Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week three

February 17th, 2016

Featuring Chris Oliveros, Sarah Burgess, Evan Dorkin, Boulet, Eddie Campbell, John Cassaday, Bob Fingerman, Atsushi Kaneko, Keiichi Koike, Emmanual Lepage, Taiyo Matsumoto, Frederick Peeters, Paul Pope, Katsuya Terada, Naoki Urasawa, Bastien Vives, Tommi Musturi, Joshua W. Cotter Lando, Andy Diggle & Aaron Campbell, Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra.

Don’t forget the New Books and News underneath!

The Envelope Manufacturer (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chris Oliveros.

“It was clear that there were no longer any possibilities.”

A poignant three-act graphic novel about a business already niche and long left behind, it begins with six colour portraits of chunky and clunky manual machines, silent and free-standing on benches. Without even a hint of automation, they are at once as antiquated and unfathomable as Jack Kirby’s then futuristic constructions.

There follows a two-page prologue gazing up at a small city’s rooftops – both tenements and town houses – as a painfully slow “Ta-tlak Ta-tlak” emanates from the tenth-floor window of what is little bigger than an office. Three more panels it musters before the machine belt breaks, giving up the ghost forever. We will never hear quite the same sound again.

None of the office’s occupants are young.

Hershel, already owed two months’ wages, declares that “There’s no way it’ll hold up for a fourth repair”.

Poor Patsy pronounces “We don’t have the funds to make a new purchase this month”.

But proprietor Mr Cluthers isn’t listening.

“New orders will be coming through by Wednesday, I’m sure of it.
“If we prepare in advance and have the envelopes ready beforehand we can fulfil all of the orders as they come through.
“No point in being caught off guard, is there?”

With what machinery, Mr Cluthers? With what machinery?

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Written and drawn by the founder of Drawn & Quarterly who gave up so much of his own creative time to foster other artists’ futures, both the ailing-industry and period aspects may put readers in mind of Seth’s CLYDE FANS whose second part is still being serialised in PALOOKAVILLE, but the lines are markedly different. Tone-free, they stand stark and exposed, many of them quivering with fragility as if what is drawn is teetering on the point of collapse.

The business is on the point of collapse and Mr Cluthers is on the point of collapse. Denial is followed by delusion which his wife has witnessed before.

I loved Mildred’s hair, rolled up like a gigantic sausage at the nape of her neck, but it’s Patsy I fell in love with. Aged around sixty or seventy, she has some weight to her and you get the very real sense that her inflamed feet might be finding her shoes difficult to squeeze into. Eyes blank behind half-moon glasses, it is to Patsy that the unenviable task of stalling creditors falls, holding the fort in Mr Cluthers’ absence as the struggling business faces the final threat of repossession.

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All the while Mr Cluthers is in a daydream. Optimism and stoicism and a refusal to give in are all admirable qualities but here it’s all hot air, blown not to inflate the business but to keep cold reality out of the door. It’ll get slightly surreal in places, hilariously so towards the end in a free-fall sequence suspended in space, presaged during the middle act when Hershel is shouting from the sidewalk “Jump!” “Jump!” at a suicidal window-ledge walker. “Jump!” “Jump!” he encourages – if encouragement is the right word.

There’s a quiet comedy to be gleaned from the absurdity on offer and I think that’s its strength. It’s touching but not maudlin; ridiculous instead. Ridiculous, brilliant and ever so sad.

“It’ll take some big changes, but things will get better before long.”

For more on Oliveros and the publisher please, please see DRAWN AND QUARTERLY: 25 YEARS OF CONTEMPORARY CARTOONING, COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS comics anthology and its absolutely riveting retrospective.

SLH

Buy The Envelope Manufacturer and read the Page 45 review here

The Tipping Point h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Boulet, Eddie Campbell, John Cassaday, Bob Fingerman, Atsushi Kaneko, Keiichi Koike, Emmanual Lepage, Taiyo Matsumoto, Frederick Peeters, Paul Pope, Katsuya Terada, Naoki Urasawa, Bastien Vives…

“There’s that great, wonderful day, the one that makes your eyes light up just thinking about it.
*ATCHOO*
“There’s the tragic one, the one that comes out of nowhere and kicks you in the gut.
*ATCHOO*
“There are the historic days that change the face of the world.
“And there’s the day that makes us who we are…
“I’m ten.
*ATCHOO*
“My parents have shipped me off to camp so I can make lots of friends.”

Intriguing anthology of fourteen shorts, all between eight to twelve pages long, which have at their heart, change. Some changes are entirely personal, internal moments of revelation, like Emmanuel Lepage’s story of the sensitive boy on the edge of adolescence attending summer camp.

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Lepage

Others like Atsushi Kaneko’s ‘Screwed!’ featuring a Yakuza whose summary execution at gun point is rudely interrupted by a certain explosive geopolitical event are obviously on a far grander scale.

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Kaneko

But what those moments all have in common, if you reflect upon them, is that they are the titular tipping points. From each particular moment forwards, nothing can be quite the same ever again. For better or worse, from seemingly personally inconsequential to most definitely world altering, the proverbial genie is well and truly out of the bottle in each and every case.

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Koike

The stories cover pretty much all the fictional and non-fictional bases: romance, crime, speculative, science fiction, fantasy, comedy, mythological, philosophical, religious, plus Eddie Campbell wandering around his neighbourhood looking for his lost cat… Which was his fault, obviously!

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Eddie Campbell

That’s definitely the most thought-provoking of all the stories actually, Eddie and his lost cat. It’s the musings of a man who, “… might have seen this neighbourhood differently under different circumstances.” Just pause and reflect on that a second. How the particular personal situation we find ourselves in when we first encounter a place affects our perceptions of it.

Certainly, it’s the story of a man continuing to boldly experiment with his art form. I can see hints of all his previous works here in different panels: including the pencils of ALEC and BACCHUS, the silhouettes of FROM HELL, the painting of THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS H/C, the colours of THE PLAYWRIGHT, all interwoven or overlaid in greater or lesser degree from panel to panel with some photography! It’s an evocative mix of techniques exquisitely judged. Whether it’ll help him track down his cat or not is a different matter!

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Vives

There is something for everyone in this anthology and probably, on balance (see what I did there…), enough to satisfy everyone. They are all great little snippets, but no sooner do you feel you’ve started something than it’s all over. So it feels very much like a plate of delicious canapés, rather than an indulgent feast, simply because they are all very concise, one premise, shorts.

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Boulet

So, reading a few pages of fellow LICAF patron Boulet, and despite howling with laughter at the punchline to his hilarious tour de farce of conspiracy theories, just made me want to read more of him. (Happily, he has recently translated and republished the entirety of his weblog in English HERE.) Taiyo Matsumoto’s story of a schoolgirl’s errant fart instantly made me want more SUNNY.

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Matsumoto

Paul Pope’s art, unsurprisingly, in his pirate-based esoteric yarn blew me away as ever and left me wanting more, of anything of his – ideally some THB, but I’d certainly settle for the next BATTLING BOY. That’s a common theme with Mr. Pope, though, as we know, being left waiting…

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Pope

Katsuta Terada’s ‘Tengu’, which closes the book, just made me desperate for him to do some manga, rather than illustrations. If this mythological piece is anything to go by, I think he’d be perfect for anything Brandon Graham wanted to get him involved with. Go on, Brandon, give him a call!

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Terada

And… I really can’t help but be left wondering… did Eddie ever find his cat?!

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Cassady

JR

Buy The Tipping Point h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Brother’s Story part one (£5-00, Zetabella Publishing) by Sarah Burgess.

How refreshing: a book of brotherly love!

From Sarah Burgess, the creator of those three delectable volumes of THE SUMMER OF BLAKE SINCLAIR, comes something equally affectionate but radically different in form and content: it’s bursting with full-colour washes for there’s magic in the air.

Deryn adores his older brother Seren. He’d follow him anywhere. And Seren does like to explore, scouring the countryside in order to collect botanical samples to study. Today they were only intending to collect firewood for their family home in the village, but on one they discover radiant magic crystals growing like fungi from the bark. Seren breaks them off.

“Mum and Dad will flip out if they see this stuff.”

According to their parents, magic is not to be messed with and, according to legend, there’s magic everywhere in the big, wide world except in the village. It happened like this: magic and humans were once one and the same, but over time humans found a way to consume magic, turning it into language. They ate it all until there was none left save for a vast, untouchable Angel in the sky. Nonetheless the humans couldn’t resist trying to reach up and bite pieces off and in retaliation the many-eyed Angel bore down on the planet and swallowed it whole before restoring its magic. Everywhere, that is, except for in the village.

At least, that’s what Seren says – their parents tell it somewhat differently, making the Angel seem awful: a bogey monster to keep kids safely at home. Sure enough when Deryn lets slip what they’d been up to there is an almighty row with Seren bearing the brunt, accused of squandering his skills and endangering his younger brother.

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There’s a tremendous two-in-one panel just before Seren sits alone on the rooftop, as Seren strides upstairs past a cowering Deryn who is wracked with guilt that he’d let his brother down and got him into trouble, sweating with terror that there might now be a rift. There isn’t, of course. Deryn makes sure of that by following Seren up to sit side by side overlooking the village and the forest beyond.

“I feel so alone.”

Deryn thinks about that.

“I know Mum and Dad don’t understand, but I understand. I – I don’t care if the forest is dangerous. I just want to see what’s out there. We can’t be scared forever. We shouldn’t be trapped here forever. You’re not alone.”

It’s an endearing moment of fraternal affection and reconciliation broken beautifully by Seren wrestling his arm round Deryn’s neck and pulling roughly him back into his chest.

“Go to bed, dufus!”

It’s an echo of my favourite page on which the brothers tussle and tumble in the forest between comicbook gutters of sinuous wood which cocoon their struggling forms so tightly that you get a very real sense of their exertions, locked in mock-combat, against each other. How clever is that?

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I love the brothers’ physicality and the consistency of their relative statures. I like the rosy cheeks of youth and Deryn’s hunched shoulders as he tentatively tries to coax his mother’s side of the Angel’s story out of her.

Ah yes, the Angel, drawn like a dragon. Surely it doesn’t exist. The story’s some sort of extended metaphor, right? A legend, a fable, a cautionary tale… Don’t bite bits off: magic needs to be whole.

Aaaaaaaand we’re done. It’s your turn to read the rest next!

SLH

Buy Brother’s Story part one and read the Page 45 review here

Nod Away (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Joshua W. Cotter…

“While streaming doesn’t exactly turn the user into a mind reader, it does provide one with a connection to a higher collective mind.”
“A higher mind?”
“Yes, you see, the user is, in fact, enabled to connect remotely to a central hub, of sorts, which in turn, is connected to thousands and if all goes as planned, potentially millions of other users.”
“I see.”
“Through these connections, each individual user’s knowledge is drawn, culminating in a rich stream of information.”
“Mental peer-to-peer file sharing if you will.”

Hmm… this is quite the epic. I started off reading and mistakenly assumed it was going to be whimsical fun, not quite serious science fiction and metaphysical philosophy. That misapprehension was entirely down to the art style, which reminded me a bit of Robert BOOK OF GENESIS Crumb, Derf MY FRIEND DAHMER Backderf and even Peter OTHER LIVES Bagge and Judd BARRY WEEN Winnick! My wake-up call should really have been the prologue, though, which was a surreal, abstract construction more akin to something from Simon Russell’s NEARLY MADES

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So it therefore took me a while to be able to settle down into the story and realise it has, in fact, got much more in common with the likes of Frederick Peeters AAMA and even Anders Nilsen’s BIG QUESTIONS as Joshua Cotter attempts to explore the thorny question of the very nature of consciousness. Plus also tell an extremely engaging speculative fiction story about where we might all be heading in terms of how we access the internet, indeed how the general repository sum of all information itself will inevitably evolve, and how, why and indeed where, humanity might be forced to change in response to that. That prologue was suddenly starting to make a lot more sense…

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Set in the near future, a small crew of colonists is being prepared to head into deep space to attempt to colonise a planet in a nearby star system. Meanwhile the next iteration of the internet, being referred to as the ‘innernet’ or ‘streaming’ is heading rapidly into the realms of telepathy and shared thought, at least for the sixty percent of people who will be physically compatible… Somewhat disturbingly the core hub of this new achievement, however, is a very unusual human child whom Doctor Melody McCabe has been hired to help mature on a huge second generation version of the International Space Station.

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The chapters switch between the different storylines, and also between the real and psychological worlds, which does take a little getting used to until you realise what is going on. Though I think that itself is probably a deliberate conceit to some degree. It’s well worth persisting with though, if you are a fan of speculative fiction. Joshua wisely realises he needs to lighten the tone occasionally, and that’s more than amply provided for by the moderately flawed Doctor McCabe’s mildly erratic social life in the relatively confined quarters of the orbiting research station. I concede the art style may not appeal to everyone, which is a shame, because this is an extremely well-written, thoughtful story.

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JR

Buy Nod Away and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Of Hope h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi…

“Sniff. Sniff. What’s that smell?”
“Ahem… must be the dog.”
“The dog’s been dead for years.”
“Well… I guess it’s me then. Tee-hee. The truth may lurk anywhere.”

I reviewed the second slice of this work in its individual self-published form and was greatly tickled. This collected edition of THE BOOK OF HOPE from Fantagraphics is surrealism at its most elegant, and indeed eloquent. The simplest way I can start to describe this material is that it has the feel of Chris Ware’s JIMMY CORRIGAN, albeit living in a cabin in the arse end of nowhere. Tone-wise too this is just as downbeat and melancholic as Jimmy’s urban non-exploits, but there are some significant differences.

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For whilst Jimmy is a kind and simple mouse of a man, destined to never succeed, instead being continually trampled and trammelled down by life (and his relatives), here our middle-aged, moustachioed married lead is left wistfully wondering how it all got away from him. Just how did he end up right here in this moment, in this place, so far removed from anything? And yet, there are also fond, nostalgic reminiscences of joyful moments long since gone which raise a smile. An unusual palette of tertiary colours, purples and mustards, only adds to the backwoodsy, isolated feel.

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For the most part, though, there is silent contemplative acceptance of his lot, punctuated with daydreaming moments and extended sequences of inner flights of fantasy or the occasional utterance of some choice savant philosophy to no one in particular. Here’s one such soliloquy offered to the universe, brought on by staring into the remaining eye of a tatty old childhood teddy bear whilst attempting a bucolic bowel movement on the outside privy at in the lonely cold depths of night, full moon shining down through wispy clouds and bats fluttering through the air…

“Childhood ends when the fight begins.
“Youth fades when the word falls from your lips for the first time.
“Say it slowly, and you can hold on to it for an instant…
“… before you are overwhelmed by the wary weight of midlife…
“… you console yourself, saying…
“… perhaps there was no before…”

Movement complete, I was too. Moved, that is…

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That was my review of one of the five chapters that form this work. So if that was a movement, then the whole book really is a glorious symphony of sanguine reflection. Obviously, given symphonies have four movements, and although each chapter does have a different emotional tone, my metaphor breaks down rather quickly, but you get my point!

JR

Buy The Book Of Hope h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Eltingville Club h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin.

“It just isn’t fair…”

With the rise to internet prominence of the over-obsessed with their over-entitlement, this scathing satire of malicious male fandom is more relevant than ever, horrifically so.

It is emphatically not an attack on comicbook readers in general or enthusiastic sci-fi and superhero fans specifically. It’s not an assault on the awkward or the reticent, the cosplayer or the collector.

It is one long, lacerating diatribe aimed squarely and ever so fairly at those who are nasty. Who are callous and cruel towards their fellow fans, and send professionals hate mail and death threats for killing off characters which are fictional; the thumb-sucking men-children who send worse to comics journalists because they are women.

It’s an exposé of those who forget in their self-involvement that this is supposed to be fun.

Absolutely horrific and delivered with no punch-pulling by the creator of the equally comedic and combustible MILK & CHEESE, it comes in the form of the whining, bitching, in-fighting, self-destructive pack of maladjusted brats who proudly pronounce themselves to be… The Eltingville Comicbook Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror And Role-Playing Club! (Membership closed.)

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In one hundred and twenty pages not one of them displays a single act of kindness, even to each other.

Nobody wins, everybody loses as teenagers Josh, Jerry, Bill and Pete argue about everything, insult each other below the belt, compete for rare Star Wars action figures, stash others away at Toys R Us in secret locations so that innocent, wide-eyed children don’t get a look in, implode during a caffeine-crazed 32-hour Twilight Zone marathon (I love how the pages shatter as their frazzled sanity erupts into acts of violence), and steal with self-justification and assumed impunity just to get their fix. One even rips open multiple loaves of bread in a supermarket-search for that elusive, rare trading card which, umm, creator Evan Dorkin confesses to – along with much more in the back!

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Their crazed, red-eyed rage is drawn with such visceral power – it’s as though they’re on the verge of bursting blood vessels – that I can only imagine the process to be sublimely cathartic. The closest contender for such similar meltdowns is Roberta Gregory’s Bitchy Bitch in her beloved, much-missed NAUGHTY BITS.

Eventually they take their one-upmanship shambles to the streets for an organised zombie crawl. But blasphemy strikes in the form of more modern, fast-moving-zombie fans, trampling over our True Believers’ nit-picking standards and indeed our Stan-Lee-loving losers. But believe it or not, the worst is yet to come as one amongst them finally gets his dream job, and it’s fiercely well observed.

“Holy shit. I made it. I have died and gone to Heaven.”

Welcome to Comic Shop Hell.

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Evan Dorkin

 

Eltingville Club blog only

Jack Kirby

Kicking the doors straight in with a virtuoso parody of Jack Kirby’s classic rainy-night splash-page, “This Man… This Monster” (MMW: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 6), Dorkin delivers “This Fan… This Monster”. It may make your skin crawl, but some of us do love to scratch!

Bill, ostracised by the rest of the group is hired by Joe as his side-kick stooge at Joe’s ‘Fantasy World: Comics – Games – Cards’ and every exchange between the monomaniacal misanthropist and his new acolyte comes with a cringe-inducing superhero reference: they cannot communicate without nerd-boasts.

It’s that specific sort of run-down, cluttered comic shop which is superheroes and sci-fi merchandise only. You’ve heard about it, you’ve maybe endured it, and all its malpractices are blurted out by its owner to his new employee as retailer wisdom, foresight and insight:

“No cheques, no credit cards, no special orders, no arguments, no problems.”

No kindness, no accommodation, no integrity, no diversity, no hope of growth.

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Yet still he has customers, albeit young, spotty and every one of them male whom he belittles and berates.

“We don’t carry manga. We carry comics.”
“…”

So, this is Bill’s big chance. Surely he won’t cock it up or let it go to his head? You wait until the other club members turn up.

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Speaking of “Alternative Comics”, don’t think the most elitist, hateful, self-righteous and self-serving fans of those don’t get a roasting. The Northwest Comix Collective wasa  seven-page flipside in which four hypocritical alt/indie wannabes with delusions of adequacy struggle to create, disseminate and get their foot in the professional door. They have just as much a sense of perspective as their Eltingville counterparts and don’t take rejection at all well.

“All we’ve gotten for our troubles is a catalogue and that fucking two-page letter from Evan Dorkin where he says our comics “need work”.”

Yes, it’s a personal, two-page letter from a top-tier, deadline-driven creator in response to unsolicited material and a form letter.

“God! Who the fuck is he to say anything? Christ, he did fucking PREDATOR books – he wouldn’t know a good comic if we sent it to him.”
“Pretentious asshole. It’s not like we asked him for his opinion.”
“Actually, we did. It’s in our form letter.”
“Yeah, but we asked for comments, not unwarranted criticism!”
“Why is Dorkin even on our mailing list? None of us like his shit!”

And so it very much goes. What are the chances that at least one of these dismissive dim-wits secretly adores the superhero comics he purports to despise?

None of this material has ever been reprinted, even in the DORK collection, and it’s come from all over the place.

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SLH

Buy The Eltingville Club h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Gardens Of Glass (£14-99, Breakdown Press) by Lando…

“She needs help, this is bad.”
“This is no longer possible… she needs only to bathe in my waters to ease her pain.”

