s a prequel, but it both informs and is informed by those two arcs which bookended Garth’s extended run. Here he’s teamed up once again with Goran STARLIGHT Parlov who illustrated several PUNISHER MAX arcs including the utterly hilarious one starring the demented and depraved lunatic, the Barracuda. There is also plenty of black comedy to be had here.

Parlov brings an angular steeliness to young Frank, whilst still giving him the appearance of a young blue-eyed inexperienced man, almost movie star-like in his statuesque and resolute handsomeness, having not yet been exposed to the tempestuous weathering of war. That comes soon enough, though, as Frank’s platoon, stuck in a forward position with insufficient firepower and some serious bad country to deal with, rapidly begin to realise that whilst the new LT might be a rookie, he certainly isn’t green.

JR

Buy Punisher Max: The Platoon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin, Peter Milligan & John Romita Jr., Trevor Hairsine, Salvador Larroca, David Yardin, Scot Eaton, Kaare Andrews.

Very different from Christopher Priest’s sly, winking socio-political approach to BLACK PANTHER, this is more geo-political but just as sassy and sharp.

Quality art from John Romita Jr. depicts one specific instance from the history of Wakanda – the African nation ruled by the Black Panther – oh so elegantly illustrating why it was the only such country that has never been invaded by another.

As Reginald Hudlin has written elsewhere, it has been firmly established that African humans were far more advanced far earlier than their European counterparts, so it stands to reason that if one nation had continued to develop unimpeded then they would have the technology to defend themselves against European imperialism without even breaking a sweat.

There’s an immensely satisfying sequence in which one such arrogant, nineteenth-century would-be conqueror, devoid of any humanity whatsoever, is humiliated then dispatched. The Wakandan chief is the epitome of fearlessness and strength: a warrior of few words which, when delivered, are no idle threats.

 

 

Cut to the present and Wakanda has reacted to America’s current, Iraq-invading neo-imperialism by declaring a no-fly zone over their country.

So, how do you like them apples?

“There is no way a bunch of waffle-makers are going to play us out of position in Wakanda! We need to send in support troops to aid our Wakandan allies right away!”
“And where are those troops coming from? Our troops are spread too thin already. We just don’t have enough bodies.”
“Oh, that’s the one thing we have plenty of.”

Ouch!

“We’ve got more than enough bodies to inva — I mean, assist Wakanda!”

Standing in front of row upon row of coffins, each laid out under the Stars & Stripes flag on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier off the African Coast:

“I think it’s time you found out what kind of special cargo we’ve got on this ship. These brave men and women died for their country. All that training and manpower wasted. The military hates waste.”

The dead rise, cybernetically enhanced.

“We’ve found a solution to our manpower problem. They’re tougher, stronger, fearless, take orders exactly and don’t write sad letters back home.”

 

 

This contains the first story arc of the politically pointed 2005 series before it all went unnecessarily tits-up during a crowbarred-in crossover with The X-Men and readers fled faster than stoats from a boat that’s been set on fire.

Boats are infested with stoats. It’s a modern epidemic. True fact!

Hmmm…. A vastly extended version of Reggie Hudlin and John Romita Jr’s WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER (which is where my review, above, comes from) this collects BLACK PANTHER (2005) #1-18 and X-MEN (1991) #175-176 so, yes, that crossover I much maligned. Of those subsequent issues Marvel kindly informs us:

“Then, social satire meets all-out action as T’Challa’s adventures continue! The Panther enters the  HOUSE OF M! An outbreak of strange, mutated animals brings Storm and the X-Men to Africa! The Panther teams up with Luke Cage, Blade, Brother Voodoo and Monica Rambeau to take on the undead! But every king needs a queen, and so T’Challa embarks on his most dangerous quest yet: to wed the love of his life! Which of the world’s greatest super hero women will say ‘I do’?”

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

SLH

Buy Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Blackbird Days (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Godhead (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ho Che Anderson

Land Of The Sons h/c (£24-99, Fantagraphics) by Gipi

Lazarus Sourcebook Collection vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka, various & Michael Lark, others

Crossroad Blues (£13-99, Image) by Ace Atkins & Marco Finnegan

The Pervert (£15-99, Image) by Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell

Please Destroy My Enemies (£8-99, Silver Sprocket) by Michael Sweater

Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor

The Way Of Tank Girl h/c (£9-99, Titan Comics) by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett, various

Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Joëlle Jones, various

Injustice 2 vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo, various

Injustice 2 vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo, various

Nightwing vol 5: Raptor’s Revenge s/c (Rebirth) (£12-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Miguel Mendonca, Javi Fernandez, Scot Eaton

Sleeper Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson

Stumptown vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southwark

Annihilation vol 2: Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Simon Furman, Keith Giffen, Christos N. Gage, Stuart Moore, various & Jorge Lucas, Andrea Di Vito, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mike McKone, Scott Kolins

Darth Vader: Dark Lord Of The Sith vol 2: Legacy’s End s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Jessica Jones vol 3: Return Of The Purple Man s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, J.M. DeMatteis, Jen Van Meter & Richard Elson, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stephanie, Buscema, Ryan Stegman

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

One-Punch Man vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week three

April 18th, 2018

Featuring Javi Rey, B. Mure, Ben Passmore, Tillie Walden, Greg Rucka and friends, Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Big Brother.

Out In The Open h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Javi Rey, based on the novel by Jesύs Carrasco.

“He sharpened his senses, searching for the voice that had forced him to flee.”

A boy lies cowering in a dark burrow amongst the roots of the olive grove, one arm on the dusty earth, the other clasped protectively around his own torso. He is as still and as silent as possible; but you can almost feel him shivering in the suffocating heat as he strains to hear the one sound that he so desperately never wants to again.

His eyes are wide, black dots of terror.

And they stay like that for hours, until the sun finally sets.

This is a beautiful book full of soft pinks and bruise-purple shadows upon bright, straw-coloured, grass plains and arid desert. Craggy outcrops appear in the distance. Under the succour of rare, sparsely leafed tree, there are dappled shadows which I doubt could afford much relief from the noon-day heat, but it must be some comfort, some sanctuary.

Where the boy escaped from there was no sanctuary, not even at home. But there were worse things than his father’s beatings. There was the sheriff. And what would a sheriff want with a young boy like him?

 

 

Yes, it’s a beautiful book full of vistas and sunsets, and the surprise of a sunrise when you were convinced you’d never make it… But it is devastating.

The prologue speaks of promise lost.

“There was a time when that plain was a sea of grain. On windy spring days, the wheat undulated just like the surface of the ocean. Green and fragrant waves awaiting the summer sun. The same sun that now baked the clay, pulverising it until it turned into dust.”

What was once wholesome and full of potential to sustain and nurture life has now been drained of it by the sun which should also be life-giving but in this instance proved otherwise. In the cameo panel above, what was once a sea of green or golden wheat has now been survived by desiccated, sharp, brown needles.

It’s based on a novel of prose from a Spanish writer called Jesύs Carrasco. ‘Novel’, I’m told, not ‘novella’, nor three-page short story, but if you did away with all the art and lined up the prose here, then it probably wouldn’t fill many more pages than four. So yes: very much “based on”, no mere “adaptation”.

 

 

 

The images are profoundly communicative, not just of the radiating heat round the small fire of a temporary camp site when the night must be freezing, but of fear and of wariness. The boy’s arms are once more clasped protectively, this time round his knees and not just for the cold: the goatherd seems kindly enough, but trust will not come easily to the boy, ever again.

There too the colours do so much of the work: salmon pink for the glow and the warmth of the crackling fire on flesh and clothing, while the night is slate blue.

 

 

 

The solitary, wizened goatherd who has little of his own intuitively understands at least some of the plight of the young boy who initially hovers round the camp site. Even after the kid attempts to steal the old man’s satchel, he is invited to share food and the comfort of the fire. But, as I say, trust will never be offered or earned easily again, even through guileless kindness. Ulterior motives have been this boy’s experience.

I’m afraid that you’re shown those in memories more like dream sequences when a chillingly cold blue drifts in.

When the sheriff first appears he does so as a prancing dandy smoking a cigarette, precise features eroded to a jauntily hat–topped, yellow-eyed, satanic-red grinning skull. He seems perfectly pleased with himself.

 

 

 

In some ways this reminded me of Craig Thompson’s HABIBI. Not stylistically in the slightest, but in that it is also a tale of survival, endurance and provision for others in the wake of man’s inhumanity to man. Provision for others is so often offered by those who have least. The goatherd offers the boy what little he has in the way of protection and nutrition; but the goats are themselves parched and so produce little milk.

Also: the goatherd may be out of his depth.

SLH

Buy Out In The Open h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ismyre (£8-99, Avery Hill) by B. Mure.

“So what’s the next step in your master plan?”
“Genius never tells. Or sleeps. But snacks are very important.”

Agreed!

Also important are colours, and you’re in for an eye-full!

This charming, fantastical, anthropomorphic mystery and call to floral arms bursts with warmth and spectacle, along with a delightfully daft political powder keg waiting to explode.

The Prime Minister of an old, rustic European country is planning a grand event to celebrate ushering in a new age of prosperity (for the already wealthy, at least), and is determined to have an ice sculpture as its centre-piece, carved by one Edward Goodwill. Unfortunately, in its run-up, citizens are going missing and a cell of masked Eco Anarchists has embarked on a campaign of urban vegetation detonations. The Prime Minister is convinced that the two are not unrelated.

 

 

Crocodilian art dealer Evelyn rather likes the Eco Anarchists which she calls Flower Wizards instead: “Such aesthetically daring activism!”

Edward Goodwill, meanwhile, one of her best-selling sculptors, discovers that it’s not only people who are disappearing. The sculptor’s decorated wooden figurines are vanishing too. Edward takes to a bar to ponder both the puzzle and the Prime Minister’s commission in private, only to be befriended by a fox called Faustine who is self-assured, extremely assertive and exceedingly resourceful. She is determined to get to the bottom of the twin mysteries, help a faltering Goodwill complete his governmental commission, then perhaps have a right old cackle into the bargain.

 

 

Good golly but the pages vibrate with light and colour, right off the electromagnetic spectrum.

The colour, washed over such delicate thin and crisp lines, provides so much depth and energy that you won’t even notice the eschewing of spot-blacks or textures.

We begin with an essay in aqueous blue and lemon yellow for an opening page of nocturnal tranquillity, harmony and indeed melody as Edward’s widower neighbour, on the opposite side of the street, sings to herself about love. Edward decides to call it a day, and pops a work in progress onto the shelves only to discover that another one’s gone missing. Cleverly, there, red is first introduced.

 

 

Bathed in blue, Goodwill falls sound asleep as we pan up above the city to see a silent, paved, solitary street with one particularly grandiose house with its equally ornate facade jutting out from its peers, and so focussing our attention upon it. Yellow and red washes re-emerge quietly, so quietly, shhhh….

Then BOOOOOOOM!

 

 

That’s going to take some pruning.

But back to Faustine the fox, and her cunning plan to solve all of the city’s mysteries in one fell swoop:

“There, do you see?”
“I thought genius never told.”
“Genius is showing you. Shut your face.”

SLH

Buy Ismyre and read the Page 45 review here

Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore.

Fabulous title, glorious cover, you’ll find the contents equally colourful.

“After Charlottesville, tons of Confederate monuments have come down around the country – but we still have the largest monument to white-supremacy in the country: the presidency of Donald Trump.”

Vastly expanded hardcover edition of the former pamphlet – which was potent enough in its own right – this is ten times as long, with a far wider remit.

Within, Ben Passmore observes an America in which vocal, overt, organised racism – with its attendant intimidating, gun-toting marches further radicalising the easily brainwashed into acts of murderous terrorism – has been “legitimised” by Trump’s refusal to decry it as criminal, instead embracing some of its thugs as “decent folks”. Instead, it’s the Antifascists who are cast as violent while the Klan classes itself as the oppressed underdogs under attack. “There’s a war on whiteness!” screams one boss-eyed white-supremacist woman.

 

 

In the wake of which, Passmore also assesses the state of counter-racist political activism in the form of protests, and finds it lacking and inadequate to the task. “”Freedom of Speech” isn’t worth much if it facilitates inactivity.” Of Trump he goes on to say, “If the fight to remove racists made of stone and metal is any indication, we will have to use just as diverse tactics to overcome the real one.”

“The spirit of this collection of comics,” he writes, “is more a reflection of ideas… about how to be dangerous, how to be a failure, and how to laugh in the face of a world that wants to crush us… And we all fail, homies, it’s okay. We just have to learn how to fail upward.”

 

 

Personally I like it best when Passmore addresses us directly about politics and social politics, with a clarity, conviction and eloquence that is infectious. Partly because some of the more surreal stuff I simply didn’t understand.

However, I did gross out mightily at the ‘OK Stoopd!” hook-up featuring a feckless, defeatist, cannibalistic chicken, gobbling drumsticks from a bucket as grease drools from its quivering gullet. The cat asks:

“I gotta ask… you’re chicken, which is solid, but isn’t it weird to be like eating chicken?”
“These CAGE MONKEYS!? I was smart enough ta stay outta the fryer! It’s their own lazy-ass faults! CAGE MONKEYS!”

So I don’t suppose the chicken will be joining the protests.

 

 

I also laughed heartily at the Hand of God chatting to Jesus:

“Why doesn’t anyone want to hang-out with us?”
“Cause you do weird shit.”

The Hand of God does indeed do weird shit; right on the page, too.

The autobiographical ‘Ally I Need is Love’ from Passmore’s time as a pedicab driver includes two glorious caricatures when he picks up a “tomb-faced” old white lady with an imploded head and a “tween smoke cloud”. It doesn’t matter how fast he pedals, that thick cigarette smoke encircling the girl’s head – like clouds round a mountain – is not going to be blown away.

 

 

Instead, it is Ben who is blown away when the old woman tries to pick him up, persistently, eventually coming out with…

“It’s just that itz my birthday and I haven’t been with a black man in so long…”
“THA WHAT? Get off my cab!!!”

But what happens next is as profoundly moving as it is unexpected. (I’m not sure we can entirely trust the final panel, but it is the most perfect and passionate punchline, rendered with love).

Basically, this: just because Passmore is laudably and necessarily blunt and uncompromising in his politics, please don’t presume that he is either self-righteously self-satisfied or humourless. Above all, however, he exhorts: “Stay dangerous”.

 

 

So back to ‘Your Black Friend’ which I originally reviewed thus:

A densely worded eleven-page opportunity to listen to a fresh perspective we’d all do well to see the world from, lest we assume that we all experience it the same way.

Your titular black friend has much on his mind from his extensive experience of being your black friend. He has plenty to say about that experience and he does so with commendable clarity, directness and level-headed balance; but he’s not about to waste what little space he has by mincing his words, either.

He’s going to say what he means and mean what he says.

The comic is bookended by your black friend “sitting in a coffee shop, your favourite coffee shop”, eating a sandwich he’s bought elsewhere “hoping that white guilt will keep the barista from confrontin’ him about.”

Let’s see if that will work in his favour. Let’s see if anything does, frankly.

 

 

“Your black friend listens to a conversation between a nicely dressed white woman and the barista.”

The nicely dressed white woman is boasting about her speed in calling the cops after seeing a “sketchy guy” coming out of a backyard with a bike. The barista asks the nicely dressed white woman to describe the man.

“I dunno… black, tall, dreads, the bike was a 98 Gary Fisher w/ a big marlin on it, drop bars, disc breaks, a broken spoke and one of those Brookes racing saddles instead of the factory seat.”

The nicely dressed white woman is curiously well informed, but no matter.

“Was that house on France Street? Did he have a big nose ring?”
“Yeah…”
“That sounds like Darren, he comes here all the time. That’s his house. That’s his bike.”

The barista, beautifully drawn to be of a certain age yet far from behind the times, is shown to be more than a little alarmed. You could add exclamation marks to her protests.

 

 

However, this is what I mean by the calm clarity and level-headedness which runs like a vein or hallmark right through Passmore’s many cultural and social observations exemplified by his own interactions:

“This is an important moment, your black friend has seen this many times: a white person unaware of their racism, blunders into a moment in which it is undeniable. He knows that this woman still will not see it, she is both afraid of black people and the realization of that fear. It will take the barista, seeming race savvy and familiar to the rich lady, to clarify what has just happened. But, your black friend knows the barista will say nothing. What white ppl fear most is “making things awkward”.”

 

 

It gets better.

“Your black friend would like to say something but doesn’t want to appear “angry”. He knows this type of person expects that from him and he will lose before he begins. This’ why he has white friends, he thinks. White ppl are allowed to be “angry” when he is expected to be calm and reasonable. He wishes he could make you understand this, and many other things…
“For example: your black friend wishes you understood why he hates it when the barista calls him “baby” like she is his “auntie”, or any other black woman over the age of 50.”

He has a damn good go at providing illumination during the nine packed pages that follow, in which he recounts numerous examples of feeling uncomfortable on both sides of the racial divide, even managing to fall through the cracks of fitting in when that division is narrowed. I liked this:

“Your black friend’s black friends tell him that black-owned businesses will end racism but your black friend is sceptical that scented afro picks can be utilized as a political apparatus.”

 

 

So will our black friend speak up in the coffee shop, do you think?

This comes with an exceptionally well timed ending, every element of which is set up right at the beginning.

SLH

Buy Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Love This Part h/c (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Tilly Walden.

It’s my favourite part.

“Can we ever tell anybody?”
“Probably not.”

Simple, subtle, sublime.

Two girls share experiences, confide in each other and reassure each other gently.

They explore landscapes together, looking out, over or nestling within them. This is the sweet languor of youth when you still have time to rest supine and stare at the sky up above you.

There’s an intimacy right from the start in the way they inhabit those landscapes, absorbing a song, one ear-bud each, or crouched under a duvet in front of a laptop with a night-time cityscape rising behind them, its tiny, square, skyscraper windows brightly lit while their monumental silhouettes stand out, crisp and bold, against white and purple-tinged clouds.

“I got an ipod Shuffle once for Hanukkah and it really stressed me out that I never knew what song was next.”

 

 

That made me smile. It’s true, isn’t it, that we enjoy the segue from one song to another on an album we love, subconsciously anticipating what we know will come next as the final chords on the current one fade or when it concludes in a blistering crescendo? It’s the same with any mix-tape you’ve made.

So here’s the thing: the story is told in single-panel pages and if the landscapes are so often majestic – mountains, canyons, valleys – then the two girls are equally epic and so completely at one with them.

 

 

Their positioning is perfect and the sense of scale is breathtaking. Tillie Walden already demonstrated an adoration of Windsor McCay’s LITTLE NEMO in THE END OF SUMMER; here she takes that influence and makes of it something uniquely her own. Winsor thought like this, but he never did this. There’s also that dreamlike comfort to it. Or at least there is to begin with.

Initially each full-page panel features both girls in synch, either side by side or opposite each other, but then there’s a brief falling-out over a photo uploaded onto social media without the expressed consent of the other. It’s still gentle and the kindness – the reassurance – remains. But there follows a telling page in which they’re no longer completely as one but staring in different directions and, oh, the art is exquisite as one girl’s swimsuit hugs tight while the other’s dress billows carefree in a breeze.

 

 

Gradually there encroach pages in which only one or neither girl features, silence falls and texting begins instead.

Never forever, I promise you, for this is far from linear but it’s in marked contrast to what went before when their relationship morphs as they tentatively explores new territories, not necessarily successfully.

Aaaaaand we’re still only a fraction of a way in.

The comic’s not long but it’s still substantial, begging you to linger and rewarding you if you do.

It’s fiercely well observed with incredible understanding and empathy but without demanding you recognise that, for so much is left to be said by the silences. I’m in awe of that confidence. And if it isn’t confidence then it’s one massive leap of faith in an approach which is an unequivocal success.

 

 

I could type ten more paragraphs precisely proving in which ways Walden has achieved that – I honestly could – but I’m here to intrigue you to discover the rest for yourselves rather present evidence for my assertions once again for the university examining board.

Since the original softcover of I LOVE THIS PART, Tillie went on to produce A CITY INSIDE which includes one of the most romantic lines ever written:

“You gave up the sky for her.”

Then, aged all of 21, she produced the autobiographical SPINNING, one of Page 45’s fastest-selling graphic memoirs of all time, which provides a personal context to I LOVE THIS PART and, most unexpectedly, an answer to what happened next.

SLH

Buy I Love This Part h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus: X Plus 66 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka with Eric Trautman, Aaron Duran, Neal Bailey & Steve Lieber, Mack Chater, Justin Greenwood, Alitha Martinez, Bilquis Evely, Tristan Jones; colours by Santi Arcas.

“Family Above All.”

LAZARUS is one of my favourite current comic series: gripping intrigue, balletic action and phenomenally intelligent extrapolation from recent scientific developments, as well as a thorough exploration of the socio-political ramifications of a societal reversal. Each of the first four volumes is reviewed, including the two-in-one hardcovers, with attention to regular artist Michael Lark who here provides the cover.

Spoiler-free summary, for it’s important to what follows:

In the far from distance future the world’s economies didn’t just collapse, they imploded, taking all nation states with them.

The entire globe has reverted to a feudal society ruled by 16 Families: the Families with the most money, because money buys people, money buys science and money buys guns.

Underneath them lies a slim stratum of society with key skills vital for the Families’ prosperity and hegemony. These Serfs are richly rewarded, their needs taken care of. Everyone else is Waste.

 

 

All Families have a Lazarus, each augmented by differing means according to the individual Family’s scientific resources, to the extent that – although they cannot rise from the dead – their bodies can withstand and recover from the most brutal physical punishments. They are then rigorously trained to become the Families’ bodyguards, military commanders and ultimate assassins.

In the Carlyle Family’s case it is their youngest daughter, Forever. Ever since she can remember she has been told, “Family Above All”. And by ‘told’, I mean ‘indoctrinated’. And by ‘indoctrinated’, I mean lied to.

LAZARUS: X PLUS 66 is a book about loyalty. It’s about loyalty within families, but above all loyalty to The Family in whose domain you are permitted to reside. Those loyalties will all be sorely tested.

 

 

X Plus 66 is a year. It’s the year immediately following LAZARUS VOL 5, marking just over six and a half decades since the Families met in Macau to carve up the world and its riches between themselves. To give Michael Lark a well earned breather, the collection’s comprised of six short stories drawn by different artists, each of which picks up on ancillary – but by no means peripheral – characters and their fortunes which there would have been little room to have covered within the central series. In doing so, it provides a wealth of extra flesh on the main body’s bone, so I would urge you not to skip it.

 

 

There are some superb neologisms for new scientific research and development, like “sleeving”: the ability to slot an archived personality, complete with its memories, from one Lazarus into its successor. Not yet possible, but they’ve achieved the next best thing with Sir Thomas Huston of the Armitage Family taking advantage of all his predecessor’s  internally recorded and externally archived experiences.

“As experience is the best teacher, each new Sir Thomas benefits from the life of the last.”

I think you’ll especially want to learn the fate that befalls the Morray Family’s Lazarus, Joacquim Morray, given the horrifying swerve in his fate last volume. You’ll also discover exactly what relation he is within the Morray Family Tree. This has no small bearing on his past, present and dubious future. Mack Chater (BRIGGS LAND) draws a halting first-page panel which could not have present Joacquim as more vulnerable, his shaved pubic area making it all the more clinical.

 

 

Tristan Jones gives the grizzliest chapter the grizzliest of dirty, detailed texture set in The Dragon’s lair (The Dragon is the least pleasant Lazarus of the lot – I mean, bwwaaaaar). He’s holed away in a remote, claustrophobically dark subterranean bunker with mauled dolls dangling from chains. Unnervingly, there’s also one in a rib cage directly outside the entrance to the snow-swept cave entrance and more with cameras for eyes inside.

 

 

Surprising, then, that there’s a fine piece of painted portraiture framed on a wall. All to do with his upbringing, as you shall see…

The media’s plight under feudal control is examined, and the lives of some of those newly elevated from Waste to Serfdom is shown with an extra vantage over a shanty town of those left behind, drawn by Justin Greenwood. You may want to smack one mother.

 

 

Lastly, I do know why the elite army training episode comes first, in order to re-introduce and re-emphasise the main theme – loyalty and Family Above All – but it isn’t in all honesty quite as gripping as the rest, so do please soldier on.

Next: Michael Lark returns in LAZARUS #27 any day now.

SLH

Buy Lazarus: X Plus 66 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 4 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

Four ‘80s schoolgirls lost in time.

They’re lost many times in many times, each volume shooting them into their own future or far into our past – very far, in one instance.

If you love the idiosyncrasies of any era – obsessions, slang, popular culture, outdated technology and lack of technology we now take for granted – then you will love PAPER GIRLS. Cliff Chiang has done an enormous amount of research and the temporal locations are immediately identifiable to readers at least, while the girls’ reactions to each era’s customs are priceless.

Here, for example, you will laugh loads at the Armageddon anti-climax that was the Millennium Bug, when Y2K doomsters warned you to switch off your computer before midnight on 31st December 2000, lest it explode or take control of your kettle or something. The actual turning of the millennium and century, a year later, was pretty much ignored.

 

 

Remember too that the young ladies are the products of their past, and that this is from the writer of EX MACHINA, SAGA etc, who’s not renowned for white-washing realities which some other authors would find awkward to tackle. One of these girls is a bigot. She is. She’s a victim of ‘80s AIDS scare-mongering along with other ill-informed societal bullshit and she takes it out on one of her friends. Some exceptionally deft and comical character-acting is on offer from Cliff Chiang there.

 

 

Also, the girls are going to be visiting their futures: not all of them are going to have made it there in one healthy piece. Others’ lives may also have taken unexpected, uncharacteristic turns. Would you want to know what happens to you?!

 

 

For more, please see previous PAPER GIRLS reviews, much more in depth. Cheers!

SLH

Buy Paper Girls vol 4 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 2 – Once An Avenger… s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich & John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, George Tuska, Gene Colan.

I enjoy Jack Kirby composition analyses and this cover, right, is no slouch. Unusually, there is no foreground, only mid-ground and background. The four paper dolls are caught mid-gesticulation before they thrust forward towards the inviting, intervening space: Captain America, Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, all in glowing, rich, complementary colours. Immediate action is implied in each. This leaves Goliath, behind them, in contrasting sky-blue and gold, not to dominate the whole but impress upon you his weight and comparative, sheer strength of scale, his thick arms fanning out to defend the whole of his cohorts with fists, the rising then bifurcating, central yellow stripe of his costume keeping the organic triangle in motion.

If only there were such sturdy Roman strength and reciprocal teamwork inside.

“Avengers Assemble! Mayday! Mayday!”
“It’s from Cap! He’s been imprisoned in a dungeon! Into your costume, Wanda… quickly!”
“Imprisoned, Pietro? By whom?”
“No time for that now!”

Or, you could have just answered: “The Swordsman”. It’s a little more informative, a lot less dismissive, and two seconds swifter to say.

 

 

Following the team’s earliest experiences in AVENGERS: EPIC COLLECTION VOL 1, our Avenging Assemblers by now consist of Hawkeye and siblings the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, led by a Captain America wrestling with self-doubt under the weight of responsibility and the isolation which comes of having been trapped an oceanic ice cube since WWII. He doesn’t have any mates outside of Avengers Mansion, you see. But then nor do any of the others because Stan hadn’t thought to write about them.

The Captain is desperate for some of the original members to return, the original members being The Wasp, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. Yeah, he’s not so keen on the Hulk.

“Hulk happy to keep Flag-Man company. Hulk give you big hug.”
“Sorry, wrong address.”

 

 

Good news cometh, however, as both the Wasp and Ant-Man return early on in this volume, the latter as the much enlarged Goliath in a blue and yellow costume which my child-eyes adored, the former in a swimsuit to resume her former career as professional prisoner / bait. With Hawkeye still envious of Captain America’s leadership, they’re bickering among themselves incessantly. It’s like Big Brother in muscular fancy dress, the Diary Room located somewhere in Steve Rogers’ head.

“Hello, Steve. How are you feeling today?”
“Hello, Big Brother. I’m feeling a bit low, to be honest. Hawkeye hates me. He’s keeps calling me Methuselah.”
“I bet he can’t spell that, and who knew he could read? Anyway, he’s only jealous.”
“Yes, I can read that much in his thought bubbles, but it’s demoralising when all he does in speech balloons is bitch, bitch, bitch. I think the Scarlet Witch has a crush on me. If Quicksilver found out, he’d skin me alive before I could even utter the word ‘incest’.”
“They are quite close, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, but we’re going to have to wait until Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s ULTIMATES for readers to realise that.”

 


“Steve, is there anything else you wish to discuss with Big Brother?”
“I still haven’t had my suitcase back. From 1944.”
“Big Brother is looking into that. Anything else?”
“Can I get a flag?”
“A flag…?”
“I’d like something to wave.”
“Why?”
“There could be Commies.”
“…”
*sobs*
“Thank you, Steve.”

What I’ve so far failed to mention is that amongst the household’s weekly tasks (in order to ensure a shopping budget big enough to keep Hank Pym / Ant-Man / Giant-Man / Multiple Identity Crisis Man in Temazepam) is getting Dr. Victor Von Doom struck off the medical practitioners’ list. His bedside manner is appalling, and I swear to God that unlike the above these are actual quotes:

“Here is a gold farthing for you, my boy! I, too, have known what it is to be… a cripple!”
“There is a great surgeon in the Zurich, across the border! He can cure our child! But he leaves for America soon!”
“We beg you, good master… open the dome, so we can bring our son the doctor before it is too late!”
“Impossible! It must remain sealed… until the four enemies of Latveria have been disposed of!”
“But what of the boy…?”
“Silence! This audience has ended!”

You’d ask for a second opinion, wouldn’t you?

 

 

Frankly, I have no idea how Doctor Doom’s surgery remains open: he’s not exactly renowned for his patience or patient care, and his prescriptions are unorthodox to say the least.

It’s all enormous fun, of course, as are the appliances of sciences: World-Wide Scanner-Scopes, Protecto-Shields, Vibra-Rays, Spectro-Waves, Visi-Projectors, Giant Plastithene Domes and a Temporal Assimilator which means it’s only taken you a tenth of the time to read this than I wasted in writing it.

 

 

However, hope lies high on the horizon in the second half, both for the team’s cohesion upon Goliath’s return, and for readers’ more rounded socio-political nurturing.

“Beware of the man who sets you against your neighbour!”
“For, whenever the deadly poison of bigotry touches us, the flame of freedom will burn a little dimmer.”

Bravo!

In 1966 Stan Lee took a brief break from his own screaming stream-of-subconscious sexism to tackle racism instead, and did so with bold, unequivocal directness and robust language which I commend without one iota of irony. In AVENGERS #32 and 33 he introduced the Sons of the Serpent, Marvel’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, seen here spitting their white supremacist venom out to a crowd which laps it so deliriously up:

“Our enemies must know we will show them no mercy! As the original serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden… so shall we drive all foreigners from the land!”

Err, no really, that was God. The serpent poisoned the mind of innocents – and with that double whammy we’ll notch the scene up to a Serendipitous Stan because these are racists, so they’re inherently stupid.

 

 

Coming back to the commendable directness there’s another scene in which the hate-mongering tosspots set about ethnically cleansing a section of the city by beating the living crap out of a man while successfully intimidating neighbours into doing absolutely nothing:

“We warned you not to move into this neighbourhood!”
“But it’s a free country! I’m a law-abiding citizen! You have no right –“
“You dare speak to us of rights? You – who were not even born here!”

 

 

Up above:

“Henry! What’s the commotion outside the window?”
“It’s the Sons of the Serpent! They’ve cornered Mr. Gonzales! We – we have to do something –!”
“No! Come away from there! It’s dangerous to get involved! It’s none of our business!”

Well, isn’t that so often the way? Lest some of his readers learn the wrong lesson (bear in mind a lot of them were young and impressionable), Stan takes a moment to emphatically sneer at the couple’s cowardice:

“Thus we take our leave of Henry and his wife – two less-than-admirable citizens who feared to get involved…”

 

 

Again, bravo! This is, after all, a book about getting “involved” – that’s what the Avengers do – and they’re not slow off the mark voicing their own disgust after Goliath catches the bigots attacking Bill Foster, who’s black, outside his lab. I think that may be the first appearance of Bill Foster (he went on to become one of several Goliaths himself), and it’s certainly Steve Rogers’ first trip to the S.H.I.E.L.D. H.Q. which was buried under a barber’s shop. This is also the era when Hercules signed up as an Avenger and former Soviet spy Black Widow signed up to S.H.I.E.L.D. having spectacularly failed to win anyone other than old flame Hawkeye’s trust with the Avengers. Meanwhile Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have lost their powers but Stan The Man has lost none of his way with women. The Wasp speaks last:

“If you wish to see Captain America alive once more, you are to follow these instructions to the letter! You will report to the next meeting of the Sons Of The Serpent, at the following address – “
“They can bet on it – we’ll be there!”
“I’d like to see someone try to keep me away!”
“Oh dear! I haven’t a thing to wear!”

*sigh*

SLH

Buy Avengers: Epic Collection vol 2 – Once An Avenger… s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Best We Could Do s/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui

Herding Cats (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen

Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker

The Bridge: How The Roeblings Connected Brooklyn To New York h/c (£17-99, Abrams) by Peter J. Tomasi & Sara Duvall

The American Way: Those Above And Those Below s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by John Ridley & Georges Jeanty, various

Cyanide & Happiness: A Guide To Parenting By Three Guys With No Kids (£8-99, Boom!) by Kris, Rob, Dave

Dinosaur Firefighters h/c (£12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Dinosaur Firefighters s/c (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Fence vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Boom!) by C.S. Pacat &  Johanna the Mad

Fight Club 2 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart

Hound vol 3: Liberator h/c (Signed & Numbered) (£29-99, Cuchulkin Entertainment) by Paul Bolger & Barry Devlin

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Simon Spurrier, Philip Kennedy Johnson & Kelly Matthews, Nicole Matthews

Looshkin (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Me And My Cat? (£6-99, Andersen Press) by Satoshi Kitamura

Stone Age Boy (£6-99, Walker Books) by Satoshi Kitamura

Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin, Peter Milligan & John Romita Jr., Trevor Hairsine, Salvador Larroca, David Yardin, Scot Eaton, Kaare Andrews

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & Scot Eaton, Manuel Garcia, Koi Turnbull, Marcus To, Francis Portela, Andrea Di Vito, Cafu

Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & various

Punisher: The Platoon s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov

Bleach vol 72 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

Legend Of Zelda vol 13: Twilight Princess vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

Sweet Blue Flowers vol 3 (£16-99, Viz) by Takako Shimura

Your Name vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Makoto Shinkai & Ranmaaru Kotone

Your Name vol 2 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Makoto Shinkai & Ranmaaru Kotone

Your Name vol 3 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Makoto Shinkai & Ranmaaru Kotone

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week two

April 11th, 2018

Featuring John Porcellino, Jason, Nicolas Wild, Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey and even Eddie Campbell, after a fashion.

From Lone Mountain (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by John Porcellino.

KING-CAT is such a kind comic.

It is clear, concise and enormously thoughtful.

It’s also very brave and astonishingly intimate.

Yet it’s not without its moments of comedy, especially where insight’s involved.

“One day Diogenes was sorting through a pile of bones…
“Alexander the Great came along and asked him what he was doing…
“Diogenes said:”I’m searching for the bones of your father, but I can’t tell them apart from those of a slave.””

Porcellino gives Diogenes a couple of tattoos: an anchor on his right arm, a love heart on his left. You may think that whimsical. I think it’s perfect, both for Diogenes and for John.

Throughout these pure, direct and above all honest, mostly autobiographical short stories, John receives love from his wife Misun and his cat Maisie in a quiet, unfussy and far from cloying fashion, and he returns this adoration to Misun, Maisie and – with awe and appreciation – to the abundant wonder which he perceives all around him.

 

 

Light comes constantly under his appreciative gaze, during the day and at night and those hours of spectacle in between. The weather, as well: sunshine, wind, rain and snow. Sometimes he evokes them verbally, poetically; often he leaves his clean and precise pictures, already full of space, to do that instead. Breezes carry scents and he notes those too.

Foxes, skunks and squirrels are observed, sometimes sought after, and flora is cherished as much as fauna. He likes to list their Latin names. Sometimes he’ll simply tell you about a tree.

Porcellino also lists his ‘King-Cat Top 40’s, scattered with more tiny hearts, as a positive way of acknowledging and publicly appreciating anyone and anything that has brought him joy in the making of each semi-annual KING-CAT comic or during their intervening months: friends, music, pictures, books, places, sensations, more light, more nature, more moments, and memories too.

 

 

John is as likely to recall memories from many moons ago as he is to tell you more recent tales. They’re almost always dated, both the memories and their commitment to paper. Sometimes they’re pivotal moments, like his history with drinking (it wasn’t good; he stopped); sometimes they’re reflections that have since taken on new meaning to him along his journey.

“I’m looking for those winter evenings
“I’m looking for those autumn nights
”That warm light inside that tells you it’s safe
“I’m looking for that old feeling
“The going within
“The soft arms of fall”

Other times they’re brand-new discoveries, and it is quite the journey, both spiritually and geographically as John uproots himself, his wife and his cat to move house such vast distances that they take five full days of self-driving.

And that’s where the anchor comes in, because John needs anchors like Maisie and Misun and his Dad so desperately, and that’s where the love comes back too: giving this love and appreciation is John’s way of staying sane, of holding on hard to hope when the crushing adversity is so crippling at times that he cannot create.

 

 

You’re going to witness remarkably little of that in his comics – which is as extraordinarily restrained as the comics are controlled – but it’s ever so real as the notes in the back and the whole of his HOSPITAL SUITE make abundantly clear. Indeed, his very occasional allusions to his mental health within the body of KING-CAT itself cause him nothing but more grief and guilt. The one-page prologue, ‘Hippie Girl’, is highly unusual except in its retrospective self-recrimination at his anger after being ravaged by OCD (it was drawn last year, but occurred during this period circa 2006) emphasised by the love heart between “Hippie” and “Girl” and its direct, cut-through-the-bullshit, priority punchline:

“Brother,” asks the Hippie Girl, innocently, “What happened to your smile??!”

Vilification met with genuine care and compassion.

 

 

Moving home is a double-edged sword for someone with John’s OCD as he explains succinctly in the back of his move early on here to San Francisco:

“OCD is a disease of familiarity. New surroundings, while fear-inducing at first, often-times relieved my symptoms – everything was fresh and hadn’t yet taken on a multi-layered patina of anxiety. So those early days in SF were open and free, and the creative spirit of the city inspired me.”

John also does a lot of walking to stave off or alleviate those symptoms, by day and at night, popping down alleys purely because he’s never done so before. I used to like to explore; so often I don’t make the time anymore.

 

 

Unfortunately two of his most solid anchors disappear during the course of this retrospective work, and there are eulogies of remembrance, of moments shared – yet more acknowledgement and appreciation – that are beautiful to behold.

As I say, KING-CAT is a very kind comic, very brave and very intimate. It’s never maudlin, but it is at times inevitably sad all the same, with a huge sense of loss as John searches for somewhere once more to call home. It’s not necessarily geographical, although that would help.

 

 

Anyway, I promised you comedy too, so let’s bow out on ‘Squirrel Acrobat’. Sorry I can’t supply you with John’s diagrams!

“SQUIRREL A is confronted by aggressive SQUIRREL B, on the power-line wire across the street.

“’B’ threatens, stamps, chatters; ‘A’ steps back but doesn’t want to give up ground. SQUIRREL B repeatedly charges SQUIRREL A, then retreats.

“Finally, both squirrels have had enough. They race toward each other at high speed, in what appears to be an inevitable head-on collision. I watch in disbelief as, just before the moment of impact, SQUIRREL A suddenly spins upside down on the wire, runs past SQUIRREL B underneath, and jumps into a nearby tree.

“SQUIRREL B puts on the brakes and looks visibly confused.

“Leaves fall.”

Collects KING-CAT COMICS #62-68 (2003-2007), one and a half dozen extra pages of comics and just under a dozen pages of highly Illuminating, contextual notes plus a delicious, only partially used alternative, landscape KING-CAT cover.

SLH

Buy From Lone Mountain and read the Page 45 review here

What I Did h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

“Hey, wait…”

In life, there are Moments that Matter.

In life, there are Moments that Matter the Most, but so many of these crossroads can only be perceived while staring back down the road with the benefit of hindsight.

I pray you find most of them joyous because, if they are otherwise, the terrible truth is that retrospect can prove a very cruel mistress, in that although you can finally see what was once at stake, you are powerless to change your choice.

This collection reprints ‘Hey Wait…’, ‘Sshhhh!’ and ’The Iron Wagon’, which were my own first encounters with Jason, the now-legendary creator of a unique brand of anthropomorphic, deadpan comicbook comedy  responsible for the subsequent IF YOU STEAL, LOW MOON, I KILLED ADOLF HITLER, ALMOST SILENT and most recently the autobiographical ON THE CAMINO.

He is so funny!

There aren’t many laughs in ‘Hey Wait…’, however. Instead, it is the single most affecting thing that I have ever read in comics.

 

 

I used to believe that to speak about it at all would ruin any reading of it for others, but it’s such an important, landmark work that I’m going to attempt it now, for the very first time, without reference to the exact moment or nature of the crossroads. And I’m going to do it with a little help from my dear friend Mark who, nearly two decades ago, succinctly wrote:

“The first half tells of a pair of friends during their childhood without any of the sub-Spielberg mawkishness that’s been endemic over the past couple of years. The second instalment is the aftermath of an occurrence and the distance between your initial belief in the world and the outcome.”

Young Bjorn and Jon stroll up to a front door with all the nonchalance they can muster. Bjorn looks back to make sure that they haven’t been spotted, and Jon rings the doorbell. Both their mouths crack to great big grins of childish glee as they scarper away in the full knowledge of how naughty they’ve been!

The door is answered by a baffled Creature From The Lost Lagoon.

 

 

What follows in Part One is a series of joyful, single-page vignettes, immaculately portraying exactly what life was like for me as a relatively care-free six-year-old with my best mate, although I think these two are slightly older.

Firstly, “Can Bjorn come out to play?”

Then buying sweets from the corner shop with what little pocket money you have; maybe sharing or swapping some. Ludicrously unsubstantiated gossip spread in the playground (“How do you know?” “Heard it from someone.”). Territorial teenagers forbidding you passage down an alley, then telling you a sex-joke you don’t understand: of course they look like impossibly old, wizened men to you! Fumbling the ball in gym class, the ball being passed by a girl you maybe fancied; spying her in the park later on, then hiding, embarrassed. Asking your friend if they think she is pretty – he’s not sure, either; he has no terms of reference – agreeing instead on who was the best-ever artist on Batman! Now that’s Terra Firma!

 

 

Perhaps you created a secret society with a dedicated den? We did! You’d have to pass some sort of initiation test to join in. Then members would have to learn code words etcetera in order to gain access to the shack! It was idyllic: just the two of you, always together, even whenever apart!

Part Two is otherwise.

***

The second offering is ‘Sshhhh!’, a completely different beast but one that more recent Jason fans will find far more familiar: surreal, absurd, funny and ridiculous, but equally imaginative in different ways. Nothing is predictable, anything can happen.

 

 

 

For a start there are nine silent chapters of varying length, during each of which the same man leads his parallel love lives in differing directions, is the object of affection / rejection or, in at least one instance, has multiple walk-on parts in another woman’s love life. Sometimes with a gun; or a fist; or simply as a desperate daydream at the very last minute – basically, she wishes she’d gone with him, not the hunk. They aren’t contiguous chapters, is what I’m trying to say: the story reboots after each, but it will end, more or less, where it began.

 

 

In the first, a man plays a flute, busking for money. He earns a single coin, tossing it from thumb to palm: life is a game of chance? He spends it on a hot dog which he eats on a park bench before retiring alone to his nest. (Note: this is the only instance that I can recall in which any of Jason’s anthropomorphic birds spend any time in a nest – they live in houses. I don’t think this implies homelessness. Given how the whole of ‘Sshhhh!’ ends, I reckon it represents freedom from the daily grind and romantic rat race. But I am obtuse, so do please forgive if I’m wrong. All interpretations are surely valid.)

 

 

Anyway, he sure is lonely and after a snooze he spies several other occupants of the park being romantically involved. He retires mournfully to the park bridge, alone, and drops a stone idly into the water. SPLASH! And a woman appears right beside him. They look meaningfully into each others’ eyes as a vulture looks down on them through a telescope from an old castle turret…

Their romance blossoms, but a nest seems not enough, so they rent a flat. He attends a job interview to pay for the flat and their groceries. He begins sorting mail, she begins buying groceries. Nice little visual reflection of each others’ cubby holes, there.

I’d remind you that all this is silent: Jason is extraordinarily communicative as well as economical in his storytelling.

Anyway, shit happens (thanks, vulture) and you fear for their future, but both you and they are given a most unexpected reprieve. After which, obviously, shit happens.

The man stands mournfully at the park bridge, alone, and drops a stone into the water – this time hopefully, in remembrance of what happened before. SPLASH!

Nothing happens, except that the autumnal leaves are blown from the trees.

So that’s chapter one.

In chapter two the same bloke is pursued by a skeleton.

 

 

You immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s the impassive shadow of death, stalking him at the bus stop, following him onto the bus, thence relentlessly home. He tries to outrun it on several occasions, but surely you can’t escape death? Haha! Actually, this too is a courtship. They end up in bed together. Death brings him breakfast in bed. Together they do the dishes, watch TV and they take turns in the toilet.

I’m not going to spoil it for you, for the climax is almost as laugh-out-loud funny as the aftermath. But pity poor Death! Hey, you have to move on…

There are seven more chapters.

***

So to ‘The Iron Wagon’, this time an adaptation of a 1909 Norwegian prose murder mystery unless Jason is having us on. One never quite knows.

 

 

It’s ever so clever, but I’ve lost my notes and am well past my deadline tonight.

Particularly sly is the sound-effect lettering when you first hear The Iron Wagon pass by. You don’t see The Iron Wagon: it’s a superstitious local legend, intimating that something awful is about to occur.

Something awful occurs.

But the second time you read this through after the final reveal, and look at the lettering again, you will smack your forehead in hindsight.

Please drink a bottle of Bourbon and so forget that you ever read this.

I certainly won’t remember writing it.

SLH

Buy What I Did h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kabul Disco vol 1: How I Managed Not To Get Abducted In Afghanistan (£14-99, Humanoids) by Nicolas Wild.

“Are you an alcoholic, Mr Wild?
“If not, you soon will be.”

Guy Delisle fans of the overseas absurd are going to lap this up! It’s an autobiographical scream from start to finish.

And I do mean finish, for on his bizarrely circuitous way back to France – having managed to not get abducted in Afghanistan – Nicolas Wild stops off in Dubai, then Moscow where he discovers a souvenir shop selling Soviet propaganda posters from the 1930s.

“How much for the ‘Death To Capitalism’ poster?”
“350 roubles.”
“Can I pay in dollars?”
“Of course.”

Indeed Guy Delisle was so enamoured that he wrote its introduction. It’s pretty effervescent.

Coming from the critically acclaimed creator of the similarly wit-ridden travelogues PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, BURMA CHRONICLES, JERUSALEM (as well as HOSTAGE), that is the most massive endorsement, and I’d also recommend this heartily to those who’ve enjoyed Riad Sattouf’s ARAB OF THE FUTURE VOL 1 and VOL 2 and Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim’s POPPIES OF IRAQ, all of which manage to incorporate warm-hearted humour while they explore the customs of their countries of origin or migration.

 

 

The sly difference is that Wild goes one comedic step further to mess with our minds with a few minor, mischievous embellishments. That they’re embellishments will be clear either during or immediately after their deployment, but each serves to make exceptional salient, satirical points to make you stop and think. Otherwise, all of this happened, and I love to learn loads from first-hand accounts which humanise and bring much closer to home what can otherwise seem like overly distant struggles being endured by others a long way away when, jeepers, we’re all human beings and every life matters.

As the comic kicks off, it’s early 2005 and Nicolas Wild has been crashing at the flat of fellow French cartoonist Boulet (NOTES: BORN TO BE A LARVE) without paying any rent or bills. The rent and bills become due. Wild is without money or inspiration (or, impending: a home) when what should pop into his in-box but an email offering him a full-paid job and a pad… in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan in 2005 wasn’t the safest place in the world: they were still in the process of building their own army after their most recent war.

 

 

The gig is a couple of months’ contract with a private communications agency called Zendagui Media founded by two French folk, chain-smoking Valentin and perpetually skiing Edouard, who are in equal measures charming, disarming and infuriating; and Diego, an extreme adventurer from Argentina:

“That table is the graphic design department. We’ll clear some space for your laptop… That’s Quentin’s desk – the logistics department. The Civic Educational Theatre Department,” says Valentin, gesturing right. “And that desk’s the radio studio.”
“So which drawer’s the toilet in?”

Nicolas is introduced to Tristan, the grumpy guy he’ll be joining along with Harun in creating a series of comics to educate the country’s population on its most recent Constitution and therefore their human rights. One of those rights is to a free education rather than illegally enforced child labour, but since 80% of Afghanistan’s population is effectively illiterate, they wouldn’t be able to read those rights and thereby acquire that education without comics. The medium of silent comics is an international language so perfect for this project. (See also: passenger airplanes’ laminated safety instruction cards and Ikea’s self-assembly range of Mission Impossibles.)

They have six weeks to create these comics from scratch, so no time to leave the office to make preparatory sketches. Edouard lends them his external hard drive full of photo references instead, but mostly they’re of him holidaying in Bamiyan, Salang and Wardak Province etc.

“I bet sending this hard drive to France would’ve cost less than flying us out to Kabul.”
“Dubai looks cool!”

 

 

Over the course of a nine-panel page Tristan explains to Nicolas and Harun another shortcut they can use via a graphics tablet:

“We’ll only draw each character three times: full-face, profile and three-quarter views. Then we can copy / paste them as much as we like.”
“Aren’t you afraid it’ll be obviously fake?”
“Nah. We’ll be clever, by flipping the image horizontally, for example.”
“That’s smart.”
“Or we can throw in a detail from time to time, to cover our tracks. Like hats for example…”

It was only when Tristan thinks, on the final panel, “I’ve got a cramp in my finger” that I realised he’d been pointing at the computer screen all the time; that he, Nicolas and Harun had been drawn in full-face, profile and three-quarter views from the start; that they had been copied and pasted throughout; that the image had indeed been flipped horizontally in one panel and – oh look – they’re now wearing hats!

They might just get away with it.

 

 

The Afghan Constitution is a pretty hefty tome and Tristan advises Nicolas to read it on his first night back at the guest house shared by all of Zendagui’s English-speaking expats. (“So what architectural style is this?” “Dunno. Soviet Swiss Chalet?”) They only get electricity every other day, the pipes have burst from the cold, and Nicolas’s bedroom is heated by a Bokhâri stove. It’s neither lit nor fuelled and there is an exquisite sequence, when the temperature drops to -15 degrees Celsius, as Nicolas searches his suitcase for some flammable paper, finds none, then spots the Afghan Constitution, glances as the stove, then eyes the Afghan Constitution again, desperately.

He should probably have got the guard to light it, using Kerosene.

Zendagui has 4 guards, 3 drivers, 2 cleaning ladies and 2 very enthusiastic cooks. For some reason there’s a boot and a spider in the fridge. Nicolas wakes up and takes to the terrace, wrapped in a blanket. There’s the melodious sound emanating from a mosque of Muslims being called to prayer… followed by the beating blades of five military helicopters.

“Goooooood morning, Afghanistan!!!”

 

 

Later you’re treated to a day in the life of a street in Kabul:

Early a.m. is for the herding of goats, holding up traffic.

Midday means buses and kids flying kites.

By mid-afternoon it is overrun by gun-mounted, armoured jeeps.

There are some seriously beautiful buildings on offer, but on the whole Wild’s cartooning is flamboyantly fun, some of the eyes reminding me of Simone Lia’s until a single page, after Zendagui’s communication skills have been commandeered to help the Afghan government recruit civilians for its army, and Nicolas is taking photos of men of all ages in training.

“Poor guys. To think that some of them will be sent to the front to fight the Taliban…”

The style shifts abruptly, haltingly into fully fledged, highly individualistic portraits, the last one looking quite young and more than a little worried.

Later it transpires that some of their claims, the lures being used on their recruitment posters, aren’t entirely true: wages aren’t being paid on time or in full for a start…

So equally my own claim that this was “an autobiographical scream from start to finish” isn’t entirely true, either, especially when one Clementina Cantoni, working for the Care International NGO helping Afghan widows to reintegrate into society, is kidnapped. Then a very sobering curtain comes down and a curfew is imposed as Nicolas Wild and his co-workers begin praying she is freed, start contributing to that campaign, and hope that they are not next. Diego announces that the company has gone to Security Level 2.

Wild provides a diagram (which I am about to translate for you!):

 

 

“Security Level 1
“Afghanistan’s a cool place. You can even go out in the streets to buy cigarettes.

“Security Level 2
“Yikes, the situation in the country’s kinda rough. I’d be better off staying at home and the sending the guard for cigarettes.

“Security Level 3
“We all stay at home and pray to God that nobody’s touched the Level 3 cigarette supply. The worse thing about all this is that, the higher the Security Level, the less you want to quit smoking.

“Security Level 4
“In theory, you should already have been repatriated to France. The tobacco shop was probably bombed anyway, and the guard’s been temporarily laid off.”

Sometimes you have to find your comedy where you can.

Things I learned:

Azerbaijan actually exists. Until now I had presumed it was merely an imagined Eddie Izzard punch-line. Apparently Timbuktu is real as well. My geography is appalling.

Azerbaijan seems almost identical to Bratislava, of which I have first-hand knowledge, in that its suburbs remain semi-Soviet and its population abrasive bordering on hostile.

 

 

Wild gets stuck there for a whole week while waiting for Kabul’s airport to be cleared of snow. So that’s something else I learned: Afghanistan is not perpetually arid. There is seasonal snow, and it globs gloriously across the page so that you can almost reach out and touch it. One woman wears ear muffs over her hijab. Why would you not?

Cell phones are a ubiquitous annoyance wherever you go, and your friends’ will go off at the precise moment you need to ask them an urgent question the most, possibly after you’ve just asked it.

The Afghan Constitution had a lot of less liberal predecessors. Its writers / rulers from 1964 are paraded in front of you in a history of revolving-door revenge and reprisal very similar to POPPIES OF IRAQ’s.

Religious self-flagellation is alive and well. Related: Muslims take and commemorate their Prophet’s suffering a lot more seriously and with a lot more sympathy than most Christians do theirs at Easter. It’s a long time since we carried wooden crosses down the street, but it’s not that many years since my last Easter Egg Hunt.

 

 

According to the Persian calendar, 2005 was actually the year 1483. This explains which the internet never worked in Afghanistan. Chairs are a lot less common there, making room for more floor space.

I already knew of the self-defeating stupidity surrounding America’s arming of various, successive opposing factions, but if you didn’t, it’s here, along with the astonishingly absurd way Afghan voting slips attempt to sell various candidates to a population, 80% of whom wouldn’t be able to identify them by name. You’ll have to buy the book.

Lastly, I learned how to surprise a “SUR-PRISE!!!” party. I hope one day to use it myself: that’s worth the price of admission alone.

SLH

Buy Kabul Disco vol 1: How I Managed Not To Get Abducted In Afghanistan and read the Page 45 review here

Redlands vol 1: Sisters By Blood (£8-99, Image) by Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa Del Rey.

In which a serial killer seeks to expose the truth.

This book is going to surprise you – and in so many ways.

Like INFIDEL, it is a terrifying ordeal which fuses the occult with real-world horrors like racism and, here, misogyny: the treatment of women as witches and bitches and cattle; to be burned, slaughtered, used and abused for sexual gratification, or as part of a serial killer’s pretentious art project. Okay, there may be another motive there too, but only “too” not “instead”.

“This is serious, Bridget. This weirdo can ruin us. He’s making a scene and we haven’t caught him yet. Why aren’t you annoyed about this? I’m annoyed about this. Be more annoyed about this.”
“You’re annoying me right now, does that count?”

 

 

Firstly, there is that deft dialogue, reprised a dozen or so pages later when the present-day Redlands-ruling trio of Roo, Alice and Bridget are called out to witness the attention-seeking murderer’s latest nasty little tableau of three dead, naked women on display, chosen to resemble each of them in turn.

“Alright, I’m annoyed now.”
“Welcome to the party.”

Secondly, do you suspect there is something that I haven’t told you? There is plenty that I haven’t told you. You should probably be getting used to that: I want to intrigue you to buy.

 

 

Although, here’s a hint: “This is serious, Bridget. This weirdo can ruin us.” Not, you will note, “This is serious, Bridget. All these women are being murdered.” (“On our watch,” optional.)

The opening chapter is set in Redlands, Florida, forty years earlier, at night.

 

 

It blasts like a furnace roaring into your face as a local police precinct, heavily manned, lies under siege from three women (unseen), while outside the base of a sizeable tree has begun to burn. The red-neck sheriff and his deputy son are bullish but already on the defensive. They all have shotguns. They also have a crowded jail down below full of we-don’t-like-your-sorts-around-here”. Their public lynching has apparently gone a little awry. Awwwwww.

 

 

What occurs next is vicious, startling and ever so cathartic if you happen to dislike bigots and bullies.

Del Ray keeps the multiple manipulations and subsequent, sleight-of-hand interventions swift, dramatic and emphatically out-of-the-blue, while Bellaire ensures that justice proves ever so poetic.

And Redlands is burned to the ground.

 

 

Forty years on, chapter two sees those same three women in charge of a Redlands rebuilt from its foundations up. But “in charge” in what capacity, exactly…? And why are they less concerned with the evisceration of women than they are of their own hegemony? When the dead ladies’ corpses are counted, DNA-sampled and found to be delinquents with no surviving family, they are relieved.

“It is good news, Alice. At least we don’t need to bother with concerned parents, notably the worst human creatures God could have created.”

It’s a surprising priority for law-enforcement ladies. But then they’re not really law enforcement.

 

 

Other surprises include that the main mysteries and histories and even alliances are not going to be what you will at first suspect. This is no linear, A to B to C tale at all. I promise you startling developments, abrupt forks in the road, diversions aplenty, sub-plots galore, and even more fire before we’re finished!

The first chapter’s colours are all old wood and fire, except for the cage below which is the sort of putrescent, dysentery green you might associate with equally crowded, below-decks slave holds. There’s lots of lovely red in chapter two (roses, sacrificial blood, that sort of thing), while Miami at night is all kinds of lurid, clashing neon, inside and out.

 

 

Del Ray’s figures are fulsome and wholesome, except when they’re dead. Actually there are loads of different body forms but I liked that line, so it stays. She does emaciated very well too, but I liked the sense of weight, especially when being lifted, naked, from a deck, then dangled above a dozen leathery alligators lurking in the river. Don’t try that at home.

The clothes are heavily creased – I don’t iron, either – and largely loose as you’d expect at those temperatures, and there’s a grainy feel throughout, with lots of texture lines providing additional perspective and depth, or in Roo’s case, a sense of great age in spite of her tight skin and clear complexion.

 

 

She has long, spindly, claw-like hands and a daughter called Itsy who’s… (Don’t spoil the surprise, Stephen.)

But honestly, the dialogue:

“Why do I have to go? High school kids never stop talking. It’s the worst.”
“We do not choose our abilities, Alice. They choose us. Perhaps you enjoy listening to others – ”
“Stop talking.”

SLH

Buy Redlands vol 1: Sisters By Blood and read the Page 45 review here

Isola #1 (£3-25, Image) by Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl & Karl Keschl with Michele Assarasakorn.

The cat and the captain have a long way to travel.

Stealthily they prowl across wetlands, through meadow valleys lush with summer-green trees, and over buzzing forest floors which prickle with humidity during daylight, then fall to dark, dank and dangerous at night.

The fabled island of Isola lies far, far away and, they say, is surrounded by vast stretches of water. It is also said that the souls of the dead reside there. But no one knows if it actually exists.

The cat and the captain have a long way to travel, without any guarantee that they’ll ever get there.

That’s one of the reasons. There are so many more.

This first issue opens on a night of natural indigo, high up on a mountain range commanding spectacular views which are obliterated by sheets of driving rain.

 

 

The soldier sits guard outside the tarpaulin tent in a Moebius hat, fur-trimmed cloak, leather boots and leggings. Her lance-like spear is struck, up-ended and so ready in the ground. Under the tarpaulin sleeps the adult tiger, but its rump and tail stick out the back, so the loyal soldier shelters its hind with her shawl.

A ssssss-ssssssound from one side attracts her attention, luring the Captain from her vigil. Repeated, she falls for its call, cautiously following it, bent-over under gnarled, twisted tree-trunks which look more like roots rising from the craggy terrain. And there sits a fox with eyes glowing gold, perched upon what…? A stone seat upon a stone pole? There are others. Did they once house a feral parliament or perhaps a raised rail?

 

 

She follows the fox down into a major brook and the colours shift subtly, introducing more than a hint of lambent green. And there lies her charge: the tiger, shot dead on the river-bank with a flash-flurry of arrows.

“No! No! This is all my fault!”

“Yyyyyyessssss” the sound seems to say, backwards, upside down.

“I’ll kill you for this! You hear me?”

Then the tiger disappears… The arrows disappear… And she’s left standing  all alone in the water.

Hello! How are you doing? This is terrific!

Don’t worry, come morning, the big cat rises from the tent and braces itself against itself, stretching its back/spine and sinews under the more golden glow of an early dawn.

 

 

It leaps up the rocks to gain the best vantage point and take in the lie – and so lay – of the land. But it looks back. Back to an island from whose distant, highest peak rises a dark plume of dense, ugly smoke in front of the breath-taking aurora.

And it laments.

It doesn’t speak – this creature cannot speak – but it laments. It’s all evident in its ever so suggestive but underplayed body language.

 

 

Time and again, I’ve written about artist Sean Phillips as an exceptional character actor (most recently in KILL OR BE KILLED and THE FADE OUT reviews), and that’s what our best comicbook artists are. Karl Keschl does the same here for the feline, and it is done with quiet and controlled dignity but also decisiveness as befits the tiger’s true nature.

Like me, you too will be bursting with delirious conjecture yourselves. That’s exactly how it should be. This is both exquisitely beautiful and so supremely well judged, not least for throwing you in half-way through chapter two without a clue as to what has transpired so far. You are now embarked – and so invested – with the captain and the cat on their journey.

Neat trick #1: I love the luminous glow of the tiger’s inverse stripes once the sun hits their spots. But only then, for the lighting and shadow do so much to illuminate the big cat’s muscular form. There is a degree of tranquillity and calm which others would have jettisoned in favour of spectacle and show.

 

 

Neat trick #2: they’re a party of two, but only one of them can speak. This is pretty brave storytelling, and it is impressively successful. The Captain can only infer from the cat’s cool, calm but occasionally halting stares and glares, how she / he / it is reacting to what’s thrust against them. Nor can the captain know for sure that what she suggests is fully understood, though I think it is.

You will encounter others on your way, for they will encounter others on their way.

But you just know that they can never go home.

SLH

Buy Isola #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Goat Getters h/c (£44-99, IDW) by Eddie Campbell.

 

This is enormous and I am such a slow reader that I cannot possibly do more than present you with the publisher blurb. I just can’t. It would take me over a month to read this anyway, which would leave you four weeks with no reviews.

If you want to know how highly I rate Eddie Campbell, please read my review of BIZARRE ROMANCE created with  Audrey Niffenegger (it’s only my book of the year), the ALEC OMNIBUS (I’ve only proclaimed it the greatest body of work ever in comics), BACCHUS (Lord, I wrote loads), FROM HELL, FROM HELL COMPANION, THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, THE PLAYWRIGHT, all of which I’ve reviewed so this time you’ll simply have to excuse me.

It’s going to be a wealth of wit and a treasure trove of wonders.