I think that might be precisely half of the sum total of words uttered in this dystopian surrealist collection of short stories from Greek euro-sci-fi master Lando. I have no idea if that is his real name or if he was just rather taken with everyone’s favourite jive talking <ahem> galactic entrepreneur back in the day. Lando doesn’t seem a particularly Greek name, I must say, but then nothing about this work is of the usual. If I tell you the rejoinder uttered above comes from a statue that controls a small swimming pool which can fly around the desolated and desiccated planet Earth – and indeed enter hyperspace in a manner akin to the finale of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – you’ll probably get some sense of what I mean…

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The age of man is all but over. All that’s left is a handful of individuals and small groups warring over the scraps. My first thought upon finishing this collection was that I was reminded of some of Moebius’ more experimental abstract, science fiction works, simply without the humour. You can’t make that comparison art-wise, but Lando certainly has a fetching style all of his own. Fine line work but with a deliberate, rough touch, verging on almost fragility seemingly, that greatly adds to the sense of the total disintegration of the world.

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It’s not the same style, but Christopher Mitten’s more heavily inked black and white work on Antony Johnston epic WASTELAND has exactly the same effect on the reader. For me this reaches its zenith in the story where laser-toting survival-suited explorers battle zombies, and each other, to reach some sort of Pantheon-topped, floating Mt. Olympus. The reward for the victor, the first in the race to reach the promised land, is escape from the desolation, to join the demi-gods who now live apart in luxury from the dying remnants of humanity. I think fans of Brandon Graham’s PROPHET and 8HOUSE material would absolutely love this.

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JR

Buy Gardens Of Glass and read the Page 45 review here

Uncanny: Season Two (£14-99, Dynamite) by Andy Diggle & Aaron Campbell.

Increasingly this is becoming a book about families. Whose members treat each other very badly.

It’s also a comic with powers but without the capes, and I love it.

Previously in UNCANNY SEASON ONE:

Weaver is a man who can, for a span, absorb other people’s memories and physical capabilities. Take Mr Lee’s bodyguard, Xiong, a black-belt in Taekwondo. One bluffed handshake later and Weaver’s a champion too – plus he also “remembers” exactly what the bodyguard’s packing. Well, almost. There’s a limit to what you have time to recall in the middle of a duff-up.

I admire how Diggle has thought all of this through: both the potential and the pitfalls – the limitations without which there can be no tension. Here our newly formed gang of four’s search for the Source of their preternatural abilities has taken them to a remote island. Wonder why Weaver’s never flown a plane?

“We shoulda just rented a chopper instead.”
“You know how to fly one?”
“You could pull it out of a pilot’s head!”
“And then forget how to fly, two thousand feet above open water? No thanks.”

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With thrilling, shadow-strewn art richly textured by Aaron Campbell (THE TRIAL OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) whose wolves now haunt my own dreams, it’s written by SNAPSHOT and THIEF OF THIEVES’s Andy Diggle whose childhood memory of a night-time fair matches mine exactly:

“Smell of hot sugar and diesel.
“Whirling lights.
“Roar of generators under blaring music.
“And people. All the people in the world.”

Weaver’s first ally was Miss Maggie Ford, a woman with remarkable regenerative capabilities who used to work for Deacon Styles, an enigmatic and acquisitive man of many assets including the ability to cause changes in behaviour both in mind and body through neural induction. If that sounds tame, you’ll soon think again. During a devious double-cross by Deacon which only just backfired they located Deacon’s brother Morgan under circumstances which ensure there’s no love lost between brothers. Morgan is a technopath – an electronics-orientated telepath, if you like – whose “residence” at the clandestine Cadre’s HQ has given him the key to finding the Source. It’s Weaver’s father who abandoned him in parking lot aged 4.

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To find the Source they must first find Weaver’s Dad which is where those fairground memories come in, now being used by their fourth member, Holly, a remote viewer who also used to work for Styles. Looks like those assets are diminishing rapidly but the first to find the Source will find almost everything else redundant.

Firstly, when that happens what happens is very clever indeed.

Secondly, the abandonment of young Weaver by his Dad late at night is ever so touching, especially after being seen from both their points of view. But wait until you find out what happens to a lad in social care when other people’s memories – their very minds – start invading his own, unbidden, and all doctors and psychiatrists resort to textbook diagnoses.

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Not nice at all, but I cannot emphasise strongly enough how much of this is far from obvious. You’ll see what I mean in the very first chapter when it comes to ex combat medic, Denelle.

SLH

Buy Uncanny Season Two and read the Page 45 review here

Y – The Last Man Book 4 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka.

Gripping premise in which everyone on the planet in possession of a Y chromosome haemorrhaged in an instant. Now every male on the planet is dead except escape artist Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. What happened and why?

I love a premise you can précis so succinctly. For something more elaborate please see our review of Y- THE LAST MAN BOOK 1.

The writer of SAGA, PRIVATE EYE, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD and EX MACHINA now takes us on a journey to Japan for further clues in a storyline that focuses on Dr. Allison Mann, her new girlfriend, her old family, the assassin and Israeli commander that have been tracking them. Does the catastrophe have anything to do with Dr. Mann’s attempt at cloning herself, or am I sending you up the right alley but to the wrong address? Knock a little harder and someone may answer – just not who you’ll be expecting.

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Before we get there, every member of cast is now withholding secrets from each other. You’d think by now that they’d have all come out, but no, here are some more, and the sheer weight of dramatic irony threatens to thrust the story pell-mell over the side of a cliff. Fortunately it makes for one of the most sizzling episodes in the series so far, including the flashbacks wherein, for example, we learn that Ampersand – Yorick’s pet monkey who may provide the key to saving Earth’s human population – has done a lot more travelling than we thought. Recently he’s been abducted, but now we learn where he originally came from and why he might be that key. Yes, yes, we already discovered the how, but this is the why.

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This one dashes all over the place from Japan to Australia – where Yorick’s searching for his girlfriend – back to America where another girl is now eight months pregnant with Yorick’s child and suspects it’s a boy. Why is that so important? Yorick is the last man on Earth. His very existence is known to few, until he’s forced at gunpoint to drops his drawers for an international photo-journalist. With so many vicious factions at play in this all-female world, that single photo could see him dying of exposure, let alone start an international war, but what’s Yorick really worried about?

“I… I didn’t even have time to chump up. I was like, preternaturally flaccid.”

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I grew increasingly fond of Brian’s dialogue here (it’s a much earlier work that those referred to above), even if it is ridiculously well-informed. Conversations back at my house used to go something like this:

“Ah, these stuffed mushrooms smell great, don’t they?”
“Miaow”

But in Y – THE LAST MAN you’d have been treated to a discourse on the psychotropic properties of fungi, along with an annotated history of their social consumption. For example, this time out we learn that the weapon of choice of the Vatican’s Swiss Army is a Halberd (and that it was a Renaissance weapon and that it held off the Nazis in 1943); that men’s buttons are sewn onto a specific side of a coat so that they could draw swords without them getting snagged; that women’s are on the other side so that their ladies in waiting could fasten them from the front; and that “the average human bite strength is two hundred pounds, but some women can crunch up to a grand”. All that, in casual conversation. Well, maybe some of those were the characters’ specialist subjects and they wouldn’t do so well on the general knowledge round, but crikey, Vaughan’s a real swot, isn’t he?

SLH

Buy Y – The Last Man Book vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Fade Out vol 3 (£9-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

American Vampire vol 8 h/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque

The Ark h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Stephane Levallois

City Of Clowns (£16-99, Riverhead Books) by Sheila Alvarado

Doom Patrol Book 1 (£22-50, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Richard Case, John Nyberg, others

Godzilla In Hell s/c (£14-99, IDW) by James Stokoe, various

The Trouble With Women h/c (£9-99, Square Peg) by Jacky Fleming

Zawa-Zawa: The Treasured Art Works of Ashley Wood (£24-99, Comic Art Pie) by Ashley Wood

Midnighter vol 1: Out s/c (£10-99, DC) by Steve Orlando & Aco, various

Civil War: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Leinil Francis Yu

Deadpool vol 7: Space Oddity s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi, Sheldon Vella, Bong Dazo

Groot vol 1 (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jeff Loveness & Brian Kesinger

X-Men: Gambit – Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, Tom Defalco & Pasqual Ferry, Steve Skroce

X-Men: The Age Of Apocalypse vol 3 – Omega s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various including Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, Terry Kavanagh, Mark Waid, John Francis Moore, Warren Ellis, Larry Hama, Fabian Nicieza, & Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Carlos Pacheco, Chris Bachalo, Steve Epting, Terry Dodson, others

Invincible vol 22: Reboot (£12-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley

Fairy Tail vol 52 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Inuyashiki vol 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book 3 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Monster Perfect Edition vol 7 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Side: P3 Volume 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by So Tobita

Adventure Time Sugary Shorts vol 2 s/c (£9-99, Titan) by Roger Langridge, Noelle Stevenson, Frazer Irving, various

News!

SpiderMan Deadpool cover

ITEM! DEADPOOL’s Joe Kelly is the first guest to be announced for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 from Friday October 14th to Sunday October 16th. He also wrote FOUR EYES, a haunting graphic novel about poverty and dragons set during the Great Depression.

Four Eyes 0 photo

ITEM! Tribute to David Bowie – including the most beautiful portrait – by the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz, creator of STRAY TOASTERS, ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, both adored by Mark and DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS, SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS, much beloved by me.

Daredevil End Of Days blog

 

Breaks 1

ITEM! Yowsa! Malin Ryden and Emma Vieceli’s free online comic BREAKS reaches its two-year anniversary with quite a cliff hanger! Three more pages until the end of the episode!

Breaks 2

You can begin BREAKS on the its first, front-page cover here.

BREAKS is completely and utterly free, although you can support our beloved Emma Vieceli by becoming a Patreon here.

Breaks 3

Page 45 has copies of the BREAKS prologue signed by Emma Vieceli and reviewed by meeee!

Breaks 4

Vieceli is the artist on the brand-new Young Adults action epic ALEX RIDER: SCORPIA, two AVALON CHRONICLES, three VAMPIRE ACADEMY books and her own DRAGON HEIR and well as appearing in YOUNG AVENGERS VOL 3, all also reviewed by me. Just click on those links, please.

Young Avengers blog

Thank yoooooooooooo!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week two

February 10th, 2016

Featuring Emma Rios, Hwei Lim, Sarah Burgess, Antony Johnston, Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Tula Lotay, Stephanie Hans, Leila Del Duca, Brandon Graham, Matt Wilson, Nick Drnaso and more.

Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir h/c (£14-99, St. Martin’s Press) by Tom Hart.

“Looking backwards to our joyous life gone is just horrifying, dreadful.
“Imagining a future without Rosalie, equally horrific, terrifying…
“Your best memories are your biggest torments.”

This exceptionally brave and impossibly eloquent book begins with Rosalie’s favourite image, a scene from Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro.

“In a single night, the oak tree grows to full height from a scattering of acorns in the garden.”

From seed to sapling to tree: this is the natural order of things.

Rosalie Lightning, Tom and Leela’s daughter, died late November 2011 without warning, aged just under two. She barely reached ‘sapling’.

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Every parent prays that their children will outlive them: this is the natural order of things. It is so very natural that every parent could be forgiven for assuming it will be so. But within the space of few scant hours Tom went from a proud, loving Dad looking forward to spending his entire life watching his daughter grow up, to every parent’s “worst case scenario”.

This is such a harrowing read that I’ve multiple knots in my stomach merely typing this. It is grieving laid bare in all its desolate candour. It is forthright yet disciplined, immaculately structured and so well worded that one is tempted to quote from every page. You’ll be seeing a great many trees, and it is surrounded by them that this memoir reaches such an extraordinary conclusion mere months later that one might even call it a climax. In poignant contrast Hart recalls how the three other stories featured within, which he shared with his daughter, conclude: the bird revived, the girl found, the girl freed.

That’s not going to happen here. This isn’t a fiction whose outcome can be controlled and adjusted to suit its creator’s desires. And it’s this very finality, its irreversibility, its cold hard fact which hit me so hard, even more so after the following:

“I do my best when I believe she is coming back.”

How often do you awake from a nightmare to the relative relief of real life? Can you imagine having a dream in which all is idyllic then waking to a stark reality like this?

“What do you do when your child dies? …You fall into a hole. … My heart is a desperate, capacious hole.”

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So many sequences end in a gaping black hole. Others are glimpsed from within that black hole as if seen through a cerecloth. There’s a recurring image of Tom and Leela portrayed as more familiar Tom Hart cartoon characters riding a patched-up rubber-ring boat, struggling through rapids, going swiftly nowhere. Water plays a big part throughout, from Ponyo By The Sea to Tom and Leela by the sea with Rosalie’s ashes.

“Before we leave for New Mexico, I will pay for my daughter’s cremation with an ATM card like I’m buying a bag of bananas.”

Awful.

So what do you do when your child dies? I don’t speak from personal experience – I’m not even a parent – but this is what I learned from Tom Hart.

You end up “collecting” a lot of other stories of dead children. You can think about throwing yourself under a bus.

You look for signs and portents even in the weather in case they were warnings. In case behaviour held meaning, in case your child was trying to tell you something or knew something you didn’t.

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Everything takes on new meanings, new resonances: words, phrases, images, dreams, objects, songs.

Hart adopts some of Rosalie’s favourite idioms into his own narrative, while thinking of all the words Rosalie never got to learn, all the experiences they never got to share both way in the future and just before she died. There’s the cruelty of hindsight and missed opportunities; the frustration of a corn maze which Rosalie was so excited about but which was closed or about-to-close on two separate occasions after the family’s arrival was delayed by disasters.

And then there’s that cruelty with which “Your best memories are your biggest torments”. Perhaps because of her love of Totoro, Rosalie collected acorns wherever she found them. Hart shows her foraging in full sunlight, picking up an acorn with her smooth and tiny little hand. It’s immediately followed by Tom doing the same, then holding it at a distance with a grimace which signals utterly destroyed, almost disgust, his face scrubbed with the same black which enshrouds them while Leela is wide-eyed with everything.

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Similarly when it comes to the moon which used to mesmerise Rosalie, Tom can’t bear to look at it.

Obviously this isn’t told in the same style as NEW HAT STORIES et al. Much of it is ragged and jagged and raw. There are a lot of close-ups of Leela and Tom very much alone together, Tom’s hair scruffy, their faces leeched of all life. But there are also some powerful landscapes and beautiful, magical, triangular-leafed trees using Letratone – or a Letratone effect. I notice Eddie Campbell appeared first in Hart’s inspirational thanks, so that makes sense.

As to its structure, it begins right at the nub of it all then pulls back to Tom and Leela’s life in New York City before Rosalie was conceived, their escape back to Florida, their tough time selling their old flat (an early offer was made but you won’t believe the mendacity and greed of the institutions who stymied the sale) and Rosalie’s young life which is where the countdown begins. Time is running out because you know that she dies in late November. I guess that’s what you also do when your child dies: everything recalled becomes your last this, your last that and the other.

Afterwards we follow Leela and Tom’s first five weeks without Rosalie, when “Everything is a message. Everything beautiful is her” and you realise that you’ve no idea what strangers at an airport are going through because no one knows – to look at you – what you are enduring too.

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In all honesty I don’t know if I were a parent of a young child that I would want to read this. I’ve forbidden our Jonathan from doing so. But for those who have been left behind, I believe it will provide as much empathy as Anders Nilsen’s DON’T GO WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW and especially THE END which celebrate the life then document the death of his fiancée, and the gaping void which she left behind in her wake.

For those of us who aren’t parents at all or have adult children, it can open up a whole new understanding. This, above all, caught me completely off guard.

“Three weeks ago – wasn’t I a father?”

SLH

Buy Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vols 1, 2 and 3 (£12-55 each, Zetabella Publishing) by Sarah Burgess.

     

“Stop obsessing over things that aren’t going to happen…”

Oh, Blake, how very disappointing and dismissive of you.

During this astutely observed romance Sarah Burgess doesn’t once disappoint. Its open elegance almost belies the keen understanding and complexity of what lies and lingers beneath.

Blake Sinclair, however, will prove quite the frustration. Oh, he is pretty and dippy and o’er-brimming with infectious enthusiasm! He’s that oh so casual, free-roaming spirit, friend to all and declared enemy of the fake. He’s culturally well informed, confident in his opinions, comfortable in his skin and utterly oblivious to cause and effect.

He is, as Adam Ant once sang, “Young, dumb and full of it”.

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

Until the rain hammers down in volume three.

It begins with Blake Sinclair up bright and early and cheerful as anything, prising open the bedroom window to soak up the sunshine and leap barefoot into the day. He’s young and dashing in a gangly, tousled-hair kind of a way and, oh, how he loves the ladies! He’s just spotted a new one with tufted white hair, up on a balcony, called Blythe. Unfortunately he’s also left one behind in that bedroom whose window he’s now clambering back through. Daisy is just waking up, punctuating her sweet-smiling words with love hearts.

““So, what are we going to do today?”
“Nothing.”
“…What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t want to do anything with you. You’re very attractive, but I never said I liked you.”

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It’s a brilliant Blake and Burgess moment of which there will be many more. Blake may be a little in love with himself (“I just like to sit in front of the mirror sometimes” – talk about self-regarding!) but he doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body. He is completely open and honest – by which I mean blunt and careless and inconsiderate. But he never said he liked Daisy and if the night before was anything to go by, why would he want more of the same? Daisy dominated the entire conversation, force-fed YouTube down him all night, got plastered then groped him. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t a date and, to be honest, Daisy’s a melodramatic brat.

Ruthie, however, is not. Ruthie is genuine and affectionate and, when she sees Blake call Daisy’s friends on their tedious, insincere gossip, she summons the courage to follow him home to discover they share the same building. They also share similar interests and swiftly bond, but Ruthie is tentative and fragile and far from ready for Blake’s casual behaviour and his complete inability to communicate when it matters the most…

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We’ve only just touched the tip of the romantic iceberg, as you’d expect with three substantial volumes.

Firstly, Blake’s chilled and worldly-wise friend Janey comes to stay for the summer and they haven’t seen each other for a year. Initially intimidated by Janey’s confidence and misreading Blake’s adoration of his friend, Ruthie finds the arrangement difficult. But Janey may be just what she needs to understand Blake. As for Blake, what he probably needs is a dose of his own medicine and you remember I mentioned balcony-borne Blythe? I think he may have finally met his match.

There’s so much to celebrate here, for it isn’t just about romance but friendship as well. Blythe comes with her own entourage – flatmates Sasha and Gareth – and Burgess understands the initial, wary culture clash of different scenes converging, in this instance punks and indie kids. There are multiple misunderstandings, presumptions and a whiff of judgemental hypocrisy in the tribal pigeonholing. But there are also timely mirrors being held up and the joy of discovering completely new territory and traditions. Book three, for example, may begin back at the same window, this time during a thunderstorm, but it will open onto a completely fresh thrill when Blythe, Gareth and Sasha appear at the door and invite Janey, Ruthie and Blake to a party in the park round a roaring bonfire even though the rain is torrential. Cartoon theme tunes are belted out and new, confidence-boosting bonds are formed between unexpected individuals.

Back in book two, however, Burgess visually nails the isolation and insecurity of feeling lost and lonely at a party where everyone else is jabbering away and gesticulating wildly and you simply don’t feel the same connection or enthusiasm. An essay in timidity and uncertainty, on one page Ruthie is hugging herself defensively before glancing awkwardly around. It’s followed by a full page on which the revellers are coloured in both background and foreground in a warm glow, whereas poor, pale Ruthie, right in the middle, is surrounded by more space than you’d think possible in a crowd.

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There is so much space in all three graphic novels – more space perhaps than in any other comic I’ve read. The forms are all as lithe as you like, the clothes and bed sheets hanging off them with a perfectly judged weight depending on texture, while quite often the panels are free-floating and borderless.

As to the body language, few can use shoulders as well as Sarah. And here’s an interesting thing: instead of orbs for irises, Burgess uses a lot of angled hearts. It’s a way of drawing the natural highlight on an eye, but in Sarah’s hands it also emphasises both sparkle and affection – especially in Janey – and vulnerability and bewilderment in Ruthie.

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Unlike Daisy, Ruthie is far from needy, and I want to give her a great big hug. I want to give Gareth a peck on the cheek, Janey a pat on the back (err, mostly) and Blake a great big slapping for what he does in book two.

There will be drama and laughter, maybe a few tears and an occasional awkward introduction. There will be frank discussions, eruptions of anger and a little lewd behaviour as well. Oh yes, the gossip: I love how the gaggle of friends venting their “tut-tuts” on the very first morning are only partly overheard because half of their sentences are lost outside the word balloons. Same for when Blake walks into a room to find Sasha enthusing about colours. It’s clever like that.

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Speaking of clever, I refer you to Blake’s outburst at the top of this review.

He’s not addressing any of the ladies who hanker after his careless heart. He’s talking to male punk Sasha who’s been in love with Blythe since before Blake ever came onto their scene. I’m afraid that it’s unrequited. Sasha knows this, Blake knows this. But the context is that they’ve been playing an RPG of Blake’s choice in Blake’s own territory with his own friends, and relative outsider Sasha has been good enough to gamely join in. Blake triumphantly declares he has won and although Sasha protests not unreasonably, Blake bursts out with…

“Look, don’t get pent up just because you can’t accept that the treasure is mine!”

Ouch.

SLH

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

Buy The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vol 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Buy The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Beverly (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Nick Drnaso…

“I don’t know.
“I’ve had about all I can take of them. If they wanna have a big nostalgia love fest, leave us the fuck at home, ya know?
“We could rent one of those movies. I might go back down to the pool soon enough.
“Are you hungry? I could eat, but I could wait.
“Wanna order room service?
“Would you please say something?
“Mom and Dad might be able to pretend nothing is wrong, but I don’t think you’ve said one word on this whole trip.
“What’s going on with you?”

He really hasn’t, you know – said a word, that is – Tyler, Cara’s younger brother. I flipped back to the start of that particular story and checked and, sure enough, Tyler has been entirely mute for the duration of his family’s road trip to Cape Cod, to revisit the exact spot where his still loved-up father proposed to his mother twenty-five years ago.

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That’s probably the least weird thing about him, though, as we’ve gained a very good idea of what’s going on with Tyler from his hallucinations – if that’s what they are. If not, they are some seriously disturbed fantasies. Tyler, I feel, may well be a serial killer in the making… The holiday therefore unsurprisingly goes pear-shaped when Cara walks in on her brother doing strange things with a pillow dressed in her used bra and knickers whilst their parents are off having a romantic dinner…

Billed as “a darkly funny portrait of middle America seen through the stunted minds of its children” I would have to say that has pretty much nailed it, actually! There are six stories here whose characters overlap, including a reprise for Tyler as a young man in a perturbingly understated finale, where the kids find themselves caught up in some typical teen dramas like house parties, underage drinking and unwanted pregnancy, plus some atypical malarkey such as kidnapping, rape and a fatal car crash.

Through it all Nick Drnaso paints his peculiarly uncomfortable portrait of dysfunctional kids living these tragically hopeless lives. Aimless and aspirationless, the best they can probably hope for after community college, if they even go, is a dead-end job stuck in an indentikit bland town in the middle of nowhere, filled with fast food joints and little else. Middle-aged spread and medicated lethargy, prescription or otherwise, is all that almost certainly awaits…

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This is exactly like parts of America I have personally seen. Whereas in tiny old Britain we have sink estates, the good old USA has entire sink States. Like Middlesborough scaled up to the size of Mississippi… Not full-on inner-city deprivation, but perhaps more uncomfortably real for its mere one step remove from the life of the average person. You can’t imagine any of the characters here experiencing any great degree of upward social mobility in their lives, nor indeed perhaps downwards, but then I’ve always believed the desire for change, any sort, has primarily to come from within.

Nick’s cast of characters, however, seem content to simply be part of the fabric of small-town society and be swept along by the tidal undercurrents of malaise present there. They can’t think big. Well, except perhaps for Tyler, and that’s purely in terms of body count. And yet, even when we find out what’s become of the littlest psycho, in the final story, it’s clear even his grand visions haven’t amounted to much. I wonder how many budding, genuine teenage psycho-killers find their lust for life so easily thwarted? Or maybe he’s just been biding his time, the one resident of Beverly with a long-term career plan…

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Art-wise, I can see several partial comparisons. The slightly pastel palette and general art style strongly minded me in some panels of Rutu EXIT WOUNDS / THE PROPERTY Modan. Particularly when arms are swinging about or faces are three-quarters on. I can also similarly make a case for some stories in Tomine’s OPTIC NERVE. Also, and I think it is the dot eyes, Raymond Briggs, and also even Ernie Bushmiller’s classic strip NANCY, particularly when characters are face-on. The relative simplicity of the style further allows the excruciating interactions between the various characters to take centre stage. For it’s those which are the atrophied, diseased, fat-clogged beating heart of these stories…

JR

Buy Beverly and read the Page 45 review here

Mirror #1 (£2-25. Image) by Emma Rios & Hwei Lim; Hwei Lim & Emma Rios.

“Humour me… mirror 1 coverTell me how a little rat will succeed where so many mightier have failed?”
“I don’t know if I will, sir. But if I don’t even try, I’ll have already failed.”
“Ah, well. You can only lose as much as you were hoping to gain.”

I’m not sure that last bit’s true.

This is a story which will hit you hard in your heart.

A bright and beautiful comic full of fresh, Spring colours, to read this is like being given glimpses through an ornate window.

There’s no hand-holding, no unwieldy exposition, just key conversations overheard about dominion, control, captivity and aspirations to escape which you may wish to rewind multiple times in order to discern precisely what’s at stake.

The window aspect is emphasised by the arched panel frames on the very first page (third illustration down), then Emma Rios’ illuminations of Hwei Lim’s script for the parallel back-up feature called ‘The Hand That Holds The Leash’ (second illustration down). It is daubed in purple-blossom washes along with a landscape overlooking the cathedral-like Esagila compound at the heart of the young Irzah Colony. From a distance it looks as though it could have been fashioned from glass.

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Come to think about it, Kazbek too is painted by Rios to resemble shards of glass, reflecting the sky’s lilac colours as he sits calm and relaxed in the open-air gazebo or porch surrounded by the greenery of a substantial garden. Set around page four of the main feature, Kazbek is being instructed by Elena to get rid of the dog once it’s recaptured. It’s a dispassionate match of verbal sabres:

“She is much more than a dog.”
“Why do you say so?”
“She truly loves the boy.”
“Heh… nothing knows true love better than a dog…”
“If you think so highly of dogs, why would you have me get rid of her?”
“If you think so highly of dogs, why do you try so hard to make them human?”

There follow the final sentences of the first chapter:

“Yes, I’m being selfish. I’d rather be human and selfish than the noblest of dogs. The hand that holds the leash, not the neck wearing the collar. What about you?”

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Our first encounter is a mere 5 years after the colony’s formation. This prologue is called ‘The Boy And His Dog’. And you would be forgiven for imagining that Sena was a dog to begin with, for young Ivan’s at cheerful play with her. But we’re already fast-forwarding through time as the towering Kazbek interrupts school class, stick clasped behind his back.

“My apologies. I’m in need of Ivan’s assistance again.”

As Kazbek approaches outside, Sena’s delighted bark turns to a growl.

“Come. It is time.”
“Do we have to? She’s not fully recovered yet… “

Notice the cages and lab coats on the very first tier!

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In keeping with the comic itself, I’m loath to give much more away, except that there will be more cages, more mistreated “animals”, more inhumanity. Seemingly reasonable Kazbek will remain dispassionate throughout. That’s part of what makes him so infuriating. While an adult Ivan now seeks to study nature, Kazbek is meddling with it, manipulating it, experimenting with it. Colonists are only visitors, you know…

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Lim’s colours for the main event are less impressionistic than Rios’ but equally lambent. Both artists employ a great many arches and curves in the exquisite architecture, and even rat-monkey Zun’s descent to Ivan’s room is choreographed like a helter skelter ride. Like every 8HOUSE title, you can tell how much time has been spent and how much fun has been had coming up with designs for this society’s fashions. The lettering appears to be species-specific. Love the animal-orientated circular frame.

SLH

Buy Mirror #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Wicked + The Divine vol 3: Commercial Suicide s/c (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, Kate Brown, Tula Lotay, Stephanie Hans, Leila Del Duca, Brandon Graham.

The most contemporary comic imaginable, inclusivity is its middle name.

“A documentary about public grief can never show too many crowds of people freaking out about people they’ve never met.”

Previously in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE:

You know how the likes of Bowie and Kylie are referred to as pop gods and pop goddesses? Turns out some of them really are.

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

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated by ancient Ananke who finds them in young individuals previously oblivious to their fate. She helps them shine brightly for their brief two years. If they’re lucky. Because some of those lights have been snuffed out already.

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It’s a brilliant conceit. Of course the Pantheon’s role in this modern age would be as those most worshipped today, and Gillen takes the opportunity to examine journalism, fame, fandom, aspiration, envy, competitive back-biting, fear, mortality and manipulation. Some are putting ideas into other people’s heads.

Please don’t imagine we’re treading water in these six short stories focussing on individual members of the Pantheon. If anything, events are escalating in the hunt for the killer. Prepare to drown in dramatic irony.

Since McKelvie was on sabbatical while he drew PHONOGRAM: IMMATERIAL GIRL, his chapter starring Woden is craftily composed entirely of panels repurposed from THE WICKED + THE DIVINE volumes one and two. Which itself involves a substantial amount of time and no small degree of artful judgement. Enhanced with colour filters by Matt Wilson which partially reflect their original source (explained in the extensive process-piece back-matter), it’s so successful that if you have no idea that it’s a collage you’d barely twig. Having this foreknowledge, each page made me smile, and I imagine some soul with enough time on their hands spent an entire afternoon identifying each panel’s specific source.

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What’s particularly clever, however, is that the remix / reconstruction is entirely apposite since it’s Woden recalling a side of the story you never saw in volume two after that gun was put to his head and he ran back to Mummy to tell tales. By ‘Mummy’ I mean Ananke, and this may make you want to re-read the whole series with fresh insight from the start. There’s a very funny sequence in which Luci and Baal’s actual exchange in volume one is replaced by satirical overdubs. There’s also an awful echo of the previous chapter as Woden comes clean about his sexual proclivities:

““How can I do it?” It’s easy. You take women and just forget that they’re people. It’s not hard.”

No, it seems appallingly easy given the deluge of mob-mentality male hatred thrown like so much repugnant, foul-smelling shit across the internet at female comics’ and especially games’ journalists like Leigh Alexander simply because they are women. Gillen pulls no punches in reproducing its sexually explicit venom here as social-media men-children bombard pop goddess Tara with a barrage of Tweets whose infinite, incessant, babbling inhumanity is represented by a final full page of these cold, callous rectangles receding into the distance and disappearing off the edges.

I cannot show you any of those pages – as in, I won’t. But, trust me, nothing has been exaggerated for the sake of sensationalism.

They’re presaged by Tara’s treatment by men long before she could sing – the casual sexism and worse which is faced by women walking the street or in bars – and presented in stark contrast to Tara’s softness, vulnerability and individuality as a human being, the flesh on her face drawn so warmly by Tula Lotay along with the pain and tears in her eyes.

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It’s an individuality no one was ever interested in, only her looks. Her fans hate it when she puts on the mask, depriving them of their pleasure, or sings anything she wrote herself.

“Fucking Tara.” It becomes a mantra of sorts.

Individuality is exactly what each artist offers here, and after you’ve read each chapter you won’t be able to imagine them being drawn by anyone else. For sheer, unbridled fury Kate Brown takes the biscuit and I’m not just talking about the line art, either – there’s a cacophony of colours and you too will see red. What Brandon Graham brings could hardly be more different. His Sakhmet is sexual, sybaritic, reclining like a cat, hunting like a cat and disinterested too. Her performance is phantasmagorical.

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Individuality is also what you’ll enjoy more of here as we learn a lot more about some of the Pantheon and their lives both post- and pre-activation. Plenty of revelations, all of which make perfect sense, particularly and at times hilariously the Morrigan and Baphomet drawn by Leila Del Duca. Heritage also comes up for combative review before artist Stephanie Hans draws Amaterasu going nuclear in the skies above Hiroshima.

“You are a literal artificial sun above Hiroshima! Fuck! Are you even aware of how offensive this is?”

We’ve not seen much of Minerva until now. She’s the Goddess of Wisdom, aged twelve. Out of the mouths of babes etc, I’d say she’s one to watch. I certainly wish they would listen.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 3: Commercial Suicide s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scorpia: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown.

“Gentlemen, please. Mr Grendel has wanted to retire of a long time. We must respect his wishes. As my late husband used to say, before his unfortunate fall from a seventeen-storey window, “All good things must come to an end.”

At which point I roared with laughter.

I love a villain so confident in their impregnability that they’re that outrageously brazen and deadpan to boot. Scorpia’s Julia Rothman is just such a woman.

Of course you know that Mr Grendel is not long for this world. I give him six panels, max. But then if you are stupid enough to resign from a wealthy cabal of international terrorists during a meeting in which it’s been declared that thousands of children will die at your hands, you’re going to be stupid enough to believe you’ll survive.

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I love Julia Rothman’s femininity: her long skirt, long hair and make-up. You’ll find few clichés here, though you will be lulled into expecting them by the first, action-packed third: that this is going to be a butter-wouldn’t-melt, Blonde Boy Triumphant book. 14-year-old Alex Rider is preternaturally resourceful, preternaturally capable and preternaturally pretty. He’s been trained by and worked for the British government, and the dying words of Yassen Gregoravich, intimating that his father was a killer, have led him to Venice and almost immediately into the lair of Scorpia which is plotting a massacre on British soil. Go get ‘em, Alex!

But it’s way more complicated than that, and unexpectedly harsh. There will be hard choices, wrong choices but at all times understandable choices as Alex discovers he’s been lied to by MI6 for a very long time about the most personal details imaginable.

Then there’s Scorpia’s plot itself using its newly developed Invisible Sword. Firstly, its end goal isn’t death in itself, but the severing of ties between Britain and America. How? It isn’t as asinine as by making America look responsible for the attack, something which would be discredited immediately. Secondly, there’s its means: by slaughtering thousands of children, specifically twelve and thirteen year olds spread throughout London at exactly the same moment, en masse. How could you be that specific? It’s not a big bomb, I promise you.

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The Alex Rider novels and so graphic novels are of course aimed squarely around the twelve-to-thirteen age range, so that’s very clever. It’s a highly successful brand but I’m not going to claim for one second that this is a Young Adults or Young Readers series which will thrill adults equally like HILDA, AMULET or MOUSE GUARD. It’s not a VELVET of spy thrillers is what I’m saying, but I will tell you that this graphic novel throws everything age-appropriate that it’s got at those early teens, plus a big slab of geopolitics, and I would anticipate edge-of-your-seat nerves, cheers and also tears.

More than anything, however, regular Alex Rider adaptor Antony Johnston (THE FUSE, UMBRAL, WASTELAND and THE COLDEST CITY) has chosen his cohorts well, for the line art by Emma Vieceli (BREAKS, two AVALON CHRONICLES, three VAMPIRE ACADEMY books and her own DRAGON HEIR) and the colour art by Kate Brown (TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, FISH + CHOCOLATE) is beautiful. It is clean and pristine and perfectly captures Italy’s spirit of place.

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Those colours glow on the glossy page whether outdoors midday in Venice, overlooking Venice at midnight from across the lagoon or during an emergency meeting in the Cabinet Office. There’s still lots of light coming in through those windows, and the best description I can think of for the overall palette is summer, late afternoon.

Vieceli, meanwhile, fills the pages with big, bold forms with lots of close ups including, somewhat alarmingly, a Siberian Tiger right in your face. She has enormous fun with Alex’s hair flopping vulnerably across his face, and it’s always the face of an early teenager. His build’s somewhat buffer but the boy’s been trained to peak physical condition so, you know, fourteen-year-old Tom Daley…? Exactly.

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There’s an instinctive use of geometry going on outside of the panels – additional vertical blocks, strips and inlays which add extra movement, both temporal and physical – while all kinds of diagonals are let loose for the climax.

SLH

Buy Scorpia: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel and read the Page 45 review here

The Ultimates 1 Ultimate Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch.

A damning indictment of American neo-imperialism rammed with military geopolitics, this is my favourite superhero series of all time. Completely self-contained – you need know nothing before – it’s now collected into two seasons, each containing two of the original softcovers. There’s very little interior art online, but I’ll do what I can!

The Ultimates vol 1:

The world is changing. Threats are emerging that conventional armed forces may be unable to deal with. Last year a terrorist calling himself Magneto single-handedly tore into the Whitehouse and stripped the President naked. The Commander In Chief of the most powerful nation on this planet happened to be saved at the last minute by a couple of rogue mutants, but it could all have been very different. Ah yes, then there’s those mutants… If you were the U.S. Secretary of State, and you wanted to maintain American military supremacy, what would you do?

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General Nick Fury is given 50 billion dollars to build The Triskelion, a military base in the Upper Bay of Manhattan, and a twelve-digit budget to commission a renowned geneticist to replicate the serum that once created Captain America, the World War II human military hardware who went missing after saving Washington from a nuclear rocket decades ago. He hires two other scientists, who claim they have been able to develop a hormonal process which brings about instant height division, to work on other potential enhancements like height multiplication, enlists the trusted brand which is billionaire industrialist womaniser, Tony Stark, and sets about creating The Ultimates, a force of few to take down the many or the unthinkable.

Unfortunately the unthinkable lies within them, for the name of the geneticist – the lonely man whose personal insecurities are compounded by romantic rejection, demotion and failure to come close to recreating a Supersoldier – is Dr. Robert Bruce Banner. He’s tired of feeling small, and is about to do something very, very stupid.

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Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch deliver a summer blockbuster which will blow your brains out long before the main event. Until recently Bryan’s art eclipsed all modern cinematic special effects (I say it still does), and his sense of scale is going to take your breath away. When the rain pours onto the streets of Manhattan, the excess skids across the road, and when lightning strikes you may well begin to believe in Norse Gods. Millar’s successfully taken one-dimensional characters from the Legoland that is the Marvel Universe, shuffled them about, given them rounded (and occasionally split) personalities, then thrown them into the real world of media courtship, self-promotion, political self-justification, and national security.

Gone is the altruism, the gaudy costumes and quaint old supervillains; they’re replaced with bloody big paychecks, functional kevlar, fucked-up relationships and inferiority complexes on prozac. Who in their right mind would want to risk their lives fighting beings that could crush your skull like an empty eggshell? Thor…? Nope:

“Go back to your paymasters and tell them that the Son Of Odin is not interested in working for a military industrial complex who engineers wars and murders innocents. Your talk might be of super-villains now, but it is only a matter of time before you are sent to kill for oil or free trade.”
“Oh, for goodness sake. How can you people just sit there and listen to this “Son Of Odin” garbage? You’re not the New Messiah. You’re just a crazy ex-nurse who had a nervous breakdown three weeks short of his thirtieth birthday and spent eighteen months in a lunatic asylum. You might make a fortune from your lecture tours and trashy self-help books, but you don’t fool me for a second, Mister; I’ve got your secrets right here.”
“And I have your secrets right here, Doctor Banner. Have you told Betty Ross that you cry yourself to sleep every night, or are you too busy fantasising about hurting the Pyms for stealing your old job?”

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The entire first issue is a prologue devoted to the World War II events which robbed the world of Captain America and robbed Steve Rogers, the man behind the mask, of his chance at a happy marriage. When he’s found again in the early 21st Century his relatives are all dead, and the only friend Rogers has left has been married to his old fiancée for nearly sixty years. He’s dying of cancer and she can’t bare for him to see her enfeebled body. As for the rest of them, General Fury is a convincing recreation for a modern age with all the charisma of Samuel L. Jackson, Betty Banner is a self-centred, superficial P.R. guru, Jarvis the faithful butler is now a petulant old queen, and the Pyms have more than one secret which will out by the end of the book. As for Tony Stark, he may be a happy-go-lucky, lady-chasing, booze-guzzling flirt, but if he’s living life to the full it’s because the gauge is almost empty. Still, tomorrow’s just another day.