“With more than 500 period cartoons, THE GOAT GETTERS illustrates how comics were developed by such luminaries as Rube Goldberg, Tad Dorgan, and George Herriman in the sports and lurid crime pages of the daily newspaper. This wild bunch of West Coast-based cartoonists established the dynamic anatomy and bold, tough style that continue to influence comics today, as well as their own goofy slang that enriched the popular lexicon. The Goats Getters also captures early twentieth century-history through the lens of the newspaper comics: the landmark 1910 boxing match in Reno, Nevada between Jim Jeffries, the ‘Great White Hope,’ and Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion; the nationwide race riots that followed; the San Francisco graft trials that culminated in the shooting of the Federal Prosecutor; and the trial of Harry Thaw for the murder of architect Stanford White, a crime of passion that centered on Thaw’s wife, show-girl Evelyn Nesbitt Thaw-all were venerated or vilified by Nell Brinkley, Jimmy Swinnerton, and their fellow directors of the ink and newsprint stage.”

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Art Of Edena h/c (£31-99, Dark Horse) by Moebius

Lazarus: X Plus 66 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka, Eric Trautman, various & Steve Lieber, Michael Lark, various

Family Trade vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image  ) by Justin Jordan, Nikki Ryan & Morgan Beem

Ismyre (£8-99, Avery Hill) by B. Mure

They Didn’t Teach This In Worm School (£8-99, Walker Books) by Simone Lia

BPRD Devil You Know vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Laurence Campbell, Dave Stewart

Aliens Predator Prometheus AVP: Fire And Stone (£22-99, Dark Horse  ) by Chris Roberson, Kelly Sue Deconnick & Paul Tobin

Attack On Titan vol 24 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Battle Angel Alita vol 3 Deluxe Edition h/c (£25-00, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Deadpool vs Old Man Logan s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Declan Shalvey & Mike Henderson, Declan Shalvey

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 5: Lost In The Plot s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Irene Strychalsk, Gurihiru

Spider-Man Deadpool vol 5: Arms Race s/c (£15-99, Marvel  ) by Robbie Thompson & Chris Bachalo, Scott Hepburn

Superman vol 5: Hope And Fears s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, various & Scott Godlewski, various

Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman Deluxe H/C (£24-99, DC) by Jerry Siegel, various & Joe Shuster, various

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week one

April 4th, 2018

Featuring Amélie Fléchais, Jonathan Garnier, Dave Shelton, Anna Haifisch, Dupuy & Berberian, John Allison, Ryan Heshka, Giffen, Abnett, Lanning, Mitch Breitweiser, more

The Lost Path h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge Cub House) by Amélie Fléchais, Jonathan Garnier & Amélie Fléchais.

“It is said that far from the world of man, lies a cruel and mysterious forest. It lures in lost travellers with the promise of safety, only to devour them for all eternity.”

We begin with a brief, animistic fable of a man and a woman who were indeed so enchanted, and discovered within the forest a majestic mansion which they decided to make their home. But dancing, singing shadows soon plagued the woman while “the roots played sinister melodies”. This divided the couple, for only the woman perceived the threat, and she was so terrified that she panicked and ran, to be swallowed whole by a “deep and thorny ravine”. Too late, the husband woke up to the reality of his situation and “collapsed, filled with guilt, and withered away at the centre of their home, unwilling to forget her.”

 

 

On the page, his hair becomes threaded with leafy shoots, sprouting from his skull, which break through the roof into branches, while below his feet sink deep into water, toes spreading down as roots in the soil.

“The trap had closed around them, like it had done to so many others. Their bodies were swallowed, their memories digested, and their identities consumed.”

Three boys have set out on a treasure hunt!

They wend their way across a mountain range’s meandering path, striding out east!

 

 

If you check the elaborate, ornate end-paper map, it might suggest to you that they should be heading north. You’ll quickly discover that you can follow their circuitous progress into the forest which promises the most extraordinary encounters ahead. Yup, those early broken branches are there, then all manner of strange birds and beasts.

Their leader is bursting with confidence! To be honest, he is bursting with a boastful confidence about his ability to navigate, eyes closed with self-satisfied pride. His superior route, his most ingenious shortcut, will have them safely back at the camp hours before anyone else!

His thick-hatted companion thinks their leader thick-headed, and is more than a little sceptical about his plotted course.

The third member of their party is the leader’s small, younger brother. He’s gaily jumping and thumping about, oblivious to everything, lost in a world of his own. He likes to make beeping-booping sounds. When you’re five, you can be a robot whenever you like.

Golly, how I love the leader’s intense eyes, fiercely studying his map, cheeks flushed with determination. He kind of reminds me of Philippa Rice’s portraits of Luke Pearson in SOPPY. That works so well in black and white, while in full colour the high-altitude track is satisfyingly smooth and flat in contrast to the sheer drops on both sides, as well as the trees which gradually begin to bloom then loom over them, their branches spreading like multi-coloured coral fronds.

 

 

I don’t know why – unlike Fléchais’ THE LITTLE RED WOLF – half of this is in colour, and half in rugged black and white, or why specific pages haven been chosen for the full-colour treatment. People have thought themselves into suppositional knots over Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’, but personally I liked the suggestion that Anderson simply ran out of colour film. My guess in this instance is that Fléchais had some much fun with the forms and textures in black and white, while the full-colour flourishes are reserved for fantastical emphasis, as when the lads discover the corpse of a fallen stag in their path, wearing a bowler hat.

Some things should be left well alone.

 

 

Immediately afterwards (again, as foretold on our map), a bipedal fox in a smart white mackintosh introduces himself, apologising for intruding into “this sacred space”, and draws their attention to the trail of his bicycle which appears to have got away from him. The trail looks like a slithering tail and the fox is covered not in fur but the scales of a snake.

Now, how did that fable go?

One of my favourite episodes comes as rain starts to cascade down upon them, and they take shelter under a natural awning.

“What is your weirdo brother doing?”
“He thinks it’s his job as a super robot to hold the roots up.”

When you’re five, you hold up giant roots whenever you like.

It rang such a bell that I’m pretty sure I’ve done this myself.

 

 

You still have much more in store – as do our boys – all of it the stuff of dreams or nightmares as you burrow underground, or meet magical woodland beasties, knowing not which to follow, believe or firmly distance yourself from.

They even happen upon the couple’s now-empty mansion, into which nature has encroached in the form of fungi and branches and little white birds. Judging by the chandelier, the mansion’s on the electricity grid, which is unexpected. Don’t you think the tiled floor is ever so Bill Sienkiewicz? The lighting is too, streaming through the vast windows towering above them.

 

 

SLH

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

 Von Spatz (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anna Haifisch…

“2pm. Penguin service. I hate touching fish.
“One of the penguins wanted me to slap him with a herring.
“Earlier I saw a little yellow leg peeping from under the blanket.
“Is it possible that Spongebob is here?
“If I wasn’t drawing, I would live vicious and would be a danger to society. Thus, I’m drawing.”

Walt Disney is having a nervous breakdown which requires hospitalisation in a mental institution – sorry, recuperating mini-break – at the Von Spatz Rehab Centre, entirely populated by other sensitive, artistic types, such as Tomi Ungerer and Saul Steinberg. Both of whom, I will be perfectly honest, I needed to Google…

 

 

The fact that Walt seems to be imagining himself dispensing a fishy spanking to a penguin probably is the clincher that he’s not quite in his right mind. That he believes he has spied Spongebob Squarepants, hiding away depressed under a duvet, should be the giveaway that this is a not a real biographical chapter in the life of the pioneering animator.

I don’t know exactly what this is. I don’t know why Walt is portrayed with an enormous cowboy hat, either. I like it a lot though.

 

 

Anna Haifisch is definitely not all there, in the best possible tradition of celebrated comics obscurants like Michael STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO DeForge and George GHOSTS, ETC. Wysol. In fact, if you are a fan of their gloriously incongruent, clashing colour palettes and determinedly unreconstructed illustration styles, you will love this work. It’s a real talent to make such unusual artwork seem perfectly normal and flow pleasingly across the eye, before then smashing your synapses to smithereens once lodged in the grey matter.

If your brain, like mine, is so inclined to allow such weirdness in, you will certainly find yourself delighted and perplexed in equal measure as Walt’s struggle to find his way back to normality becomes an increasingly surreal odyssey of testing artistic endeavours such as making a mini-comic and bemused, apathetic self-reflective commentary on his condition.

 

 

I also believe there is a wonderfully solipsistic aspect to the Von Spatz Clinic, if I have understood a certain clue and interpreted the ending correctly. Which I probably haven’t. It’s more likely I’m seeing something that isn’t there, like a pervy penguin, but I think I might be right. In any event, once Walt is sufficiently… recovered… to return to the real world and the Disney studios, is he prepared for what he will find…?

JR

Buy Von Spatz and read the Page 45 review here

It Don’t Come Easy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Dupuy & Berberian…

“What will it take to get Dupuy & Berberian the respect they deserve?” –  Publisher’s Weekly.

A very valid question posed on the rear cover of this most recent collection of Monsieur Jean material which sees a shift away from the whimsical – well okay, whinging – story-telling of his dating disasters into a more serious, yet still frequently very amusing, exploration of his moderately disastrous long-term relationship with Cathy. Yes, believe it or not, Monsieur Jean is finally growing up! Mind you, the back cover does also features the following quote…

“A French version of an early Woody Allen film.” – NPR

Now, obviously, no one particularly wants to hear their name used in conjunction with Woody Allen these days, but it is a very apt analogy. For this work is all about the subtle interactions and emotional interplay between the characters, including inter-generational relationships as Jean finds himself all too frequently playing surrogate dad to his best mate (and mildly degenerate) Felix’s son Eugene, or Freddie Mercury as they persist on calling him, for reasons I never could quite puzzle out.

 

 

This work covers a good few years of Monsieur Jean material as eventually he makes an honest woman of Cathy and they have a daughter Julie, which of course, only serves to introduce a new chaotic element into Jean’s apparently relentlessly stressful life. As contemporary fiction goes, it is extremely well observed, feels completely real and minded me somewhat of Alex Robinson’s most recent work, OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE for its frequently amusing take on the travails of a man fighting the loss of his bachelor lifestyle to the very bitter-sweet end.

 

 

Artistically, fans of Michael Rabagliati’s exceptional fictionalised autobiographical PAUL material really should check this out as this is very much on the same page stylistically. Plus, this is an all-colour work to boot!

 

 

It is exceptional value for money too as the final quarter features a huge selection of what are effectively two-page gag strips, each on a different topic. Some, I suspect, may well be excerpts which didn’t make it into the final script, purely for reasons of smooth editing of the primary storyline. Others are just out and out rib-ticklers. But they certainly make for a very funny set of ‘after the credits’ bonus scenes.

 

 

So, what will it take for Dupuy & Berberian to get the respect they deserve? Well, I’ve done my bit with this review. Now you need to do your bit by parting with your hard-earned cash!

JR

Buy It Don’t Come Easy and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Case – An Emily Lime Mystery h/c (£10-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton.

“You survived your first day?”
“Oh, more or less, yes. The only problem is, I spent so long cleaning in the chemistry lab that I managed to miss dinner.”
“Well, that would explain why you survived.”

You won’t be so lucky come lunchtime, I’m afraid.

You can smell the stench coming off the pages. It hits Daphne “like a brick in a fetid sock” and that’s before what passes for the food has been served! You’re in for a merciless twelve pages of malodorous school dinner, described in such stomach-curdling detail that I strongly suggest you avoid eating immediately before reading chapter twenty-two, certainly not during it, and trust me when I tell you that you won’t want to risk anything for at least two hours afterwards.

As George suggests, it’s been Daphne’s first day at St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls, and that she survived Chemistry was nothing short of a minor miracle. Mrs Klinghoffer is as blind as a bat.

“Mrs Klinghoffer!”
“Yes, yes, child. Do not be worrying. Everything is being quite all right and I am being fine.” Mrs Klinghoffer raised her voice. “But if anyone is finding the fire extinguisher, then can they please be bringing it me so that I can be putting out my hair. Thank you.”

 

The long drive leading up to the school now boasts a substantial crater the size of a bomb blast. George explains:

“Chemistry experiment. Couple of girls messing about with stolen supplies. Mr. Klinghoffer was furious.”
“I’m not surprised! Were they all right?”
“Dunno. Nobody saw where they landed.”

George has a lot of explaining to do about St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls – not least, why he’s the only boy there. He doesn’t, nor does the author, which is exactly as it should be: far funnier to leave the oddity in this anarchic asylum for barely contained idiocy alone. It’s a private boarding school, by the way, during a time when trains still ran on steam, had porters to help you on board, and conductors with the power to throw you off – while in motion, apparently.

 

 

From the creator of the wonderful prose whimsy A BOY AND A BEAR IN A BOAT and the far more fearful THIRTEEN CHAIRS and the ridiculous graphic novel GOOD DOG, BAD DOG: DOUBLE IDENTITY (all in stock and reviewed) comes this very first ‘Emily Lime Mystery’. They’re all aimed at readers aged a few years either side of 11, but I’m the proud adult owner of both books of illustrated prose which we rack alongside all things Reeve & McIntyre, Gary Northfield’s JULIUS ZEBRA and Simone Lia’s THEY DIDN’T TEACH THIS AT WORM SCHOOL.

Whether or not it first appears so, every single scene here lies in service to the story – to the mystery itself – while other individual elements which you may initially imagine merely mined for their comedy gold will prove pivotal either to the unravelling of the crime or the unravelling of those caught in it. There is absolutely no fatty tissue (except served as meat), you won’t be subjected to every cross-country run, nor will you be sitting through every lesson. You’ll be out of your seat quite quickly during chemistry, either voluntarily or vertically propelled.

The only hours that may prove pointless are during detention. But then they usually are, aren’t they? Detention will be in Room 101, by the way, and at 4am. You’ve got to put some serious effort into being detained at 4am.

What’s so brilliant about this as an introductory case is that it’s a running comedic contrast between the naive and the new, so not knowing what to expect (us as readers, stumbling several miles in poor, bewildered Daphne’s shoes) and the blithely inured (George and Emily Lime). It’s all quite quotidian to them.

 

 

It seems we’re back in the dining hall. Do hold your breath.

“The younger girls were relatively subdued: loud and unruly, but mostly remaining seated and only occasionally indulging in petty acts of violence. The older girls, though, were wild. There were a number of minor food fights going on, one major fight with no food involved, and an improvised game of hockey using a bread roll as the ball. A chorus line of four sixth formers were dancing raucously on top of one table, which was annoying the girls trying to play poker beneath it.”

The very last thing you would want is to meet these miscreants on caffeine. You will, but you won’t want to again.

Every student and teacher seems on steroids. One of them is a nun who talks like a gangster. (She’s may well be a gangster.) Even Matron’s a force to be reckoned with. Actually, all school matrons are a force to be reckoned with.

“[She] possessed no shred of medical knowledge, training, or indeed sympathy, compassion or humanity. One of the less fanciful rumours about Matron was that she had only come to St Rita’s after her international wrestling career had come to a controversial end following the death of (depending on which version of the story you heard) an opponent, a referee or both. Certainly the force of her slap gave George no reason to disbelieve any of these theories.”

She has the touch. I’m not sure it’s a healing touch, but you certainly feel it.

“See?” said Matron to Emily Lime. “I told you he’d be fine. I am proper good at my job, you know. When I make someone better well, they stay well. Do you know, I don’t think I’ve ever treated the same girl twice.”

As well as his immaculate comedy timing, (“The bus was old, dirty and noisy; the seats were old, dirty and uncomfortable; the driver was old, dirty and terrible at driving.”) I love Shelton’s descriptive playfulness. George’s hair is “enthusiastically berserk”, head girl Cynthia click-clacks in “important-sounding shoes” and Emily Lime’s face “seemed to be built from twitches”.

There are also plenty of linguistic flourishes (“An expanse of cloud blocked out the moon and the darkness deepened and bloomed…”) and a theatre to it all which is so infectious that I defy you not to want to act this out to yourself:

“Yes. You know: accounts. Money and arithmetic. Numbers and so on.” She pronounced the word numbers with a mixture of bafflement and disgust.

I tried ‘numbers’ with disgust my first time round, then added ‘bafflement’. Brilliant!

 

 

That’s the semi-titular Emily Lime herself (never just ‘Emily’, but ‘Emily Lime’), ultra-studious, ultra-serious, hardcore Assistant Librarian. Aged 13 or something. She’s just peevishly (and unnecessarily) interviewed our Daphne and now reluctantly offers her a contact. This is what I mean about comedic timing:

“What’s this for?” said Daphne.
“Standard Assistant Assistant Librarian’s contract. Absolutely normal procedure. Just sign it. I haven’t got all day.”
“But it’s blank.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Well, yes. It is.”
“No, it’s not. There’s a dotted line. See? There.”
“Well, yes, I can see there’s a dotted line. But there’s nothing else.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll put the rest in later.”
“That,” said Daphne, “doesn’t sound right.”
“It’s fine. Trust me. Or don’t trust me and sign it anyway, I don’t care. And once you’ve signed, you get a badge. Two, in fact.”

Daphne considered this for a moment. She did like badges.

All of this is, as I’ve said, spun around a central mystery whose thread is sewn through each and every scene, whether you can see its narrative needle in action your first time through or not.

Daphne Blakeway has been offered a scholarship to St. Rita’s School for Spirited Girls. Which is a bit odd, since she didn’t even apply. Also, Daphne’s just been expelled from her own, local school because of an “incident”.  No matter, the school’s librarian, Mrs Crump, believes that Daphne has qualities which may be of benefit St Rita’s.

So Daphne, although reluctant to leave home, sets off solo by train. But on the very first page the station’s porter passes her a book called ‘Scarlet Fury: A Smeeton Westerby Mystery’ by J. H. Buchanan’ which was handed to him by an unseen, older lady who was apparently en route to St. Rita’s herself, but thought Daphne could save her the bother. This is also a bit odd, because Daphne wasn’t wearing an A-sign saying “I am en route to St. Rita’s”. Perhaps it was her school uniform that gave this away… worn on the opposite side of the country.

On arrival, Daphne discovers that St Rita’s is severely dilapidated in the way that most fee-paying schools actually were back then, has the cheapest and most foul cuisine, lesson attendance on a voluntary basis, and a remarkably lackadaisical attitude towards Health & Safety.

What it does boast, however, is an extraordinarily vast library. Or at least, it boasts an extraordinarily vast array of library bookshelves, largely empty on account of most of the books having been burnt to a crisp during a recent fire, except for an almost complete run of ‘Smeeton Westerby Mysteries’.  Only Daphne’s recently acquired copy is missing from that collection.

What. Even.

Things have already occurred. More events will take place. And they will do so in a thunderous, five-thousand-mile-an-hour stampede which will make you wonder how you could possibly read 300+ pages of addictive, so very satisfying Young Adult prose in fewer than five hours.

SLH

Buy The Book Case – An Emily Lime Mystery h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One s/c (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison.

 

New, small-hands edition! Yup, BAD MACHINERY is perfectly suitable for all ages!

It’s bought mainly by adults, mind.

“Is he your boyfriend now? Because pet food isn’t the only aisle in the supermarket.”

Some comedies are cleverer than others, and there are few out there who can spring from one sentence to another with such nimble dexterity as the UK’s John Allison who eschews the obvious cheap barb in favour of an unexpected epigram for life.

Allison is ever so good at observing and understanding the unspoken rules of school and young-teenage codes of practice over the last couple of decades. Then he’s ever so clever at transplanting them.

 

When new boy Lem arrives at the school gates, the girls hold back from tainting him with their company for fear that he’d be rejected by the boys, just as a fledgling bird might be rejected by its mother if handled too closely by humans.

“He’s wandering off.”
“He seeks the company of his own kind.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t have spoken to him?”
“No! We’d have put the stink of girls on him. The boys would have rejected him. Pecked him to bits.”

He’s also very good at remembering our priorities, like Little Claire’s horror at the school-wide one-ply toilet-tissue travesty!

On top of all that John gives voice to our wider silliness at any age when sizing someone up at a glance. Parents are particularly funny, aren’t they?

“He was very polite on the phone. Sounded very handsome.”

It’s a brand-new school year at Griswalds Grammar in the town of Tackleford and our six young sleuths are in gleeful form. Together Shauna, Lottie, Mildred, Jack, Linton and Sonny are a force to be reckoned with, but almost immediately the most exuberant of them all, Lottie, is separated from the group.

 

 

First, she simply doodled over the memo she was supposed to sign to join the others in Latin class and so finds herself sitting instead next to Little Claire whose “lithp” makes her sound like a bothersome wasp.

Secondly, she’s the first to fall for the charms of that peculiar new boy Lem who doesn’t appear to others to have any charm at all: he eats onions and only onions all day! Yet one by one the mystery-fixated group comes to the improbable conclusion that “He’s a right laugh once you get to know him”. Then their breath starts to smell weird.

“I’ve blown up like a dead sheep in a river, Shauna.”
“I told you! Onions are a sometimes food!”

Effectively ostracised from her friends as they start being led by Lem to some very odd games at his onion farm, Shauna finds herself alone and in need of new, unlikely allies like Corky, Blossom and Tuan of the role playing club. Desperate times call for Desperate Measures and Shauna may have bitten off more than she can chew. But at least she’s not gnashing down on onions. Yet.

 

 

As ever, the body language on offer is exquisite, like Tuan gesticulating wildly over Corky, casting a

“Break Enchantment” spell, or one of the brand-new pages (there are always new pages upon printed publication) depicting team captain Linton on the soccer pitch in his pristine white kit, hands on hips as he wiggles the football beneath one boot. Judging by the various other stances, though, I’m not sure that it’s going to be the most coordinated of matches.

Blossom has a face like thunder throughout (“I never really thought of Blossom as a girl. More of an unhappy cloud.”), Lem’s nose is as raw as the onions he’s eating, and when someone shelters under an umbrella one gets a very real sense of huddling and what’s still getting wet.

The comic kicks off late at night and halfway in, as Shauna clack-clacks and huffs-huffs her way hurriedly down an eerie, empty school corridor which echoes like an indoor swimming pool. She turns to face her enemy… and betrayal from within!

 

 

Allison’s comics and comedy are ever so British and each one is self-contained so you can start anywhere you like. BAD MACHINERY VOL 3 which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month is drenched in our national, default meteorological condition (the drains “GLUG GLUG GLUG” in the background here), while his self-published BOBBINS one-shot (another Page 45 CBOTM) was our biggest-selling comic of its year.

Lastly: What’s up with the word ‘lisp’, eh? Why would you invent a word which those who suffer from it find impossible to pronounce? You are monsters, all of you.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Ryan Heshka.

Page 45 has been with us now (At the Time of Typing) for twenty-three years and five months.

I was seven when we opened, obviously.

During that time I have, on average, enthusiastically presented some 50 shop-floor show-and-tells per week. You do the maths.

What happens is this: whenever someone asks for recommendations, if I’ve yet to become intimately acquainted with their taste in comics and memorised their credit card pin number, I ask them what they’ve already enjoyed in this medium or, if new to it, what they’ve adored in prose, television, cinema or interpretive dance. After considering their reply I whoosh round the shop like a seasoned contestant on Supermarket Sweep, snapping up between three and six comics or graphic novels tailored to their specific tastes, then proceed to show and tell them just enough about each to intrigue!

 

Miraculously, this illustration *is* from this book; the rest are not.

 

I know exactly which punchline to pull back on for maximum impact and the immediate induction of such seriously severe withdrawal symptoms that you’d think I’d mainlined them crack cocaine then kicked ‘em through a locked door whose only key lies in the depths of our till.

Did you do the maths…?

I’ve performed this task approximately 60,000 times. I am actually quite good at it, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken out your second mortgage (so sorry about that),”sexy” Jamie McKelvie wouldn’t have continued to read comics long enough to become one of this medium’s most lauded artists and dear Lenny Henry – an infinitely superior performer to me – wouldn’t keep popping back to Page 45 every time he’s on tour.

Yet occasionally the recipient will cut me off, a mere three sentences in, with “No Spoilers, please!”

It’s an entirely understandable worry but a wee bit insulting: I don’t even spoil the first collection of a series when reviewing its fifth! I want to intrigue you to buy, not impress upon you how much I know.

 

I know this much: the art above is from the previous MEAN GIRLS CLUB comic.

 

In the spirit of which, however, (because it just happened to me again today, but hey, he bought the book in question anyway), I present you with a tweaked review of Ryan Heshka’s previous MEAN GIRLS CLUB anarchic away-day (still stocked!) while telling you zilch about this brand-new material.

You make think this lazy. And it is.

But there’s bugger-all interior art online for this book that I could have used to illustrate it with anyway. All bar one image is from the previous pamphlet. So I told you a story instead.

 

Original MEAN GIRLS CLUB, then:

“Lurid, burlesque, groovy and grotesque!

“Meet the vamps of the Mean Girls Club: Wanda, Wendy, Pinkie, Blackie, Sweets and McQualude!

“Hahahaha!

“You’ll only do it once.

“These sisters are most emphatically doing it for themselves: self-examination, self-medication, on-the-spot diagnoses followed by auto-operations and even instant euthanasia, if you define euthanasia as putting someone else out of your misery.

“This is a pill-popping, binge-drinking, hallucinogenic adrenaline rush / overdose with snakes, rats, bats and Venus Flytraps everywhere. Innocence is upended, boutiques are broken into and lingerie scattered all over the road. Guns, clubs, hypodermic needles and, err, dress-up paper dolls.

“Imagine Bettie Page in a rage and you’re pretty much there.”

 

 

Suggested Soundtrack: The Cramps’ entire back catalogue.

If you love The Cramps, you’ll be ravished by this.

I constructed that sentence quite carefully.

SLH

Buy Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Annihilation Book One (£16-99, Marvel) by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mitch Breitweiser, Scott Kolins, Kev Walker, Renato Arlem.

Nova: “Drax?”
Drax: “Yeah?”
Nova: “Any relation to Drax The Destroyer?”
Drax “No. That’s some other guy.”
Cammi: “Taller dude. Much taller.”
Nova: “So, no history of destroying in your past?”

The first collection of Marvel’s decade-old foray into outer space crash-lands on Earth, as Drax The Destroyer escapes from a space prison along with a shape-shifting Skrull and a couple of monstrous purple twins to cause a certain degree of upheaval in small-town Alaska. There Drax undergoes a bit of an evolution after he bumps into Cammi, a young girl with a fine line in pithy put-downs. She ends up accompanying him across the universe which is where the Annihilation saga properly kicks off. Nova himself gets a make-over when his base of operations is wiped out, and cautiously accepts Drax and Cammi as companions.

 

 

Mitch Breitweiser’s contribution to the first chapters (coloured to complementary perfection by Brian Reber) is an equally sturdy but grainy version of PLANETARY’s  John Cassady, and Renato Arlem (coloured with well chose contrasts by June Chung) in no slouch in space, with a terrific sense of scale when the Silvered One surfs over a dirty-brown industrial planet or when the insatiable, drink-‘em-dry Devourer of Worlds comes to call.

 

 

Seriously, Mars Confectionary missed out on quite the trick when they failed to secure Galactus’s endorsement for the Milky Way, which he at least can eat between meals in its entirety without ruining his appetite.

Meanwhile Lanning and Abnett turn Drax’s old reputation into a highly diverting running gag:

Nova: “This is Drax.”
Quasar: “Drax?”
Drax: “Just Drax.”
Nova: “Who may or may not have a past in destroying.”
Quasar: “Didn’t you used to be taller?”
Cammi: “It was a phase. He grew out of it.”

 

 

I’ve not read the rest, sorry, and wrote the skeletal structure of this ten years ago.

It’s always sold very well in the meantime, though!

Reprints DRAX THE DESTROYER #1-4, ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE then ANNIHILATION: NOVA #1-4, ANNIHILATION: SILVER SURFER #1-4 and ANNIHILATION: SUPER-SKRULL #1-4.

SLH

Buy Annihilation vol 1: Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

 

 

The Goat Getters h/c (£44-99, IDW) by Eddie Campbell

From Lone Mountain (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by John Porcellino

Dinosaur Firefighters h/c (£12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Dinosaur Firefighters s/c (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Out In The Open h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Jesus Carrasco & Javi Rey

Head Lopper vol 2: The Crimson Tower (£14-99, Image) by Andrew MacLean

Kabul Disco vol 1: How I Managed Not To Get Abducted In Afghanistan (£14-99, Humanoids) by Nicolas Wild

Kingsman vol 2: Red Diamond s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rob Williams & Simon Fraser

Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore

Paper Girls vol 4 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Redlands vol 1: Sisters By Blood (£8-99, Image) by Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa Del Rey

Six (£22-99, 451 Media Group) by George Pelecanos, Andi Ewington & Mack Chater

Star Wars vol 7: Ashes Of Jedha (£15-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca

Batman: Detective Comics vol 5: A Lonely Place Of Living s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Christopher Sebela & Eddy Barrows, Alvaro Martinez, Eber Ferreira

X-Men: Grand Design (Treasury Edition) s/c (£26-99, Marvel) by Ed Piskor

Devilman Vs. Hades vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai & Team Moon

My Hero Academia vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Princess Mononoke Picture Book h/c (£20-99, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week four

March 28th, 2018

Featuring Dave Cooper, Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin, Lorena Alvarez,  Steve Haines & Sophie Standing, Jeremy Haun, Seth M Peck,  Warren Ellis, John Cassady, Laura Martin, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

Mudbite (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave Cooper.

 

“This is making me feel queasy!” Alternatively: “Oh my god that’s upsetting.”

How we have missed Dave Cooper in comics! There are few in this medium who can make us all squirm in quite such a spectacular, deep-seated fashion. Not for Dave Cooper, the momentary, transgressive gag: this is far more profoundly unsettling, with the visual craft (and specific, lino-cut textures in places) of Jim Woodring.

Cooper knows his nightmares so well. Come to think of it, he knows mine pretty intimately too. Not the specifics, but the patterns and underlying tone: hopelessness, embarrassment, anxiety; attempts to fix things which only exacerbate the situation; frustration, fear and failure. Guilt.

 

 

There are the swift, dream-logic transitions through invisible, intangible doors which will not reopen, so you stray ever further from your intended destination or the path you supposed might keep you on course. Often, there is a clock ticking silently away. Having lost someone or been left behind, you strive to catch up and though you may glimpse them again, fleetingly, perhaps in the distance or in conversation with others, meaningful contact is rarely possible. Elements become icky: I know of at least two other friends who dream of toilets so unbelievably foul that no human being should encounter them.

(I once did, BTW, in a hotel in St. Germaine, Paris, whose inner courtyard had so long lost its glass roof that the wooden stairs leading up to the bedrooms had rotted with rain, taking a couple of the steps clean away and making those that were left feel precarious at best, soggy. The room doors didn’t lock, but the single toilet, the size of a communal shower, was its pièce de résistance, its hole inaccessible by a good few feet, surrounded as it was with – anyway.)

 

 

There are no latrines here: I’m trying to describe the underlying elements of Cooper’s narrative without delivering its details. The two tales aren’t presented as dreamscapes, either – or at least not ‘Bug Bite’ – and that makes what transpires even more unsettling.

In ‘Bug Bite’ glossy-eyed, lower-lip-biting Eddy Table flies to a big city – possibly the Big Apple – with his family: rosy-cheeked wife with her quaint, retro rolled-up hair-do, more contemporary, long-haired and baggy-clothed son Zak, and daughter Nico with platted pigtails. Proudly, they are on parade. Mama:

“It’s so nice to be travelling together as a family.”

 

 

It’s already a strange environment: an industrialised version of those ancient cities in Jordan et al, hewn into rock faces with dark, gaping, glass-less windows, but fashioned in concrete instead. The traffic is mid-20th Century and anthropomorphic. The resolution of the backgrounds is blurred throughout, as if they’re moving through an aquarium or at least not at one with their environment, and the colours are all khaki and matte, while the family’s wide eyes glisten and gleam.

“Everything’s the same, but different!”
“Yeah, like a reflection in a funhouse mirror.”

On cue, buxom Dave Cooper ladies stride and strut through the streets with fulsome thighs and lots of extra wobbly flesh. Already the ideal of the united, unflustered family outing begins to melt away as Eddie’s eyes become engorged, popping then flopping out of his skull to loll about on the pavement like… you know. And it hurts. We as readers wince: with vicarious embarrassment and anxiety, but also the visceral, physical discomfort we can all recall of having grit in our eyes.

 

 

Son Zak attempts to lend a helping hand, to push his dad’s eyes back into their sockets and in so doing becomes innocently complicit, and that’s exactly when a former lady acquaintance called Mimi happens by, while wife and daughter stride on, unsuspectingly.