“Vodka and Orange? It’s only 10 am, Tony.”
“Not in Moscow, old boy. Cheers by the way.”

The Ultimates vol 2: Homeland Security (minor spoilers for vol 1):

When was the last time you saw an action film that was perfect? I mean, completely and utterly perfect: compelling performances, mesmerising special effects, jaw-dropping plotting, and the pithiest and wittiest of scripts. I’ve never seen one. Well, apart from Alien and maybe the very first Matrix. Even with the best, something is always slightly disappointing – a niggle here, a niggle there, an insult to your intelligence, or a ham actor in a vital role. All that money, all that talent and they rarely hit the jackpot, often through underestimating their audience.

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Welcome to THE ULTIMATES: I cannot fault one single second of this on any front whatsoever. If you are amongst the record-breaking numbers to have already snatched up volume one, this knocks its teeth to the back of its throat then pulls them out the other end. The Black Widow’s and Hawkeye’s impossibly spectacular double-act above the streets of New York; the brutal reprisal meted out on Hank Pym for abusing his wife; the running gag about Quicksilver seemingly doing nothing (“Actually if you slow down the building’s security tapes…”Liar.”); that tellingly treacherous little scene between the soldier and the boy, once Stark has been persuaded to rejoin the fray. These and twenty-five other sequences vie with each other for “finest ever seen in a superhero comic to date”.

Did I say “superhero” comic? I wouldn’t mind for once if this won the Eisner.

As we rejoin the series, the band of the few created to take down the many or the unthinkable have, by the skin of their teeth, just scraped through the latter, but at a staggering cost to the population of Manhattan, the dignity of Dr. Banner, and the self-esteem of their resident goliath and biogenetic fraudster, Hank Pym. Banner, whose sex-crazed rampage as the insatiable Hulk caused such loss of life, now lies sedated and captive at the heart of the Triskelion, the Ultimates’ multi-billion dollar military complex. Pym, having beaten and poisoned his wife to within an inch of her diminutive life, is about to find out what it feels like to be on the receiving end from a very, very angry soldier.

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And evidence has now been uncovered of an invasion force of shape-shifting aliens, which has been regrouping since the Second World War, and about to begin their final strike.

Time to go pre-emptive with the biggest airborne fleet of almighty carriers and jets you cannot begin to imagine until you’ve seen Hitch’s panoramas.

Won’t do them any good I’m afraid: they’ve been outmanoeuvred. In a finale which makes the first book’s look like an 18th century picnic in a 16th century park, Plan A is a catastrophe, Plan B proves useless and Plan C runs right out of time. I guess that leaves Plan H, then. How big is your “appetite” for war?

SLH

Buy The Ultimates 1 Ultimate Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Ultimates 2 Ultimate Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch.

I promised you military geo-politics and American neo-imperialist lies.

In lieu of spoilers (umm, mostly), a montage:

“You promised the public that the super heroes would only be used domestically.”

“Forget this little street theatre they’re numbing your brains with. Our primary concern should be the rumours of the Ultimates being deployed in Syria and Iran. Because that’s what’s coming up if we don’t get our act together, Bob. This team wasn’t put together to stop burglars and bank robbers.”

“And when did I become one of the bad guys?”
“Around the time you took part in that pre-emptive strike against a Third World country.”
“A Third World country with nuclear weapons.”
“I think you’ll find that the only nation that’s ever used nuclear weapons against other human beings is the one you pledged an oath of allegiance to.”

“This isn’t a nation I believe in anymore. I never asked for Homeland Security or Guantanamo Bay… You should have seen their faces today, Hank. They were terrified of us.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Haven’t you seen the news? Oh, Hank. It’s been on every channel… we crippled a nation this morning.”

“Tell your boss he has a wolf in his fold.”

The great thing about speech balloons is that they have no regional accents. The great thing about straight prose is that is has no visuals. The great thing about this book is that it boasts the best speeches, the best characterisation, and the best visuals in any superhero comic.

At this point everyone is doing something behind someone’s back except for Captain America and Thor. Shame that everyone thinks that Thor is a basket case.

Thor told them exactly what would happen from the moment he refused to endorse American expansionism by officially joining the team. He warned them kindly, aided them loyally, and they repaid him with cynicism, violence and incarceration whilst the real traitor remained hidden. Now they’re in the Middle East, shutting down a nuclear facility America doesn’t like.

Never has a climax to something like this satisfied me so thoroughly. They reap what they’ve sown as America and its innocent civilians finally learn for themselves what it’s like to be invaded, immolated, and subjugated by a foreign power. It just gets bigger, then even bigger. You’ve never seen an eight-page, gatefold spread like it.

“Shouldn’t have left my fingernails in, dummy.”

“Get the hell away from my girlfriend.”

SLH

Buy The Ultimates 2 Ultimate Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Love And Rockets (Palomar & Luba vol 6): Comics Dementia (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez

Love And Rockets: New Stories #8 (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez

Nod Away s/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Ernie Bushmiller

The Tipping Point h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Boulet, Eddie Campbell, John Cassaday, Bob Fingerman, Atsushi Kaneko, Keiichi Koike, Emmanual Lepage, Taiyo Matsumoto, Frederick Peeters, Paul Pope, Katsuya Terada, Naoki Urasawa, Bastien Vives

Crickets #5 (£4-99) by Sammy Harkham

Gardens Of Glass (£14-99, BDP) by Lando

Gunnerkrigg Court vol 3: Reason s/c (£12-99, Archaia) by Tom Siddell

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 vol 4: Old Demons (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Christos N. Gage & Rebekah Isaacs, Megan Levans

Y – The Last Man Book vol 4 (£14-99, Vertigo) by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka

The Eltingville Club h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin

Batman: Dark Knight Returns (30th Anniversary Edition) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Frank Miller

Constantine: The Hellblazer vol 1: Going Down s/c (£10-99, DC) by Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV & Riley Rossmo, various

Injustice Year Three vol 2 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, Bruno Redondo

Secret Six vol 1: The Secrets Of The Six s/c (£10-99, DC) by Gail Simone & Ken Lashley, Dale Eaglesham

Armour Wars: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by James Robinson & Mark Bagley

X-Men: The Age Of Apocalypse vol 3 – Dawn s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Blue Exorcist vol 14 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Giganto Maxia (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

News!

ITEM! In-depth study: The Making Of Daniel Clowes And A Golden Age Of Comics.

Daniel Clowes’ new, original graphic novel PATIENCE is available for pre-order at Page 45.

ITEM! Dan Berry’s Hourly Comic Day 2016 is now in full colour and free to read online. What are the forces that conspires to save our Dan from doom?

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Dan Berry hourly comic

ITEM! Equally astounding is Joe Decie’s Hourly Comic Day 2016, full of his customary wit and swoonaway portraiture. “Daddy! Spillage in the village!”

Pop both of those creators in our search engine for many more comics, each one reviewed by silly old me.

Comix Creatrix photo

ITEM! The Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics exhibition has launched and Sarah McIntyre as always has all the details and all the best photos! Dozens of them with creators identified!

McIntyre also covers the context, including details of the Angoulême Festival’s ignorant dismissal of women, including not one female creator in its recent list of 30 nominations for a lifetime achievement award.

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I got rather angry about that and for the first time ever I’ve seen my Twitter off-the-cuff outburst collected together by SALLY HEATHCOTE SUFFRAGETTE‘s Kate Charlesworth.

Comix Creatrix Page 45 Twitter

ITEM! Paul Gravett interviews his co-curator of Comix Creatrix, Olivia Ahmad.  (Poster by Laura Callaghan.)

Comix Creatrix poster

ITEM! TAMARA DREWE‘s Posy Simmonds is interviewed on BBC Radio 4 about women in comics, chauvinism in comics, dismissal of women at Disney and picketing Punch magazine.

Speaking of, some photos of the only Page 45 window I’ve ever created for when Posy Simmonds signed with us:

Page 45 Window 7

 

Page 45 Window 4

 

Page 45 Window Centre

ITEM! Most excellent interview with comicbook creators Brian K Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Kelly Sue DeConnick on modern comic trends and Things That Matter. Extensive article and everyone is most eloquent indeed. Example:

“[THE WICKED + THE DIVINE] has won praise for its racially and sexually diverse cast, including mainly female characters, a bisexual R&B star, a trans character whose storyline isn’t dictated by her sexuality, and a Bowie-like female Lucifer. “It does weird us out when we’re called a feminist comic book,” says McKelvie. “It feels like we’re getting a cookie for what should be the bare acceptable minimum.”

“We read and advocate a lot of feminism,” adds Gillen, “but we wanted the book to look like London and reflect all the people in our lives. That writing women this way is seen as a feminist act is probably more depressing than anything.”

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3 reviewed above!

ITEM! Nottingham’s National Video Arcade is hosting its first LGBT night for Gaymers. February 18th.

See what they did there?

Gaymer Night

ITEM! Wise words from Una on communicating traumatic events, and avoiding violence visually when critical of it. Please see Una’s BECOMING UNBECOMING.

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ITEM! John Scalzi writes about Impostor Syndrome with which I completely sympathise and have felt myself – “felt”, mind, which is a different thing altogether than believed. Everyone has doubts, do they not?

“Impostor Syndrome, briefly put, is the feeling that one’s achievements and status are a fluke, and that sooner or later one will be revealed as a fraud.”

I’m not sure than I have any status, but our achievements here are no fluke! This shit takes some planning, you know, by which I mean the whole shop. There’s a 2009 Page 45 15th Anniversary interview in which I explain the whole thing.

However, our Jonathan has just given another interview to be published in a couple of months’ time in a very prestigious non-comics magazine, which is one of the most impassioned things I’ve ever read. I anticipate whoops of empathy all round for our beloved medium of choice and a great many wide very eyes when you discover exactly which household name is our new co-conspirator / ally for 2016 and thereverafter.

New word: thereverafter.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week one

February 3rd, 2016

Includes new Sara Varon, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark’s LAZARUS VOL 4, Manchette’s FATALE, Simon Spurrier & Ryan Kelly’s CRY HAVOC #1, Marc Ellerby in RICK AND MORTY VOL 1 and more!

The Comical Tragedy Or Tragical Comedy Of Mr. Punch remastered edition (£14-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean.

Well, this was worth re-reading: so many layers, so many secrets and so many lies.

As pertinent as ever, it will make you think long and hard about the tradition of Punch and Judy that presented itself as a childhood morality tale in which justice was never served. In which the philandering, maniacal, child-dropping, wife-beating, cop-killing, mass murderer escaped the noose right under our noses.

Punch slaughtered each and every one of them, and we were made to witness it all. Do you think that made us complicit?

“The path of memory is neither straight nor safe, and we travel down it at our own risk.”

It is indeed a maze and a hall of mirrors, prone to distortion; but then so is the present to a child. This is a book told in retrospect as the narrator recalls a past which will become increasingly troubling as moments take on more significance and clarity to an adult mind’s eye.

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For as a young lad he was sent to stay with his maternal grandparents and left to wander around his grandfather’s eerie, failing and virtually deserted seaside arcade which was visited by his uncle and one other. Then the boy saw more than he should; now he learns more than he wanted to.

Performance:

“What baby?”
“Our baby, you wicked old man. I left it with you to mind, didn’t I, boys and girls?”
“It’s asleep.”
“You wicked, evil Mr. Punch. It’s not asleep. He killed my baby, didn’t he, boys and girls?”
“Yes!”
“Yes!”
“Yes!”
“Yes!”
“Oh! You wicked storytellers!”
“You’re a very naughty Mister Punch, and I’m never going to kiss you any more.”

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“They began to hit each other,
in an intricate bobbing dance,
until
the Judy puppet flew into the air
and fell, lifeless
at
the
front
of the
stage.”

Between Neil Gaiman’s quietly controlled script and Dave McKean’s nightmarish puppetry (frenziedly photographed during the sequence above in which Mr. Punch’s rabid eye virtually hisses with brazen psychopathy) you will perhaps begin to wonder what the fuck we were all laughing at.

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There’s a scene on the beach during which the boy stumbles upon a private performance of Punch and Judy so early in the morning that nobody should have been there – certainly not the puppet master. He witnesses father Punch’s defenestration of his baby and is addressed directly: “Aren’t any boys and girls. Only him.” It’s possibly the most chilling panel in the entire graphic novel.

It will resonate later on for this is a comic with carefully constructed parallels.

It’s also a comic about being a child in an adult’s world “to which children are denied access”, full of the things which adults tell children and the ambivalence or uncertainly with which we as children receive them.

One of its delights is Gaiman’s ability to recall elements of youth which were legendary to our shared generation, as demonstrated most effectively in THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. There it was the penny or ha’penny chews; here it’s the Heart ice-cream with its tangy raspberry ripple and rich coating of chocolate. In both instances it’s the seemingly life-altering decision on what to spend your much-prized, meagre pocket money. Of being left alone in a car while adults did their thing. Thunderstorms. Apple-peeling. Grandparents sleeping in separate beds. Lives you could never imagine they once had before they became the only thing you perceive them to be: your Gran and Granddad.

In contrast throughout McKean skilfully and thoughtfully employs a range of media – pen, paint, modelling, photography and extra special effects – to harrowing effect. For example, there’s a page in which the grandfather’s mania is recalled, using grainy, outdoor photographs of a man with a Toby-jug-sized head bellowing at a woman sitting meekly in a chair by a table and lamp, closing in on the mask’s wild, white-eyed fury. It’s disconcerting, to say the least. Unsettling.

All of it is.

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To my mind this is one of the greatest graphic novels Britain has ever produced and two decades ago it was massive. Since then it’s slipped below the radar and become submerged below so much subsequent brilliance, but it needs to be refloated.

This 20th Anniversary edition comes with a brand-new gallery in the back including the witty Comics Journal cover featuring photographs of Gaiman and McKean pulling the strings of their puppet portraits; previous covers; thumbnail sketches; photographs from the film Whack! by Tim Etchels and Dave McKean inspired by the graphic novel; collage images from the inside of Mr. Punch’s head, plus other designs for the never-completed nor released CD-ROM and photographs from the ‘Comics Unmasked’ exhibition at the British Library.

As to the printing, although the cover claims that it has been “completely re-mastered”, previous reproductions have been pretty classy and all I detected was a slightly more blue hue on some pages. I wish they’d corrected the commas instead which is my only complaint: they can barely be distinguished from the full stops. What I do like is the lower case – unusual outside of Eddie Campbell back then – which gives a diary and so confessional air to the proceedings.

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I’ll leave you will this which surprised and alarmed me, though I don’t know why I was surprised. Please bear in mind that amongst Mr. Punch’s many audacities and “accomplishments” was that he also slew the Devil.

“I thought I saw the Punch and Judy man a year ago last May, in a churchyard in Covent Garden. They celebrate Mister Punch’s birthday there, and Punch and Judy professors come from all over the country to tell his story. The church even invites Mister Punch into the pulpit to read the lesson, in his squeaky, secret voice. I wonder what the Devil thinks of the arrangement – but I am sure he has spoken from the pulpit or the lectern in his time, also.”

SLH

Buy The Comical Tragedy Or Tragical Comedy Of Mr. Punch and read the Page 45 review here

Sweaterweather h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon.

Awww! It’s all about friendship with Sara Varon – friendship and kindness.

From the much-loved creator of ROBOT DREAMS, ODD DUCK and BAKE OFF comes a double-sized expansion of the original all-ages SWEATERWEATHER from 2003 with extra stories from all over the shop in navy blue, lilac and pinks.

‘Lion Comic’ from 2009 is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. A lion living in genteel elegance buys a book on ‘How To Fit In’ on the African Plains then settles down in a comfy chair with a steaming cup of tea to absorb the instructions. Thereafter the lion strolls out onto the Savanna and attempts to fit in, fails to fit in, fails to see that it’s failed to fit in, fails to understand that it never needed to fit in anyway… then writes a review for The Times on how well it’s succeeded.

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There’s Sara’s Five-Day Diary for The Comics Journal, a mini travelogue on Mexico City’s bizarre bazaar subway, and a few friends interviewed on staying productive while working from home when Sara leaves her part-time job at New York City’s School of Visual Arts to do just that.

Otherwise, Varon prefers silence while telling her tales including the original short story which became ROBOT DREAMS, one of my all-time favourite books about friendship even though it involves an act of betrayal. Most of us feel that at some point or another we’ve been left behind, abandoned on the metaphorical beach, and giving ROBOT DREAMS as a gift to another signals that you will never be so careless or callous.

All of this is compensated for by a story about campsite kindness and in a bit about boxing which could not be cuddlier. Also, who knew that Sara Varon used to box? Oh yes, each of these stories is preceded by a series of short insights into the construction of the comic, the history behind it, materials used or some personal anecdote.

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What else do we have? Hibernation, cooperation and cosiness; the final acquisition of a coveted “prize” possession; growing feathers for flight; a great deal of cooking; Secrets Of The Beehive; dinosaurs really feeling the heat before finding the obvious solution (which is usually ice cream, is it not?); and a cute little comic about building an indoor swimming pool and the distribution leaflets for it under the sea. Leaflet included, bound-in!

I’ve taken a photo of that page because it’s a brilliant example of the power of the comicbook panel. Take a look at that lush, navy blue page and then imagine it without the panel border below the sheep fishing on the jetty: the frog is no longer underwater diving for the sea bed, but swimming towards the shore.

It’s almost all anthropomorphics, and approachable one’s at that – Sara’s chosen child-like forms coming with an aura of innocence.

Miraculously I have unearthed a long-lost treasure: one of Mark’s Magnificent Musings when the softcover originally appeared in 2003. Hurray!

“Probably the cuddliest, fluffiest book I’ve seen in a long, long time. I’m tempted to say wait ’til the winter comes before buying as it’s best to snuggle up with it under a huge duvet while you’re spannered on Neurofen Cold’n’Flu. The cute figures (cat, rabbit, turtle, snowman) amble through an oft-frosty world, pull together and everything’s alright. In the back there are cut-out figures to play with as your mucus-filled head wonders if you should go for honey & lemon or menthol or just work your way through the Hobnobs. Nice bit about bees too. Aren’t bees nice?”

They are!

I’d just add that it’s typical of Varon to add extra mischief to the cut-out paper figures and their garb, for behind each lies either a skeleton, beating hearts, cogs whirring in the brain, a sandwich in the tummy, a penny in a pocket or the fish in the sea. Once constructed, you will need to unfold the flaps to peek inside and see them again!

SLH

Buy Sweaterweather and read the Page 45 review here

Manchette’s Fatale (£19-99, Titan) by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Max Cabanes & Doug Headline…

“A light went on in my head. Those assholes could be killed after all. Besides, I needed money but I didn’t want to work.”
“Reasonable.”
“Look, what I do is work too you know. I go from town to town, hobnob with the upper crust. I watch them. There are always conflicts.
“I wind up finding them. Someone always wants to kill someone else. The rest takes a light touch.
“The idea of killing is already in their heads. You make them think it is theirs.
“Then I offer my services… When possible, in a time of crisis.
“I don’t tell them I’m a killer. No one would believe me. I tell them I know a killer.
“Now… now it’s all fucked.”

Jean-Patrick Manchette will already be very familiar to fans of Jacques Tardi for his trio of adaptations of Manchette’s crime novels: LIKE A SNIPER LINING UP HIS SHOT, RUN LIKE CRAZY, RUN LIKE HELL, WEST COAST BLUES. This work, adapted by Max Cabanes and illustrated in one of the most opposite of styles to Tardi possible, was originally published in prose form in 1977, immediately after the prose release of West Coast Blues and just before Like A Sniper…

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Intriguingly Manchette himself considered this work more of an experimental novel than a thriller. It’s difficult to say why he made such a distinction without reading the original, because to me this is as straight-up crime thriller as it gets. It tells the story of femme fatale Aimée Joubert, a former victim of domestic violence turned ice-cold, calculating killer. Her modus operandi is to turn up in a town under a new identity, insinuate herself into local society, uncover everyone’s dirty little secrets, then act as agent provocateur, gradually turning the great and the (not-so) good against each other. Eventually someone cracks, they always do, but rather than inducing them to break the law so they’ll be arrested, that’s when Aimée offers her own unique services to remove the problem, permanently. And so it is once more in the sleepy seaside town of Bléville. This time though, not everything is going to go according to her plan…

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Manchette is regarded as a true literary giant in France, and rightly so. I have enjoyed all of his works that have been adapted into graphic novels and translated into English immensely. If you read our reviews of LIKE A SNIPER LINING UP HIS SHOT, RUN LIKE CRAZY, RUN LIKE HELL and WEST COAST BLUES you’ll note certain themes running through. Great dialogue and narration, intensely flawed, dysfunctional characters, and endings that are neither straightforward nor particularly happy following considerable violent unpleasantness. It’s very much a case of plus ça change therefore again here! People don’t change, they’re still the same conniving, two-timing, weak-willed, greedy inveterates wherever Aimée goes. She knows that all too well, in fact, she’s relying upon it…

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What is different, though, is the art. Gone is the ultra-gritty, roughly inked black and white of Tardi who can do broken-nosed, Gitane-smoking street thugs like no one else, replaced by delicate ligne claire coloured in a delightful faux watercolour effect palette. It’s entirely reminiscent of much Humanoids output, and is a perfect choice of style given that Aimée is exquisitely beautiful. Yes, she will undoubtedly end up blowing your brains out, but she’s probably going to make you lose your mind with desire first.

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It’s only reasonable in the spirit of full disclosure I do mention there’s a modicum of naked flesh on show, entirely Aimée’s, as she is prone to wandering around her hotel room in the altogether, and err… having the odd moment or two of, shall we say, autoérotique in the bath. Which could come across as overly-prurient, I suppose, but in fact only serves to reinforce the feeling that here is a woman who is wholly self-sufficient, and indeed entirely self-interested. If she wants a man, she’ll take one, or equally take him out, but she certainly doesn’t need him.

As ever, I find myself left wanting more Manchette. Fortunately, he was an extremely prolific writer so there’s plenty more for people to adapt.

JR

Buy Manchette’s Fatale and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus vol 4: Poison s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

One of my favourite five monthly comics.

There will be no spoilers here; just enough to intrigue new readers to snap up book one.

“I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid.”

That’s Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana. He’s not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: “A patron of holy death.”

There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.

Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard’s pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means – and most have no means – which involves traveling. In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She’s had no training and feels she has no aptitude – all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.

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Previously in LAZARUS:

In the not-too far future the world’s economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.

It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as “waste”.

Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She’s been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: “Family Above All.”

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The structure which Greg Rucka’s employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.

And now… for the shooty bits.

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Michael Lark’s landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That’s vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions – in this case a blizzard of snow – and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That’s vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers’ blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists’.

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The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she’s made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.

Speaking of revelations, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It’s no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on, which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.

“Family Above All.”

SLH

Buy Lazarus vol 4: Poison s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cry Havoc #1 (£2-99, Image) by Simon Spurrier & Ryan Kelly.

“So why is she on her own?”
“Huh. She ate her sister. Ah, it was ill. Probably would’ve been put down anyway. But Princess Giggles, there? Whoof.”

In which you will learn more about hyenas than you expected to. Certainly more than I’m comfortable talking about here. If you care to read Si’s extensive notes in the back you will learn even more, though not as much about the werewolves yet, except that we shouldn’t be calling them werewolves. For now, I will be calling them werewolves.

I like a comic whose unusual aspects have been thoroughly researched but isn’t insistent on ramming that research down your throat in order to get a First Class degree in Esoterics. By all means give us a gander in the back, but not in the story itself, please. Hurrah for Si Spurrier, then! I thought this was enormous fun.

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Drawn throughout by LOCAL and THE COMPLETE NEW YORK FOUR artist Ryan Kelly, CRY HAVOC flips between three time periods coloured and colour-coded by Nick Filardi for the sequences set in London, Matt Wilson in Afghanistan and Lee Loughbridge in… well, not in a good place. In a cage.

That’s where we know blue-haired violinist Louise Canton ends up, some undisclosed time in the future. Back in London she’s looking inside that hyena’s cage in the zoo where her girlfriend works. In the middle Louise is in Afghanistan, dressed in military combat gear, and looking outside a CH47-F Chinook Helicopter which is hovering above the exploding guts of a goat it’s just fired upon.

It’s not an obvious career move, I grant you.

But back in the beginning while busking by the Old Bailey, she was bitten down an alley by what looked like a werewolf and it unleashed in her a sensory overload, a craving – an intoxication.

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Each of the crew Louise has now found herself with appear to have had similar experiences with differing results and know more about their condition and its history than she does. Enough, at least, not to call their predator a werewolf. It’s more complicated than that.

Now she’s being transported to a deserted U.S.-run rendition centre which was mothballed when “a civilian employee lost her shit, killed five C.I.A. agents, released ten insurgents. By “lost her shit” he means she went feral.

Lupine.

They’re here to track her down.

It’s not just the colour-coding and panel grids which differ between time periods, but Kelly’s art too. London’s the style you’ll be accustomed to. I’ve never seen him draw anything like the Afghanistan sequences before: much sharper, more detailed lines in both the interior and exterior shots of the rendition centre, while the faces in places are closer to Mark Laming’s and, in one notable instance, almost as if inked by Tom Palmer.

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That Chinook’s pretty mighty when seen from below with a tremendous sense of weight which is being so improbably held aloft by the whirling blades above it. Below and behind, the dusty mountains fade into an almost infinite distance. It’s quite a big country.

There’s plenty of politics to sink your teeth into, playful dialogue, behavioural and cultural analysis and only the most ominous hints so far about the proto-mythology actually being explored and what’s been unlocked in each individual.

SLH

Buy Cry Havok #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Rick And Morty vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon with Marc Ellerby…

“It’s okay, Morty. Just stick with me and do exactly what I say, alright? Technically I’m not allowed in this building.”
“I thought you said this was on the up and up, Rick. You know I don’t like to break rules!”
“Yeah, and that’s a real… real… URRRP!… charming quality. I bet the girls love that one, don’t they, Morty?”

I’m just trying to think how best to describe Rick and Morty for those not familiar with the cartoon. Rick Sanchez is a mad scientist who likes a drink. Well, actually thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him sober! Or indeed, not covered in vomit… He’s a man who uses belching as means of dramatic emphasis and he’s practically turned life hacking into an artform, though in a Salvador Dali surrealist sense of art perhaps.

For example his use of a future-predicting device to play the intergalactic stock exchange to make him and his sidekick grandson – the infinitely more conventional and straight-laced Morty – richer than their wildest dreams seems, as Rick explains to an uncertain Morty, the simplest thing in the Universe. Unfortunately all of Rick’s madcap schemes have a tendency to spin out of control faster than a whirling dervish riding a waltza, and so it’s really no surprise when the time police show up pre-emptively, obviously, to try and warn them off.

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Rick’s incessant goading and bullying of Morty ensures the two of the them press ahead with their fiscal thievery, however, and for a while their life of crime reaps rich pickings, but eventually the long hand of the time police catches up with them and a life sentence in the Clackspire Labyrinth awaits. Fortunately Rick, knowing he would eventually get locked up for something heinous eventually has, or more precisely had, a plan…

“You think I’d a build a crazy space dungeon and n… URRP!… not assume I’d get imprisoned in it one day? I’m familiar with dramatic irony, Morty.”

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Indeed he is, he’s practically the poster boy for it. It’s a familiar refrain of mine but you never know whether these adaptations are going to be as good as the show, or indeed any good at all. Some succeed like ADVENTURE TIME, others fall woefully short: STEVEN UNIVERSE. Happily, this comes as close to its television show as I think it’s possible to get in terms of art style and tone, possibly the truest adaptation of a show I’ve seen, actually. Lovely clean lines, ultra-vibrant colour palette and the requisite complete and utter nonsensical mayhem. Rick puts Morty through the wringer repeatedly as usual, but for some insane reason Morty keeps on coming back for more. Morty’s mum, sister and step-dad are all here as well, bemoaning their perpetually pissed-up patriarch as their lives inevitably lurch from calm to catastrophic and back again on a daily basis. Great fun. For us anyway, not so much for them!

This first volume collects issues 1-5 plus bonus shorts featuring the delectable Marc ELLERBISMS Ellerby on art!

JR

Buy Rick And Morty vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka & J. G. Jones, Scott Hampton.

Disclaimer: this is a heavily edited version of a cursory review I wrote some fifteen years ago, reprinted purely because its punchline made me smile. I haven’t re-read the material although a quick glance at the watercolour washes of Scott Hampton’s pages had me swooning all over the place.

This collects the two mini-series from 1999 and 2001 written by dear Devin Grayson (much missed in comics; she was responsible for the early analysis of MMORPG addiction in THE USER, sadly never collected), the second in conjunction with LAZARUS, STUMPTOWN and GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Greg Rucka.

With artwork by JG Jones on the former (see cover) and Scott Hampton on the latter, they were at the very least two of the sexier superhero books around at the time.

Introducing a younger, more idealistic challenger for the position of Black Widow, the first storyline featured the bewilderingly popular comicbook trope of the drug that turns the taker into a super-strong berserker for two minutes before killing them off.

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The second is a riff on the Face/Off film as the older, original Black Widow undergoes brain surgery in order to swap bodies with the younger pretender for somewhat pointless reasons. To be fair, the writers seem to have realised the somewhat tenuous nature of the plot as several supporting characters feel the need to stand around asking why innovative transplant surgery is needed in order to work out the location of some missing missiles.

Less John le Carré, more John Le Mesurier.

SLH

Buy Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Old Man Logan #1 (£3-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino.

Third series of this title following Bendis and Sorrentino’s OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES which was itself a sequel of sorts to Mark Millar & Steve McNiven’s original OLD MAN LOGAN which is completely self-contained and highly recommended as the finest Wolverine solo series of all time.

Both those books are reviewed far more extensively but, in short, the original was set in an arid future when the heroes had lost and the villains had carved up America between them. Something so traumatic had happened to Logan that he’d become a pacifist, refusing to pop his claws for anyone or anything. When you learn what that was, you will understand why. Half the fun was wondering – then discovering – what had become of those you once loved. Those who were left alive, anyway.

OLD MAN LOGAN: WARZONES saw that same survivor dropped into Marvel’s alternate SECRET WARS world composed of various domains all ruled over by Vicky von Doom, each playing out alternate versions of key Marvel crossovers from the past or whatever else the writers came up with. It’s kind of difficult to explain, sorry.

“AT LEAST YOU TRIED, STEPHEN!” Thank you.

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I adored its colours by Marcelo Maiolo which made you feel like you were travelling through the nocturnal section of a zoo’s tropical house under the influence of LSD.

Maiolo is back to colour Sorrentino’s Jay-Lee like art with suitable gnarled and jaggedy lines as the by-now thoroughly bewildered and battered and indeed naked Old Man Logan surfaces groggily on Marvel’s new post-SECRET WARS Universe which is almost identical to the one left behind but since it’s now years in Old Man Logan’s past, it’s going to take some adjusting to.

Presumably his old pals are going to need to make some adjustments too given that they thought their friend dead after the DEATH OF WOLVERINE. Will he tell them what becomes of the poor sods in their future?

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Avoiding those events and that future is now Wolverine’s main motivation and most pressing concerns. Also, avenging some slights that haven’t yet happened. Expect memory flashes which will be new to you, a checklist of those who need to be taken out in order to divert the course of the present (slight spoilers if you haven’t read the original yet; you’re encouraged to do so as soon as possible), spectacular landscapes and a surprising double-page homage to Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

SLH

Buy Old Man Logan #1 and read the Page 45 review here

You Are Perfect Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

Yes, you are! I’ve always thought so, anyway.

You shop with us for a start or, if you don’t, at least you take the time to trawl through our reviews.

Finally, thanks to our own Jodie Paterson, Page 45 has a range of Valentine’s Cards to sell on its shop floor saving you the annual trouble of fixing a stamp and plopping it in a letter box so that they then descend en masse through mine, cluttering up my hallway and making it impossible to leave for work without the aid of a shovel.

Now you can simply pay at the till, borrow a pen from our counter, write your anonymous sweet nothings to me then hand it over. Or, if you want to engage in traditional stealth, leave and pass the envelope to someone incoming at our door, asking them to give it to “the totally delusional bald git”.

What I adore about Jodie Paterson’s Paper Pipit cards:

The calligraphy, class, composition, carefully chosen colour palettes and, increasingly, a satisfying coherence within each seasonal release: three or four variations on a theme which give them a striking beauty when arranged together, along with a recognisable brand identity. As evidence, please check out the other card Jodie Paterson Cards & Prints including her thank-you notes.

P.S. I don’t know how many Valentine’s Cards you receive on an annual basis, but one year I scored Minus One: a boyfriend ditched me by post, the letter arriving on February 14th. I’m not even joking. It was a very sweet letter, but still…

SLH

Buy You Are Perfect Valentine’s Card and read the Page 45 review here

You’re Well Fit! Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

You are most certainly are!

Just look at you with your eyes, teeth and noses all in the right places!

Probably cut back on the noses, though: just one will do.

I notice you also carry a Page 45 Tote Bag. It’s a fashion statement! And a status symbol!

Finally, thanks to our own Jodie Paterson, Page 45 has a range of Valentine’s Cards to sell on its shop floor saving you the annual trouble of fixing a stamp and plopping it in a letter box so that they then descend en masse through mine, cluttering up my hallway and making it impossible to leave for work without the aid of a shovel.

Now you can simply pay at the till, borrow a pen from our counter, write your anonymous sweet nothings to me then hand it over. Or, if you want to engage in traditional stealth, leave and pass the envelope to someone incoming at our door, asking them to give it to “the totally delusional bald git”.

What I adore about Jodie Paterson’s Paper Pipit cards:

The calligraphy, class, composition, carefully chosen colour palettes and, increasingly, a satisfying coherence within each seasonal release: three or four variations on a theme which give them a striking beauty when arranged together, along with a recognisable brand identity. As evidence, please check out the other card Jodie Paterson Cards & Prints including her thank-you notes.

P.S. I don’t know how many Valentine’s Cards you receive on an annual basis, but one year I scored Minus One: a boyfriend ditched me by post, the letter arriving on February 14th. I’m not even joking. It was a very sweet letter, but still…

SLH

Buy You’re Well Fit! Valentine’s Card and read the Page 45 review here

I Like Your Bum Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

You know that I do! If I can see it, anyway.

I don’t need to see your actual bum – heaven forbid! – but I yearn for the resurrection of jeans which don’t droop at the back showing off your crack or My Little Pony underpants. You’re forty years old – what is wrong with you?!

Also, how do those jeans even work, gravity-wise? It’s a mystery to me.

Finally, thanks to our own Jodie Paterson, Page 45 has a range of Valentine’s Cards to sell on its shop floor saving you the annual trouble of fixing a stamp and plopping it in a letter box so that they then descend en masse through mine, cluttering up my hallway and making it impossible to leave for work without the aid of a shovel.

Now you can simply pay at the till, borrow a pen from our counter, write your anonymous sweet nothings to me then hand it over. Or, if you want to engage in traditional stealth, leave and pass the envelope to someone incoming at our door, asking them to give it to “the totally delusional bald git”.

What I adore about Jodie Paterson’s Paper Pipit cards:

The calligraphy, class, composition, carefully chosen colour palettes and, increasingly, a satisfying coherence within each seasonal release: three or four variations on a theme which give them a striking beauty when arranged together, along with a recognisable brand identity. As evidence, please check out the other card Jodie Paterson Cards & Prints including her thank-you notes.

P.S. I don’t know how many Valentine’s Cards you receive on an annual basis, but one year I scored Minus One: a boyfriend ditched me by post, the letter arriving on February 14th. I’m not even joking. It was a very sweet letter, but still…

SLH

Buy Like Your Bum Valentine’s Card and read the Page 45 review here

Gizza Snog Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

Please do! Or at least a hug!

Maybe you have to build up to a snog. Some might consider it inappropriate on your first purchase.

“Ah, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE volume one! That’ll be £7-50, please.”
*lunges at me across the counter*
*flails helplessly whilst sadly recognising it’s the best tongue-action he’s seen in well over a decade*

Yes, let’s develop our relationship gradually. We might want to start with a trip to the cinema to see a French art film in black and white, with subtitles, starring a bowl of fruit. I am the epitome of a good time!

Finally, thanks to our own Jodie Paterson, Page 45 has a range of Valentine’s Cards to sell on its shop floor saving you the annual trouble of fixing a stamp and plopping it in a letter box so that they then descend en masse through mine, cluttering up my hallway and making it impossible to leave for work without the aid of a shovel.

Now you can simply pay at the till, borrow a pen from our counter, write your anonymous sweet nothings to me then hand it over. Or, if you want to engage in traditional stealth, leave and pass the envelope to someone incoming at our door, asking them to give it to “the totally delusional bald git”.

What I adore about Jodie Paterson’s Paper Pipit cards:

The calligraphy, class, composition, carefully chosen colour palettes and, increasingly, a satisfying coherence within each seasonal release: three or four variations on a theme which give them a striking beauty when arranged together, along with a recognisable brand identity. As evidence, please check out the other card Jodie Paterson Cards & Prints including her thank-you notes.

P.S. I don’t know how many Valentine’s Cards you receive on an annual basis, but one year I scored Minus One: a boyfriend ditched me by post, the letter arriving on February 14th. I’m not even joking. It was a very sweet letter, but still…

SLH

Buy Gizza Snog Valentine’s Card and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Beverly (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Nick Drnaso

The Book Of Hope h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi

Brother’s Story (£5-00, Zetabella Publishing) by Sarah Burgess

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

The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vol 2 (£12-99, Zetabella Publishing) by Sarah Burgess

The Summer Of Blake Sinclair vol 3 (£12-99, Zetabella Publishing) by Sarah Burgess

Hilda And The Midnight Giant s/c (£7-99, Flying Eye Books) by Luke Pearson

Phonogram 3: The Immaterial Girl Issue Pack – All Six Issues! (£12-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

The Wicked + The Divine vol 3: Commercial Suicide s/c (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, Kate Brown, Tula Lotay, Stephanie Hans, Leila Del Duca, Brandon Graham

Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir h/c (£14-99, St. Martin’s Press) by Tom Hart

Scorpia: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown

Hinges Book 2: Paper Tigers (£11-99, Image) by Meredith McClaren

Lumberjanes vol 3: A Terrible Plan (£10-99, Boom! Box) by Noelle Stevenson, various & various

Squarriors s/c (£14-99, Devil’s Due) by Ash Maczko & Ashley Witter

Star Wars: Lando (£12-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Alex Maleev

Stinky Cecil In Terrarium Terror (£7-50, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Paige Braddock

Trigger Warning (£7-99, Headline) by Neil Gaiman

Uncanny: Season Two (£14-99, Dynamite) by Andy Diggle & Aaron Campbell

Bizarro s/c (£10-99, DC) by Heath Corson & Gustavo Duarte

New Suicide Squad vol 2: Monsters s/c (£10-99, DC) by Sean Ryan & Philippe Briones

Deadpool And Wolverine Digest s/c (£7-50, Marvel) by various

Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops vol 2 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Reki Kawahara & Neko Nekobyou

Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Reki Kawahara & Koutarou Yamada

Adventure Time: Masked Mayhem s/c (£8-99, Titan) by Kate Leth & Bridget Underwood

Edward Scissorhands: Parts Unknown (£14-99, IDW) by Kate Leth & Drew Rausch

News!

On hold for next week!

It was this or Jodie’s Valentine’s cards reviewed above.

Cheers,

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week four

January 27th, 2016

New Jim Woodring, three Young Adults / Young Readers graphic novels and a socio-political PUNISHER book which I highly recommend. Seriously.

Extensive illustrated news underneath.

Tamsin And The Deep (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron & Kate Brown.

“What was that?” Tamsin asks herself, staring out to sea.