We have only just begun, but the pattern will be replicated in increasingly anxious and distorted ripples and reflections. I’ve already deployed all the words necessary to describe the most extraordinary, arresting two final panels. So I won’t be using them again.

 

 

The graphic novel’s flipside is ‘Mud River’ and the clock’s ticking faster than the first from get-go as a solitary Eddie hot-foots his way through a more overtly hostile countryside environment towards his only means of escape from the titular, impending threat: his parked car. Did I mention that the vehicles here had been imbued with certain human aspects? His car refuses him entry, its doors steadfastly shut. So Eddie gains access another way.

 

 

 

The familiar and the pliable become other and alien. Its scale askew, the car’s controls lie tantalisingly out of reach and its functions are frustratingly altered. It no longer serves its customarily complied-with purpose, so Eddie hitches a very different ride from the mud-slide. I loved its ornamental prow.

The two tales are separated by twin tableaux apposite to each, populated by multiple Eddies and others roaming free from both anxiety and guilt, with glee. He certainly takes full command of the joysticks. I’m trying to be discreet.

There’s a secondary interstitial layer too, but I’ll leave that to you.

SLH

Buy Mudbite and read the Page 45 review here

Anxiety Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing…

Isn’t it?

It’s also a massive pain in the arse, as anyone who has experienced it can testify, whether it rears its often incapacitating head at its most repetitive and severe, or even on the ad hoc basis which is arguably essential for our survival.

Fortunately Steve Haines and Sophie Standing (PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE and TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE) are back once again to give us the low down on the various, often multifaceted, reasons as to why and how anxiety arises within us, and what we can do to ameliorate the symptoms and even prevent it re-occurring.

The good news is that it’s all perfectly normal: it’s primarily just various physiological responses being over-stimulated. As Steve states, “Do not fall into the trap of thinking anxiety is just in your mind.”

 

 

As to the reasons why this happens? Well, here’s Steve again, “…the causes of anxiety range from gut bacteria to adverse childhood experiences to existential angst. It’s complex!”

 

 

Actually, he details quite a few other reasons over the first few pages and there was one which certainly hit squarely on the head for me…

“Exhaustion and worrying about money can send us into survival mode.”

I certainly recognise that one as a trigger, as I’m sure many of us would. Interestingly, I also recognised a known resulting symptom of OCD, one of several which our duo explain can manifest when one is feeling anxious, even on a relatively mild, primarily subconscious level. Fascinating stuff.

 

 

As with their previous works, Haines and Standing very simply and very clearly break down and illustrate precisely what happens within us when anxiety strikes, and the various forms in which it manifests itself to the outside world. Even including the situations where anxiety might, as I say, actually prove to be a positive thing!

You can’t believe that explanations of incredibly complex medical issues can be explained so succinctly and so beautifully! Also, as before, references of papers, studies and books for further reading are provided at the bottom of each page and then also collated together at the end.

 

 

Into Page 45’s Mental Health Section this so helpfully goes!

JR

Buy Anxiety Is Really Strange and read the Page 45 review here

Akissi: Tales Of Mischief (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin…

“Akissi! What on earth happened to you!?”
“Er… Mum, Auntie Victo says to thank you but she’s not a fan of fish head. Here you go!”

There is, of course, a very good reason as to why the mischievous, impish Akissi has failed to deliver an intact fish to Auntie Victo who only lives around the corner, as her mother instructed her to do several hours ago. She simply wasn’t paying attention when listening to the directions she was carefully given by her mum, but I don’t think that would be the excuse Akissi would come out with. No, it’s when the stray cat gets in on the action that it all got out of hand, in Akissi’s mind at least…

AYA: LIFE IN YOP CITY and AYA: LOVE IN YOP CITY‘s Marguerite Abouet returns, sadly not with collaborator Clément Oubrérie this time around, though artist Mathieu Sapin manages to capture the madcap goings-on of a vibrant small town in the Ivory Coast with equal aplomb, as feisty Akissi and her bunch of ragtag chums run riot and cause their parents and teachers immense trouble, repeated headaches, and indeed even one epileptic fit!

 

 

There’s a joyous rambunctiousness to Sapin’s art which is immensely captivating. You can practically feel the energy these kids are perpetually vibrating at near-light-speed with, imbued by Abouet’s warm and witty writing, and therefore their parents and teachers’ consequent mental and physical fatigue from trying to keeping up with them.

The more I stared at even just at the cover with a wild-eyed, rictus-grin-endowed Akissi, arms thrown wide, seemingly bursting out of the book like a motorcycle stuntman crashing through a paper target ready to start some serious mayhem, I thought, “Yeah, I’ve got a lunatic exactly like that at home…” If Akissi and her chums could be wired up to the grid, they’d solve the world’s energy crisis overnight.

 

 

Absolutely everything about this book is lively on the eye! Even the title page background for each story is a different solid block of strong colour which, when I rapidly flicked through the book, gave me a weird childhood flashback to the plastic ribbon curtains you used to see in the entrance to butchers’ shops to keep flies out! Comics, eh?

Often Akissi and her cheeky friends are very well aware that they’re up to no good, such as when she’s craftily charging all her friends to watch the adventures of Spectreman, who is basically Megaman, on her parents’ TV whilst her parents are out. When her Dad comes home from work feeling rather unwell, for some peace and quiet and a much needed lie down, this obviously causes a stampeding exodus of panicking kids heading for any and all possible exits. Except for the idiot who decides to hide under her dad’s bed…

Other tales do feature what the privations of their little lives are all about, though, albeit very comedically, such as Akissi’s horrific issues with lice, and even worse, worms. Which she thinks are quite cute!?! Then, when Akissi’s parents have had just about all can they take of their beloved offspring, she’s shipped off to the bush to cause chaos – I mean stay, with her Nan and her family. But where Akissi goes, madness for her family and merriment for us is sure to follow. So, it’s not long before she’s setting her cousin’s hair on fire and getting bitten by a snake.

 

 

Much like the AYA material, these hilarious, frequently uproariously ludicrous tales, are an uplifting breath of fresh air, whilst still managing to shine a light on the cultural peculiarities and wonderful people of the Ivory Coast setting. The happy-go-lucky nature of Akissi and her mates show us that kids can be just as daft the world over, and the less they’ve got materially, the more trouble their hyper-active imaginations can get them into! Especially via the pen of such a talented writer who can bring her creations so vividly to life.

JR

Buy Akissi: Tales Of Mischief and read the Page 45 review here

Nightlights h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Lorena Alvarez.

The cover is a pretty thing in orange, blues and purples, with tactile spot varnish picking out the title, some flowers and Sandy’s sketches. Oh how she loves to draw! But I promise you that this is nothing compared to the wonders within…

Sandy is lying flat on her back on the lounge carpet, as far from her bedroom as possible, positively gluing herself to the ground.

“I’m a heavy, heavy rock…”

Haha! So many kids do love to prolong the day, don’t they? They go to great guileful lengths, first to avoid climbing those stairs to Bedfordshire, then to keep Mummy or Daddy reading to them for as long as possible. When all else fails, and the bedside light looks like going out, our Jonathan’s young Nutjob has been known to clasp her hands studiously, look him in the eyes with a serious expression and say:

“So, Daddy, tell me about your day…”

I don’t quite know why Sandy’s so keen to delay, for her day is far from done.

 

 

Once the bedroom is dark, tiny pink baubles of light appear above her head, which – with a whoosh of wide-spread arms – she transforms into the most magical and diverse parade of magnificent space-swimming creatures! Some come from the ocean, like a gigantic red octopus with big bulbous yellow eyes; some seem to float in their own bubbles of water complete with seaweed. One’s like a giant white wolf with huge orange orbs, there’s an owl, a regal lute-strumming monkey and a cat at the back that could be its queen. She might be reading her own bedtime story.

 

 

There’s so much for eyes to explore and linger over – those two double-page spreads are actually one long scroll which I’ll show you at the bottom – and Alvarez does aqueous and gelatinous so very well, with pools of light reflected on the membranes. As your eyes drift slowly from left to right, you will see Sandy drifting too – off to a contented sleep.

 

 

In the morning it’s time for school. It’s run by nuns, and the Sister supervising the front gate to take attendance is ever so stern.

“Where’s the rest of that skirt, Miss Garcia? This is a sanctuary for learning, not a disco.
“Miss Lopez, are you trying to blind me with that pink hairband?
“You there! Pull those socks up!
“And I don’t want to see you wandering off at break again, Sandy.”

Break seems like fun, and they’ve grass to play on rather than a hard asphalt school yard. It’s just as well, because one of the young ladies is rugby-tackling another to the ground!

 

 

Sandy is diligently sketching some of the wonders from the night before when she’s interrupted by a moon-faced girl with lavender-tinted white hair who asks to look at her drawings. She studies them while Sandy waits, worried that she might disappoint and that this newcomer won’t like what she sees, but…

“Your drawings are really good!
“You’ll be famous one day!”

Her name is Morfie, she says, and it’s her first day. But suddenly a storm sets in and Sandy quickly gathers up her school books and hurries inside.

“Bye, Sandy.”

But how did she know Sandy’s name? And why – when Sandy looks out of the window during lessons – is Morfie sitting perched up a tree, with the rain pouring down all around her, her hair blowing like the loose leaves in the squall?

 

 

Rain is another element which Alvarez excels at. I can hear all the little droplets’ individual, pitter-patter impacts and splashes on the grass and the trees, and then on the fresh, green heathers and ferns as Sandy cycles back home.

Alvarez incorporates so many of these feathery fronds into the fantastical pages too. But soon the eyes from the nocturnal sequences start to appear in the woods during daylight. Fungi sprout from the tree trunks and the leaf sprays take on a purple, luminous glow.

 

 

Morfie’s expressions, already ambiguous, begin to look greedy, her flattering attentions more overtly manipulative, and her demands on Sandy’s creativity become… vampiric.

 

 

More than once Sandy uses her drawing skills to create escape routes, and her clever delaying tactic prove that she does at least occasionally pay attention in class.

You will be unsurprised to learn that this gorgeous graphic novel comes from Nobrow. They and their Flying Eye imprint are responsible for a significant sum of our most luxurious Young Readers picture books.

 

 

Alvarez has lavished NIGHLIGHTS with so many double-page spreads festooned with such a variety of cute wide-eyed wonders that perhaps your young ones’ imaginative minds will make up adventures of their own. When Philippa Rice once filled Page 45’s window with a vast diorama of colourful paper figures, I saw a five-year-old boy singling some of them out, and I overhead him tell his grandfather the most elaborate stories about them, conjured up on the spot.

There’s certainly plenty to play with here.

SLH

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

Planetary Book 2 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday.

“The game’s afoot.
“We just have to make sure we’re not the game.
“No more time for games at all.”

Elijah Snow has been patient.

He has been terse, grouchy and suspicious, but he has been patient, collecting all the clues he’s needed to exhume his own past: the fragments which he was once robbed of. They spanned the entire 20th Century, for Elijah Snow was born on January 1st 1900 in order to protect it – to gather information and save it. Mostly he succeeded, until he failed and so sacrificed the lot.

Now he knows why he failed, how he lost it, who stole it from him, and the unspeakable horrors which they have wrought in the meantime.

Now Elijah Snow is going to stop them. And then, after that, he is going to do something very clever indeed.

 

 

For me this is the work of Warren Ellis’s career to date.

Cassaday’s and Martin’s too.

Science fiction at its most wondrous, inclusive, mysterious and thrilling, it is meticulously composed, vast in scope, broad in appeal and spectacular to look at. It also boasts a mordant wit, with superb cadence in conversation as the three members of Planetary’s field team play verbal sabres at each other’s expense. It’s one way of staying sane.

I told you everything you need to know in PLANETARY BOOK 1 (collecting #1-14) while giving little away.

 

 

Each chapter was a relatively self-contained mystery, approached from a different angle, to be solved with lateral thinking, ground-level detective work and the occasional forced entry or fist; each individual investigation also provided a piece to a much larger puzzle which is by now coalescing ever more swiftly, so that if I add too much more I risk clueing new readers in too quickly.

Seriously, read my review of PLANETARY BOOK 1 instead which is infinitely more coherent than this, encompassing form, structure, art, architecture and the fun of each episode being a riff on earlier science-fictions, extrapolated from and repurposed here for their specific roles in Ellis’s own masterplan. While you do so, please remember that there is a vertical scroll bar between the words and interior art, for that review is twenty-four paragraphs long.

 

 

Meanwhile, a quick summary as but a flimsy excuse to present you with interior art from Book 2, followed by a few further observations.

Planetary is a covert, private organisation seeking the 20th Century’s secrets. Funded by an unseen Fourth Man, they are archaeologists of the unknown, travelling the globe to unearth all the weird science which has been foisted upon the Earth from other dimensions, or which we have visited upon ourselves. Though some of their discoveries prove breathtaking treasures, few are less than horrific, yet Planetary is determined to salvage as much as they can disinter for the betterment of mankind.

 

 

 

Unfortunately they find themselves up against The Four, astronauts secretly launched into space in 1961 using physics developed by Nazi physicists exported to America and led by a manipulative, scientific genius in “disciplines as long as your arm”. They returned… changed… empowered… and they do not have our best interests at heart.

You may have guessed from the details who they are dark reflections of. If you haven’t, it truly doesn’t matter. The little winks and nudges are but Easter Eggs: this is thoroughly accessible to all.

 

 

As PLANETARY kicks off, its surviving field operatives Jakita Wagner and The Drummer invite Elijah Snow to fill their recently ‘vacated’ third place, leaving Elijah is entirely unaware that he has been a key member for years. During the years that Snow was… incapacitated… they lost a fellow field operative, Ambrose Chase, during an assault on an experiment to create new fictional worlds. While using his abilities to create localised bubbles which manipulate universal laws of physics, Ambrose was shot and disappeared, leaving no informational trail behind him.

Here, have some suppositional science written a decade and a half ago:

“There’s a theory that the universe’s underpinning is information, no matter and energy. Matter and energy move in volume, but the informational capacity of the universe has been found to rely solely on surface area.
“That means that the universe is two-dimensional. Matter, energy, time, you, me and the floor are holograms. Everything in volumes is an expression of a two-dimensional plane of information.”

 

 

Ah, it’s all about information and coding these days, isn’t it? Elsewhere and elsewhen:

“The old Aboriginal Dreamtime stories say that their ancient ancestors sang the world into being. The gate seemed to be on the same operating system.”
“It’s all operating systems. But you don’t just shoot wild information into operating systems that big just to see what happens.”
“Sure you do. I’ve read all about it. It’s called a “virus”.”

A few extra notes:

This reprints PLANETARY #15-27 plus JLA / PLANETARY and BATMAN / PLANETARY at the back. Both the add-ons are much earlier, inferior works than the rest of the material and should be read first, if at all.  In all honesty I suspect that they were but corporate commercials for the more accessible central series. The latter at least boasted the benefit of Cassady art, and a reminder that Batman once looked much more like a bat.

 

 

Later iterations / variations of Batman only resembled Batman. If you read those last, you will only feel anticlimactically let down, so keep glancing at the covers for each chapter as you read through to note how near you are to the real finale, #27.

John Cassady and Laura Martin:

I had far more to say in PLANETARY BOOK 1 but JLA / PLANETARY proves beyond doubt that any other interloper could only cause you to cry. Cassady and Martin are indispensible, and their never left the main series once.

The sheer range of their keen, clean excellence is unquestionable: spectacular sunrises and sunsets; quiet, one-on-one conversations while quaffing coffee, sat outside a cafe, eyes locked; digging deeper, sinking down, for something far more profound during drug-induced discourses on underlying micro-universes; then the sheer scale of an alien object passing through our solar system whose interior architecture is revealed to encompass an entire ecology as vast as any country’s in merely one of its multiple chambers.

 

 

They bring some of their very best to bear on the chapter which seems to me to be a tribute both to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ‘Tarzan’ but also Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ with its own twist, as always, as well as a surprising link to another member’s past. The vegetation is lush and science is shiny.

 

 

Yes, the sheer wonder of it all, reflecting the so often reprised and emphasised Elijah adage that this is a very strange world and we must all keep it that way.

Snow, as I say, was born at midnight at the very beginning on the 20th Century. That’s now come to a close, but although it has left behind its scars it has also left behind surgeons.

Surgeons determined to cut out the rot, like The Four, and save the seemingly unsalvageable.

“Some Century Babies are defenders. Some are pioneers.
“Elijah saves things.
“I think he wants to save Ambrose Chase.”

 

 

SLH

Buy Planetary Book 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Realm vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Seth M Peck & Jeremy Haun.

“You do know killing our clients is bad business, don’t you, Will? Dead customers are not repeat customers.”

I’ve tried to keep that in mind throughout my career.

There may have been the odd lapse, but our basement’s been rebuilt since then.

The key to any cover is to intrigue. The same goes for early pages: they should entice you to ask yourself questions.

The silent sequence opening Terry Moore’s RACHEL RISING and Nabiel Kanan’s equally eerie introduction to THE DROWNERS did precisely that.

Similarly, so much of THE REALM’S initial narrative storytelling is visual alone, such is the shared understanding between its co-creators that implication is far more fun and emotionally involving than being buried under a mountain of mind-bludgeoning exposition. Leave us to pick it up and work it out for ourselves – and even fend for ourselves in video games – and we’re more likely to invest early on.

Never show your full hand on a first pass. Lure or you lose.

 

 

We have a modern American city-sprawl, almost entirely deserted and whose infrastructure is down.

It seems utterly inert.

No one is shopping and wrecked cars are abandoned in shopping mall parking lots. There’s no traffic, and no trains are running. The skyscrapers are largely left standing but their windows are mostly blown out, even several storeys up. Electricity appears entirely offline.

 

 

Instead, crystalline-graphite-like citadels with glowing, monocular hollows float overheard; around them swarm dragons or “drakes”. Within those floating citadels the architecture appears to be classical, ecclesiastical and very ancient, but then abruptly clinical. An obedient priest with a red-glowing eye enters a ritual, ringed centre and performs a sacred ceremony at some certain cost, making a solemn exchange and a proclaiming a vow.

From all this I think we can infer that an invasion or at least an incursion has occurred, and since there’s no renewed vegetation thrusting its way through the asphalt or creeping over the sheer, straight-lined girders (coloured to iron-oxide perfection by Nick Filardi) it’s evidently happened relatively recently, within living memory.

 

 

Across this detritus-strewn emptiness – though preferably under its industrial overpasses – two figures cautiously make their way: a woman on horseback being led by a man with a shotgun. They are late for an assignation with a man on a make-shift throne whom they address as King. Is that his surname? Is he a crime lord? Or has the entire world gone feudal?

“Nolan! I was starting to get a little worried you’d fallen into some kind of trouble!”
“Jesus! I’m not even a day off schedule, King. I’ve got the girl as promised, and you’ve got my money, I’ll gladly be on my way.”

Not much due deference in the language there. There’s not a great deal of courtly oratory in exchange.

“Straight to business! I like it! I hope the job didn’t prove too difficult.”
“It wasn’t easy. Your intel sucked, and there are half a dozen drakes in the air between here and Missouri.”

Part of that lousy intel involved an under-estimation of the girl’s captors’ numbers. Also: the lady in question turned out not to be said King’s daughter. She was traded as skin for antibiotics; antibiotics which proved beyond their sell-by date. So this wasn’t a rescue mission, it was a reprisal. That piece of withheld intelligence is only coming through now.

Can you spell “reciprocation”?

 

 

So yes, everything appears to be in short supply now, scavenging a necessity: even used toothbrushes appear to be a cherished commodity and I appreciated Haun’s subtle, bristle-bent emphasis on the ‘used’.

The most immediately alarming transformation which the environment has undergone, however, lies within its general population. Gone are the mad commuters bustling down avenues, talking to themselves loudly while pretending to be on their cell phones; instead there are hoards of marauding, opportunist orcs and exceptionally acrobatic, armoured goblins. I liked the grit in their speech balloons.

This is the lie of the land and tradition dictates, almost universally under such adverse circumstances, that the protagonists must set off on a journey. Barricading yourself in, then sitting tight, doesn’t make for good comics, film, television or prose.

 

 

So it is that a certain Miss Molly – exceptionally proficient with a bow and arrow and she sure doesn’t flinch under pressure – hires Will Nolan and his helmeted scout Rook to help her and Laszlo escort two scientists across open country, west to Kansas City. We still don’t know why, five chapters in, though the elder Doctor Burke does carry some sort of cargo, perhaps a flask, which Miss Molly at least is aware of. Younger David also harbours a secret, about which I’ll stay shtum. Neither wants to carry a gun, but as Laszlo reminds them:

“Hey, Doctor Burke, remember when we got attacked by those orcs outside Springfield and you science them to death?”

They’re going to need those guns.

 

 

The main focus is on the immediate impediments thrown up in our travellers’ path as they cross a much-altered country. Also, on a waif and then a stray they pick up along the way: Eli, then Zach. Eli at least appears to have survived through holing himself up amongst tunnels, but Zach they found wandering the ruins unmolested, unscathed, in a daze. His memory is hazy.

It’s there that I’ll leave you with an intransigently suspicious Rook on the look-out, above. They’ll be glad that she is, for there aren’t just opportunists on the prowl; there are unorthodox armies with specific agendas, when you think about it, almost every invasion carries with it other, unforeseen ramifications for the land’s indigenous population.

SLH

Buy The Realm vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 1 – Great Power s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko with Jack Kirby.

“Unfortunately, if something is shouted loud enough, there are always those who will believe it.”

That’s the quote which everyone should take from this tome.

It protects us from those with great power and no sense of responsibility other than to themselves: Donald Trump, the Daily Fail and all those Brexiteers lying through their teeth forever and a day, just like Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson who besmirches the reputation of young, altruistic Peter Parker’s alias in print long before he’s had chance to even do anything. From there Jonah persistently and deliberately misreports everything we witness, successfully creating and sustaining not only the most massive dramatic irony but also readers’ sympathetic frustration and so empathy and emotional investment in poor Peter Parker’s young plight. It’s brilliant!

 

 

Top marks to Stan Lee, then, for writing that cautionary line and the extended campaign which reflects so much still at large in more modern scaremongering; minus 5,555 points for taking full advantage of its lamentable truth by shouting his own self-serving lies so very loudly and for so long that so many believe them to this day.

 

 

Flick through a copy of MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY (in stock and reviewed at length) then all will become clear including Stan’s oh-so-jokey public smear campaign against Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko. Its author wasn’t sued, so you know he’s on the money, honey. Brilliantly, at the back of this volume, the ‘Meet The Gang In The Merry Marvel Bullpen!” photo gallery is reprinted from which Ditko is pointedly missing.

Hello! Did I tread on your dreams? Sorry etc! Let’s try to rekindle your fond memories instead!

This collects AMAZING FANTASY #15, then AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1-17 plus Annual #1, all in full colour and complete with Ditko’s spindly, joint-popping which that made it all so genuinely freakish.

You’d demand instant reconstructive surgery if you woke up looking like this. Spider-Man doesn’t move so much like a spider, but leaps, clasps and crawls like a tree-climbing frog.

 

 

Steve Ditko commands a spectacular sense of space in spite of Lee’s incessant, unobservant, ham-fisted and unnecessary interventions, making the most of every panel that he’s allowed, bringing you eye-poppingly imaginative and creepy forms.

From the get-go Ditko understood that everything red and webbed which he created for the iconic costume should be left untouched by shadow, leaving Spider-Man’s blue calves, thighs, bum, biceps and outer abs to display physical strength. It’s not an artist’s obvious choice to differentiate between the two areas, but it’s one which John Byrne amongst many later picked up on and, while, we’re talking about influence, there are two Doctor Octopus panels here which scream Frank Miller’s early efforts on DAREDEVIL with their front-lit – nay, spot-lit – faces casting shadow to the hair and either side of the brows.

 

Ditko, Amazing Spider-Man #3

 

Ditko, Amazing Spider-Man #3

 

Early Frank Miller, decades later. It’s the lighting I’m looking at.

 

For those not yet in the know:

Bespectacled high school science nerd Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, and consequently finds private solace from his public ostracism in being able to climb up walls and fight egomaniacal mop-topped losers with way too many appendages, thereby providing an empathic shot of wish-fulfilment for all boys bullied at school. Hooray!

He dances with Doom (Victor von Esq.), sambas with the Sandman, la cucarachas with the Lizard, thwips Electro therapy-quips, and… I have no idea what pun to make of the Vulture. Definitely not “violates the Vulture”. That’d be ewww. Eventually, as the cover suggests, they all gang up on Peter, along with the can-canned Kraven, in order to teach him their own lessons in lambada and give him a right Brazilian biffing.

The Vulture is approximately 99 years old, so you cannot accuse Stan Lee of age-ism. He’s as bald, pink and wrinkly-faced as the more turkey-like of vultures, but curiously costumed in cactus-green. He’s pretty buff for an OAP but given the limb-twisting acrobatics which Ditko puts the old codger through, you can’t help but worry that some ligaments or tendons may start snapping.

 

 

Cleverly, none of this changes (poor) Peter’s plight on campus so that we sympathise still. Plus the (poor) boy screws up big-time in a fit of pique when he fails to apprehend a thief stealing money from a boxing promoter who’d diddled young Peter out of dosh.*

* WRONG! No dosh was diddled: Peter was paid fair and square. This was a later invention so successful that it’s taken as original gospel.

 

 

That thief, of course, goes on to kill his doting surrogate father, Uncle Ben. Surely that can’t be a spoiler? It’s possibly the best sequence in any superhero origin outside of SLEEPER’s satirical asides, no matter how many times poor Ma Wayne’s pearls get scattered o’er the pavement, coming with a quotation that deserves less repetition in print – because by doing so it’s already become an unnecessarily mawkish cliché – but which merits far more observation in real life:

“With great power comes great responsibility”.

(Parenthetically WRONG! #2: Uncle Ben never uttered this. He’d been lying on a slab for hours by then.)

 

 

Now, consider this: you’re the publisher of New York’s leading newspapers The Daily Bugle. You not only covertly but overtly introduce your truth-seeking staff to one Mr. Mysterio as the masked man you insist on employing to beat up Spider-Man because, ummm, he wears a mask. Hypocrisies aside, the salient point is this: you are paying a man money in order to breach the peace and cause grievous bodily harm to another, yet you consider it not unwise for your investigative, justice-driven journalists to be tipped off to this premeditated crime by you, J. Jonah Jameson.

But let us attend to Doctor Otto Octopus:

“He’s the most brilliant atomic-researcher in our country today!”

Okay, but —

“Let us watch as he conducts a nuclear experiment…”

With test tubes! He’s conducting a nuclear experiment with test tubes!

 

 

“My artificial extra arms permit me to work safely with volatile chemicals which are far too dangerous to touch without protection! Though others fear radiation, I alone am able to make it my servant!”

… With no radiation shielding whatsoever – just five feet of thin air.

“Sound the alarm!” shrieks a scientist one panel later and I can’t say I blame him. Physics and chemistry are two very different disciplines. Thankfully we are told in #11 that Doc Ock serves his “full prison term” for breaking into an Atomic Research Centre causing various bits and bobs to overload and explode. Unfortunately that amounts to six weeks.

 

 

What you have to remember is that creating a comic in the Mighty Marvel Manner means Stan shoots off a general story, the artist draws it, then Stan scripts it based on what he perceives on the page.

“Wha –? A plexi-glass cage! Dropped from the ceiling!”

… observes Spider-Man using his Spider-Brain, for the cage is clearly coming out of the walls.

Returning to the ugliest critter in comics outside of Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown, (dear) Aunt May announces an early preference for Otto Octavius over her own nephew by declaring:

“So, that’s Spider-Man! What a perfectly ghastly outfit! He’s so villainous-looking! Not at all as pleasant as that well-mannered Dr. Octopus! I’m sure Dr. Octopus would never have entered that way without knocking!”

Well, no. He’d have probably torn down the walls with his extra appendages. She’ll try to marry him in a few years’ time, I promise.

 

 

And just look at the state of the wizened old bat! What miracle of science could possibly have made (dear) May a 16-year-old’s Aunt?! A grandmother at a stretch, though she looks more like my great-grandmother did when I was ten.

 

 

In the last sixty years Aunt May has grown thirty years younger, plus a good deal hipper and saucier. She was seen relatively recently rolling over for J. Jonah Jameson’s father. But then so would I, if you could promise that in 2048 that I would look thirty years younger than I do now. Under those circumstances I might even do Jonah himself if I could gag the bastard and be blind-folded.

“Hello…?”
“My name is Mephastophilis.”
“Do I know you?”
“Hmmm. Back in March 2018 you wrote…”

*shudders*

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 1 – Great Power s/c and read the Page 45 review here

X-Men: Mutant Massacre s/c (£29-50, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Ann Nocenti & John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor-Smith, others

The Marauders decide to wipe out the underground Morlocks.

I can’t recall why.

They didn’t even ruin our lawns.

SLH

Buy X-Men: Mutant Massacre s/c and read the Page 45 review here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One s/c (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison

It Don’t Come Easy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Dupuy & Berberian

Von Spatz (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anna Haifisch

What I Did h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

The Lost Path h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge Cub House) by Amelie Flechais

Lumberjanes: Bonus Tracks s/c (£13-99, Boom!) by Faith Erin Hicks, Jen Wang, Holly Black, Gabby Rivera, Kelly Thompson & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Christine Norrie, Gaby Epstein, Savanna Ganucheau

The Book Case – An Emily Lime Mystery h/c (£10-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton

The Drunken Sailor – The Life Of The Poet Arthur Rimbaud In His Own Words h/c (£20-00, Jonathan Cape) by Nick Hayes

Warhammer 40,000 vol 2: Revelations s/c (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann & Tazio Bettin

Asterix The Gaul (£7-99, Orton) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix And The Golden Sickle (£7-99, Orton) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix And The Goths (£7-99, Orton) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Batgirl vol 3: Summer Of Lies s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Hope Larson & Chris Wildgoose, various

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 6: War Stories s/c (£14-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett &  Aneke, Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Carmen Carneo, Sandy Jarrell, Richard Ortiz

Annihilation vol 1: Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Mitch Breitweiser, Kev Walker, Scott Kolins, Greg Titus

Mighty Thor vol 3: Asgard Shi’ar War s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Epting, Russell Dauterman

Assassination Classroom vol 20 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

One Piece vol 85 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

The Promised Neverland vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 3 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week three

March 21st, 2018

Featuring Sophie Burrows, Chris Forsman, Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, José Villarrubia, Rich Tommaso, Jason Aaron, R. M. Guera, Davide Furno, John Paul Leno, James Kochalka, more.

Infidel #1 (£3-25, Image) by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell with José Villarrubia.

“My mother’s all about obsessing over shadows in a room full of light. We’re not doing that to Leslie.”

There’s so much humanity and individuality in Aisha’s face, there. Her mouth lies slightly open and gentle, but her eyes gaze into the distance, the future, determined. On the previous page – in recollection of her mother – Aisha’s shoulders were slumped while leaning forward, with the weight of having been rejected. But she will not give up on her mother-in-law.

One of the many wonders of this – one of my two favourite new series of 2018 – is that the evidence remains deeply ambiguous as to whether Aisha’s being too trusting and optimistic, or whether her fiancé Tom knows his own mum better than she does.

What could any of this possibly have to do with a horror comic?

 

 

Well, there are so many more horrors other than the occult or the alien. There is uncertainty and vulnerability, not knowing if you can trust someone: the threat of harm, physical or otherwise, can be just as frightening as its actuality. Ask anyone who’s ever worried about being bullied at school the next day. Aisha is confident that Leslie’s no threat, either to herself or to her step-daughter, Kris, even in the knowledge of what’s gone before, but her university friend also has substantial doubts and we, the audience, are privy to some extra moments which they are not.

Secondly, there’s the very real and all too current horror of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia: ignorance voiced with pride, spread sheep-like by osmosis or deliberately through disinformation as a virus which currently culminates increasingly not decreasingly in America, England and some parts of wider Europe in extreme intimidation and outright violence: beatings, acid attacks, murder and mass terrorism.

But equally there is the horror for Aisha of being rejected by her mother simply for becoming engaged to a non-Muslim, Tom, no matter how devout she’s remained.