“They’re called Undines. Kind of ocean nymphs, basically. Greedy little buggers. Most people can’t see ‘em, or just mistake ‘em for gulls.”
“Huh. How come I could see it?”
“Well, that’s really the question, isn’t it?”

Tamsin turns round.

“AAAH! TALKING BLACKBIRD!”

Fabulous double-take, there, with ice cream all over the place!

From the PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY, written by the creator of HOW TO MAKE AWESOME COMICS and drawn then coloured by the creator of FISH + CHOCOLATE (emphatically not for Younger Readers!) comes a family comic set in coastal Cornwall which is funny, thrilling and at times terrifying!

Neill and Kate prove a consummate double-act with so many crafty devices. That scene, for example, is set up to perfection, bright white seagulls wheeling up above in the soft blue sky so that when the pesky little sprite – with its feathered wings and webbed feet – does snatch the cone from Tamsin’s hands it could indeed be so easily mistaken for a gull.

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Even the lettering’s a joy, for Tamsin’s speech bubble coveting her ice cream (“Alone at last”) comes in the shape of a love heart. In other places a winking censorship of exclamatory dialogue covers the regular lettering with a splat of black and a new, less blue word replacing whatever exasperation may have lurked underneath. “What the actual [FLIP]?”

And oh, will you look at that logo!

During the flashback to Tamsin Thomas’ ancestors the panel borders are ragged and torn like ancient parchment, their contents coloured to reflect the same.

But perhaps best of all there’s a sign slapped defiantly across her old brother’s bedroom door. It’s a poster-sized version of a sticker we know far too well:

PARENTAL GUIDANCE
EXPLICIT CONTENT

The trouble starts almost immediately with Tamsin (aged 10) abandoned on the beach by her brother Morgan (13) who had promised to teach her to bodyboard but is enjoying the surf instead with his mates. She’s abandoned but not marooned so sets out to teach herself, swimming out to find the perfect breaker. And she does. But it’s bigger than she thought and Tamsin’s swept down with its crashing current, arms reaching out from what looks like long, green weed to grab her calf. She looks down to see another face glowing back at her from the deep, its eyes a carmine red…

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Eventually the sea washes her up on the shore, but it’s much, much further down the coast. A bus driver takes no pity for, although her ankle is torn, in her wetsuit she is dripping and has no fare so, supported by a knotted staff of driftwood which washed up with her, she hobbles the many miles home.

In another piece of masterful storytelling you know something’s up when she walks through the door. The clue lies in how Kate’s drawn Morgan. Maybe you’ll half-spot it too.

What follows is a story of ancient covenants, creepy white hands, family tragedy and magic in which Morgan has a far bigger role to play than he suspects. But I promised you thrilling, didn’t I? There are two specific moments of exceptional acceleration. In the first Tamsin’s face is a picture of pure unbridled fury and determination; in the second she’s flying forward so fast that her eyes water.

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As to the subaquatic sequences, Brown’s pulled out all the stops on the colouring, the murky green seas bursting with bubbles and – oh! – the fury of her storms is phenomenal!

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Cameron too is on top form. I adored this excerpt from Tamsin’s diary early on and I’d remind you that Tamsin is ten:

“Dear Diary,
“It has been a really weird week.
“So apparently I sank when I was bodyboarding and everyone thought I was drowned and I wasn’t but when I came back [SPOILERS]
“The police came, and there was a lady who was a counsellor.
“Or a councillor?
“One of those.”

He also nails the interplay between younger sister and older brother, the latter continually dismissing Tamsin as “weird”, a “weirdo” and eventually, “You unbelievable weirdo”!

Well, there are going to be some pretty rum doings!

“Word of advice, matey.
“Just ‘cause something’s a fairy story, don’t mean it ain’t true.”

Fact!

SLH

Buy Tamsin And The Deep and read the Page 45 review here

Frank In The 3rd Dimension h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring with Charles Barnard.

Dilate your mind!

WHAT IT IS:

Jim Woodring, the creator of WEATHERCRAFT, FRAN, FRANK, JIM, the PROBLEMATIC sketchbook and so much, more presents 27 landscape tableaux (including the front and back covers) given the old-school 3-D treatment by Charles Barnard then printed on hard board as thick as an Early Learning book. It comes with a set of spectacles which only Woodring could have designed, framed in purple and adorned with the cosmos, and protected by a transparent plastic pouch popped into an inset pocket.

WHY WE CARE:

Well, Woodring, obviously.

Also, I’ve been in love with this sort of 3-D transmogrification ever since I was a child. Unlike 3-D modelling which aspires to reality, it is, as the word implies, truly magical. It doesn’t aspire to reality but a heightened reality in which flat objects float in a three-dimensional depth, almost as if suspended and luminously lit in a clear, viscous liquid.

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WHY IT WORKS SO WELL FOR WOODRING:

Woodring’s art has always been magical and hyper-real. I’ve often described it as “mind-altering yet legal”. Plus while Frank, Pupshaw and Pushpaw are rendered without texture, his objects and landscapes come with carefully crafted, graduated contours which create a depth of their own.

Seen through rose- and blue-tinted glasses these populated tableaux become dioramas worthy of Restoration Theatre sets: the sort of stagecraft which produces not just a foreground for the actors to work in and a backdrop to set the scene, but layers and layers of contrasting, ornately shaped flats in multiple middle-distances. The exotic, convex domes and concaves scoops of Jim’s Persian architecture make them prime candidates for this peer-to-one-side-and-you-might-see-a-little-more illusion.

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In addition the foreground characters appear like cardboard cut-outs arranged freestanding as part of the ensemble as if using folded-back, ground-level tabs. One scene here depicts the ever-hubristic Frank laughing at a bipedal frog, head bagged in a sack, which always danced but now seems to jig or jerk about in this colloidal suspension with a new sense of movement.

One last example before I go to bed and dream Jim Woodring anew: there’s a gnarled old tree with a knotted trunk, writhing branches and twigs twisted like tendrils. Like a gorgeously grotesque Christmas tree, it’s festooned with trinkets which now dangle as if from a nursery-room mobile in three-dimensional space, one behind the other, never on the same plain.

SLH

Buy Frank In The 3rd Dimension h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Extra Yarn (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

Such a satisfying punchline played out over three landscape double-page spreads which I would delight in reading aloud, with the appropriate pause, to young, eager ears!

Like many a great gag (and so many of Eddie Izzard’s) the key is that it’s a reprise of similar sentences set up much earlier on and – as ever with Jon Klassen books – that its weight, its evidence if you like, is visual. This makes it a perfect picture book for reading aloud alongside a young lady or gent, letting their ears attend your words while leaving their eyes to soak in their meaning.

It also makes it a comic.*

“On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every colour.”

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There’s a little more sepia on the printed page than the image shown here. Only a tad, but it makes all the difference.

Slowly but surely, however, more colour is introduced to this winter world by Annabelle’s industrious knitting. First she knits herself a jumper of deliciously fresh and bright citrus colours, and it is ever so fluffy! But because she has some extra yarn she knits one for her dog. When they go for a walk together her friend Luke looks and laughs.

“You two look ridiculous.”
“You’re just jealous,” said Annabelle.
“No, I’m not,” said Luke.

But it turned out he was.

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Over and over again Annabelle knits jumpers – for class mates and her teacher and for every kind of creature – and each time she has extra yarn. She offers to knit for everyone and everything; even for things that don’t normally wear jumpers. Some didn’t think she could do it.

“But it turned out she could.”

Others believed she would run out of wool.

“But it turned out she didn’t.”

Such stories of self-replenishment are far from new and, when used as fables, have at their heart a spirit of generosity. Take this altruism out of the equation and the source dries up.

So it is here, but I won’t tell you why, although I do promise you that our most excellent Annabelle never gives in!

This book is a couple of years old but was never solicited through comicbook channels, hence us being late to the party, so I am hugely indebted to master artist Ron Salas for pointing me in its direction via Twitter. Mac Barnett’s message is ever so brilliant, the words so carefully chosen. Plus Klassen is on as fine a dead-pan form as ever and you may find a certain bear and rabbit oh so familiar! Superb woollen textures.

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P.S. On the subject of self-replenishment, when I was very young I was taught ‘Love Is Something’ AKA ‘Magic Penny’ written by Malvina Reynolds and it’s as good as any guide for life that I’ve encountered ever since. At the risk of sickening you, imagine me as an angelic seven-year-old (I know, right?) singing this ditty in class accompanied by plinky-plonky piano:

Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the flooooooooooooor…

If you ask I will attempt to reproduce this on the shop floor, including the fragile, faltering soprano, depending on how embarrassed I feel or how busy we are at the time.

The two may not be unconnected.

P.P.S. * If you’ve not read my argument before, the key to a comic is that it’s a visual narrative. If you can comprehend the story without the images then it’s illustrated prose; but if you can’t then it’s also a comic. Please see Jon Klassen’s I WANT MY HAT BACK, THIS NOT MY HAT, SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE (also written by Mac Barnett) and Shaun Tan’s ERIC which you can also find within TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA.

SLH

Buy Extra Yarn and read the Page 45 review here

Nnewts Book 1: Escape From The Lizzarks (£8-50, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel…

“Herk, are you all right?”
“That was a good try, son! You’re legs just aren’t cooperating.”
“Life isn’t cooperating.”

Ha, good comeback. I might have to pinch that for future use myself!

Surprisingly dark all-ages fantasy from Doug TOMMYSAURUS REX, CARDBOARD, BAD ISLAND, GHOSTOPOLIS TenNapel, which would greatly appeal to fans of BONE and AMULET.

He does like to stretch the little readers, our Doug. I’ve commented before that he doesn’t shy away from relatively complex storytelling, nor indeed such topics as the traumatic death of loved ones. I think it’s to be applauded actually. Kids have far more developed imaginations and inner worlds than we give them credit for, and this type of storytelling is a fine medium to be introducing those type of concepts, in small, digestible doses.

Just be aware, though, despite all that, that this might verge on being too scary for the weeniest of younger readers, not least because the villainous Lizzarks with their fangs and claws, plus their bulbous eyes are a rather fearsome sight! Even Whackers, who’s not remotely faint of heart, was somewhat perturbed by their appearance whilst I was reading it to her!

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So, young Herk is a Nnewt, who lives with his parents, younger sister and unhatched eggs (who can speak!) in a peaceful rural Nnewtown. He’s got a disability of sorts, as his legs aren’t able to take his weight, so he has to stay in the hatching pool chatting with the eggs, who are just like babies and so drive him mad, or drag himself around the house with his arms, which is rather hard work. Whilst everyone is telling him he’s probably just a late developer, and he’ll soon be up and about, deep down they all know that’s not the case. Not even his father’s magic can help, for his dad is the town magician, though mad inventor might be a more appropriate designation. So was Herk born like that, weak of lower limb? Well, yes, but for a very good, hmm… bad… reason no one knows about. Yet. And as his beloved sister says, he might have little legs, but he has a big heart. He’s going to need that.

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Urch, the greatest hunter in the region and protector of Nnewtown, meanwhile, is away foraging for food and resources for the community. In truth he’s been lured away. So when a raiding party of Lizzarks descend on the village, it’s murder and mayhem for the poor residents, and Herk himself barely manages to escape with his life. Other members of his family… they weren’t so lucky. There’s actually a very poignant and touching sequence as the souls of the massacred Nnewts head upwards into the night sky, beginning their journey into their astronomically astounding afterlife and certain people are reunited… Their sorrow in finding out they have passed on is ameliorated in part by knowing they can at least journey on together forever, but also by the joyful realisation of who isn’t with them… and thus must still be in the land of the living. For now at least…

This is just the beginning of Herk’s adventures as he has been seemingly targeted by a particular Lizzark Wizard. And so he’s headed on a very peculiar odyssey which is going to test his mettle and show him more of the world than he ever believed possible – and that’s just in the first volume! Along the way he’s going to learn precisely why, indeed who, is responsible for his malformed legs, and he might even discover some family he never knew he had… Urch, meanwhile, is simply hell-bent on revenge. He’s determined that the Lizzarks who destroyed his town will pay a heavy price. The odds are somewhat stacked against him mind, to say the least. Plus there’s one other survivor of the devastation, but their path lies in a very different direction…

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Despite the death and danger lurking round seemingly every tree, there is a great deal of childish – and I mean that in a good way – humour in this work, as there is in all of Doug’s books. He really is a wonderful storyteller of great range. I was particularly amused by an argument between Urch and sidekick Odetto, concerning whether a sandwich which has cheese and ham in should be referred to as a cheese and ham sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich. You can tell Urch is thoroughly exasperated by Odetto’s perpetual habit of reversing standard convention in such cases wherever possible. Odetto’s logic though when he gets into full debating mode has a certain veracity which is difficult to argue with. Even when Urch tries to let it lie by changing the subject Odetto still can’t resist getting the last back to front words in…

“Odetto, I won’t let even your incessant word-twisting ruin our time amidst the flora and fauna!”
“Fauna and flora…”

NNEWTS BOOK 2: THE RISE OF HERK has just arrived!

JR

Buy Nnewts Book 1: Escape From The Lizzarks and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson, Lewis LaRosa, Leandro Fernandez.

Highly recommended, this is by far the finest run on Frank Castle, finally given a socio-political bite by Ennis’ decision to swerve the Punisher’s targeted sights from superheroes to real-world pricks worth punishing like international sex-slave traffickers. This is the first of four thick volumes reprinting the original ten adult-orientated PUNISHER MAX books plus attendant mini-series which begins with events in Valley Forge, Vietnam, and which will be reprised in volume 4 with its final searing indictment of the false premises upon which America entered the war in the first place. As such it’s a coherent account of Frank Castles whys and wherefores, means and motivation.

“Hold on tight.”

He means hold on tight to what you have, lest you lose it.

“Hold on tight” if you have miraculously survived your third tour of Vietnam and the carnage that was Firebase Valley Forge. “Hold on tight” if the woman you love, the daughter you worship and the son who’s only recently been born are there to greet you at the airport upon your return, and you’re reminded of the deal you made with Death itself for “a war that last forever, a war that never ends” because you were so bloody addicted to combat.

There the three of them stand in front of you, alive and well, but framed in the legendary black and white Punisher skull.

“You remember I mentioned there’d be a price…?”

That Frank Castle will indeed soon embark on a relentless, remorseless crusade of violence back home, against gangsters and crime lords and drug dealers – or anyone he considers unfit for life – and that this vocation will be triggered by the slaughter of his wife and children… this knowledge is what lends the first story originally published as PUNISHER: BORN its ominous air of a crossroads being approached and which makes its punchline a killer.

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It’s 1972 and Captain Frank Castle is enjoying his third tour in Vietnam. If “enjoying” is too strong a term, he’s certainly deriving a grim satisfaction from doing his job well. It’s a job he’s spectacularly good at and Firebase Valley Forge is lucky to have him. The Marine garrison now stands as the lone lookout against enemy movements, yet it has been left undermanned without adequate supplies and its position is being so undermined by the ineffectual leadership of a feckless Colonel that an inspecting General threatens to close it down completely.

That’s something Castle cannot stomach because – from his patrols with the single platoon of twenty-nine motivated men he could muster – he knows that the Vietcong are stocking up for the most god almighty offensive.

All this is observed in measured terms by one Stevie Goodwin who is but 39 days short of going home forever:

“I will not die in Vietnam… I will not re-up and serve a second tour, will not become a combat-junkie like so many of the others… I will not fall in love with war like Captain Frank Castle.”

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Two scenes stand out for me: Frank’s reaction to the order to close down the camp, thereby leaving American positions elsewhere vulnerable to attack (and, by the by, depriving Castle of the action and adrenaline he thrives upon), and an attempted gang rape by the men under his command. I’m not going to spoil either for you, but the first reaction shows a level of cold-blooded ingenuity, the second a warped sense of what constitutes helping someone out. Neither prove predictable, and both leave one ambivalent, torn between wide-eyed horror and a grudging respect for the man.

Robertson’s art is the finest of his career so far. In the back he pays tribute to the soldiers he’s depicting and reprints some of the photographic source material including private photographs taken there and then, along with preparatory work and unused cover sketches. So many of the eyes are haunted and weary, distant and disillusioned.

With Tom Palmer’s smooth embellishment Darick’s jungles are such lush and dense affairs that anyone or anything could be hidden behind the forest of fronds. The tops of the trees behind a meagre clearing are way up in the sky, while the darkest vines and trunks frame the foreground perfectly. Energised during split-second combat, once the adrenaline subsides Castle is still standing strong but lurches, left as spent as the machine gun which threatens to melt his hands off.

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Paul Mounts’ colouring is invaluable to this intense heat which by the fourth and final chapter becomes a deafening, acrid, blistering inferno in torrential rain.

After this PUNISHER MAX proper begins and in the third instalment Irish factions invade Hell’s Kitchen in a turf war. If Ennis knows his military history, technology, terminology and deployment strategy – and he does, making the commands barked out in a crisis completely convincing (see WAR STORIES / BATTLEFIELDS), then he also knows his Irish Troubles all too well, and it begins with a bomb and the most hideous mutilations.

“For the first time in a long time I realise I don’t know what to do… Trouble with a bomb is there’s no one to get your hands on, no way to return fire.”

However, the chapter immediately following PUNISHER: BORN – with its family smiles but its promise of the price to be paid – cuts straight to the present day with that threat already fulfilled thirty years ago, and the juxtaposition is brutal and abrupt. It could so easily have been a maudlin mawkish cliché, but artist Lewis LaRosa presents three large single-panel pages of each of Frank’s family suffering such extreme, specific injuries you may wince. Ennis too rises to the challenge in white-framed black boxes above or below:

“I hit the ground beside my daughter. She’d been gutshot, badly, and when she saw the things that boiled and wriggled from her belly the expression on her face was not a little girl’s.”

Although all the perpetrators and orchestrators behind them are long since dead, Frank’s peace-time war has been relentless. Now he hits a mafia Don’s one-hundredth birthday party to which every family in the country has sent senior representatives, and he does so with military preplanning and precision whose payoff Lewis LaRosa choreographs like a freeze-framed ballet of blood. Frank’s also thorough: there are now forty-two funerals to “attend”.

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This doesn’t so much stir up as hornet’s nest because are few high-up hornets left to speak of. But the three invited back in after years of exile… well, let’s just say they were exiled from the mafia for extremism!

Unfortunately for Castle he’s in on someone else’s wish list too. A covert C.I.A. offshoot has targeted him for capture using the one man who might get the drop on him, not through brute force but through friendship: his former surveillance, intelligence and ordinance-prep manager, Micro. Unfortunately for them, they succeed. And there sits Frank, arms locked behind him, listening silently as Micro offers him permanent employment as a government-sanctioned assassin overseas. It’s an opportunity to kill terrorists using whatever means he deems necessary, only they choose the targets and Frank must do as he’s told.

I’m sorry, I’ll type that again: Frank must do as he’s told…

The extensive scenes played out in private between Micro and Castle while the mafia begins making its move are dark, stark and grim, coloured by Dean White in graveyard or abattoir blue. Lewis LaRosa – once more inked by veteran Tom Palmer – nails Castle’s stony silence, his implacability and most especially his age. It isn’t the age of someone worn out or run down, but the age of someone who acquired extra bulk, extra musculature through long-term endurance. What he has endured shows on his scarred physique and thick, knotted face. That he has endured it informs every single second they spend together, building the tension to its inevitable breaking point.

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It’s presaged to perfection by Ennis when – after Micro has finally finished – Frank tells him a story which occurred thirty years ago, shortly after his family’s slaughter in Central Park. A friend called Bob Garrett mentions in passing that he’s left his wife for another woman. He told Bob Garrett:

“I lost my wife. And you threw yours away like she was nothing.”
“Hey, Frank, look –”
“Run.”

For the PUNISHER MAX series Garth for the most part ditched the burlesque characters he’d populated PREACHER and his previous PUNISHER run with, but there are some residual elements here in the mafia misfits. Also in both the straight-shooting C.I.A. operative for some sexual arousal which will become an increasingly funny running gag, and her more easily intimidated male colleague who experiences a moment of arousal which may make your eyes widen. It won’t be the last time.

Lastly, let us return to unfinished business between Micro and Frank, beautifully built up then left to linger for a couple of chapters by Ennis:

“I want to know why you told me about Bob Garrett. The guy who dumped his wife and you beat half to death.”
“You missed part of it. I warned him first. I told him to run because I knew what I was going to do to him.”
“But why tell me…?”
“Run.”

SLH

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Devolution #1 (£2-99, Dynamite) by Rick Remender & Jonathan Wayshak…

“But still, the war went on. Politicians debated for months before reaching a conclusion. It was clear to them all, in secret meetings of course, that the stem of the problem was religion… and science can cure that.
“They created a secret research team to produce a viral agent to neuter the part of the brain that believed in God.
“An international coalition of scientists devised the agent, named DVO-8, which would isolate the part of the brain associated with belief and devolve it, shrinking it away to nothing. Turning off the recipients’ belief in God

“Of course there were side effects, but nothing severe enough to preclude its use in a few tests.”

And of course they all lived happily ever after…

Ha ha, of course not. The clue as to what those pesky side effects might have been lies in the title… Yes, aside from a chosen few who were inoculated against the virus, and perhaps some with natural immunity, the entire animal population of the planet has devolved. Not just humans, who have regressed physically and intellectually to cavemen, but every living species has also devolved into far more toothsome, scary prehistoric versions of themselves, even the insects.

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For those few humans not affected, the world has thus become considerably more hazardous, which is of course the exact opposite of what the great and good intended. But one such lady, our heroine Raja, is convinced the situation can be reversed. She believes there is a revolution agent antidote in a laboratory in San Francisco. She just has to make it there alive… Between the primitives patrolling the overgrown streets for food, and the survivalist remnants hunkered down in their fortified camps – including one run by a completely insane white supremacist with a penchant for hanging people she comes across – it’s clearly not going to be like nipping down to the local chemist for some paracetamol…

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Another fascinating speculative fiction premise from Rick which once again isn’t that far removed from what could conceivably happen in the labs of meddlesome government scientists. Apparently this is an idea he’s had on the back burner for the last ten years, presumably whilst working on DEADLY CLASS, BLACK SCIENCE, LOW, TOKYO GHOST and myriad merry projects for Marvel. Fans of his previous stuff are certainly going to enjoy this. What I particularly liked was just as I was coming to the end of this first issue, thinking okay I know where this is going, the story then cut to a small base on the moon, where some uninfected astronauts are stationed. Well, at least they were… Hmm…

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I wasn’t remotely familiar with the artist Rick’s working with this time, Jonathan Wayshak, though I thought I could recall seeing his stuff before. Sure enough, he did a LOST BOYS: REIGN OF FROGS movie prelude which we (very) briefly stocked. His style reminds me of Mark Texeira actually, just a tidier version. I rather like it and it certainly suits the visceral nature of the story. So, with apologies to the Beatles, say you want a Devolution, and we’ll add it to your standing order!

[You’re fired. – ed.]

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JR

Buy Devolution #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Envelope Manufacturer (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chris Oliveros

Izuna h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Bruno Letizia, Saverio Tenuta & Carita Lupattelli

Lazarus vol 4: Poison s/c (£10-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

Nnewts Book 2: The Rise Of Herk (£8-50, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel

Rick And Morty vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman & C.J. Cannon

Sweater Weather h/c (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon

Tasmin And The Deep vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron & Kate Brown

The Comical Tragedy Or Tragical Comedy Of Mr. Punch (£14-99, Bloomsbury) by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

Abe Sapien vol 6: A Darkness So Great (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Max Fiumara, Sebastian Fiumara

Bee And Puppycat vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Kaboom) by various

Batman By Ed Brubaker vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, various

Swamp Thing vol 7: Seasons End s/c (£12-99, DC) by Charles Soule & Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina, various

Black Widow: The Itsy Bitsy Spider s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka & J. G. Jones, Scott Hampton

Inhumans: Attilan Rising: Battleworld s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & John Timms

What If ?: Infinity s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by various

One-Punch Man vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

News!

Black Dog

ITEM!Announced! Dave McKean’s new graphic novel and performance piece for the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2016, BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH

Rolling Blackouts cover

ITEM! Process piece: Sarah Glidden on designed her swoonaway cover to ROLLING BLACKOUTS from Drawn & Quarterly.

Daniel Danger

ITEM! Not comics but visually stunning! Daniel Danger’s Tiny Media Empire website. Dilapidated houses which match my lounge curtains all too accurately.

I once had a set of shower curtains so torn that they looked like props used in Psycho. I began to have baths instead.

Becky Cloonan

ITEM! Becky Cloonan’s Tumblr is always worth visiting for sensuality.

Age Of Bronze 1

ITEM! Attention Nottingham! Eric Shanower, creator of AGE OF BRONZE is in town! It’s a series I love so much I’ve reviewed all four volumes extensively. Eric Shanower’s Greek Mythology & Comic-Making Workshop at Nottingham University is open to all. Sunday 31st January 1-30pm-3-30pm.

Injection vol 1 2

ITEM! New Warren Ellis interview on INJECTION drawn by Declan Shalvey and storytelling structure.

Page 45 reviews INJECTION VOL 1 containing #1-5 and INJECTION #6 is out now.

Wicked And Divine vol 2 festival

ITEM! Brandon Graham reveals so many secrets about THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #17 while linking to writer Kieron Gillen’s own blog on the issue.

Page 45 reviews THE WICKED + THE DIVINE. Could I even sound more corporate?

wicked and divine pantheon tshirt

Page 45 still has some WICKED + DIVINE Pantheon t-shirts for sale. (Pictured above.)

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ITEM! Tomer Hanuka’s website is ever so lush! Want to see more?

Page 45 reviews THE DIVINE by Tomer Hanuka & Asaf Hanuka

Page 45 reviews THE REALIST by Asaf Hanuka (one of my top two graphic novels of 2015).

Page 45 fully fails to review OVERKILL art book by Tomer Hanuka but at least we take the trouble to import it. Swoon!

I Love This Part 2

ITEM! Avery Hill Publishing announces its graphic novels for Spring 2016!

If you have any doubts as to why we are so excited, Avery Hill’s I LOVE THIS PART by Tillie Walden is Page 45’s current Comicbook Of The Month!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week three

January 24th, 2016

A Girl On The Shore (£13-99, Random House / Vertical) by Inio Asano.

“I don’t actually care if you die.”

From Inio Asano, the creator of NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH and SOLANIN, this intensely melancholic work about two lost souls defies the category of romance. You won’t find it filled with flowers and sweet nothings. It’s more an astute, psychologically complex exploration of isolation even during the intimacy of being curled up on cushions.

Moments after the above is uttered by young girl Koume their fingers will link so tenderly.

Yet Koume and Keisuke only bond physically and sexually. Instead they are forever at odds in what they want – or think they want or say they want – from each other. Their relationship is never equal and its balance of yearning and disinterest will shift throughout. The most tentative and reluctant of communicators, opportunities will be wasted on both sides when the other reaches out and there will be so much remorse and regret.

From Keisuke at least there are lone moments of self-questioning like “What do I even want?” and more than a glimmer of self-knowledge:

“I hate the rain. Especially at night like this.
“It’s like I’m drowning. I can’t breathe.
“I keep breathing in, but it’s never enough. I get all spacy.
“I’m not someone who should be having sex and stuff. Every time we do it, I swear to God it’ll never happen again.
“But like, there really is no God, and when I remember that, I end up doing it again. And then I’m thinking “sorry” again in my head.
“It’d be so much easier if I could apologise and be forgiven. I don’t know who to apologise to, though, and here I am.”

Please don’t imagine that he’s feckless, however. He isn’t. He’s been traumatised into reticence and there is a panel so perfectly depicting his detachment from life, weary of it all, hair lank and head lolling to one side, the haze in his eyes as lifeless as a heroin addict’s as he cracks one off in front of his computer, head-phones on.

I wouldn’t ordinarily use language like that in a review, but you do need to know that this is explicit.

It isn’t, however, the sort of explicit that elicits prurience. Quite the reverse, it is almost clinical in places.

It wasn’t always like this. As I say, the balance shifts. As the story opens Koume is infatuated by the stud of the school, Misaki. She is doe-eyed in adoration and eager to please but Misaki blows hot and cold and she veers from excited and optimistic to rejected and dejected. She offloads all this onto Keisuke who himself veers from frustration – that his open proposals to Koume are rebuffed – to a resignation that he will happily take whatever he can get like a lap-dog, just to spend time with her:

“I’ve been thinking about it a ton. And I figure it’s totally fine if you don’t like me or whatever. I’m happy being a useful tool. And I don’t have any friends I could actually tell or anything. If you need to rant about Misaki, I’ll listen ‘til my ears bleed. I guess it’s okay if you just use me, like a toy.”

That final sentence should give you some indication that the previous four were economical with the truth.

It’s at this point we should break briefly to consider the term “like”, used throughout as a sort of halfway point for “love” and “fancy”. Maybe “have a pash on…” It’s not exactly evasive or euphemistic. It’s more like “like” should forever be accompanied by those inverted commas – shorthand for “like me in that way…”

“I know I should just shut up and I’m getting super annoying, so this is the last time I’ll ask. You don’t feel like you could ever like me?”

And I really do think that’s the last time he asks. It’s quite early on.

I don’t know whether I should tell you about the digital camera which Koume is given and for which Keisuke supplies an SD card he found on the beach. On it they find images of a girl on the shore. You thought that was going to be Koume, right? It provokes a terrible act of caprice, one of those terrible mistakes you can never take back – which you would give anything to reverse, anything – and the fallout is horrifying.

Equally horrifying are the moments before the central break which multiple camera angles extend like a ballet in freefall, and between which Asano presents the reader with a deafeningly silent, double-page landscape. It’s an external shot of the city as if from a very high window, having nothing whatsoever to do with what’s happening inside. It’s like a freeze-frame holding its breath and looking the other way, stretching the moment still further as the rest of the world continues, oblivious and indifferent.

The environment – both landscapes and the weather – play a vital role across this saga, and it is beautiful to behold. A lot of these silent sequences add a naturalistic sense of time and geography to the narrative: journeys back and forth.

If Keisuke hates the rain, well, there will be plenty of it, he will be out in it on a very specific day in the year and you too may start holding your breath. There’s also a gale which builds to a climactic moment, thrashing the trees like nobody’s business. There are glorious shots of the sea, but Asano relishes detail whether it lies in a grocery-store’s shelves, the graphic novels lining Keisuke’s bedroom bookcases or the intricate glint in a girl’s eye, so he delights equally in depicting the cat’s cradle of electric wires which criss-cross the roads. Even his urban sprawl is a joy.

There’s one particular shot near Keisuke’s house which is used repeatedly, looking down over a pedestrian street broken by a series of steps and way out to sea. Each time there is a lone figure outside seen variously during the day, at night under street light and then in the rain…

There’s a much wider cast than I’ve indicated here, partly to disguise the first central climax, although absence itself does play an active role.

Trust, too, plus presumption and, as I say, communication.

It’s a hefty four hundred pages which I read in a single sitting. Who knew that reader frustration could be so very addictive? Only if you’ve been made to care as deeply as this does.

“I don’t actually care if you die.”

And I think you lie.

SLH

Buy A Girl On The Shore and read the Page 45 review here

Filmish (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Edward Ross…

“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here.”

Eh dear, I do amuse myself sometimes. Right, got my Travis Bickle moment out of the way, let’s try that again.

“As film-making evolved and narrative cinema developed, the nature of performance changed. Legend has it that film-making pioneer D.W. Griffith invented the close-up to better reveal the beauty of his leading lady. The implications of this were enormous. No longer shot only at a distance, the subtlest facial movements were now as important as grand gestures, and actors were forced to become “maestros of their facial muscles and eye movement.”

Which as we all know reached its zenith with Roger Moore’s eyebrow…

In years to come, when someone does a graphic novel entitled Comicish, I suspect Edward Ross and this work will rate a substantial mention in the first-person talking-head non-fictional comics-as-means-of-explanation chapter. Pioneered by Scott UNDERSTANDING COMICS / MAKING COMICS / REINVENTING COMICS McCloud, more recently championed by Darryl PSYCHIATRIC TALES / SCIENCE TALES / SUPERCRASH Cunningham and Steve Haines & Sophie Standing’s PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE / TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE , this is as in-depth a treatise on a topic as any prose work could be. And just like Darryl’s SUPERCRASH this is far more entertaining and dare I say it, clear, than any prose equivalent could ever possibly be.

After all, cinema, like comics, is a visual medium. The only real differences between the two these days are the scale of ridiculous expense and armies of people that seem to be required to make a film. Although judging by how many artists often seem to be credited on a single volume of a DC superhero title – I have seen upwards of twenty artists which for six issues is frankly baffling – that perhaps isn’t 100% true. And clearly, there are still some independent film makers doing it on a shoe string with aplomb and getting the plaudits they rightly deserve.

But like comics, film for the masses has undoubtedly gone through an extraordinary evolutionary process, from its very humble beginnings back in the late 19th century to the sophisticated, nigh-on fully immersive medium it is today. Edward breaks down this journey into seven elements or themes: The Eye (camera work), The Body (specifically film’s approach to the human body itself), Sets and Architecture, Time, Voice and Language, Power and Ideology, Technology and Technophobia, and explores how each has developed, citing various examples of ground-breaking leaps forward and key moments in cinematic history.

Many of these choices, with the scenes illustrated exactly as on the big screen, albeit in Edward’s lovely clear, black-and-white art style, with his sage head inserted, will be familiar to even the casual cinephile, which I think is one of the great pleasures of this work. You’ll be nodding your head knowingly in recognition at the scene in question, before Edward then goes on to explain the relevance of his selection in cogently making his technical point. Obviously, many of the late 19th and early 20th century choices are completely unfamiliar except to those who have studied film extensively, as Edward has to Ph.D. level, but his exposition is so clearly delivered, it’s just a pleasure to let him educate you on the rich history of early cinema as well. You can see just how much hard work has gone into this, and I think it succeeds admirably on every level.

JR

Buy Filmish and read the Page 45 review here

Cerebus vol 3: Church & State I (Remastered Edition) (£25-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim.

The original art has been reshot then reprinted on such fine paper stock that the book’s already considerable girth has almost doubled.

“Anything Done For The First Time Unleashes A Demon.”

Around this time there was a CEREBUS cover whose only visual element was the hand-lettering of the sentence above, white letters on black. No picture at all. I don’t recall that being done before or any time since. As both a brave and successful attention-grabbing visual device and as a Truth, it has stuck with me ever since to the extent that I typed the sentence from memory rather than sought out my own issue.

It’s now that we start using the word ‘genius’. Not because I am drunk but because the writing and art have both ascended to the point of inspired precision.

Every look, every line has a weight to it. They’re so well refined and targeted, and amongst the targets are melodramatic superheroes in the form of Chris Claremont’s Wolverine, and organised religion. Not faith – that’s a very different thing. Which is fortunate, for Sim would go on to embrace God with a passion.

Prime Minister Cerebus is persuaded to enter the Church, to vie for the role of Pope which for Cerebus involves throwing babies off roofs to prove a point about obeisance and being careful what you wish for.

Please don’t think that Cerebus has been converted. He hasn’t. The most famous CEREBUS t-shirt has him dressed as Pope declaring, “He doesn’t love you. He just wants all your money.” Specifically, he wants gold.

But Cerebus achieves his status through an assassination out of his hands, and for the first time he observes that “Something fell!” It won’t be the last. It will ripple through time and, when uttered in the future, will become a catalyst for destruction.

This is where the subplot – hiding in the wings but very much in evidence for those who’ve either been looking for it or reading in retrospect – really kicks in. There is something evidently rather singular about our Aardvark. Also something of a duality. Things happen around him. There are the Mind Games, the Strange White Glowing Thing, and the gold evidently wants him as much as he wants it

Did I mention he gets married? If the first book begins as a parody of CONAN, you won’t be surprised at the inclusion of a character called Red Sophia based on female barbarian Red Sonja. What would perhaps surprise you is that Red Sophia’s mother is an extended homage to British cartoonist Giles. It’s brilliantly done, too.

More Mind Games, more chess pieces, more Jaka. Oh, yes, more Marx Brothers!

For more on CEREBUS – an overview or its story and an assessment of its structure, its art, its invention and its place in comicbook history – please see my reviews of every single one of its sixteen component parts making up 300 monthly issues written and drawn over twenty-three years.

Unusually I wrote them back to back just before Page 45’s website launched because a) most of the collected editions were published long before we wrote reviews so we had none, and b) CEREBUS is such a landmark series in the history of comic art and industry that I would not countenance a Page 45 website launching without every single edition being assessed to one extent or another.

Because I wrote them back to back, they constitute one complete and hopefully coherent review dealing with different elements like the lettering and art rather than repeating myself each time as an introduction. Begin at the beginning?

CEREBUS VOL 1.

SLH

Buy Cerebus vol 3: Church & State (Remastered Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Southern Cross vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger with Lee Loughbridge.

“Someone wants to be friends.
“And it’s not me.
“I guess it’s never been me.”

Congratulations to artist Andy Belanger: he made me stare into Alex Braith’s eyes on pages one and two for a good 15 minutes, trying to find the precise right words to describe the look of love she is empathically not giving the officious pen-pusher at customs. Combined with an arched eyebrow which puts even my ceiling-scrapers to shame, it’s this: defiance, contempt and cool-steel rage.

He’s stopped her before boarding the Southern Cross tanker flight 73 to Titan currently docked at a space ring orbiting Earth and pushed all Alex’s buttons: her time spent in jail for assault and battery ten years ago, and her reason for visiting Titan. You don’t visit Titan for pleasure.

Titan is Saturn’s largest moon which does have an atmosphere though it isn’t quite comparable to ours. It does, however, have a whole lot of ice. And oil – that’s what megacorporation Zemi is interested in, although drilling for it is dangerous. Alex’s sister Amber worked for Zemi right up until she died late at night, which is why Alex is flying to Titan: to collect her sister’s remains and effects. She also plans to collect some answers because however hazardous drilling for oil is, that’s not how Amber died. Amber worked in admin.

Now before you jump to conclusions, there are intimations from some of the earliest pages that this isn’t going to be straight, space-based crime like Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood’s cleverly crafted police procedural set on THE FUSE. There are an awful lot of symbols and the atmosphere once the Southern Cross is boarded is dank and dimly lit – like working on a submarine – yet highly luminous. The cabins are equally perfunctory rather those of a pleasure cruise and I loved that water was rationed, allocated to each passenger and accessed via an ID card: you don’t want anyone leaving the tap running on a six-day voyage without the possibility of pulling in for top-ups.

Belanger and Loughbridge establish this luminosity right from the start. With its multiple, meandering boarding tubes glowing in the dark, that’s space ring’s scale is ever so impressive. It looks exactly like an international airport might if gravity wasn’t an issue.

But you wait until you see that Herb Trimpe space-tanker entering hyperdrive! Oh yeah, Belanger has got to be the most enormous Herb Trimpe fan. It’s in the faces, especially – the hair and the eyes from afar.

I was as immediately suspicious as Alex of almost everyone I met within the claustrophobic confines of the craft. I wouldn’t let my guard down, not even for affable Doctor Lon Wells or over-accommodating Captain Mori Tetsuya. He has a fulsome beard and that Herb Trimpe look in his eyes, but still I wasn’t sure. First mate St Martin I could at least empathise with because she’s so bloody busy.

As to smarmy Kyril who is not part of the crew, Alex recognises the tattoos on his knuckles and doesn’t want to get dragged into that line of work again, but he seems impossible to avoid.

Equally unavoidable is Alex’s unexpected roommate who’s already availed herself of the top bunk. Erin McKenna seems confident and courteous but fractious Alex isn’t a people person at the best of time, let alone when she’s been lumbered with a last-minute booking. Plus there are rumours in the mess hall that Erin McKenna is investigating Amber’s death. If only Alex wasn’t such a bricked-off wall she could have at least asked Erin, but when she wakes she finds Erin gone, her clothes on the top bunk arranged ever so strangely. She’s left behind her room key and ration card. She’s also left Amber’s case file.