What’s this series called again?

 

 

Then, of course, there is absolutely the horror of the creeping, the intangible and supernatural against which we have no defence. Worse still, if only you see it, feel it or smell it, no one may believe you. If no one else experiences what you do, then you go through it alone. That, I would suggest, is the ultimate horror.

Aisha is experiencing nightmares. They’re growing increasingly vivid and intense. A corpse-white cadaver wraps itself around her, draining her sleep and suffocating what’s left with its cloying stench of rotting meat. Ghastly grey hands creep over her shoulders and thighs, an intimacy of the unknown, invading her like an incubus with cold hands, cold fingers, cold heart.

 

 

Ah yes, that which cannot be fought or reasoned with. With that we come back again to real-life horror: those who are violent that cannot be reasoned with on the street, at work, in your home. It’s chilling.

Aisha, Tom and Kris have relatively recently moved into Tom’s mother’s apartment on the top floor of a tenement building on the Lower East Side which was the target of a bombing attack. I spotted the smoke stains on the very first page past the prologue, rising from the top of the fourth-storey windows.

 

 

It’s there on the metal shutters on the ground floor too. The bomber was verified by law enforcement as a lone wolf, but they had once glanced at an ISIS website, so you know how that goes…  Now the tenement has few tenants left for it is far from repaired, and some of those that remain, well, they don’t like seeing a brown Muslim of Pakistani origin climbing their rickety stairs. There is still so much anger, and even if hatred is suppressed then it will usually out somewhere, somehow.

I swear to whatever (if any) god you believe in that INFIDEL has been ridiculously well thought through and comes with a sophisticated balance and so many unexpected perspectives, for the final irony is that it is non-Muslim Tom, Aisha’s fiancé, who is so determined to protect Aisha and respect her faith along with its sacred traditions that he is the one fighting her corner against his own mother, Leslie. He was reluctant to move his family in because Leslie used to poison his daughter with sweeping Islamophobic slurs, as if all Muslims obeyed barbaric laws, condoned or actively encouraged terrorism. For example when Kris once played with Aisha’s hijab:

“Women who wear this let people get killed for drawing cartoons. They let men throw rocks at girls like you!”

 

 

But to Aisha that was two years ago, she believes Leslie has learned and that it’s vital that Kris know her grandmother because her biological mother died so early that Kris can’t even remember her.

The first chapter begins in paranormal terror and it climaxes in paranormal terror, before an even more awful real-world ellipsis of a cliff-hanger which could go any number of ways that I am so very desperate to read next month’s instalment.

 

 

HELLBLAZER used to combine occult and socio-political horror to successful, cathartic effect, but it was always a little bit burlesque because its star, John Constantine was a dabbler in diabolism et al. This is a very different beast, being grounded firmly in the street-level, down in the subway or on the park bench: on what we see all around us right now. I would suggest that the exceptionally uncomfortable paranormal aspect is merely a symptom, side-effect or result of the rot, not its cause.

It doesn’t make it any less pants-wettingly terrifying or grotesque.

I’m sure that I read somewhere that artists and co-collaborators on all aspects of the comic, Campbell and Villarrubia, chose to illustrate all the everyday elements in digital while pulling back to the traditional, more physical art process for the psychically parasitic. They rendered that on Bristol board.

 

 

It may seem perverse, but I’ve seen so many other offerings where the purportedly real has been rendered in pen and ink and the preternatural given a computer-driven day-glo and gloss. The result has always been a distancing disassociation between the two elements: here is the real world, but the other is freaky, immaterial so won’t matter to you – they’re special effects, so you don’t empathise.

What Campbell and Villarrubia have achieved, by contrast, is an unholy marriage which makes what would otherwise be ethereal all too sensually and so immediately repugnant, overwhelming and nasty.

So, you know, thanks for that.

SLH

Buy Infidel #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Crushing (£7-50, self-published) by Sophie Burrows.

I adore the little love heart which adorns the cover, replacing the diacritic dot above the ‘i’ (true fact: it’s called a “tittle”).

Behold! This silent, A4-sized comic set up on top of a summer’s Hampstead Heath, the London Tube system, then somewhere within the Capital’s sprawling outer conurbation, is an astutely observed, tender joy!

CRUSHING could not have been more aptly titled, for within the rich blue, early evening covers you will discover vast landscapes to swoon over, crowded commuters all crammed together, and telltale little blushes and flushes that give our game away when we’re a wee bit, briefly smitten.

Yes, this is all about crushing.

Oh, but we’re British! So what do we do?

 

 

Do we receive such often involuntarily leaked, sweet signals as an opportunity to return the kindly meant compliment, perhaps strike up a conversation or at least smile, maybe wave? Oh, how much happier this world would be, were we all to give a little light love back!

But we do not: we react by looking embarrassedly away or hiding behind newspapers in annoyance.

The poor love has already been snubbed up on Hampstead Heath. Yes, she has: by a pigeon!

Pigeons aren’t backwards in coming forth and strutting themselves as close as possible in the hope of being thrown a stale crumb. One alights on the back of her park bench, so she generously offers it a whole triangle of fresh, tasty goodness…

Glossy magazines are equally insulting.

 

 

Lord, but this is so rich and clever. It will speak volumes to those who are single and seeking love, however inactively.

It will also remind those who have been lucky enough to find it of what it was once like to so solitarily stare from a park bench at a beautiful view which you wished you could share. Maybe you saw other couples, perhaps even their progeny, and wondered what you were missing out on and why? Have you ever felt awkwardly, self-consciously alone in a crowd?

 

 

Burrows nails that particular isolation on a double-page spread while waiting for the train to arrive. For a start, there are a hundred-odd commuters as equally crammed together as they will be in the carriage, but there is a markedly massive, empty gap between them and the edge of the platform (mind it!), after which loom the tracks down below. Everyone else is depicted, individualistically to be sure, but in soft grey shading; not so, our solo single lady.

There is a blindingly clever use of colour throughout: each panel bears examining to see what it says.

Later that day (which has since turned to night), our pretty-in-pink protagonist becomes hungry but finds her Hubbard cupboards all bare. She fancies a slice of pizza or two, so ventures out to the local takeaway. Beautifully set up by Sophie in advance, what happens next?

I’ve just scratched the surface: underneath you will find all sorts of wistful, alone-at-home pining for love.

 

 

Top Tip: if you’d like to give a little love back but – like silly old me – become dazed, confused and so discombobulated by compliments, why not carry a copy of CRUSHING around with you? That way, whenever you find yourself the lucky recipient of such affection but cannot quite bring yourself to accept the attention, you could open up its A4 covers and hide behind its sheets, so suggesting by the title that you too may be crushing!

Advanced Skills Option: open up CRUSHING, inside out, to display the pages on which this exact behavioural exchange is occurring. Then look up again, with a bashful smile.

Awwwww!

SLH

Buy Crushing and read the Page 45 review here

Dry County #1 (£3-25, Image) by Rich Tommaso.

“I could hear the yells and curses coming from the roof, but couldn’t stop myself hurling into the hydrangea.”

Hilarious! It wouldn’t have been half so funny had it not been a hydrangea.

Set in the Sunshine State’s boat-floating playground that glows neon at night, this is the most colourful noir that you’ll ever know. By day – as Lou Rossi cycles home from the Miami Herald where he works part-time as a comic strip artist – the city bridge gleams a lemon yellow while the bright white clouds blow below a fresh blue sky and leafy green trees stand out against pale pink hotels.

There is so much light and so much space, with lines as clean as the waterfronts themselves.

And yes, by night, there will be that oh-so familiar neon on the balconied apartment buildings in contrasting pink and mint green.

But what possible crimes could a comic artist bear witness to? Apart from blaring House Music, I mean?

 

 

Ah, well, it’s all in embracing ‘Everyman Crime Series’ to which DRY COUNTY belongs: quotidian crimes you stumble upon occasionally in conversation with someone you may have just met, like abusive boyfriends, perchance. Although there is the possibility that a potential drive-by alluded to briefly by Lou’s raucous mate Robert might tie in somewhere. And where might you meet someone new…? In an apartment block’s communal laundry room!

It’s there, after despairing at the lack of potential pulls at a nightclub which he cannot abide (“seething pit of vipers”), that Lou Rossi finds Janet reading alone while waiting for her spin cycle to end. Alas, she is not a new tenant. She’s only staying over at a friend’s flat for the night… or for the weekend… “I’m not sure yet”, but she does at least work in town, gives him her business card and proffers the possibility of having lunch one afternoon.

 

 

From there it only gets better: her employers turn out to be brothers, the rental firm like a family, and at lunch they make plans for dinner later that very same week. Finally, after six solitary months in Miami, things are looking up for Lou, and there’s more fresh air and open skies and passenger planes flying overhead as he strolls home, a spring in his step, allowing himself to feel jaunty.

Oh dear.

I’m going to stop there while noting only that what I loved most about what is revealed is that so often we escape from one thing by a route which only turns out to be the very same thing. Is that vague enough for you? That’s what Tommaso’s come up with, giving the blow so much more of a punch.

 

 

Whereas most noir slinks about in an environment alien to most of us, in circumstances most of us would never encounter, Tommaso sticks to his promise of filling Rossi’s account with the familiar routines of walks round town, showers, settling down to basic meal from whatever we find in our fridge, perhaps a few beers and so TV. Then there’s the not wanting to look like you’re trying too hard by dressing to impress and making that first phone call too early.

“Man, I couldn’t wait… But then later, once I got home, I decided I should wait, possibly a week…
“This was based on advice that my old friends in high school gave me: “Don’t ever call a girl up right away, you gotta wait like, a week or so, or else she’ll think you’re a desperate loser!” …So, I decided to wait at least a week…”

Beat.

“Two days later, I called.”

 

 

What makes the pages even more visually brilliant is that the first-person narration is hand-written on blue-lined, yellow legal pad paper like a story you might stumble upon rather than one being told directly to you. It’s not that big a drama. He’s not a professional P.I. typing up his notes to keep on file, either.

As to the title, nowhere I know of in Florida is a Dry County – certainly not Miami, and Lou doesn’t half neck beers throughout, hence the well deserved fate of those hideous hydrangeas – nor is El Paso, whence Janet hails and where all her troubles first began. My off-the-cuff guess, therefore, is it’s somewhere we’re headed or a direction from which trouble’s coming.

SLH

Buy Dry County #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Scalped Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera, Davide Furno, John Paul Leno.

I’ve plenty more to say about SCALPED below, which was the first series from Vertigo, I believe, to reduce me to tears, and within this very volume. However, for the moment from SCALPED BOOK 1:

“Yet, here we are, still forgotten, still a third world nation in the heart of America.”

Crime and grime on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, South Dakota, “where the great Sioux Nation came to die”.

Gone is the majesty, the beauty, the health, the wealth and the freedom to roam. They’ve been replaced by grinding poverty enforced by unyielding societal shackles, dilapidated housing patched up with corrugated iron, refuse-strewn streets, gutted car wrecks abandoned on pock-marked asphalt and a burned-out people deprived of any opportunity but to drink themselves to death.

That’s all that we – the colonising, genocidal White Eyes – have given back to them, in lieu of their true heritage and of the bounty which was already their own. For more of that history, please see the great graphic novel INDEH by Ewan Hawke and Greg Ruth: it will tear your heart out.

What ripped mine to shreds here wasn’t the strange death of main protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse’s campaigning mother, Gina, which hangs over this volume like an enigmatic shroud, challenging the degenerate Dashiell to actually give a fuck about his own mother. (You will be surprised to learn that it is the ostensible central villain of series, Chief Red Crow, who is most devastated by her murder, unexpectedly prepared to risk all to find out who did it.)

 

 

No, it’s the reaction of Shelton, the eldest of five children of another murdered mother, which got to me, several times.

It also gets to Dashiell who swears blind that he will bring the perpetrator to justice until he takes its news to his FBI boss – whose sole dogmatic focus lies in the discrediting of Chief Red Crow – and in so doing learns the full and sometimes ugly meaning of the word ‘compromise’.

Young Dashiell, you see, is undercover for the FBI, posing as a cop in the pocket of crooked casino-owner Red Crow in order to bring him down. What he doesn’t know is that another FBI agent has been assigned undercover to the Reservation, and how much of a callous, ruthless bastard their shared boss is.

But then Dashiell was by no means the perfect son, as you’ll learn in flashback. In fact, rearing the ungrateful little brat was a particularly thankless task, something brought home to him only too clearly by Shelton’s unwavering fidelity, and the realisation that it’s now way too late to make amends.

 

 

R.M. Guera is fast becoming a favourite illustrator of mine: fully fleshed-out figures in relentless (yet not murky) shadow, even if it’s cast at high noon. There is tremendous humanity in the faces, and his mouths are particularly expressive, whether they’re old and pursed in barely controlled anger, or young and trembling with barely controlled grief.

As always with SCALPED, for me it’s the combination of the story structure and the art in its telling. The opening scene in the third story, ‘The Gravel In Your Gurs’ takes place in three weeks time, at night, as Chief Red Crow pulls up outside the Badlands Cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He apologises to the cloth bag on the back seat, then enters under the bar’s distinctive neon sign before there’s a final, four-panel page as the sign goes out, shots are fired, and the neon reignites. It’s so visually distinctive that it will lurk in your head throughout the next several issues until – having since witnessed the events leading up to that scene and knowing now exactly who’s in the cafe – the bar front reappears, when your heart will sink.

 

 

This is a key turning point in the Indian Reservation power struggle, but it’s also the story of how silk-haired Dino, father to a toddler, through a single encounter with a speeding ticket, descends into running with bent cops, selling drugs, collecting debts and inadvertently stabbing an old man through his lower jaw. There’s an arresting panel after he’s dropped off at home, the house owned by Granny, from which she has sworn to eject him if ever he once again got into trouble with the police. Having snuck past his baby, his forearms splattered with blood, he makes it back to his own room… and it’s still full of remote-controlled cars and Tonker Toys, reminding you just how young he still is.

I love 100 BULLETS but the characters here are more than albeit blindingly directed ciphers for Azzarello’s witty wordplay: they’re living, breathing individual and fallible human beings broken by their environment then damned by their decisions. Very highly recommended.

This larger “book 2” takes you up to end of the old, smaller “volume 4” exactly.

SLH

Buy Scalped Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

The End Of The Fucking World (s/c £12-99; h/c, £17-99) by Charles Forsman.

“At 15, I stuck my hand into the garbage disposal.”

James is not like other boys.

Curiosity is one of the few traits he shares with other people. Other than that he is an emotional void.

He discovers a porn magazine in a draw, opens it open, sees a naked woman, and after a few seconds tosses it over his shoulder. There’s no connection; nothing there.

He and Alyssa have adopted each other after James decided to pretend to fall in love with her. Alyssa’s more direct. She is very direct.

“God I want you.”

He considers strangling her. But he doesn’t.

 

“James and I still haven’t done it all the way.
“I want to, but it’s complicated.
“He seems so far away.”

Later, in the passenger seat of a car which he and Alyssa have flagged down, James allows an old man, the driver, to grope him: to slide his hand under James’s jeans and let it lie there. Alyssa is dumbfounded.

“What’s wrong with you?”

To himself:

“I guess I thought I might feel something. Something other than nothing.”

 

 

Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise, James and Alyssa: you’re in for a very different sort of road trip.

Dispassionately told in eight-page instalments alternating between James’s and Alyssa’s point of view (originally published as individual mini-comics), this clusterfuck of a journey also alternates between the mundane and abrupt, sometimes comical violence. It is exceptionally well controlled, especially James’s blank face, registering nothing, and his minimal responses when prodded.

“Alyssa, that man – he was a bad man.”

 

 

It also defies expectations. The first chapter climaxes before they set off with James punching his dad in the face and stealing his car. They’re off! No, they’re not: the opening page of chapter two finds the car upside down in a dried-up gorge after being run off the road. Above, the crash barrier stands broken. Huge economy: we’ve no need to see the crash. It’s not that sort of comic, as you’d anticipate if you’ve read Forsman’s CELEBRATED SUMMER.

 

 

If you’re coming to this from the Channel 4 series now on Netflix, I’m not sure what you’ll make of this. You’re going to have to do your best to blank Alex Lawther’s commanding performance as James right out of your head. Just remember that this is the source material without which none of what you loved would have been possible: the ideas were all conceived and first executed to perfection right here.

“Did you do it inside of me?”
“I’m not sure.”

SLH

Buy The End Of The Fucking World s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy The End Of The Fucking World h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mechaboys (£17-99, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka…

“I’m sorry, Zachery.”
“Don’t call me that. My name is Zeus now. I told you to call me Zeus.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, Zeus. But in this part Spider-Man is just about to…”
“WHAT?! Spider-Manchild. You should read a comic about ME. I’m the damn Thunder God. I mean, listen. Who owns Spider-Man?”
“Well, Disney owns Marvel, but Sony owns the…”
“Exactly. No one owns ME.”
“Well no one owns me either, Zachery.”
“Bullsugar. Spider-Man owns you. Now stop being a slave to your corporate overlords and help me take apart your dead dad’s stupid lawnmower.”

Haha, there’s a great reprise of this conversation later on where Zachery, sorry Zeus, takes Jamie’s collection of Marvel and DC comics – “all corporate crap” – as he kindly refers to them, and… well… I’m not going to spoil that little scene for you, but suffice to say, it had me giggling for a good few minutes.

 

 

I should explain they’re taking apart Jamie’s late father’s lawnmower to build a ‘mecha battle suit’. To their great surprise, as much as anyone else’s, they succeed, which is where the chaos really begins. Bullied at school by the jocks and ignored by the girls, they hatch a crackpot scheme to crash a keg party in the woods and astound everyone with their cool armour.

I probably needn’t add it goes badly wrong, particularly for Zachery. Sorry! Zeus. Soon, he’s heading well and truly for the dark side with a plan to crash the forthcoming prom and annihilate everyone. Just one teeny-weeny problem, he’s in traction and needs Jamie to carry out his dastardly plan. Jamie, having managed to sneak in his first kiss at the party before it all kicked off, just kind of likes the idea of going and having a dance, maybe squeezing in a bit more romancing. And then there’s Mr. B, the recently fired teacher covertly stalking our duo. How does he figure into all this?!

Ah, there’s so much delightfully ridiculous humour going on in this work, which is like a glorious mash-up of many a high school movie, with added mecha battle suit, of course. I’ve not even touched upon the trio of ladies who Jamie has the hots for. They’re equally nutty in their own right, most uproariously in a scene that manages to reference the Bechdel-Wallace test before ending in a rather politically incorrect manner.

 

 

But, before you think Kochalka is having a sly dig at Alison Bechdel, I must add she’s one of the big names pullquoted on the inside front French flap lauding James as her ‘autobiographical icon’. Frank Miller, meanwhile, states of James “He brings the joy back to comics” and I really can’t argue with that. Quite the incongruous pair, there, Alison and Frank! But Kochalka has his ardent comics fans and for me, the former cartoonist laureate of Vermont has made a triumphant return with his finest work since MONKEY VS. ROBOT and the original run of SUPERF*CKERS.

Art-wise, James seemingly hasn’t changed his style one iota since he began either. He still looks like he effortlessly dashes his creations off with a sharpie. I’m sure it’s nowhere near as straightforward as that but I admire the seeming economy of effort and big fat chunky line that he employs. There might not be a surfeit of detail, but it’s all placed to perfection. Here, I continually found myself shaking my head at Zeus’ resplendent bumfluff. All six tufts of it!

Long-term Kolchalka devotees will adore this return to top form and for anyone looking to try something new that is, in its own way, as delightful daft and titter-worthy a parody of and homage to school days and all that attendant angst, as John Allison’s BAD MACHINERY, why not give this a try? Now, if I could just get Teenage Dirtbag by Weezer out of my head…

JR

Buy Mechaboys and read the Page 45 review here

Archival Quality (£17-99, Oni Press) by Ivy Noelle Weir &  Steenz.

“I loved it. I loved the quiet. The order. Everything in its right place. There’s a system, y’know? And you can always count on the system.”

Usually, yes, but not if there’s something else – something “other” – messing around with the material world.

A deliciously drawn Young Adult graphic novel, this has thrilling colours, fabulous hair and a big heart of gold. Both its main cast and background characters sat around cafes are casually, naturally and fully diverse without shouting about the inclusivity, so normalising it. It also deals with the vital issue of Mental Health with great understanding to begin with, and the nightmare of not being believed, drawing a very clever parallel with Celeste’s new co-workers’ repeated scepticism about her experiences with supernatural forces and some of society’s often dismissive or disbelieving attitude towards depression, extreme agoraphobia etc.

 

 

There’s plenty of comedy in the form of museum curator Abayomi Abiola super-serious hyper-formality which, when combined with the odd arched eyebrow, put me in mind of Star Trek: Voyager’s Tuvok. After which, I couldn’t stop hearing his voice. I never saw Tuvok tending a flowerbed in full uniform / pristine 3-piece suit while wearing purple gardening gloves, though. Top marks.

 

 

My problems lie in the limping lack of momentum (50 pages of repetition could have been culled), the cringe-inducingly stiff, right-on speeches instead of conversation about choosing to believe Celeste, the confused (not conflicted) motivations, and finally the massive plot credibility chasms. For example, you won’t know what I mean when I mention the acquisition of the key to the boardroom, but there is no way one of the board members would surrender it voluntarily under these circumstances to anyone, not even [redacted].

It’s a huge shame, because there are moments which are genuinely chilling, especially as the past starts seeping through to the present, plus her boyfriend successfully rendered as is a suffocating idiot.

 

 

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“After losing her job at the library, Celeste Walden starts working at the haunting Logan Museum as an archivist. But the job may not be the second chance she was hoping for, and she finds herself confronting her mental health, her relationships, and before long, her grasp on reality as she begins to dream of a young woman she’s never met, but feels strangely drawn to. Especially after she asks Cel for help… As Cel attempts to learn more about the woman, she begins losing time, misplacing things, passing out-the job is becoming dangerous, but she can’t let go of this mysterious woman. Who is she? Why is she so fixated on Cel? And does Cel have the power to save her when she’s still trying to save herself?”

Finally, you are sure to feel Celeste’s frustration with ancient computer equipment taking an eon to scan a single photo.

SLH

Buy Archival Quality and read the Page 45 review here

Green Lantern: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman…

Ah… finally, another decent Green Lantern story. No, let me rephrase that, finally an excellent GREEN LANTERN story. After the peerless Geoff Johns ‘rainbow run’ that dazzled us with the entire spectrum of ring-slinging, I have to say I’ve found what followed more a little lacklustre and, dare I say, low on charge. And actually, even the Johns run was fading slightly towards the very end.

Consequently all the various associated Lantern titles have long since dropped off my DC reading list, so my expectations were somewhat low for this Earth One spin-off that seemed somewhat late to the other-dimensional party. Surely the time for this was at peak illumination when the dazzling light show from the DC shelves and kerchinging of Lantern-related comics through the till made it seem like a continual trip to Blackpool Illuminations, all hyped up on candy floss.

 

 

We even had people desperate to load up their mitts with coloured plastic rings that were about as tasteful as a chav’s full set of sovereigns, such was the allure of Johns’ story-telling. If they’d got something out back then, it would have sold more copies than Guy Gardner’s had temper tantrums. Which, let me tell you, if you’re not familiar with the man who still holds the record for worst-ever superhero haircut with his classic original bowl, is quite a few.

So, following on as this does from the excellent J. Michael Straczynski penned SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy, the rather disappointing BATMAN: EARTH ONE duology (a rare miss from Geoff Johns though Gary Franks’s art, as always, was exceptional), the very different  TEEN TITANS: EARTH ONE jaunt from Jeff Lemire & Terry Dodson and last but not least the fabulously indulgent WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE offering from Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, I did kind of think, is there really any point to a GREEN LANTERN: EARTH ONE offering?

Well, I was completely wrong, wasn’t I? Husband and wife team Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman, probably best known for their sci-fi epic INVISIBLE REPUBLIC published by Image have nailed it. This is therefore, as you might expect, a yarn that relies heavily on the sci-fi angle. In this alternate universe, Hal Jordan is a former disgraced NASA employee now working for the Ferris Galactic mining corporation out in the asteroid belt, chasing the dwindling supply of elements needed to meet our ever-burgeoning demand for smartphones. It’s not quite the reaching for the stars an idealistic young Harold had in mind when he joined NASA all those years ago, but at least he’s out in space not stuck on an Earth that’s run by a virtual dictatorship.

 

 

Unfortunately he’s just had his contract pulled and been told to head back to Earth after eight long years when he finally strikes paydirt and finds an alien ship and a certain piece of jewellery… So: all good, right? Nope. In this universe the Manhunters have entirely eliminated the Green Lantern Corps, the Guardians themselves, and turned what remains of Oa into a slave world. All that remains are a few scattered rings across the various galaxies. Just the sort of doomsday scenario all Hal Jordans in all dimensions everywhere would relish: assemble a ragtag new corps, overthrow the Manhunters, save the universe. But is that realistically possible? Maybe not.

Hardmans’ hard-edged artwork neatly compliments the gritty storyline. His style reminds me of Mack BRIGGS LAND Chater. It’s note-perfect for this bleak, dystopian yarn. As ever, when these alternate reality tales are done well, they are excellent. A few plot points are neatly left open for a second volume, of course, which, on this showing, I’m looking forward to.

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

The Inking Woman: 250 Years Of Women Cartoon And Comic Artists In Britain h/c (£19-99, Myriad) by Nicola Streeten & Cath Tate.

Out 29th March.

Hands up, who knew that Rupert the Bear was created by a woman?

Okay, I see half a dozen of you there; and five of you are comicbook creators.

Can you name her? Rupert the Bear was created by Mary Tourtel in 1920, and drawn by Tourtel for fifteen years. Originally Rupert was brown, but the Daily Express cut back on printing expenses, hence the iconic white fur.

See? You will learn stuff. Oh, how you will learn stuff!

The publisher’s blurb in this instance is fulsome in both senses, so for once I will leave you in their more than capable hands. All you really need to know is are they singing their own praises louder than they ought? Nope.

It’s embracing, engaging, lavishly illustrated, clearly and cleverly structured with a commendable sense of context.

 

 

“For many years, the world of cartoons and comics was seen as a male preserve. The reality is that women have been drawing and publishing cartoons for longer than most people realise. In the early 1760s, Mary Darly illustrated, wrote and published the first book on caricature drawing published in England, A Book of Caricaturas.

 

 

“In the nineteenth century, Britain’s first comic character, Ally Sloper, was developed by the actress and cartoonist Marie Duval (1847-1890). Cartoons were used by the suffragettes, and, during the “Great War, artists such as Flora White and Agnes Richardson produced light-hearted propaganda comic postcards.; From the 1920s, a few women cartoonists began to appear regularly in newspapers. The practice was for artists to sign with their surname, so most readers were unaware of the cartoonist’s gender.

 

 

“In 1920, Mary Tourtel created Rupert Bear for the Daily Express, and nearly a hundred years later her character is still going strong. From the 1960s, feminism inspired cartoonists to question the roles assigned to them and address subjects such as patriarchy, equal rights, sexuality and child rearing, previously unseen in cartoons. Over the last thirty years, women have come increasingly to the fore in comics, zines and particularly graphic novels; This wide-ranging curation of women’s comics work includes prints, caricatures, joke, editorial and strip cartoons, postcards, comics, zines, graphic novels and digital comics, covering all genres and topics.

 

 

“It addresses inclusion of art by women of underrepresented backgrounds. Based on an exhibition of the same name, held at the Cartoon Museum in 2017, this book demonstrates that women have always had a wicked sense of humour and a perceptive view of the world.”

SLH

Buy The Inking Woman: 250 Years Of Women Cartoon And Comic Artists In Britain h/ and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Akissi: Tales Of Mischief (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Marguerite Abouet & Mathieu Sapin

Mudbite (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave Cooper

Aliens: Dead Orbit s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by James Stokoe

Anxiety Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing

Black Science vol 7: Extinction Is The Rule s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Cucumber Quest vol 2: The Ripple Kingdom s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gigi Dee

The End Of The F***ing World s/c (£12-99, Faber & Faber) by Charles Forsman

Fukushima Devil Fish: Critical & Biographical Essays (£24-99, Breakdown Press) by Katsumata Susumu

Giant Days vol 7 (£13-99, Boom!) by John Allison & Max Sarin

Harrow County vol 7: Dark Times A Coming s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Ryan Heshka

Moonstruck vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Grace Ellis & Shae Beagle

The Realm vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Seth Peck & Jeremy Haun

Warhammer 40,000 vol 3: Dawn Of War s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Ryan O’Sullivan & Daniel Indro, Kevin Enhart

Flash vol 5: Negative Rebirth s/c (£12-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico, Christian Duce, Neil Googe

Planetary Book 2 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

Spider-Men II s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

X-Men Blue vol 3: Cross Time Capers s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Thony Silas

X-Men Gold vol 4: Negative War Zone s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Luke Ross

X-Men: Mutant Massacre s/c (£29-50, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, Ann Nocenti & John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson, Alan Davis, Barry Windsor-Smith, others

Invincible vol 25: End Of All Things Part 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week two

March 14th, 2018

Featuring Eleanor Davis, Anneli Furmark, Moebius, Etgar Keret, Asaf Hanuka, Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Robert Kirkman, Lorenzo De Felici, Terry Moore, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and more!

Gideon Falls #1 (£3-25, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino, Dave Stewart…

“Actually, Mrs. Tremblay… there is one thing.”
“Of course, Father. Anything.”
“In all the rush to get to Gideon Falls, I don’t think the Bishop ever told me… how did Father Tom die?”
“Oh. I… I had thought you would have known.”
“No. Was it his heart?”
“I… I’d rather not talk about it.”

Hmm… I have a sneaking suspicion that wasn’t an accidental omission on the Bishop’s part, the lack of details on the sudden demise of Father Tom. Still, Father Wilfred has now arrived in the rural, backwater town of Gideon Falls, against his wishes, to take up the suddenly vacant position of their pastor. He’d have preferred to remain in the seminary, teaching, but the Bishop felt he was the man to answer the call so off he went.

 

 

What precisely Father Fred, as he likes to be known, or indeed Gideon Falls, has to do with the lunatic Norton obsessively cataloguing and cross-referencing specific pieces of garbage across the distant, big city remains to be seen. We see Norton interacting with, and deceiving his therapist, in a bid to avoid being sectioned again, but it would seem, to him at least, that he senses the presence of something or someone he regards as evil incarnate in the vicinity.

 

 

Norton’s collection of disparate refuse is not remotely random, either, to him, for he senses a common source to his slivers of wood, rusty nails, shards of glass and bent hinges, which he unerringly homes in on, however implausible that seems. The thought occurs as I type, and I have absolutely no way of knowing whether this is correct or not for it is pure supposition on my part,  that he is finding all the components you might expect to compose a door…

 

Yes, mystery, murder and suspense abound, both in the urban environment and the dusty countryside, plus most certainly within the pages of this comic book. And horror, genuine blood-curdling horror too, by the end of this first issue. For Father Tom’s death isn’t the only one in Gideon Falls by the time this opener concludes.

So, what are we, the readers left with? An absolute mystery. What is the connection or connections, between the places and / or the protagonists? I very much doubt Jeff is going to give too much away too soon either.

 

Andrea Sorrentino, probably best known for his gritty, fine linework on Lemire’s OLD MAN LOGAN is an ideal foil for such a tense, taut story that slides straight into psychologically perturbing territory right from the off like the veritable knife between the ribs. His panel and page composition in the Norton sequences particularly – complete with two spectacular double-page spreads, one featuring a mind-bending fish-eye lens effect and the other a collage of scattered Polaroids over a time-lapsed, anguished Norton rocking in a chair against a cityscape – plus inverted pages and crafty use of symmetry contribute immensely to the disorientating, fractured feel and a very rapidly building sense of unease.

 

Then, when the spine goes from mild tingling to collapsing in complete terror back in Gideon Falls, with immense amounts of the colour red involved, I had a strong suspicion I recognised the exact shade from BPRD and BALTIMORE, and yes indeed, it is Dave Stewart providing the colour palette in his own inimitable fashion. It’s a sure sign you’ve probably read too many comics when you can identify a colourist from just one colour… He also seems to have employed a vertical texturing technique on practically every section of black shading which is also cumulatively… troubling… to the eye, and mind… in an artistically positive sense, as if something is persistently scratching away at what you are experiencing. Spooky.

I now eagerly wait to see how messers. Lemire, Sorrentino and Stewart will continue to torment and disturb us further in the next issue. In the meantime, I’m left to ponder my door theory…

JR

Buy Gideon Falls #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Why Art? (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Eleanor Davis.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what are you reading?”

I’ve never been stopped like this on the bus before, but the first dozen pages of WHY ART? had so intrigued a middle-aged man peering over my shoulder from behind and above, that he needed to know. My explanation then so intrigued the passenger immediately to my right that she, too, needed to know.

So what do you need to know?

Well, eventually the cover’s Shadowbox miniature art object / working world – which contains the same flowers as those on the cover to Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY, and whose sense of scale is emphasised by the hands which are exactly the same size as yours (try matching them on a physical copy!) – will come into play in a deliciously recursive narrative via the most extraordinary act of escapology. Into the Shadowbox itself!

However, the initial pages which had so amused their admirer bear Davis’s helpful hints for amateur art critics so that each individual expression can be classified and so catalogued by its most essential qualities for a more profound understanding. It begins thus:

“Why Art?

“Before we can answer that question, let’s explore some examples of different kinds of artworks. The most basic category of artwork is, of course, Colour.”

Of course it is.

That her “orange artworks” and “blue ones” are presented in black and white is priceless.

We are then treated to ‘Big’ artworks and ‘Small’ artworks, with the human form in attendance for sense of scale, anticipating what is to come. Do you feel that you are learning the language that will enable you to talk authoritatively about art? Excellent! Then we come to explore those objects which involve “the intent of the artist or the response of the audience” which is eloquently summarised thus: “MAKES YA THINK”.

The masks are amusing, the warped mirrors are funny, but the ‘Ordinary Mirror’ is even funnier: “continues to fascinate both artist and audience alike”.

Like the sense of scale between creator and creation, this pre-amble too is far from irrelevant.

 

After we witness different audiences responding rather powerfully (!) to various works of art, we meet Dolores, a performance artist who is by definition both artist and the art itself, and who incorporates her audience too for good measure. She stands very still then tells them “I love you”.

“Some responses get very intense.”

I don’t have those pages for you, but that’s just as well, for I like to imagine you all guffawing out loud on your buses instead, then we will each of us create a self-sustaining chain reaction of sales which will ensure that WHY ART? becomes this year’s Page 45 chart-topper.

 

Note: this particular Davis image *doesn’t* appear in WHY ART? but is so similar to some which do, later on.

 

It is Davis’s cartooning which contributes so substantially to the comedy. I adore her forms which are so satisfying physical, and so sleekly drawn in smooth, extended lines which dip at the necks, blossom out at the shoulders, bloom round curved hips, then the slide down the thighs to be pinched together with immaculate, dainty feet. Arms hang heavy or flop like flippers, but always there is poise and harmony. There was a phenomenal use of space inside a tent within Davis’s YOU & A BIKE & A ROAD, and there’s an exquisite page here of one of Dolores’ most ardent admirers reciprocating her performance with a love letter posted through the letter box of her front door. She is crouched on her haunches to do so (in high heels!) and the single sweep incorporating her back, buttocks and thighs, before another line projects diagonally back down her calves with perfect balance, is magnificent.

Doroles looks down through the door’s window, probably on the phone to the police.

A little earlier we are introduced to a group of artists, which includes Dolores, specialising in different disciplines from papier mâché and fabrics to talismans and massive multi-media. José specialises in concrete and fondant. It’s Richard who’s into papier mâché which can be prone to water damage. As can Richard: he has an oversized fibreglass head and oversized papier mâché body and hands.

Together they will be presenting their very latest triumphs in a joint exhibition. “They’re pushing boundaries and breaking barriers – psychological, physical, metaphysical and temporal.” They’re blithely unaware, however, at just how successful they will be.

We were warned about the type of art which can terrify, presented as an abyss of solid black. Now, another abyss beckons. The creators have completed their creations…

“But there’s a storm raging outside.”

 

 

It is raging and it is roaring and there is shouting and wailing and it is so deafening and suddenly the outside seeps in.

Now, about those Shadowboxes…

SLH

Buy Why Art? and read the Page 45 review here

Pizzeria Kamikaze h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Etgar Keret & Asaf Hanuka with Dan Jackson.

“Two days after I killed myself, I found a job at some pizza joint called Kamikaze.”

What an exceptional opening sentence.

Unfortunately it’s the ninth, so I made it my own first instead.

Pizzas are not important to this weird and wonderful twilight tale. Unless I’m missing something, they’re incidental. The fact that Mordy committed suicide is not.

Our man Mordy offed himself a short while ago, and has since been reborn into a world which is much like our own, with two key differences: everyone here committed suicide; but the pressure is all gone.

No one seems to be in actual need of a job or its income, nor do they harbour the same worries or insecurities which might have catalysed their crises in the first place, or the sort of judgemental prejudices which could have once been redirected at them. Oh, Mordy has more than a passing curiosity in spotting any tell-tale scars which might denote how others killed themselves, but that really is the extent of it. No one is blaming each other; and nobody cares… about anything, really. Apart from musing on who may have made it to his funeral and what they’d have thought, Mordy is fairly equanimous to it all.

 

 

It’s just a bit dull and disappointing, to be honest.

“Whenever people used to talk about life after death and go through the “is-there-isn’t-there” routine, I’d always imagine beeping sounds and people floating around in space and stuff. But now that I’m here, it reminds me of Tel Aviv.
“My German roommate says the place could just as well be Frankfurt. I guess Frankfurt’s a dump too.”

Uzi Gelfand has a great big bullet hole in his head, but he’s much happier now, having found his parents reincarnated in this shared limbo because they’d reacted similarly to the anxieties that life had in store for them. Plus his little brother is newly arrived, having offed himself during Basic Training in the conscriptive Israeli army, so now they’re all living together, bonded in the afterlife as never before through their shared exiting option.

I think the bullet through the brain must have taken his internal editor with it, because Uzi isn’t half the opinionated, contrarian bore.

 

 

So yes, it’s a life of dark bars (one’s called Stiff Drinks!), playing at pool, and perhaps pulling if you care to. But Mordy shares none of Uzi’s interest in girls, for his libido’s been lost in this limbo too. Until Mordy discovers, via a previous room-mate, that the girlfriend Desirée – whom he adored and who survived him in life to mourn at his graveside – has arrived in this afterlife too. Now, there is a new, unexpected impetus: locating Desirée and discovering why she committed suicide. Clue: it wasn’t over Mordy.

So it is that Mordy persuades a reluctant Uzi to join him on a journey in a car with no headlights into a countryside which could well be endless, in a world without maps. It’s not just topography that’s absent; it may well be topologically unstable too.

 

 

Along the way they pick up young Leehee, a woman who shows no overt evidence of having offed herself at all. Unlike the others, she misses everything about her prior existence and is on a hunt of her own – for whoever’s in charge – and with very good reason.

When Leehee takes her turn to drive the headlights start working.

Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, they meet a man called Kneller who does show some sort of impetus – to entertain – and this draws its itinerant crowd. But then, in search of Kneller’s cat, they discover an extravagant, plush mansion bathed in sunshine, with a swimming pool. There, even larger crowds have gathered, permanently round a pied-piper-like figure and self-proclaimed Messiah. But in a world in which no one else feels the need to repeat their suicide, why does this bloke want to give it a second ceremonial go?

You may be familiar with Etgar Keret now from ‘The Seven Good Years’ and ‘Jellyfish’. Connoisseurs of comics are more likely to have relished Asaf Hanuka’s solo explosions of fierce creativity and wit-ridden lateral thinking within THE REALIST and THE REALIST: PLUG AND PLAY as well as his work with Tomer Hanuka on THE DIVINE. If so, you will take the most enormous delight in seeing that most accomplished of comicbook creators evolving as a young artist on the pages right in front of you, for this work originally appeared in the periodical BI-POLAR some 15 years ago prior to reappearing in a collection in 2006.

 

 

Compare the first chapter with the third, then the fourth: it’s illuminating! The lines become cleaner, the light brighter, no longer bogged down by extraneous, haggard texture. The colours become lambent thanks to Dan Jackson (the original printings were black and white) and the space opens up, figures better framed in their environment. Or maybe everyone’s having more fun!

It’s a privilege to witness this sort of personal evolution, and artists new to this medium should take note: never refrain from publishing until you believe you have achieved perfection, because you – in your own mind – never will; also, never go back and waste time on fixing too much earlier material which you could otherwise employ to create your next work. Martin Wagner did precisely that on his anthropomorphic HEPCATS, and we have never heard from him since.

The logic of this particular afterlife isn’t watertight (I’ve no idea why condoms might be deployed when you’re already dead, no one seems to become pregnant or suffer from disease; then Kurt Cobain makes a cameo appearance, face intact) but, jeepers, this is an afterlife, so it’s all up for grabs, and there’s almost a perverse pleasure in mulling over what Etgar Keret has come up with and wondering what you might substitute instead. What matters is this: does Keret come up with ideas that make you think, and does his world serve its specific story?

It does.

Thought For Day / Review Addendum

You can probably stop reading now.

 

 

We often hear of the “afterlife” as some carrot dangled before us – with its attendant, punitive stick habitually waiting in the sermonic wings – in order to make us behave ourselves better on this mortal coil. Not just in authoritarian religions organised to control us through brainwashing, but also in the infinitely more liberating Buddhist teachings too.

For, yes, you will be reincarnated so watch what you do, otherwise options include returning as cat, bat, rat, stoat or snail, or even another human being.

Heaven forfend that we should love, comfort, enable and empower each other because it’s A Good Thing To Do, which will make us all quantifiably happier ourselves right here, right now, along with those whom we’ve helped.

Buddhists, I’m curious: can you be reincarnated backwards in time? Could I be reincarnated as a medieval monk? Related: has any enlightened Buddhist found themselves in possession of memories from the future rather than a past life? I ask, because what happens when someone like Trump pushes the big red button and there are no more human beings to look forward to in our abruptly curtailed timeline?

This ‘Thought For Today’ was presented by Stephen L. Holland. Now make yourself a hot mug of Horlicks and pop off to bed! We’ll see you in the morning.

Sweet dreams!

SLH

Buy Pizzeria Kamikaze h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Red Winter (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anneli Furmark.

“I have to go. It’s late.”
“Siv, when can I see you again? We’re not done talking.”
“I’ll call you when I can.”

That won’t be easy.

Siv and Ulrik are in love.

Ulrik is single and only twenty-four, but Siv is thirty-eight, married, with a son of fourteen called Peter and two younger children, Lars and Marita. They live in big, squat concrete block of flats in subarctic Sweden.

Ulrik lodges with Ralf, his local Communist party leader. Such a dalliance as Ulrik and Siv’s would be looked down on sternly, especially given Siv’s status as Social Democrat.

There would be repercussions.

 

 

“Hello, comrades!”
“Hi, Ralf!”
“No, no. You answer, Hello, comrade!
“Hello, comrade!”
“Ha ha can’t you tell I’m joking?”

Not really.

“New sweater? Did your mom knit it?”
“Yes.”

 

 

Calling each other isn’t easy; the opportunities to meet, few and far between. The secretive couple’s current options and future prospects are limited and bleak. Instead Siv pours her heart out in a badly hidden journal; Ulrik professes his passion in love letters he never sends.

 

 

Peter spends too much time in the back of a car owned and driven by delinquents, one of whom doesn’t really like him.

Lars is often out at practice and Dad works long hours, so when Siv sneaks out for her assignations, Marita is left alone to experiment with adult toiletries and Tampax. She may rummage through drawers, but she probably won’t understand what she finds there.

 

 

Poor Siv.

This is a quiet book; a sad, dark, stark mid-winter book as cold as its climate and Ulrik’s humourless, intransigent, dogmatic, revolutionary associates. I’m guessing from the fashions – and in particular from a knitting pattern for a jumper with stripes the colours of a Zoom ice lolly – that this is set in the seventies; it’s certainly before the dissolution of the U.S.S.R..

But – and this is vital – the sense of both time and place are enveloping, and the colours emanating from the perfunctory, concrete blocks of flats glow with a yolk-yellow warmth against the black and pale blue night.

 

 

The same light illuminates the family table from under a central shade, and burgundies are deployed on that table’s cloth, the occasional skirt, shirt and jumper, and Marita’s woollen hat and jeans.

For maximum immersion, I heartily recommend you read it after dark.

 

 

“What do we do now? When can I see you again?”
“I’ll call you when I can.”

SLH

Buy Red Winter and read the Page 45 review here

Oblivion Song #1 (£3-25, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Lorenzo De Felici…

“It’s okay, it’s okay… I know it’s disorientating, but you’re safe now. You hear me? You’re safe.”
“Him! What did you do to him?!”
“He’s asleep. He’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Just calm d…”

SKRAKK!

“Sedative! Hurry! Bridget! I can’t hold her much longer!”
“I can’t believe she scratched you.”
“She was over there almost a decade. She’s scared… how could she not be?”
“Still… I need to look at those scratches… there’s no telling what’s under those fingernails.”

I don’t know what Bridget is worried about. It’s not like the lady they’ve just rescued is a zombie…

I should probably clarify that she really isn’t a zombie. Or indeed possessed. Sorry, I was always going to try and get at least one WALKING DEAD gag in there. And then I had to go and over-egg matters even further with an OUTCAST rejoinder… I really can’t be arsed to try and shoehorn an INVINCIBLE gag in, though…

Moving on… yes, Robert Kirkman returns to terrify us once more, this time with a science-fiction / horror hybrid that owes as much to Quantum Leap as it does to Alien. Well, technically it’s more like Sliders rather than Quantum Leap, but let’s be honest, you’d probably forgotten all about that particular show until I mentioned it.

 

 

Anyway… Mr. Kirkman very kindly printed an advance copy of the first four issues or so, in a not-for-sale advance copy trade for retailers, and let me tell you, it was all utterly brilliant. What it actually reminded me of most in comics terms would be Jeff Smith’s RASL with its dimensional hopping, but with lots of added monsters and intrigue. Also because of Lorenzo de Felici’s exceptional art which definitely has a touch of Mr. Smith about it too.

Fabulous colouring from Annalisa Leoni also, who manages to combine an astonishing variety of shades and hues in a remarkably understated, subtle way. Quite the masterclass in the use of contrasting and complimentary colours to spot highlight and draw attention to detail and so take the illustrations to another level altogether. Very clever.

 

 

Very unusual for me to get this far into a review without rambling on about the plot, so I’d better get on with it, I guess! A decade ago there was an… incident. The city centre of Philadelphia was wiped out in an instant, replaced in the blink of an eye with 30 square miles of a huge vegetative ecosystem and its incumbent voracious predators. Almost 20,000 people were seemingly wiped out of existence in a moment.

Eventually, once the ‘invasion’ was brought under control after a not inconsiderable number of additional casualties and the area quarantined, a scientist named Nathan Cole worked out what had happened. The 30 square miles of Philadelphia which vanished, had in fact, merely swapped places with the new terrain. Suddenly hope was raised that somewhere on an alien world, that promptly became named Oblivion, there were possibly thousands of presumably terrified survivors.

 

Technology was quickly developed to allow incursions to Oblivion and search and rescue missions launched to retrieve many of the missing Philadelphians cowering in the ruins of their city, which itself was rapidly being assailed and assimilated by the native fauna and flora. After ten years, however, the last few of which proved completely fruitless in finding any remaining survivors, government funding inevitably dried up and public interest waned. A monument to the remaining lost souls was built, inscribed with each of their names, and a museum built in their honour.

 

Nathan Cole, however, remains convinced further humans remain on Oblivion, including his brother. In fact, he believes that there is a whole community hidden away somewhere, possibly even thriving. And so, he continues to make unauthorised, dangerous solo excursions with his own technology. When he manages to find a husband and wife and successfully retrieves them, to much understandable public fanfare, he consequently expects to be given a new remit and improved budget to conduct further missions. To his surprise and anger, he finds all the government really wants is to move on and draw a line under the whole Transference as it ultimately became known. Lest the public continue to fret the mysterious, spontaneous occurrence could suddenly happen again. Nathan, of course, has got other ideas…

JR

Buy Oblivion Song #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Inside Moebius Part 1 h/c (£33-50, Dark Horse) by Moebius…

“Arzak! The Major! And Blueberry! They’re all against me. Only John DiFool has left me alone. I hope he doesn’t have it in for Jodorowsky…”

Haha. INSIDE MOEBIUS is precisely that as Jean Giraud takes himself, and us, on an inner journey through his soul desert, simply known as “Desert B”, where he documents his final attempt to quit smoking weed once and for all, whilst being continually harangued by many of his creations such as Major Grubert of The Airtight Garage fame, but also the likes of Osama Bin Laden, all of whom seem determined to convince him to keep toking away.

Probably the worst offender he’ll encounter in his attempt to defeat his recidivistic behaviour is his younger self, replete with flowing black, wavy hair and moustache. Plus ever-present spliff! As Moebius continues to rationalise his desires to knock off the pot, his characters talk about him disparagingly behind his back and, in the case of Jean Giraud Jr., to his face. Moebius Prime, meanwhile, continues to torture himself both existentially, and also artistically, as we see him grapple with his creative process on the likes of Blueberry.

 

 

And that, really, in a nutshell is it. If you are expecting fantastical megalopolis cityscapes and weird colourful alien worlds in the style of THE INCAL, you are likely to be disappointed. The backdrop for virtually all the conversations that take place is quite literally a barren desert. On the other hand it’s a fantastic conceit for what is by turns insightful and hilarious biographical jaunt through the psyche of one of comics’ greatest ever creators. In that respect, the psychodrama that unfolds is closer to the likes of (Jodorowsky’s and) his MADWOMAN OF THE SACRED HEART. But it is all quite, quite real. At least inside Moebius…

JR

Buy Inside Moebius Part 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Girl Omnibus s/c (s/c £24-99; h/c £35-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

Complete, twelve-chapter collection available in hardcover and softcover, originally reviewed in two halves.

“Samantha?
“Are you okay?”

She really isn’t.

So you think you know what to expect from this comic: a burlesque comedy starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? And there were diminutive, comedy, green aliens on the first chapter’s cover, so we knew we were in for those too. Sure enough, they were all present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving, which is deadly and ever so slightly illegal.

 

 

But is that really all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO? The man who’s made a career out of juxtaposing comedy with hard-hitting trauma?  All it takes is a single, early, un-signposted panel to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for. This would fit comfortably on Page 45’s Mental Health Awareness Counter: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

“What happened here?
“Iraqi prison.”
“You were in the military?”
“Marines.”
“I was in the navy. Six years. Did you suffer any head injuries?”
“I guess. They hit me every day for ten months.”

Sam’s recurring headaches are excruciating, and when you finally begin to witness the flashbacks, they will flatten you.

Now former Sergeant Samantha Locklear works virtually alone in a desert junkyard owned by ancient but far from frail Libby who is determined Sam should at least wear a hat and shades. It’s almost unbearably hot, but its isolation and practical purpose provides Sam with the stability she needs not to stay sane, but to survive.

 

 

Walking that tightrope alongside her is Mike the mountain gorilla, her constant companion who is more than just a figment of Sam’s imagination, but a coping mechanism, a projection she knows isn’t real. So if Mike isn’t real, what about the UFO and the comedy green aliens who crash-land on the doorstep? Only Sam and Mike see those, late at night, fixing up their stereotypical flying-saucer’s engine, to be thanked by an almighty embrace, the alien’s antennae bending into the shape of a heart, his oil-stained hands planted firmly on Sam’s boxer-shorted buttocks. The stain’s still there in the morning, as plain as plain can be… unless Sam’s imagining that too?

 

 

Nope. There’s a very real reason why Mr Walden is prepared to pay a ridiculous sum of money to purchase the land, then up the ante with intimidation. Nice visual reference to Hergé’s TINTIN: DESTINATION MOON.

I love that Libby, the direct, gum-flapping old-age pensioner is even less likely to “do” intimidation than Sam; that she understands Sam’s needs and treats her like a daughter. She won’t sell unless Sam’s ready to move on, and she isn’t. She has a family that worries about her, but she’s simply not ready.

I can hear Libby’s “Ooo dogey!” drawl distinctly in my head which, weirdly enough, I am positive is partly due to the cartooning.

 

 

As well as wearing a hat and shades, Libby’s also determined that Sam, to stave off dehydration, should drink more.

DRINK!” Drink or you’re going straight to bed with no supper!
“That’s what Momma used to say, she could really bring the pain.
“Now I drink a Martini every day at five…
“And toast to Momma.”

Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, suitably matted and ill-conditioned when not, superb use of grey tones at night, and there’s an exquisite slow-motion scene in which a certain party’s launch through the air is virtually halted as Sam and Mike weigh up the situation calmly, unhurriedly, before Sam demonstrates quite ably why ex-Marines don’t need to carry firearms.

 

 

Part Two

“She just wants to help.”
“I don’t need any help! Okay?
“I carry my own load! No one has to help me!
“I help them!
“I’m the strongest person in the room! That’s how it works!”
“Really?”
“Damn straight!”
“Then why am I here?”

In which you will learn precisely why Mike’s in Sam’s mind, and why he is specifically a mountain gorilla.

It involves a young boy in Iraq who was chained with steel braid to a big bundle of explosives, then left in an upstairs window to lure in someone just like Sergeant Samantha Locklear. It worked. The sequences in Iraq are halting and horrific, rendered without any of the cartoon galumphing exhibited by Walden’s paid goons.

 

 

 

The stark contrast is bridged by the quiet solemnity of Sam’s current, consequent medical condition when Libby goes silent and Sam and Mike finally begin to address each other seriously. And I found the sincere respect due to veterans so deftly done, for example paid here by a barman after yet another drunken altercation between Sam and Mike – or, to any observer, thin air.

“What’s her problem?”
“Sam? She did three tours in Iraq. Captured, tortured, survived two bomb attacks.”
“Damn.”
“If she wants to come in here and yell at the back wall, I say yes ma’am, thank you for your service and would you like a beer for your ‘friend’.”

 

 

I don’t have any of the Iraqi pages to show you, but perhaps that’s for the best: they should come out of the blue and blow you to bits. But even during its comedic confrontations MOTOR GIRL is more than just mouth and mania: it’s about the little guys getting trampled on by the big boys with money and clout; about those under threat looking out for each other. Eh, it’s also about slapstick, soap-sudded aliens in your bath.

“I know how the military works, Libby.”
“I know you do. I’m just saying…”
“There’s more to it than duty.”
“Like what?”
“Like caring what happens to people who can’t defend themselves.”

 

 

STRANGERS IN PARADISE has now returned for its 25th Anniversary with STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV #1  and SiP XXV #2.

SLH

Buy Motor Girl Omnibus s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Motor Girl Omnibus h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 1 – The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Saying “No, sir!” to NASA, four thieves steal a space rocket, and strangely we applaud.

“No time for official clearance!”

Or a countdown – I used to love pre-launch NASA countdowns.

“Conditions are right tonight!”

You can see stars! So at least they’ll know which way to go.

There’s a single guard on duty. I’m not even kidding you.

We even sympathise, then respect this delinquent family of anarchists (“property is theft” – but then so is theft) as they’re bombarded with cosmic rays, crash, and are transformed into earth (the lumpy orange Thing – rocks to follow), wind (as Invisible as a Woman in those days) and fire (car-driving dreamboat Johnny ‘clueless’ Storm). Oh, and I guess water too, if you consider Mr. Fantastic’s ability to flow. But maybe that’s stretching it.

These arm-crossing Four Musketeers then proceed to fight off invading shape-shifting Skrulls, a time-travelling tyrant (Victor von Doom, again and again) and the Moleman, a mop-topped minger with no sense of hygiene and a terrible pair of sunglasses ill-equipped to deal properly with the modern menace of U.V. rays.

 

 

As well as a blatant disregard for federal property, feminism and his fiancée in particular, Reed Richards also demonstrates a surprisingly strange sense of humour in using Skrulls’ shape-shifting ability against them by hypnotising them into believing they’re cows. He’s essentially immigrant-averse Donald Trump, six decades early, and this is a legacy which will lead to upset stomachs around fast food chains everywhere once Grant Morrison and Mark Millar find out.

Hot-headed and easily bedded Johnny Storm quits quite early on so that he no longer has to moonlight as a mechanic, but can show-off fool time (sic) by using his powers as the Human Torch to weld random bits of metal together which he claims are car components.

 

 

The Full Frontal Lobotomy then burns the beard off an already bullied bum with deep-seated amnesia to see if it’s really Prince Namor, Marvel’s Golden Age Sub-Mariner.

It’s Namor, Marvel’s Golden Age Sub-Mariner!

Now, Namor (Marvel’s Golden Age Sub-Mariner) had two temperaments back in 1939 – tetchy and very tetchy indeed – and wasn’t particularly disposed towards due care and consideration when it came to collateral damage whilst on an anti-land-dweller rampage. Fortunately, his memory loss holds after this initial close shave and he has in any case been out of his beloved, strength-sustaining sea-water for decades. So far, so phew!

But Johnny “I Can’t Even Spell Health & Safety” Storm has a very cunning plan: he drops Prince Namor into the ocean.

“If he is the Sub-Mariner, the water will bring back his memory and his full powers! If not, I’ll dive in and save him!”

It may or may not surprise you to learn that Johnny Storm also flunked history.

 

 

Cue immediate memory and full-power restoration, plus subsequent anti-land-dweller rampage with absolutely colossal property damage throughout Manhattan courtesy of Giganto, a 70-storey-high, amphibious, bipedal Sperm Whale, summoned by a sea shell. Okay, a sea-shell horn.

An invisible Sue Storm grabs the horn, but then Namor grabs Sue Storm. Instantly the high tide is turned, for Namor has Sue Storm, the horn and the horn for Sue Storm.

That mess will play itself out for decades.

 

 

This collection reprints all the clever little cross-pollination marketing teasers that used to run underneath Marvel Comics’ pages:

WHAT IS THE HULK?
WHO IS THE HULK?
THE HULK IS COMING

To his own comic, obviously, but also to next volume’s titanic pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, ‘The World’s Most Chauvinist Comic Magazine Until We Invented The Avengers’.

 

 

Next volume, I’ll actually be talking about the excellence of artist Jack Kirby, including yet another Caravaggio rhombus composition. I know this because I wrote those paragraphs over a decade ago.

But really, I’ll still be ripping the piss out of Stan Lee’s truly awful storytelling logic and utterly outrageous sexism.

You wait until Reed and Sue get married and then have a kid: they’re the worst parents ever. I’ve written all that too.

SLH

Buy Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 1 – The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 1 – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Larry Ivie & Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers.

A review of the first 20 issues told in two 45-minute halves, with an interlude so you can suck oranges before switching sides.

Part, The First:

Welcome to the very first adventures of Earth’s Most Mightiest of Heroes!

Iron Man, the Golden Avenger!
Thor, the Norse God of Thunder!
Captain America, WWII Super-Soldier!
Hulk: Incredible, but a Bit Mardy!
Giant-Man / Ant-Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man!

Janet van Dyne, the “winsome” Wasp, whose only job here appears to be flirting outrageously with everyone in sight, and calling everything else “silly”.

Suspect I’m being a bit hard on super-sexist Stan ‘The Man’ Lee? All these utterances are real:

“Know something, handsome? You look like the poor man’s Ben Hur on that silly ant!”
“Personally, I think it’s silly not to have a permanent leader!”
“Couldn’t you have made these silly things taste better while you were inventing them?”
“I’m as all right as any girl could be who had her make-up smudged by a silly ol’ collapsing ant hill!”
“You, sir, are about as romantic as the rotor blade on this silly ol’ plane.”

It’s a helicopter, Jan!

 

 

“Did anyone ever tell you that you have the most deliciously blue eyes, Henry Pym?”
“I’ll bet he’s not bad-looking under that silly head-gear he’s wearing!”
“Hmm… he’d be real dreamy if he was a little huskier!”
“Look! An intruder is coming! Hmmm… he’s not bad looking!”

OMG, she wants to hump the intruder! Nevertheless, it’s team-mate Thor she’s truly stuck on:

“He sounds like a burlesque of a comic hero in MAD Magazine! But with those shoulders… those eyes — who cares how corny he talks!!!”

All this swooning comes right in front of her boyfriend, Hank Pym / Giant-Man / Ant-Man. No wonder he has size issues. But then that’s what happens when the world’s most sophisticated biochemist dates a flying clothes horse with a brain the size of a butterfly’s.

“That whirling shield of yours is a like an all-purpose detergent, Cap!!”

Janet, in what possible way…?!?

 

 

A feminist tract, this is not. Covers aside, it’s not much to look at, either (it honestly isn’t): tiny figures all boxed in, largely by Stan Lee’s insane over-writing. There’s a scene wherein the duplicitous Wonder Man swats a boulder back at Giant-Man, and you can just tell from the art (drawn before Stan’s written his script) that it’s intended to back-fire on the traitor by smashing into his leader’s machinery, yet Stan feels the need to append this off-panel bobbins:

“But, though wracked with pain, the valiant Giant-Man again lifts the boulder and, before Wonder Man can stop him, sends it smashing into Zemo’s Magnet Mechanism!”

That’s not what happened! You’ve ruined a perfectly decent irony, Stan!

So yes, villains include Wonder Man, Zemo, The Enchantress, The Executioner, Kang The Conqueror (himself conquered here by the ludicrous, Rick Jones-led Teen Brigade of random ruffians), The Hulk (conflicted), The Space Ghost, The Radioactive Man, The Black Knight, Immortus, Namor The Sub-Mariner, some Lava Men, Janet Van Dyne’s sex drive and the chap what unwittingly brought them all together in the first place: Loki, Norse God of unbelievably half-assed cock-ups.

Phenomenal, really. I love it to bits.

 

 

Interlude:

I adored THE AVENGERS.

From the age of seven or so, I grew up on Marvel Comics. No others would do. I lapped them up, one and all.

But THE AVENGERS had a colourful, iconoclastic, rough-and-tumble cast whereas the FF and original X-Men wore homogenous uniforms and were each lead by a fun-free, dominating patriarch. I thrilled seeing Iron Man’s armour evolve early on, and totally geeked-out each time Hank Pym / Ant-Man / Giant-Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man (coming soon: Goliath and Yellow Jacket plus multiple mental breakdowns) changed his costume.

My favourite eras as a kid were the early adventures drawn by John Buscema (coming shortly) then Neal Adams (KREE-SKRULL WAR), plus George Perez and John Byrne’s 50-odd issues. Later, as an adult, my kiddie thrills all paid off during writer Brian Michael Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS run which I recommend to any modern sensibility seriously interested in superheroes with all my heart and none of this naughty nit-picking.

Have you finished your oranges? Excellent!

Part, The Second:

 

 

Another pulse-pounding pageant of pugilism, but also the end of an era as the Wasp runs out of compact, so opts to resign. Thor and Iron Man follow suit (as does her boyfriend Giant-Man, somewhat defensively) leaving no one for the recently resurrected Captain America to bark orders at. Handily Hawkeye the marksman offers his services, as do siblings Quicksilver (Pietro) and Wanda, The Scarlet Witch, which gives Stan Lee a fresh opportunity to demonstrate his sterling credentials as a forward-thinking feminist:

“You are the oldest, Pietro, and I shall so as you say!”

Obviously the outgoing Avengers must first ascertain how qualified each applicant is to take over by judging their strength, stamina and skill-set with a rigorous and impartial eye, beginning with Hawkeye who ties up their butler in order to play William Tell.

“I’m sold! How about you, Wasp?”
Va va voom! Oh  >eh<  I mean — he ought to do fine!”

Left to their own devices, the boys begin bickering immediately, each one jockeying for position of leader in a tidal wave of testosterone that would threaten to drown poor Wanda if she wasn’t perpetually falling through trap-doors. It’s funny how the lads start walking on opposite sides of the street.

Fortunately statesman Captain America is above it all:

“Stay out of this, Wanda! It’s between Hawkeye and myself!”
“You’re blamed right it is! I’m sick of the way you try to push your weight around all the time! Do ya read me?”
“Loud and clear, feather-brain! And get your finger out of my face before you lose it!”

Well, almost above it all.

 

 

What they can unite behind is their righteous disgust towards evil foreigners like The Mandarin and The Commissar of the Communist-ruled puppet state of Sin-Cong. One which Captain America invades (without so much as a phone call to the United Nations, let alone a Resolution), overthrows those squalid Commie bastards, then issues this stern warning to all right-minded Marvel readers:

“Be always on your guard! Their goal is nothing less than total world conquest, and world enslavement! Only constant vigilance and devotion to freedom can stop them! And remember — The Avengers always stand ready to do their part!”
“Cap, did you take lessons on how to be a cornball, or does it come natural?”
“Sorry, Hawkeye! Guess I got carried away by my own convictions!”
“With convictions such as those, one has a right to be carried away!”

Yes, right away.

 

 

Some terrific covers, though, including this exceptional Jack Kirby composition, its perspective and narrative enhanced by an upright triangle, its base the row of heads, gazing up on both sides at the Swordsman and his sword (further emphasised by Wanda and Hawkeye’s gesticulations), on the left via Cap & the plank from which he jumped. (He did actually jump.)

SLH

Buy Avengers: Epic Collection vol 1 – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Crushing (£7-50, self-published ) by Sophie Burrows

Archival Quality (£17-99, Oni Press) by Ivy Noelle Weir &  Steenz

It’s All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I’ve Drawn It Instead (£14-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Ruby Elliot

Mechaboys (£17-99, Top Shelf) by James Kochalka

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 5 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

Port Of Earth vol 1 (£8-99, Image) by Zack Kaplan & Andrea Mutti

Puerto Rico Strong: A Comics Anthology Supporting Puerto Rico Disaster Relief And Recovery (£11-99, Lion Forge) by various

Scalped Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guera, Davide Furno, John Paul Leno

The End Of The Fucking World h/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Charles Forsman

Vague Tales h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Eric Haven

We Ate Wonder Bread (£20-99, Fantagraphics) by Nicole Hollander

White Sand vol 1 s/c (£17-99, Dynamite) by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin & Julius Gopez

All-Star Batman vol 2: Ends Of The Earth s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Scott Snyder &  Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mark Morales

Green Lantern: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman

X-Men: X-Cutioner’s Song s/c (£33-50, Marvel) by Peter David, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza & Greg Capullo, Andy Kubert, Jae Lee, Brandon Peterson, Larry Stroman

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

Monster Hunter Flash Hunter vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Keiichi Hikami & Shin Yamamoto

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2018 week one

March 7th, 2018

Featuring Audrey Niffenegger, Eddie Campbell, Tommi Parrish, Eric Haven, Jerry Frissen, Philippe Scoffoni, Reinhard Kleist, more.

Bizarre Romance h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Audrey Niffenegger & Eddie Campbell.

“The attic was infested with angels again. I could hear them bumping around above the ceiling. Plus, the harp music made it pretty obvious.”

If my name were Jacob, I probably wouldn’t go climbing any ladders. You never know what you’ll encounter.

What Jakob Wywialowski discovers, once he’s stuck his head over the proverbial parapet and up through the attic hatch, is a small orchestra of Byzantine angels sat on the floorboards or upon the carved antique chairs belonging to his great-aunt Rachel. Now, harp music would probably prove soothing to most, but there’s a lute, a lyre and some sort of trumpet. That’s sure going to carry. And although they stop strumming the second they see Jakob (and stare him down coldly), they strike right up again the second he’s popped the lid back.

Have you ever had noisy neighbours? Plus, you know, if you don’t take action, things can escalate.

“One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’ve got Seraphim.”

 

 

 

The angels are rendered, as per Byzantine tradition, faces turned but in bodily profile, even when all hell breaks loose later on. There’s an exquisitely funny, ornately framed, two-dimensional tableau of this (wherein the angels remain coloured in flat olive hues in contrast to their contemporary assailants) which can be viewed from all angles, as you might a church ceiling from the same period. For the same effect, hold the book above your head then turn it round.

The tale takes a truly upsetting twist (which is sadly familiar if you transpose it), but the punchline is perfectly judged for maximum, serves-you-right mirth.

So, twelve short stories and a sermon (!), some of which have seen the light of day before but in different ways, some of which haven’t except as one-off performance pieces, with one which is brand-new to the public. Apart from a couple which were co-created by the couple for comics, all are written by Audrey Niffenegger (‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ etc), and each has been transformed into illustrated prose or full-blown comics by Eddie Campbell of ALEC OMNIBUS, BACCHUS, FROM HELL, FROM HELL COMPANION, THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, THE PLAYWRIGHT etc, all reviewed.

 

 

Kicking a piece of prose fiction off with a double-page illustration is a risky business, but the specific shimmering imagery preceding ‘Secret Life, with Cats’ (note the exact title including punctuation) could not anticipate and complement what follows better and Campbell’s contribution to ‘The Composite Boyfriend’ is a stroke of mischievous genius. It’s a paper-doll dress-up of a naked, bald man with slots through which you can stick the tabs attached to the various mix-and-match head gear, shirts, jackets, boots, high-heeled shoes, pants and panties. There’s additional lateral thinking I’ll leave you to discover yourself, but only Eddie Campbell would think to include a variety of genitalia for preferences’ sake or a fig leaf for the prudish, deeply religious or asexual.

The short story itself is a free-flowing composite too:

“I met him at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where he worked as a guard. I met him in a class I was taking. I met him at a school where we both taught. I met him at a party; we smiled at each other across a crowded room. We were introduced to each other by our mutual friend Paula, an Austrian immigrant who had escaped from the Nazis as a young girl.”

“…I gave him my phone number but accidentally transposed two digits because I had just changed it. He managed to call anyway.”

The sex was largely problematic.

 

 

 

So, what are you in for thematically? The title would suggest bizarre romances, and there are plenty of relationships here (romances, family, friendships) which either begin bizarrely or take quite the startling turn at the transdimensional traffic lights. There are initial connections, strange transformations and passages through mirrors, hatches and doors, whether you can see all of them or not. Offers, for examples, are doorways; agreements are you stepping through.

There are also a great many cats, some living, some dead, one dead-and-buried and about-to-be-exhumed, while others were never alive. See juggled ocelots. That they were specifically ocelots is funny in its own right.

 

 

Originally written between 2003 and 2014, I note that ‘Secret Life, with Cats’ was originally published in 2006, three years prior to Niffenegger’s novel ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ and I wonder which more informed the other, for they share more than a few of the same elements. It’s a story about houses, one of which is bequeathed to the narrator by a friend called Ruth whom she met while they worked together at a cat rescue, rehabilitation and re-housing centre after Ruth disappears. The narrator finds that she too would like to disappear and does so, twice – the first time in order to escape life with a neglectful husband by moving into her new house; the second time in order to escape what she finds there. After an extended, predominantly tender tale, the narrator abruptly signs off, over and out with a shockingly ruthless expediency which is so completely in keeping with her quiet, resigned pragmatism that it is comical.

Ever and always, throughout this collection, you can see the creators’ eyes twinkle.

As well as the humour, there’s an unworldly eeriness to some of Eddie’s art here, not least in ‘The Ruin of Grant Lowery’ which begins in the very fixed and concrete location of “the Village Tap on Rancine” before some of those dangerous doors begin beckoning. At that bar an imperious-looking lady accosts him, her face a too perfectly beautiful, impassive mask. She asks Grant Lowery to settle a bet between her friends, but that invitation too is a mask for what she really wants. It’s a clever approach, to offer alternatives. One of her friends has a facade which exhibits slightly feral features; the other’s smile is so asymmetrical that “Grant wondered if she had been in some sort of accident”. I liked this: “Migly, as he looked at her, seemed to become subtly more asymmetrical, until she was almost cubist.” Wait until you see what Campbell does with that! Wait until you learn what Grant Lowery doesn’t: he doesn’t run away.

 

 

The eeriness is in evidence too in ‘Backwards in Seville’. There the pages open right up with vacuums of white: silent space in which only five sentences are actually uttered and upon which each panel seems to hang as if suspended in space, but more accurately time.

The effect is that within fluid prose – as the narrator talks herself out of an existence she no longer cherishes in favour of her frail, aging father – each solitary reflection is given its due. It’s difficult not to linger. It also divorces a blur-faced Helene from the world she perceives and the life she has led which she reflects upon remotely, dispassionately and disappointedly as their boat backs away from Seville.

“She had met Evan when she was twenty-eight and he was thirty-six. He’s always seemed on the verge of marrying her; she was patient.
“When he broke up with her fourteen years later and married a girl half her age, she understood that she’d been gullible and that he was a jerk, but, oh, well, and so she had lapsed into a quiet, permanent rage.”

Helene’s father has been recently widowed, you see, and she has taken her mother’s place on their traditional Mediterranean cruise holiday. Slowly but surely as Helene reflects upon what little she has made of her own life, she comes to the conclusion that her more interactive, proactive, still-smiling father could make far better use of her extra time which she – being too timid and ineffectual to date – wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with. Almost anyone other than Audrey Niffenegger would have then turned this into a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for. But such proscriptive stifling is really not her style.

 

 

 

So we come, appropriately enough, to the ‘Gaeia Manchester Sermon’ which Niffenegger originally delivered in a cathedral to a congregation celebrating the Manchester Literary Festival in October 2014. Yes, it was a real sermon delivered in a real cathedral to a real congregation, even though the writer had long abandoned organised religion in favour of Art, and all of their interests lay firmly and fervently focussed thataway!

She is diplomatic.

“The thing that makes us want God is the same thing that makes us want Art – we want meaning. We want there to be more than meets the eye.”

She is honest.

“I am an inappropriate person to be giving a sermon. I have spent thirty-six years of my life avoiding sermons. I might even be allergic to sermons; they make me itch.”

Not rich. Her mother left the Catholic Church shortly after Audrey left art school upon graduation. Her Mum realised that she didn’t like the way the church treated women, and more. Her local church’s pastor wrote her a letter in which he said he was sorry she was leaving, but that he prayed that she would please still continue to give them the same stipend of money. That was his priority.

What is so very clever about the sermon is that does address the ecclesiastical, marries rather than divorces it from the history of art, argues with evidence that its scriptures and strictures are contradictory, hypocritical with respect to said art, and then humbly enounces a far more inspiring, communicative and so constructive potential focus for our shared devotion.

Art.

As has now become laughably traditional at Page 45 – but never once regretted or rescinded – I now pronounce this my book of the year, once again as early as March. Hahahahahaha!

SLH

Buy Bizarre Romance h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Lie And How We Told It h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Parrish.

“That friendship was my whole world once.”
“People change.”

Oh how they do!

Bar-staff wisdom, there: never underestimate it. They observe everything and everyone – except me when I’m attempting to buy a round on a heaving Saturday night. It’s those propping up that bar whose advice you should be wary of.

Cleary and Tim haven’t seen each other in years, but bump into each other again because Cleary is working at the local supermarket’s check-out and Tim has brought some produce to buy.

Awkward.

Uncommitted small talk ensues then Tim signals his intention to leave, but Cleary thinks she should give it a go: she finishes in 5, and she says they should catch up. Tim’s caught, as startled as a deer in her headlights, and automatically agrees. Outside, he waits for her. Reveries or perhaps memories seep in.

And then, when they walk and talk, it’s far from a meeting of minds.

 

 

Yes, it’s going to be awkward. Parrish does “awkward” ever so well, as you shall see. In fact, why don’t we start again?

THE LIE AND HOW WE TOLD IT is an essay in awkward: awkward bodies, uncomfortable environments, and a mis-meeting of minds engaged elsewhere or else-when; they’re certainly no longer on the same wavelength, if they ever were.

The figures are hulking, extended, exceptionally physical and when one pushes someone else away literally or metaphorically, they do with a palpable, tangible physicality.

The bar scenes are visually, colourfully crowd-loud, dense and intense.

 

 

Have you ever been led to a new pub, bar or club by someone totally used and inured to its charms: someone at least familiar with its regular denizens and accustomed to its customs? But you find it oppressive, overwhelming and so hostile, even if it isn’t? If the music or chatter is so loud that you cannot communicate with the one who brought you there and so find solace in their familiarity amongst this alien environment, then that’s even worse. They stand there, relaxed, beaming and proud of themselves, while you shudder silently inside.

But Parrish takes this one step further, for although Tim leads Cleary to a bar he perhaps honestly believes she’ll enjoy because of its sexuality diverse population (alternatively, to prove he’s so very cool), in spite of all his ostensible equanimity, he’s about to squirm too in its toilets.

There’s nothing awful or untoward going on in its toilets. Everyone there is perfectly friendly; it is Tim who imperfectly is not.

 

 

Cleary finds a book along their way, and we are privy to its text.

“How can someone learn so little in all those years?”

Distance, it seems to me, is not only a matter of miles.

 

 

SLH

Buy The Lie And How We Told It h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Compulsive Comics s/c (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Eric Haven…

“Hell-ooo! Helloo-HUH? DAN?”
“Eh…?”
“Wow! I can’t believe it!”
“ADRIAN?! It’s great to see you, lad! Although I wish our circumstances were different… I think we’re dead.”

They are. Dead, that is. Yes, EIGHTBALL’s Dan Clowes and OPTIC NERVE’s Adrian Tomine are conversing in the afterlife and discover to their mutual outrage that the same blithering idiot has managed to knock them both down in rapid succession in his black VW bug! The idiot in question being the creator of Compulsive Comics, Eric Haven, who is now having a complete meltdown over how to dispose of their bodies because he doesn’t want to go to prison…

Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of Dan and Adrian are about to negotiate with the Creator – capital C, note – to get sent back on a mission of vengeance to deal with the lower-case one… Quite why Eric Haven felt the need to bump those two off, only he knows, but he does have the manners to apologise to both of them at the end of the strip, and thank them in the credits at the back of the collection, in addition to letting them gain their revenge with the pages of his comic as well. So he can’t be all bad! Also, his conceit of having Dan call Adrian “lad’ totally cracked me up. I’d love to know where that came from.

 

 

It is as bizarre as it sounds, not least because God is not quite what you’d expect, neither in appearance nor in fashion sensibilities, as He insists Dan and Adrian get dressed as superheroes before their resurrection. Dan’s a little concerned the outfits look a bit “sheer” but God insists they’ll hit the spot in striking terror into mortal men… As I say, at least Eric had the good grace to say sorry to them!

That surreal short is but one of eleven strips of varying levels of insane that make up this collection drawn from various sources penned between 1996 to 2006. Some are little more than one or two page gag strips, in a nervous laughter sense that is, whereas others are psychotic, surreal affairs that just seem to ramble dangerously on in a random fashion over several pages. I think my favourite is possibly ‘It’s Okay… I’m Wearing A Tie’ which as you can probably guess features Eric in a number of… situations… that no normal person would remotely consider okay, whether one was fully suited and booted or not. It’s all very deadpan humour throughout and wonderfully absurd.

 

 

Content-wise and artistically I can make comparisons with Charles LAST LOOK Burns, Joe HIGHBONE THEATER Daly, Tim LONESOME GO Lane and I’m even going to throw Fletcher Hanks in there on the basis of the one strip that is in colour entitled Mammology, featuring Eric slumped in an armchair watching a TV show starring a deliberately period superhero called the Mongoose. Also, there’s more than a touch of Joe SPENT Matt in how Eric draws himself, which is probably somewhat revealing!

On the basis of this excellent selection of shorts I’d love to have a look at Eric’s longer form work. Apparently he did one last year, also for Fantagraphics, entitled VAGUE TALES about a man (presumably Eric!) telepathically visiting other worlds whilst sitting in his apartment. I can certainly identify with that… but that’s the power of comics for you!!

JR

Buy Compulsive Comics s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Secret Loves Of Geeks (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood, Hope Larson, Cecil Castellucci, Gerard Way, Levi Hasting, Jamie McKelvie, Katie West, JP Laroque, Marley Zarcone and more.

Unexpectedly enormous fun! Apart from the bits that will tear your heart in two.

But, predominantly, this is unexpectedly enormous fun in which comicbook creators are generous enough to have a good old laugh at themselves, and in doing so go some not inconsiderable way to demonstrate that we’re far from alone if we act a bit wonky in love, lust or dear old infatuation.

But first a few words about the collection’s inclusivity so that none of you feel you’re being left on the shelf. *sobs*

“Representation matters, and people find it easier to become who they are when they see themselves reflected in media and stories.”

 – Chris Roberson, from the foreward.

If you’re still not sure whether representation matters, Roberson’s own history is almost certain to convince you, and you may end up researching demisexual and indeed graysexual which, sadly, isn’t an attraction to crumblies like me. Terms like that aren’t about pigeon-holing and labels, but about a vocabulary that allows greater understanding of others and more communicative self-expression in conversation. Hooray!

 

Absolutely no art I’ve found online corresponds to the stories I’m about to introduce you to. Never mind, they’re all somewhere in the book!

 

As suggested on the cover by Becky Cloonan, there’s a full spectrum of representation here “of diverse genders, orientations and cultural backgrounds” – also of art styles and narrative approaches from the era-spanning and the era-straddling to a weekend whirlwind romance.

As the word ‘Geek’ might suggest, unusually fervent obsessions are also very much to the fore, whether it’s Katie West’s collection of Vampire Lestat editions (not different books in the series, but different editions of the same book; and you for the punchline!!!) or Marley Zarcone’s startling moment of waking disassociation from reality in front of boyfriend James Stokoe following waaaaaaaaaaaay too much video-game bingeing. Hello? Yes, I saw a lot of hands going up there. Me too! Unfortunately, however much Bryan Lee O’Malley might suggest it in SECONDS, most of us can’t simply reload an old save.

 

 

Other contributors manage to combine tales of their obsessions with stories of their love lives in extraordinarily powerful, extremely elaborate or completely ridiculous ways, two of the very best being Levi Hastings’s sequential-art heartbreak and JP Laroque’s pun-tastically titled ‘Love In Alderaan Places’.

It’s a Star Wars reference, and a surprisingly clever one at that, for Laroque once had a boyf for whom Star Wars was sacrosanct. It was sacred to the point that even the suggestion that a single celluloid frame might be imperfect was a relationship deal-breaker, let alone all the prequels. And Mr Laroque, he held no love for the Star Wars franchise whatsoever; indeed, he hated it all.

So he lied. Oh, how he lied! Such was his love / lust / infatuation that he willingly subjected himself to entire evenings and repeated sittings of wall-to-wall Star Wars to please his boyfriend and then, to earn extra points, extolled the virtues of what he had seen at length, in depth and with a passion. I can’t recall whether this lasted weeks or for months, but I am slightly in awe. The key to all this is how Laroque sets it up – the crash, burn and inevitable, cataclysmic parting of ways when the truth comes out, after which he goes Solo – for Laroque is not without his own passions including the Alien franchise, he’s a great deal more candid than he was during this pantomime, and he’s a very funny writer with immaculate timing.

 

 

On an infinitely more poignant note, Levi Hastings fell for a guy while sojourning in a small, remote town which was thinly populated by those with even smaller minds. No matter. He still fell for this guy who loved the socio-political remake of Battlestar Galactica, so on their weekends, they watched it together and Levi found himself hooked on both fronts.

“The show became our date-night ritual, and I started to equate the drumbeats of the opening credits to the thumping of my eager heart.”

Awwww. The couple are all cuddled up on the sofa (this one’s comics). But here’s where it gets really interesting:

“I soon began to draw parallels between our progress in the show and the stages of our relationship.”

And parallels he draws, season to season, are absolutely remarkable and ever so telling. Or, as our own Battlestar expert Dee put it when I told her of this trajectory: “Uh-oh!” Uh-oh indeed! I’m not going to go any further, but that one’s a poignant must-read.

 

 

What else did I make notes on? Oh yes, Hope Larson’s ‘Cosplay’. A bit disappointed that it was prose, for I love Larson’s art, but the prose itself does not disappoint. She’s meeting someone at a bar for the first time:

“I got there early, like I always do, to buy my own drink and avoid the dance over the check. I call this move the Conflict-Averse Feminist. I moved around the bar trying out different seating options, like one of Goldilocks’s bears, until I located a spot that would allow for close conversation but didn’t invite too much coziness.”

Actually it was Goldilocks who tried out all the furniture and the bears who discovered her, but it’s a terrific analogy. Anyway, the convention-break date goes swimmingly well and Larson is exceptionally self-aware.

“I trotted out my best material: my most charming stories, my greatest hits.” It’s at this point I’m usually either tongue-tied or self-deprecating; I find the latter charming, but I might as well just stick a post-it note to my forehead with “LOSER” scrawled across it. “There was no rationing it out, or worrying that I’d built myself up to a sum greater than my parts. I’m not the type to dress up like Wonder Woman and trot about conventions, slipping into character for every amateur photographer, but I understand the impulse. This was my own brand of cosplay, and I was in disguise as myself.”

Everything that follows is equally eloquent with a superb sense of stock-taking when it comes to the stage in her life she had found herself at, and he in his. It’s the sort of thing you can gauge by your living conditions, love life or work responsibilities.

I count 37 pieces and I haven’t read all of them, but I will over time.

One last piece of wit is the 8-bit love hearts between each prose story’s chapter break. Neat!

SLH

Buy The Secret Loves Of Geeks and read the Page 45 review here

Exo h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Jerry Frissen & Philippe Scoffoni…

“We’re nearly there.”
“What?! “We’re nearly there?” Does the lieutenant come here a lot?”
“Maybe he knows some cool bar behind that big boulder over there?”

I’d be up for visiting a bar on the moon…

It’s not a bar, obviously…

Jerry Frisson, who collaborated on writing duties with Alexandro Jodorowsky on the recent new METABARON material returns solo here with a hard sci-fi yarn about a covert alien invasion of Earth, and all manner of other lunar-based malarky.

In the best tradition of covert alien invasions of Earth, the extraterrestrial excursionists are bodysnatchers, but it’s not long before the visitors come to the attention of NASA. Partly because an orbital space station gets attacked by a mysterious weapon fired from the dark side of the moon, thus requiring a cadre of marines to be dispatched to investigate, setting everyone on high alert for anything unusual. Like, you know, a covert alien invasion. How are the two events connected? And what on Earth, and the Moon, is going on?

 

 

Can it all possibly have anything to do with NASA’s recent announcement that they’ve discovered an exoplanet so likely to harbour life they’ve named it Darwin II? By reprogramming an existing probe already out in the big beyond since 1996 to get there within a mere 2 years, rather than the 40 years it would take a new mission, they are utterly convinced they will finally discover alien life. Too late, it’s already here!!

It’s up to John Koenig (surely a cheeky nod to Walter?), the ‘bad boy of NASA himself’ to puzzle it all out! I should probably add that John didn’t award himself that particular honorific, it was in fact his daughter Io’s ex-boyfriend, the fabulously bemulleted Peter, just before he medicined John good and proper with some peyote tea, to prevent him from retrieving his daughter. This stupid, seemingly random action will in fact prove to be a pivotal plot point…

 

 

John’s subsequent intuitive flashbacks are probably where my suspension of disbelief was most tested during this work, which is saying something given the epic journey Frisson takes us on, but overall it’s an fabulously entertaining romp which is in the best traditions of a huge (good) Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, so I guess I can forgive the odd tenuous plot device that makes all the crazy stuff hang together.

The parallel strands of tension on terra firma – and then underwater just for a bit of additional Abyss-style alien action – and the moon that develop, kept me completely intrigued before they dovetailed neatly, as we get the big reveals piling up rapidly during the conclusion. Though, the final few pages did feel slightly rushed, almost as though a couple of key explicative scenes were missing. I’m not one for unnecessary exposition, but we really could have done with a touch more here right at the death. I actually checked to see whether I hadn’t turned over a few pages at the same time by mistake in my excitement. A case of rapidly diminishing page count, I suspect! Anyway, a very minor gripe.

 

 

The art from Phillippe Scoffoni, who is new to me, I must confess, is truly excellent, exactly what you’d want and expect from a Humanoids book. Precise ligne claire, really detailed linework, with a wonderfully natural colour palette. I’m probably most minded of François BOUNCER Boucq as a point of comparison, but I really hope Scoffoni does more for Humanoids, his art is an absolute pleasure to look at.

JR

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

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: An Art Book h/c (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist.

“Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure!”

 – Nick Cave on Reinhard Kleist’s graphic novel, NICK CAVE: MERCY ON ME.

We have sold a shed load of those at Page 45.

It’s a dilapidated shed, to be sure, half-hidden by undergrowth, with a rusted padlock and a suspicious smell seeping through the cracks in one of its windows. Betty Coltrane no longer lives here; we strongly suggest you stop looking for her.

You might already know Kleist from his JOHNNY CASH graphic novel. Kleist doesn’t do straight biographies. How boring would that be? He tells stories instead, weaving mythologies from already twined thread, and that’s what Cave relished so much in Kleist’s approach.

 

 

Reinhard also enjoys storyboarding songs and here, amongst all the glorious, liberated, free-form art that didn’t have to be saddled to his story but was drawn simply for pleasure, you will find ‘Deanna’, ‘The Good Son’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ given a decidedly different treatment to – well, in the case of ‘Deanna’, different to what would have been technically possible with a camera.

I’m not that fussed about those. I have a turbulent, piping-hot / ice-cold relationship with pop promo videos; I’ve always sensed from the resultant emissions that so has Cave. I used to have 60+ hours of pop promos on VHS cassette (including all of Nick Cave’s) but they can kill a song dead. All that ethereal imagery and associations which you, individually, connect to a song that makes it your own is overwritten by someone other than you, then set in concrete.

You cannot un-see stuff; un-learning it is barely more practicable without the onset of age.

 

 

With Cave, the clue is probably in the word “promotional”: a necessary evil, like interviews. Oh, Cave does love to tell stories, so give him an interesting subject (i.e. interviewer – they really are not in control) and he’ll have him some dry, laconic or ironic, arched-eyebrow fun; give him an inspired storyboard and up-for-it co-star like Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld and he will act his Australian socks off or mess about with glee. Otherwise, he’s bored. You just know that he’d rather be on stage, doing what he does best: performing the stories which he’s already written, direct to his audience.

Yes, I’m writing whatever comes into my head so that I have enough paragraphs of prose to justify showing you a few delicious photographs snapped from this beautiful art book.

 

 

Along with preparatory material for the graphic novel itself, this is Kleist breathing out from all the hard work and letting his brush have some fun: portrait after portrait of Nick Cave strutting his stuff from sixteen to sixty with or without his Bad Seeds, his Antipodean Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Grinderman etc.

It is at its best when it’s at its loosest, capturing all the energy and swaggering staggering movement of Cave on stage. He nails Warren Ellis (the other one) with all his furrow-browed intensity, dedication, inspiration and throw-it-forward drive which transformed a live performance of ‘The Weeping Song’ from something I could only associate with Blixa Bargeld into an almost military yet eerie drummer-boy assault / defiant lament.

 

 

Anyway, in order to impress upon you that St Nick wasn’t merely being flippant about NICK CAVE: MERCY ON ME (reviewed for us by Dr Matt Green with infinitely more erudition), here is Cave’s full assessment:

“Reinhard Kleist, master graphic novelist and myth-maker has – yet again – blown apart the conventions of the graphic novel by concocting a terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations and creating a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure! But for the record, I never killed Elisa Day.”

I wouldn’t bet on that.

 

 

This comes with Kleist’s account of the projects. Out March 15th 2018.

SLH

Buy Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: An Art Book h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fire Punch vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Tatsuki Fujimoto.

“You’re delicious, brother.”

All things are relative, including repugnance and (arf!) appetite, but it’s not quite as bad it seems.

Almost, but not quite.

Those born with the ability to perform miracles are called “The Blessed”. Everyone else might as well be called “The Cursed” because one of “The Blessed” has turned the entire planet into a spherical ice cube. I’m not quite sure how long that’s been going on, but teenage Agni remembers summer days in a flowering wood and flowing streams, even if his younger sister Luna doesn’t.

They were found outside the village three years ago and cared for using already scarce resources, since when Agni has been providing the village with sustenance of his own making.

The second page shows Luna wielding an axe above Agni’s arm; the third depicts its downswing and “Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!” she’s gone and chopped her own brother’s arm off! Does it have frostbite or gangrene? No, it does not! It’s perfectly healthy for a little light broth or stew, then.

 

 

Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from – he has an entire village to feed, after all – because Agni is one of “The Blessed”, able to re-grow a limb or fully regenerate after being reduced a cinder. It doesn’t half smart, though.

Yes, the entire village consists of cannibals now, ever so grateful for Agni’s tender flesh. It’s okay, they don’t tend to receive visitors, so – ah, they have visitors!  A military plane has landed while Agni was shooting a deer (?) and out steps Doma who’s disappointed to find only pensioners. He was kind of hoping to find children, so when Agni arrives he is offered citizenship in Behemborg, a new “city of freedom” – except for the slaves. Unfortunately the villagers’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menu slips out during casual conversation and Doma is so horrified that he immolates the entire settlement and its population using his own power as one of “The Blessed”, which is a fire that will not die until its fuel has completely perished.

Now, remember Agni’s own regenerative abilities? Remember the cover too? Correct: Agni is the fuel that will never completely perish, so he is now a walking, talking, human firebrand. That smarts too. And he is determined to have his revenge.

 

 

I’ve no idea why this is one Viz’s ‘Signature’ imprint which is supposed to denote quality (Inio Asano, Junji Ito, SUNNY etc), because it’s mindless, sensationalist gubbins with excruciatingly incoherent visual storytelling in places and science / logic / plot holes wide enough so that even I could putt a golf ball into the them. And by sensationalist, I mean that children are under constant threat of rape.

Also, Luna does find Agni delicious in exactly that way:

“Will you make a baby with me?”

I’m not making this up.

SLH

Buy Fire Punch vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Baccano! vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Ryohgo Narita & Shinta Fujimoto…

“Let the crazy ruckus begin!”

No, not the Page 45 refit! The more observant of you will have noticed it hasn’t. Begun, that is. As it was supposed to, the other weekend… Suffice to say (to mangle the old military adage), no plan ever survives contact with a builder! We’ll keep you advised. Having had a sneak preview of the plans (what, you haven’t read Stephen’s Page 45 Refit Blog Special?) I’m sure you know it’ll be worth the wait.

Right, digression over, what’s BACCANO! all about? Well, the presence of the exclamation mark in the title might give you a clue, if you know your manga titular fetishes, for it’s the new acclaimed series by the creator of the surprisingly difficult to type DURARARA!! Now, obviously, Ryohgo Narita has restrained himself to a mere one dramatic punctuation stopper this time around but, fret ye not, he’s managed to shoo-in his trademark dashes of random oddball plot devices that make this not just a mere period mafia knockabout, but something else entirely.

 

 

I should probably add for the organised crime pedants amongst you it’s actually the Camorra that feature in this work rather than the Mafia, the Camorra originating from the Naples along with thin-crust pizzas, rather than Sicily where the Mafiosi originated chewing away on their inch-thick pizza crusts, but let’s not be picky. Except in the case of pizzas, where anything other than thin and crispy is a crime against humanity. Or I’ll measure you up for a concrete comic box… Baccano, by the way, just in case you were wondering, is Italian for ruckus…

So… I really have finished waffling on now, I think…

 

 

Set in 1927 New York City, our central protagonist, pretty boy pugilist Firo Prochainezo is determined to make his mark and move up the ranks in the Martillo family. The Martillo’s are a small outfit, but they’ve got certain… advantages… which they use to great effect. Like their accountant seems to possess a healing factor Logan would be proud of. Nope, he’s not a mutant, there’s a more alchemical reason for his prodigious coagulative powers, thus providing a nice side plot involving a mysterious group including a similarly robust priest. And errr… clearly, he’s not your typical accountant, though he does seem quite good at racking up a body count…

 

 

Yes, just like DURARARA!! what starts off seemingly like a straightforward premise ends up being something far more entertaining entirely, though that series did end up have more tangents than hedgehogs have spines. The modern day headless horseman equivalent who rode a motorcycle being my favourite. Anyway, this also seems like it’s going to be a heap of bonkers fun, so indeed, why not pick up a copy and let the ruckus begin?

JR

Buy Baccano! vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Demon vol 4 (£15-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga.

This is the fourth and final volume of DEMON in which you will see no ostensible demons, because it’s not that sort book, but they’re there both in spirit (increasingly more people are behaving in a diabolical fashion – this book comes with a higher corpse count than PREACHER) and in their more Biblical sense, I guess.

For three volumes now I have attempted to review a series whose biggest selling point is its secret, and the way in which Shiga extrapolates from that, which is more than a little problematic given that the first half of book one is one big puzzle for you – and the protagonist – to figure out for yourselves.

I therefore refer you to the spoiler-free review of DEMON VOL 1 which begins thus:

“Wickedly crafty, the extent of Shiga’s ingenuity will only begin to become clear during chapter four, and then it will blow your brains out. Which is apposite enough.
“Up until then, you’re going to have trust him.”

And me.

I’ll only add that unlike most books from First Second this is most sincerely 16+ or parents will experience some very awkward conversations around the kitchen table.

I would strongly suggest that First Second inaugurates the opposite of Nobrow in its Young Readers’ Flying Eye imprint, and gets itself a Mature Readers label.

SLH

Buy Demon vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Why Art? (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Eleanor Davis

Chimichanga: The Sorrow Of The World’s Worst Face h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell & Stephanie Buscema

Firebug s/c (£14-99, Image) by Johnnie Christmas

Hellblazer vol 3: The Inspiration Game (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Richard Kadrey & Jesus Merino, Davide Fabbri, Jose Marzan Jr

Inside Moebius Part 1 h/c (£33-50, Dark Horse) by Moebius

Motor Girl Omnibus h/c (£35-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

Nightlights h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Lorena Alvarez

Walking Dead vol 29: Lines We Cross (£14-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 1 – The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 2 – The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Marvel Legacy (UK Edition) s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Robbie Thompson & various

Planet Hulk Omnibus (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak & Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti

The Flowers of Evil Complete vol 2 (£19-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 1 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Battle Angel Alita vol 2 Deluxe Edition h/c (£25-00, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2018 week four

February 28th, 2018

Featuring Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, Box Brown, Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy, Nicola Davies, Cathy Fisher. Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton, Colleen Doran, Glenn Fabry, Walter Simonson, Andy Kubert, Yuki Fumino, Carlo Zen, Chika Tono, more!

American Gods vol 1 h/c (£20-00, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton with Colleen Doran, Glenn Fabry, Walter Simonson. Cover by David Mack.

“These are the gods who have been forgotten, and now they might as well be dead. They are gone. All gone…. Even their names have been forgotten. Gods die and when they die, they are unmourned and unremembered.
“Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed in the end.”

So, let us remember, can people. Many a woman has died at a god’s decree; many a man too. They have been known to use us as pawns, and there is a game to end all games afoot here, before the lights finally go out.

First of three books – each containing nine sequential-art chapters – in which Gaiman elaborates on an element which he first explored during his epic SANDMAN mythology: that of faith, and the dwindling of gods’ power if followers fall by the wayside. If ancient gods are no longer believed in or worshipped, what power have they left?

 

 

And how did they come to America at all from lands so far away? Each was carried in the hearts and minds of immigrants, and mortals have been landing on America’s shores long before Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed he’d reached the Indies. Which gods of many faiths you will meet under most unexpected circumstances, I shall not say, for half the fun is in spotting them, but there are history lessons aplenty interjected – along with rude discoveries – and both Colleen Doran and Glenn Fabry have produced my favourite art of their substantial careers for these brief interludes.

 

 

The former illuminates the tumultuous history of one resourceful Essie Tregowan who once worked as a scullery maid on the shores of Cornwall and whose days ended – after many marriages, children and much meandering, up-and-down fortune – on the other side of the Atlantic. She never forgot the Piskies and the Spriggans, she always paid tribute, and it seems they never forgot Essie. Doran’s lines are as delicate as her softly lit colours, and her knowledge of historical fashion in hair and costume spot-on.

 

 

In a more modern setting, poor Salim is dispatched by his brother-in-law from Oman to cold New York City in order to sell cheap copper trinkets from a suitcase. His meetings with business owners are wholly unsuccessful and his funds, like his spirits, drain away until he strays into a taxi whose driver displays certain attributes which Salim finds fearfully familiar. Adam Brown’s colours on Glenn Fabry’s line art are quite extraordinary: I’ve never seen rain on a windscreen in a neon-lit city quite like it.

 

 

For these acts of worship in storytelling, story-spreading, acknowledgement and sexual congress, the gods will show their… gratitude? … to differing degrees and in many different ways. Top tip: I’d probably avoid reading this on public transport, though, for my own adjoining seat wasn’t empty.

So we come to the central narrative. It’s so long since I read Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS prose novel that much of this came as a pleasant surprise: it was like being reacquainted with an old friend who was as charming and witty as ever yet – thanks to P. Craig Russell on crystal clear layouts and Scott Hampton on hyper-real art – had grown even more handsome in the interim.

It also triggered recollections of further down this long and winding road which reminded me that – as any SANDMAN reader knows – Neil Gaiman is a master of foreshadowing. P. Craig Russell, whose exceptional adaptations to comics include Wagner’s RING OF THE NIBELUNG and THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE is no slouch on the foreshadowing front, either, and has distilled Gaiman’s prose to its vital essence while retaining so much of the original words’ key cadence, along with ideas like this which would be much missed had they ended up on the cutting room floor:

“The short service ended. The people went away. Shadow did not leave. There was something he wanted to say to Laura, and he was prepared to wait until he knew what it was.”

As to structure, sleight-of-hand stepping stones are one of Neil Gaiman’s fortes. I’ve spoken of this at least twice before in HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE wherein Neil’s stories begin grounded firmly in our shared reality but then his protagonists pass over a subtle, metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another. It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

 

 

This is why Hampton’s hyper-real yet not-real art works so well from the start, for Mr Wednesday’s ever so many sleights of hand have already begun from the get-go. It is Shadow’s path that we follow, and it has an eerie, distanced quality to it, the protagonists not quite inhabiting their landscapes which, as you see, have a mutable quality to them anyway. Shadow has so little control over his environment, his circumstances or indeed his entire trajectory, and this will prove all the more disconcerting to someone who considers himself a pragmatist.

“Shadow had done three years in prison.
“He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.
“So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife…
“He did not awake in prison with a feeling of dread; he was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring because yesterday had brought it.”

 

 

Instead he keeps himself to himself and marks the days off on a certain calendar until he will see his wife once again. During these three years of calm incarceration Shadow’s cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, introduced him to Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ (circa 425 B.C.) and the self-professed reluctant reader became hooked. What happened to Lyesmith? Transferred without warning, apparently; vanished into thin air.

“Shadow did not believe in anything he could not see.
“Still, he could feel disaster hovering in those final weeks, just as he had felt it in the days before the robbery. He was more paranoid than usual, and in prison, usual is very, and is a survival skill.”

With five days to go before his release, after a collect-call to his beaming wife who enthuses about the last leaves of autumn, Shadow is warned of an approaching storm: something cataclysmic waiting outside. There’s no audible thunder in the figurative air but then lightning strikes: Shadow is told that although he was due to be released on Friday… he will in fact be released a whole two days early. His wife has been killed in a car accident.

 

 

In an instant everything Shadow had mapped out for himself after his three years in prison is gone. He still has a future but it is empty, unfurnished, unforeseeable and so unimaginable. Numb, he boards the bus to the airport, then his plane home, but home is not what he thought it would be. Shadow falls asleep in the storm.

“Where am I?”
“In the earth and under the earth. You are where the forgotten wait. If you are to survive, you must believe.”
“Believe what? What should I believe?”
“Everything.”

 

 

When he dozes once again he is back in prison.

“Someone has put out a contract on your life.”

Then when he wakes up, Shadow’s nightmare begins.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly lost, late and disorientated in my dreams. But that is now Shadow’s reality. He’s at the wrong airport: the plane was redirected because of the storm. He misses its replacement; the next one is cancelled; but if he’s quick there is one he can catch.

 

 

“Shadow felt like a pea being flicked between three cups.”

And that’s precisely what he is. Now, following the death of his wife, his early release, the redirected plane, the plane that he missed, the one that was cancelled and the seat which taken, Shadow is finally where he needs to be. Well, he’s where Mr. Wednesday needs him to be: right across the aisle.

“You’re late.”
“Sorry?”
“I said… you’re late.”

 

 

For someone inhabiting this Age of Information, Mr Wednesday is far from forthcoming, but he’s on a mission and to fulfil that mission they must journey across America, gathering allies as they go. It is of course Shadow who will attract the one-eyed man’s enemies, receiving forewarning not from Mr Wednesday but from others who crossed their path.

“You’re walking on gallows ground, and there’s a hempen rope around your neck and a raven-bird on each shoulder waiting for your eyes, and the gallows tree has deep roots, for it stretches from Heaven to Hell, and our world is only the branch from which the rope is swinging.”

 

 

Over and again, Shadow will receive visitors – mostly late at night – and some are more welcome than others. Animals and birds may not be quite what they seem, but then, are they ever? Names will have meaning, coins will gain currency and promises will hold power. Beware whom you worship.

“Now there are new gods in America: gods of credit cards, of internet and telephone and beeper. Proud gods, puffed up with their own newness and importance. They are aware of us and they fear us, and they hate us. They will destroy us if they can.”

I’m sure you’ve gathered by now from all the references who and what Mr Wednesday is.

If so, you will be unsurprised to learn that Wednesday means war.

SLH

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

Bingo Love (£8-99, Image) by Tee Franklin & Jenn St-Onge with Joy San.

Beautiful!

What luxurious forms, deliciously drawn, delicately poised, full of innocence, joy and mutual, unequivocal adoration. Eyes fixed on each other – except when closed whilst kissing – the couple’s arms are entwined as the many years roll by, the bingo sheets passing like the pages of a calendar.

I love the cover’s narrative: hair greys, fashions change, but not their love for, nor loyalty to each other. Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, two women of colour, and eventually of some considerable age, able to share their affection and relish their relationship, free from outside adversity and —

If only.

I’m afraid the real world has a habit of intruding and it does so, dramatically, inside. But don’t give up hope, for hope this has in abundance. Whatever hostilities Hazel and Mari may face, I promise you that the cover doesn’t lie.

 

 

We begin in 2033 with a young girl kicked out by her parents simply because she is gay. If you think it’s disheartening that this would still happen in 2033, yes, it is. But I’d remind you that racism remains rife even though the Civil Rights Movement (detailed in the MARCH trilogy and THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS) kicked off long before the Gay Rights Movement, and progress unfortunately isn’t a one-way street, as evidenced in America today under racist hate-enabler President Donald Trump.

Aaaanyway, the good news is that the girl is comforted by an elderly lady who recalls her own childhood back in 1963 when a younger Hazel Johnson first spotted, at church bingo, a girl who also turns up at school. It is, of course, Mari McCray, newly moved to this more conservative area from California, bursting with an energy that has her stretching her arms and an exuberance which Hazel finds immediately infectious.

 

 

“Mari was on my mind for the rest of the day.
“We didn’t have any other classes together so I kept replaying our interactions over and over in my head.”

That’s ever so true! The feeling that someone is so close that they could be glimpsed at any sense, yearning for such another meeting, yet frustrated by incompatible timetables and a big crowd. Instead you are indeed left to replay the last encounter in search of signs and nuances that you’d made a new friend.

Franklin is forever presenting us what is familiar. Here comes another instance, after the pair has bonded over hot chocolate, an instinct for generosity, and a new nickname offered with affection which helps cement any new friendship with its personal, private stamp. Over the following, St-Onge provides us with a montage of further shared endearments as Mari and Hazel root for each other, dance with each other, play each other their favourite songs and sympathise when spice in the food proves too hot.

 

 

“From that first hot chocolate, Mari and I were best friends.
“My mother used to say we were joined at the hip.
“Between school and sports, we spent every moment we could together.
“We really loved each other as friends…
“But I wanted something more.
“I wrestled with my feelings for Mari for years. Was it worth ruining our friendship if she didn’t feel the same way?”

So there you go: the terrible dilemma which faces so many of us who establish a friendship first, then worry about the risk when you don’t know if someone wants something which you do, too.

 

 

There’s so much which is wonderfully universal about this love story.

In multiple ways it reminds me of Jade Sarson’s equally embracing, era-spanning, gorgeous graphic novel, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE. That one’s 16+ with discretion, but there’s nothing here that should signify that BINGO LOVE isn’t for all. It’s not preachy; it’s kind and the celebrations, once they start, will induce big, beaming smiles galore.

 

 

Its colours by Joy San are as rich and warm inside as they are on cover and I know that I’ve a habit of harping on about hair, but St-Onge for me is right up there with Emma Vieceli, Kyle Baker et al. Hazel’s young, star-struck wide eyes also put me in mind of Sophie Campbell. My favourite bits, however, were the little fingers clasping each other, sometimes in sight, sometimes not.

Representation is important in its own right, as Chris Roberson makes so eloquently clear in his foreward to THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS because “people find it easier to become who they are when they see themselves reflected in media and stories”. If you’ve experienced a lifetime of seeing yourselves reflected in media and stories, then this may not occur to you. And, hey, good for you too!

But there isn’t enough old age in comics, for a start, and I’m getting on.

SLH

Buy Bingo Love and read the Page 45 review here

Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Women (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy.

Hello, and welcome back to another attack of the dead who are well read, the bodies that begat break-throughs, and the worm-riddled women who were once a lot less lived in.

I guarantee 100% Putrefaction Satisfaction, as well as whole lot of learning.

I reviewed at coffin-creaking length and in burial depth CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS, the two previous volumes, plus these very creators’ LOST TALES, all of which you can find along with so much in Page 45’s Phoenix Comic Book Section.

Having exhausted my musings on the craft of these two crazies – and the ever-so-clever conceit of interviewing reanimated corpses with modern-day irreverence rather than simply dishing out lacklustre history lessons – I’m going to resort this time to succinct bullet points in the hope of satisfying those with Attention Deficit Disorder (which is basically the entire human race in this multi-channel / internet age), then I’m going to have me some fun with Princess Caraboo’s interactive exercise on creating your own real-life fictional character. It’s not as much of a paradox as it may sound.

But first, the bullet points:

The cartooning is exquisite. Just glance at Adam Murphy’s puckered mouth and eyebrows, and those hands, hands, hands, bringing so much to gesticulatory life during the talking heads sequences!

 

 

Each page contains even more unnecessary alliteration than my longest-lasting reviews.*

* An independent analysts protests

These books are 100% historically and scientifically accurate, packed with hard facts which you could honestly pass exams on. (Caveat: apart from the bit about Adam ever interviewing a single one of these spectral specimens, let alone any lesser-known cadavers for pastime pleasure. Oh, and Granny Nanny’s precise details on buggering up the Jamaican slave trade which were passed down through the oral traditional – bit more of a mythology, that, but she sure showed the culprits what’s what. Princess Pocahontas’ legend will come into a much needed de-Disneyfication, though!)

 

 

They are laugh-out-loud funny with anachronistic banter from the bone idols (“Not chuffing likely!”) and puns galore including ‘The Sails of the Century’ and ‘A Killer Look’.

This collection of overwhelmingly new material also reprints the Queen Elizabeth pages from CORPSE TALK II which were so rip-roaringly brilliant that I spent the entire first half of that review fixated upon them, especially the double-spread ‘A Killer Look’ because OMG but Queen Bess didn’t do herself any favours whatsoever when it came to keeping young with cosmetics!

 

 

Here’s Adam introducing Queen Bess:

“This week, one of history’s feistiest fighting females! It’s the Tudor Tigress, the lean, mean Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I!
“Elizabeth, you might be the world record holder for the most insane family drama of all time!”

Our corpse-questioning host then catalogues what probably is “the most insane family drama of all time” by hailing two Marys (sister and cousin), a furious father bent on beheading (Henry VIII: amongst those on the chopping block, Liz’s own mum), family fights over the throne, further bumpings-off and finally Philip II of Spain, former husband to her dead sister, asking for Betty’s hand in marriage, then not taking rejection too well. Most young men would have slunk off sheepishly and ordered in pizza. Philip II ordered out the Spanish bloody Armada! Elizabeth:

“First we blasted them with cannons! Then we sailed shops of fire into them! Then God got in on the action, and stormed them to death! Don’t mess with The Bess – she gon’ open up a can of whoop-ass!”
“Aw yeah!”

You may have noticed that I haven’t quite grasped the concept of “bullet points”.

So we finally return to Princess Caraboo (1791-1864) who appeared penniless on the doorstep of one Mrs Worral, the local magistrate’s wife in the sleepy Gloucester village of Almondsbury which was about to wake up to its newly arrived, exotic occupant.

 

 

Princess Caraboo hailed from they knew not where, to begin with, for she knew not one word of the English language, and so they could not converse. She could mime. She could dance, in an Indian continent way. And she could speak in some foreign tongue which no one could identify until one bright spark suggested the language of Malay and offered to translate. Then they learned of her capture by pirates from the remote Island of Javasu, her bitter ordeals at their hands and her eventual escape, overboard, when Britain’s shores were in sight. Oh, how she was paraded and celebrated throughout England’s High Society, this regal, oriental princess!

In actual fact, she was a serving maid from Devon called Mary Baker.

All power to her! England 1791-1864: not much chance of a legal leg-up on the social or employment ladder for a woman, as Jane Austen’s tale will make clear. Socio-political context is ever so important in examining either history or literature, and the four-page condensation of ‘Pride And Prejudice’ (which is a triumph of salient points and satire) kicks off with just such a reminder.

 

 

So what is my point and where am I going to have some fun? As I’ve mentioned, each of these trailblazer’s tales is followed by a double-page diagrammatical spread whereon we are privileged to witness the extent of their legacy, the science or boat-building skills behind their stories, the details behind the slave-saving underground railroads (no trains, train times or consequent delays involved, how to dance the Charleston as performed, step by step, by none other than Josephine Baker, plus the extraordinary revelation that is the Golden Ratio found throughout nature and denoted by the Greek letter Phi. I actually think that Adam and Lisa did a better job of explaining that than Terry Moore did in his tension-drenched ECHO.

The ‘Brief History Of Women’s Rights’ timeline is given a full six pages, which is only right given the subject of this volume and the appalling length of time it took for women to actually achieve some.

And so at last to the fun!

Following Princess Caraboo’s wool-over-eyes antics, Lisa and Adam forsake their customary post-mortem spread for an interactive opportunity to hone your own lying skills, and to create your own real-life counterfeit / deceit with the help of some very silly suggestions from themselves.

 

 

Before that, however, ‘Try Writing Down Your Translations For These Common Words’

Hello: Monaye!
I’m hungry: Give’till monaye
Thank you: Multi monaye!

Good-bye: Theresa
Good-bye forever: Theresa-May

There’s plenty more, but you get the idea, and I’m sure you can do better!

Out March 1st 2018.

SLH

Buy Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Women and read the Page 45 review here

The Pond (£11-99, Graffeg) by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher.

“Just you wait until you see the water lilies.”

Oh yes, just you wait!

It’s Dad who looks to the future for his family.

He can foresee their shared joy in the nature and teeming wildlife which they will attract to their new pond once it is built, and he inspires them with his enthusiasm.

It’s so very good to have a project!

“There will be tadpoles,” he said, “and dragonflies.”
Mum told him that our garden was too tiny and my brother said that ponds were gross and stinky.
Dad took no notice.
He just smiled and whispered,
“Wait until you see the water lilies!”

And yes, you just wait!

 

 

“Dad never got his tadpoles of his dragonflies.
“He died and left a muddy, messy hole that filled our garden.
“Dead leaves blew in, tin cans, all sorts of rubblish.
“Ugly weeds grew tall.
“We all stared out at it: the muddy, messy hole that filled our hearts.”

I’m sorry to do this to you yet again but, just as with the same creators’ PERFECT, Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher have something important to say – this time about bereavement – and they do so honestly and eloquently.

Kindness and communication is everything, and so often our young ones don’t know where to start. And it is so very important to start, otherwise they (or we) are left lost and alone, with no one to talk to about what is a very bewildering experience, violent in its finality.

 

 

Adults find it difficult enough to talk about bereavement when they have years of experience with which to make a good go of it. We have a certain sense of context, at least. Children don’t.

We all need a way of seeing through abysmal loss to some form of future that will shine the light back into our lives without feeling disloyal: something to carry us through, like a promise to ourselves and to those we still miss. We need a way to honour their memory and so carry it forward in order that they will never, ever be forgotten.

“Just you wait until you see the water lilies.”

So yes, just you wait! They’ll be here.

 

 

As improbably as last time with PERFECT, Davies and Fisher have united to synthesise a pictorial story which openly owns to the understandable eruptions of outright anger at being left behind – at feeling betrayed – without which it would be as shallow as the first pond and so speak to no one.

Instead, this encompasses all of that, on day after disappointing day.

But also it projects forward, so that even the initially reluctant then obdurate brother sees the promise in a new spring ahead.

And. It. Is. Celebrated!

 

 

Cathy Fisher pulls no punches during the bleakest days. Those pages are dark and raw and as muddy as the hole in the ground left by Dad’s absence. But they’re still accompanied by the same sense of cocooning – of encircling – which forms a comforting motif throughout: there are hugs and swirling leaves, there’s the looping hosepipe and the pond life framing the family and joining the siblings together when once they were at odds. Finally there’s the finished oval-shaped pond itself, which forms a heart through being bisected by the book’s spine and binding, as the pages rise from its centre. Which is clever.

I don’t think that pond was ever going to be big enough for ducks, but ambition is a beautiful thing.

SLH

Buy The Pond and read the Page 45 review here

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Box Brown…

“Andy, how come you like the bad guys? They’re mean and they cheat.”
“Yeah… they’re mean… They can get away with anything!”

I first came across Andy Kaufman in the very late seventies in his role as the loveable Latka Gravas in the sitcom Taxi. I remember being fascinated as a very young kid by this oddball character that everybody seemed to like. There was something childlike and otherworldly about the character than instantly made you warm to him. But because Kaufman died so young in 1984, aged 35, I never really knew that much else about him, probably like most people outside of the US, where he was infamous.

In fact, Kaufman became almost universally reviled and disliked in America for his various other appearances on television and his seemingly strange wrestling career that saw him wrestle only women including declaring himself the Women’s World Wrestling Champion. It wasn’t until I watched the Jim Carrey-helmed biopic Man On The Moon from 1999 that the genius of Andy Kaufman started to make some sense. The man wasn’t a madcap comedian in archetypal American sense, he was a performance artist who from a very early age understood that playing the heel, in wrestling parlance, was going to get you a far more visceral response and fervent engagement from the audience, than simply being a nice guy, however talented.

 

 

Andy Kaufman took that performance art to such a level with his obnoxious characters, always staying in character whilst in public, that only his very close friends and family knew who he really was, a loveable, gentle man who didn’t drink or do drugs and practiced transcendental meditation every day without fail. Obsessed with Elvis, magic and in particular wrestling from a very young age, he quickly decided he wanted to entertain people, and then set about building his own unique path to stardom.

 

 

This work, from a creator who would probably relish in the title oddball himself, Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, TETRIS, ANDRE THE GIANT Brown, chronicles the short, spectacular life and career of a man who delighted in being misunderstood and revelled in the rage he could induce in people. It’s a little ironic, therefore, that he probably remains best known by the general public for the one character that everyone did love, Latka Graves, who in emotional terms was the closest Andy came to portraying and revealing any element of himself to the world at large.

 

 

When I heard Box Brown was doing this particular autobiography, I wasn’t remotely surprised as he makes no secret of the fact he loves wrestling as much as Andy Kaufman did. In fact this time around Box wanted to explore the make-up of a man who loved fooling people even more. But you don’t remotely have to be a wrestling fan, or indeed even an Andy Kaufman fan to love this work. Knowing practically nothing about him I was utterly engrossed by every aspect of his existence as brought to life by Box. Truly one of the late twentieth century’s strangest stars. As penned by one of the twenty first’s!

JR

Buy Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman and read the Page 45 review here

I Hear The Sunspot vol 2: Theory Of Happiness (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino…

Of I HEAR THE SUNSPOT VOL 1 I wrote…

“Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

I don’t know!

Even after finishing I’m not sure! When they talk about a gentle romantic comedy, this is like being oh so teasingly tickled with a feather duster. You don’t know whether you actually like it, but it does feel rather pleasant. Or so they tell me…”

So… after finishing this sequel which, following the smash success of the original manga and its subsequent film adaptation, apparently only came about due to the huge public demand in Japan from people absolutely desperate to know the answers to those questions above… I really can only begin my review of this volume with…

Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

Well, I guess you can imagine that all those enchanted members of the public weren’t after an unhappy ending… so you can probably take a good guess at how this mixed-up matter of the heart ends up…

Or maybe not… HAHAHAHA!!

Yes, volume two is just as teasingly, tantalisingly frustrating for all those who are grappling with Kohei and Taichi’s lack of err… grappling… as they continue their “more than friends, less than lovers…” pas de deux routine.

There will be no third volume. I can at least be kind enough to tell you that…!

Meanwhile, Taichi has seemingly grown up somewhat since the last volume and is behaving considerably more like a responsible adult. He’s always had a big heart and now he’s trying to do his best to help more people like Kohei, who despite becoming ever more independent, continues to struggle in the world at large with his profound hearing impairment. In fact, between Taichi’s good works and Kohei’s increasing self-reliance, the friends are spending less and less time in each other’s company. Plus there’s a new friend on the scene…

When they do get a bit of quality time together, once again the hard of hearing Kohei repeatedly fails, or chooses not to see, the subtle yet semaphore-sized romantic signalling of the boisterous, bellowing Taichi, much to Taichi’s agonising dismay. Scene after scene of mildly comedic misunderstandings, unfortunate mishaps and missed / botched opportunities for pronouncing said feelings will practically have you screaming at the page. It’s like being a love-struck incompetent teenager all over again!!

As the two continue to be like ships that pass in the night, one does begin to wonder if their ‘relationship’ will ever find safe harbour or end up dashed on the rocks once and for all. Or even just continue drifting aimlessly on and on without actually ever getting anywhere…? For I did also comment of volume one that I never knew non-romance romance was actually a sub-genre…

(PSSST!!! No volume three remember… Don’t give up hope just yet!!!)

JR

Buy I Hear The Sunspot vol 2: Theory Of Happiness and read the Page 45 review here

The Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Carlo Zen & Chika Tono…

“You will be born into an unscientific world…
“…as a woman…
“… come to know war…
“… and be driven to your limits!!!”

No, not a real-life story, but a marvellously complicated piece of fantasy with a couple of salient points to make. But mainly just madcap mayhem.

An obnoxious Japanese salaryman manages to get pushed under a train by someone he’s just taken great delight in making redundant and finds himself, to his surprise, getting admonished by what appears to be God. Being the sort of irritating smartarse he is, he starts talking back to said deity, and then to his even greater shock, gets told he’s going to be reincarnated as a female child soldier in a war torn alternate version of Europe.

 

 

Now, Tanya, as he subsequently becomes, does have some magical military abilities, but it’s clearly no picnic of a life for a nine year old. However, applying the same sort of ruthless Machiavellian stratagems and ruthless approach to his, sorry her, new career, as he did to his carving through the rank and file and up the greasy corporate pole, she soon becomes a lauded, decorated war hero with several bloody victories to her name at the front. Despite the fact that what she’s actually trying to do is simply get a safe posting behind the lines. It’s almost like someone has got it in for her…

 

 

Meanwhile, it turns out there are several Gods, of all the flavours you would expect. Who are bickering and tinkering away with their various creations behind the scenes, playing games with each other and just generally abusing their omnipotence.

 

 

Where it’s all going I have absolutely no idea, but it’s as fun as it sounds daft. Which is very and completely, respectively.

JR

Buy The Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman s/c (£17-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Mark Verheiden & Andy Kubert, Arthur Adams, Michael Alred, Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Mark Buckingham, Matt Wagner, John Totleben, Eddie Campbell, others.

In which we concentrate on the question “Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?”

I’ll tell you what happens when you finish a great story by Neil Gaiman: you go Very Quiet and Very Still. Nothing else happens except in your mind, and perhaps not even there for a few seconds. It needs time to process, to percolate. Shhh…

From the literary magician who can transform a motorcycle manual into something that not only sounds but is profound, comes another story about telling stories and indeed about stories told. Or, as Alan Moore might put it with particular application here, “All stories are true”.

After Lord knows how many fingers tapping on Lord knows how many keys, and so many wrists rendering different shades of pencil, there are so very many tales told about Batman in so many different ways that not all of them join up. How could they? Why even should they? Does it actually matter? The only important thing is that The Batman never gives up: “There’s always something you can do.” He’ll live, he’ll die and he’ll live again in animation on the television, in live action on the silver screen and on the page in prose and in comicbook form: revised, re-envisioned, reinvented.

 

 

This is Gaiman and Kubert’s answer to the question of discontinuity, embracing it all in word, in form and in deed. And celebrating it by paying tribute. Kubert’s pencils are glorious, and his ability to mimic Mazzucchelli, Lee, Kane, Adams, McKean et al is stupendous. In addition, can I confess that I guffawed at Two Face’s car?

 

 

As the story opens, Batman lies dead in a casket. His friends and adversaries from across the last several decades gather round in the back of the Dew Drop Inn (and you should, you really should) tended by the man who killed Bruce’s parents in Crime Alley.

 

 

Each stands up to tell a different story of his demise or recall what the driven dark knight said about life. As they do so, the man they are mourning listens to them closely and watches unseen, unsure of what he is witnessing. Is Bruce dead? And if so, who is his female fellow shade?

“This is Crime Alley.”
“Yes. Very good.”
“But it hasn’t looked like this for sixty years or more. This is crazy… Why are we here?”
“Why? Bruce, you never left.”

The finest pages are most certainly the last, but my secular self very much enjoyed this exchange edited to safeguard your own discovery, summing up exactly why I just don’t care whether or not there is an afterlife. It’s one of the best explanations of and exhortations to altruism that occurs to me right now:

“Are you ready to let it go now? To move on?”
“To go to my final reward? I told you, I don’t believe in –”
“You don’t get Heaven, or Hell. Do you know the only reward you get from being Batman? You get to be Batman.”

 

 

Contains WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER plus SECRET ORIGINS #36, SECRET ORIGINS SPECIAL #1, WEDNESDAY COMICS #1-12, BATMAN #686, DETECTIVE COMICS #853 and GREEN LANTERN/SUPERMAN: LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME #1.

SLH

Buy The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Pizzeria Kamikaze h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Etgar Keret & Asaf Hanuka

Compulsive Comics Sc (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Eric Haven

Crosswind vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Gail Simone & Cat Staggs

Exo h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Jerry Frissen & Philippe Scoffoni

Yellow Negroes And Other Imaginary Creatures (£14-99, New York Review Comics) by Yvan Alagbe

The Inking Women: 250 Years Of Women Cartoon And Comic Artists In Britain h/c (£19-99, Myriad) by Nicola Streeten & Cath Tate

Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Ian Lendler & Xanthe Bouma

Motor Girl Omnibus s/c (£24-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

A Game Of Thrones vol 1 h/c UK Edition (£14-99, Harper Collins) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

Angel Catbird vol 3: The Catbird Roars h/c (£12-50, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Brody’s Ghost Collected Edition (£20-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Star Wars: Jedi Of The Republic – Mace Windu s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matt Owens & Denys Cowan, Edgar Salazar

Troll Hunters: Tales Of Arcadia – The Secret History Of Trollkind (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Marc Guggenheim, Richard Hamilton & Timothy Green II

Justice League vol 5 s/c: Legacy (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Fernando Pasarin

Teen Titans vol 2: The Rise Of Aqualad s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Khoi Pham, Pop Mhan

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 1 – Great Power s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 2 – Great Responsibility s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 1 – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Larry Ivie & Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 2 – Once An Avenger… s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich & John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, George Tuska, Gene Colan

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 3 – The Masters Of Evil s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich & John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, George Tuska, Gene Colan

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 4 – Behold… The Vision s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith, Frank Giacoia, Howard Purcell

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 7: I’ve Been Waiting For Squirrel Like You s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson plus Anders Nilsen, Michael Cho, Carla Speed McNeil, Chip Zdarsky, others

Weapon X vol 2: Hunt For Weapon H s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Marc Borstel, Ibraim Roberson

Fire Punch vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Tatsuki Fujimoto

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