What’s clear is this: Alex isn’t the only person interested in Amber’s death in one way or another and she won’t have to wait until reaching Titan for revelations. It is, however, bigger than you might think.

For all this while, as the leviathan hurtles through space with its newly installed gravity drive, there is a constant sense of it pulsing eerily, uncannily, unnaturally.

Things grow increasingly tense, sweaty and strange, then positively frantic as the panels lurch then take a turn for the triangular.

Haunting.

SLH

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

Starve vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Brian Wood & Danijel Zezelj…

“Gavin Cruikshank is a name that can attract unwanted attention. It’s also a name I gave up years ago. These two things are closely related.”

With very good reason. Gavin Cruikshank was once upon a time a feted celebrity chef, with a moderately popular TV show called Starve. But personal problems – including an extremely bitter divorce with his ex-wife who was a teensy-weensy bit shocked and upset at learning the love of her life and father of her child was suddenly ready to come out of the closet – meant that just disappearing seemed like a good option, even if abandoning his daughter broke his heart.

Plus he had begun to fall out of love with cooking as well, spending increasingly less time in the kitchen and more and more in front of the cameras promoting the Cruikshank brand. To his surprise, in a world where global warming and an increased sea level has wreaked havoc upon major conurbations almost entirely at the expense of the have-nots, vanishing amongst the hoi-polloi in distant south-east Asia was far easier than he expected. Suspiciously easy, perhaps.

Except, except… in this brave new world where most of the population are struggling to find anything decent to eat, the rich have elevated the consumption of excess and fancy to obscene new levels. And thus, during his absence of several years, and quite unbeknownst to him due to his off-the-grid lifestyle, Starve has become the number one rated television programme on the planet.

It’s not the simple cooking programme he left behind, though. It’s become something far more disgustingly voyeuristic than that. As those with all the money flaunt their boorish opulence with increasing abandon, Starve has practically become a culinary gladiatorial arena. These stellar ratings, however, must be maintained at all costs, and so someone came up with the idea to bring back Gavin Cruikshank, to see if he could hack it in this new cut-throat competition.

So the Network tracked him down, keen to keep up the juggernaut momentum of their entertainment behemoth, politely pointing out he was legally obliged to do eight more episodes from his existing contract, then not so politely pointing out if he didn’t they would ruin his life, and oh, he wasn’t likely to see a penny of income from selling his soul once more because his ex-wife now owned all his rights to Starve…

There are all sorts of little games at play here. I’m not sure I entirely believe the Network’s execs, his one-time colleague and rival Roman Algiers who is the current host of Starve, or Gavin’s cunning and still very bitter ex-wife, as to what is going on, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either. It clearly isn’t going to be as simple as that. But he decides to take up their challenge, partly to find out what is going on, also because he wants to rekindle his relationship with his now grown-up daughter, and most definitely due to the healthy pinch of egomania that every top chef needs. He wants to take them all on at their own games and beat them. He trusts his daughter implicitly, though, and I do have to wonder if that isn’t going to be his Achilles heel…

Ah, he does come up with some good concepts for stories, Brian Wood, I must say. There are all sorts of sub-pots, sorry, plots, bubbling away in the background here, but basically this is going to be a character-driven story. You can see the look and personality of Gavin has been part-inspired by the original British enfant terrible of cuisine, Marco Pierre White, and then just given that little bit of a cocktail sexuality shake up before being served with a twist on the crushed ice of a collapsing, polarised society. Sounds tasty!

I really enjoyed Danijel Zezelj’s art here. It’s mean and moody, thickly lined and darkly coloured, with Gavin Cruikshank in particular looking like a brooding serial killer who’d be as likely to carve you up as fillet a fish, and who definitely prefers his steak dripping with blood. As I say, just like Marco Pierre White then. Intriguing palette cleanser of a premise which rapidly develops into a dégustation of deranged delights!

JR

Buy Starve vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

War Stories vol 3 (£18-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Matt Martin, Keith Burns, Tomas Aira…

“Lasalle?”
“Welcome back. He didn’t make it I’m afraid.”
“But…”
“As a matter of fact, you’re the only one from your crew who did.”
“Joe Rehm didn’t have a mark on him…”
“Died of shock.”
“Do you mean to… Am I the only survivor of the whole thing? Out of forty men?”
“Oh, I see where you’re going. No. Your tail gunner’s ammunition cooked off in the fire. The B-17 behind your own was badly hit, the bombardier was killed and both pilots blinded. But the rest got out okay. So if you’re working on some kind of Jonah complex, you can forget it. Anyhow you got a little singed, and that cut on your head needed stitching up, but apart from that you’re fine.”
“And… then what?”
“They find you another crew, and another aircraft, I suppose. Then you get on with the war. So I’d advise you to rest as much as you can.”

Phew, that was a tough first mission, and a very warm welcome to Great Britain for American flyer Leonard Wetmore considering his plane didn’t even get off the ground. Well, I suppose technically it did, given how many pieces it exploded into when one of the bombs went off on the runway… A veritable baptism of fire therefore to Leonard’s wartime flying career. But the lack of altitude means it doesn’t even count towards his requisite tally of twenty-five missions before he’s allowed to go home a hero.

An action packed return for Garth’s brutally realistic tales of derring do and, well, also abominable suffering from conflict zones around the world. As always with this series, in both its WAR STORIES and BATTLEFIELDS incarnations, the tales are fictionalised retellings of true events, to a lesser or greater degree. And as before, he’s included a recommended further reading list at the back.

The three told here: Castles In The Sky, Children Of Israel and The Last German Winter, are of completely different content and indeed tone. The opener, concerning the aeronautical adventures of young Leonard fielding the flack both up in the clouds, and from the young son of the British widow he’s practically accidentally romancing, and the closer, featuring a German panzer crew, out of ammo and on foot deep behind enemy lines in their Russian occupied homeland, trying to escort a civilian family to safety in the depths of snowbound mid-winter, are clearly more of a conflation of general events and various peoples’ stories. Indeed, the last one is a chilling story in more ways than one about the devastating horrors that wholly innocent civilians caught up in conflict can experience. Sometimes, there are no heroes in war.

And yet, sometimes there really are people who save the day: the absolute right person in the right place, in the very moment they are needed most. The middle story, broadly biographical in nature, recounts the desperate tank battle defence of the Golan Heights that made the career, and name, of Avigdor Ben-Gal, who commanded the 7th Armoured Brigade against the relentless Syrian attack during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

As seemingly one of the very few who actually believed (or perhaps more precisely no else wanted to believe) that another war was imminent, his brigade was the only Israeli Defence Force unit on a full war-readiness footing. A fact that very possibly saved his country from a catastrophic defeat, perhaps even being wiped off the face of the map forever. You can argue the politics of Israel’s very existence as much as you like (amongst yourselves, please), what can’t be denied, however, is that to the Israeli people, General Ben-Gal as he eventually became, is a true war hero.

It is always fascinating to see what stories Ennis will turn to next, which conflicts, and the various protagonists involved. The sad fact is he that has no dearth of material to work with…

JR

Buy War Stories vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Snow Blind #2 of 4 (£2-99, Boom!) by Ollie Masters & Tyler Jenkins.

“The weird thing is, as much as this moment is built on a foundation as loose as mud… it’s probably the closest I’ve ever felt to my parents. And for one brief moment I didn’t care that they’d been lying to me.
“But it must’ve been the painkillers talking.”

A second-issue review happens maybe once a year. After the first you’ll have to wait for the book, but this confirmed all the promise of SNOW BLIND #1 (far more extensively reviewed) then took it to its natural next step, even if I failed to spot it in front of me and so tripped down its storytelling stairs.

Which is precisely what you want from a comic; real life – not so much.

Teddy has been lied to by his parents all his life. They don’t know that he knows that because since he found out he’s been lying to them. Finally he gives them the opportunity to tell him the truth and maybe they do and maybe they don’t. But Teddy’s going to presume that they’re still lying and thus continue to lie to them while he gets to the truth of the matter himself. The truth of a matter he exposed by mistake and which he will now make a great deal worse.

Partly because he’s jumped to one wrong conclusion and – sure as a leopard’s moulting fails to act as an organic stain remover – is about to jump to another.

Here he’s decided to track down last issue’s intruder by asking around in a bad part of town.

“If he’d any sense he wouldn’t be laying low in the nice part of town… He’d be in the parts of town where being nosey get it broken.”

Self-knowledge and self-guidance do not communicate with each other in Teddy’s head.

As I say, far, far more in my review of SNOW BLIND #1, still in stock at the time of typing.

This really is a complete and utter car crash. Every pun intended.

Art shown is from issue 1.

SLH

Buy Snow Blind #2 and read the Page 45 review here

Star Wars vol 2: Showdown On The Smugglers Moon (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen…

“I’ve seen your bounty alerts. Quite the price you’ve got on your head.”
“It gets even better. Your wife is a bounty hunter.”
“No! And she’s not my…”
“Suddenly this is all making sense. The rich princess in trouble. Yeah, Han could never resist those. How many times has he rescued you? Bet he even turned down the reward. Yeah, he’s holding out for a much bigger prize.”
“And exactly what sort of “prize” would that be?”
“That’s one of his best cons. He ran the same scam on the daughter of a sultan in the Boz Pity system.”
“What? None of that is true!”
“Really? Maybe we should go ask the sultan. I hear he’s still offering a moon in exchange for your head.”
“Leia, don’t listen to her, it was never like that.”
“Never like what? All a huge lie? Then why is your wife pointing a huge gun at me?”
“SHE’S NOT MY WIFE!!”

Ha ha, sleazy Han Solo, he’s right up to his neck in it now. As if being held at blaster point by a deadly bounty hunter, who claims to be his not so dearly betrothed weren’t bad enough, there’s a squadron of Tie Fighters and a Star Destroyer rapidly zeroing in on their position intent on vaporising them all to cinders. Both of which pale into insignificance compared to the righteous indignation of one Princess Leia Organa, who can’t quite believe that ten minutes earlier she was finally starting to fall for his trademark Solo flannel and flattery. He’s going to need all of his smooth talking skills to get out of this situation that’s for sure!

 

This volume brings together the Han / Leia and Luke story arcs as their planned rescue attempt becomes increasingly more fraught with peril and peppered with pithy one-liners, primarily at Hans’s squirming expense. As with Gillen’s DARTH VADER (who conveniently pops up right at the end here to lead us into the forthcoming VADER DOWN cross-over, which is effectively volume 3 of both this title and DARTH VADER) it’s just great fun and the new characters of Sana Solo and imperial spy Sergeant Kreel add to the merry mayhem.

JR

Buy Star Wars vol 2: Showdown On The Smugglers Moon and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Frank In The 3rd Dimension h/c (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring, Charles Barnard

Gravity Falls Cinestory Comic (£7-50, Joe Books) by various

Nnewts Book 1: Escape From The Lizzarks (£8-50, Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel

Swords Of Glass s/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Laura Zuccheri

Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift (£9-99, Titan) by Meredith Gran & Carey Pietsch

Extra Yarn (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas h/c (£18-99, Top Shelf) by Hunter S. Thompson, adapated by Troy Little

Grayson vol 1: Agents Of Spryal s/c (£10-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin, Stephen Mooney

Grayson vol 2: We All Die At Dawn s/c (£10-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin, Stephen Mooney

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars (UK Edition) s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Matteo Lolli

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Matteo Lolli

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson, Lewis LaRosa, Leandro Fernandez

The Ultimates Ultimate Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch

The Ultimates 2 Ultimate Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch

Ultimate End: Battleworld s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

A Silent Voice vol 5 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Yoshitoki Oima

Gizza Snog Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

I Like Your Bum Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Are Perfect Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You’re Well Fit! Valentine’s Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

News!

ITEM! Jade Sarson has FEELS LIKE NOODLES, her 24-Hour LICAF comic for sale on her website. If you enjoyed Sarah Burgess’ comic about struggling with feelings and a cycle of behaviour which I linked to last week I believe you’ll love this too. I did!

ITEM! Brandon Graham writes about his work on THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, divulging lots of secrets in the, err, process.

ITEM! Sarah McIntrye is back yet again with more inspiration for creating comics for all ages. It’s a massive blog. How does she find the time? She is a creative whirlwind of a woman! Don’t miss the link to her 24-page JAMPIRES jam-comic created with David O’Connell. It’s not the one I’ve just liked to (that’s the genius JAMPIRES picture book) nor is it the one reprinted below. No, it’s in her blog just above it!

ITEM! And Alex de Campi gives a lesson on lettering comics.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week two

January 13th, 2016

The Fox And The Star (£14-99, Particular Books) by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

An exquisitely beautiful book which is wise, gentle, kind and compassionate, its images are so integral to the storytelling that I will happily class it a comic.

Executed with an exceptional degree of control, it is in places like reading through William Morris wallpaper from which rectangles have been excised with a scalpel.

It’s also like watching through a window with its initial broad, white frames.

The early colours, trees and leaves – and indeed that meticulous, compositional precision – put me in mind of John McNaught.

That is the visual template set up early on, although even then a beetle or branch will softly breach the strictly allotted space, a hint of the much more organic to come.

It’s a template thrilling enough in itself but partly set up in order to be broken so that when it is, at precisely the right moments, the contrast is striking.

There will follow full double-page spreads which bleed right to the edges, and canopies or intricate bramble thickets through which you will read but one or two words, arranged just-so. There I thought of Rob Ryden’s THIS IS FOR YOU, but perhaps because I already had scalpels in the back of my brain – a sentence I hope never to type again.

Additionally, once I’d got the idea that the fox and the simplicity of its verbal narrative reminded me of John Klassen (I WANT MY HAT BACK and SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE etc), I couldn’t get that out of my head, either.

As for the colours they range from pitch-black and silver to a star-strewn slate grey; and from warm, russet-red as the fox nestles amongst ferns to a blazing orange speckled with yellow as courage is found, hope takes hold and the world is explored anew.

It’s not always easy, is it?

“Once there was a Fox who lived in a deep, dense forest.
“Because Fox was small and the trees reached far higher than the tips of his ears, he was timid, and afraid to stray from his den.”

Those silver birches are so very tall that their trunks don’t thin one iota before leaving our sight above the pages’ frames, implying an almost infinite, unknowable and therefore unreachable, intimidating grandeur. Fox, his brush curled intimately round one of the birch’s base, looks up wide-eyed, innocent and daunted like The Herb Garden’s Parsley the Lion.

“And yet, for as long as Fox could remember, he would wake at night to the cool, calm light of Star.”`

It’s Star’s guiding light which gives Fox his courage to scamper around and forage in the forest for food and – oh – it is joyous, so joyous!. They race round together, “Star brightening the shadows ahead”.

But Star is Fox’s only friend.

And one dark night Star’s bright, shining light fails to appear.

What Bickford-Smith does with the colours and cramped confines there is truly arresting.

So.

I own we are late to this party for it’s never been solicited through comicbook channels and I know I should be more on the wider, cultural ball – I know! Usually I am or we wouldn’t have Paul Madonna’s architectural eloquence ALL OVER COFFEE which I discovered in San Francisco or his subsequent EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD.

Nor would we have Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre’s all-ages PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS and CAKES IN SPACE, let alone McIntyre & O’Connell’s JAMPIRES.

But in this instance I dropped the book-market ball and am enormously grateful and indebted to our customer Fuz who was also responsible for introducing me to A MONSTER CALLS. Don’t read that in public, by the way. There will be tears.

SLH

Buy The Fox And The Star and read the Page 45 review here

Deep Dark Fears (£10-99, Ten Speed Press) by Fran Krause.

“Every time I tell someone “I love you”, my soul is split in half. I worry that someday, I’ll have none left.”

No, that’s what happens when you stop telling people you love them.

The premise for this cute little hardcover is pretty straight forward and similar to Jesse Reklaw’s THE NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE. There Reklaw illustrated summaries of other people’s dreams. Here Krause does much the same thing for fears, superstitions and anxieties which are often instilled by others, so be warned that this may prove contagious.

Jonathan’s told his daughter so many inventive and elaborate porkies to keep her good and quiet that I’m surprised she’s not a neurotic mess.

In Fear #10 (of 101, only four belonging to Krause himself), a young kid eats a freshly picked blackberry only to be told by an older lad that the seeds would never digest but grow as thorny vines inside his arteries which would then turn to wood making it unbearable for him to move.

“He added that it would be very expensive to treat, so better not to bother my parents about anything and just deal with it.”

I love that he’s then patted reassuringly on the head by the big boy.

“I didn’t sleep for weeks.”

The full-colour, expressive illustrations are as “simple” as Jeffrey Brown’s and there’s a bit of Dan Berry in evidence as well. I say “illustrations” but often they’re interpretations too.

Fear #7 is a pretty sure sign that someone’s read or seen The Omen II which had no small effect on myself aged eleven, either. Some like #44 are purely physical. I too have a fear of gouging my eyes out but in my case it’s on our industrial-sized stapler with the most enormous handle. For Lizzie it’s on wrought iron fences after skidding on ice. Hilariously she worries “it’ll be too slippery to free myself”. Bit late to mind about, I’d have thought.

Others are more surreal. “I used to think that when I closed a book, all the characters would freeze in place…” begins #35 as an Austen-era young lady in a fulsome, floor length dress is depicted playing badminton on the lawn. “…And if I left them for too long,” it continues, “they could get up to mischief.” It’s actually the shuttlecock and racket that have frozen in place, mid-air, leaving the lovely to dash to off and – I don’t know – dote on some snooty single man in possession of a good fortune.

This was quite cute:

“My Mom said she had to be careful of bright lights while driving. At night, someone’s high beams might blind you. I thought she meant permanently, so I shut my eyes and prepared, in case my Mom was blinded and I had to take the wheel.” Aged 8.

TOMBOY and ALONE FOREVER’s Liz Prince’s Fear #47 is typically self-conscious and elaborate, and Krause portrait of Liz’s self-portrait is very much on the money:

“Death is a theatre, full of everyone you’ve ever met, watching a real-time replay of your life, with your every thought narrated out loud.”

 

Crikey. Lastly #85 reminded me of one of my own childhood fears when, after watching a Boris Karloff or Hammer Horror film late at night I would switch off the living room light whilst already out of the door and in the hall but still staring carefully in, then retreat in similar fashion upstairs, always switching off the lights behind rather than ahead of me.

I don’t think I have fears any longer if you discount cliff edges, sharks and smashing my teeth in. Although I do wish we hadn’t bought that bloody stapler.

SLH

Buy Deep Dark Fears and read the Page 45 review here

100 Bullets Book 4 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso with Patricia Mulvihill.

“The Trust decided the Minutemen are obsolete. I’ve been instructed to get rid of you.”
“Get rid of?”
“Retire.”
“Retire? Please, Shepherd… I believe the word was eliminate. That doesn’t sound like it comes with a gold watch.”
“No. More along the lines of a lead tie-pin.”

100 BULLETS is a crime and conspiracy comic so sprawling in scope but so tightly plotted and taut with tension that most who read it was a monthly got lost in the long-games and caught between the cracks of the shifting allegiances both overt and covert. Thankfully you don’t have that problem, especially now there are now new big, thick “books” rather than the slimmer “volumes” which are dropping out of print. They’re each of them reviewed.

It’s a war between the Houses of The Trust, The Minutemen they used to employ as keepers of the peace, and anyone Agent Graves believes he can use in his very long game of goading, guile and perfect positioning, even from the very beginning. They needed the Minutemen because each family judged the others’ honesty by their own. It’s not the sort of institution you’d then want to dissolve, is it?

“Medici has been whispering for years that the Minutemen were an obsolete institution.
“I prefer they think of us as rogue.”

Exactly my point.

The crisp lines and ink-pool silhouettes boast an elegance to match the eloquence of Azzarello’s pen. Risso’s shadows are even stronger than Miller’s in SIN CITY whilst Mulvihill has, throughout this series, balanced them with a warmth of colouring which, combined, makes for one of the most palpable atmospheres in comics. There are moments of explosive, balletic violence – more here perhaps than in any other book so far, for key characters are about to bite the desert dust – but they erupt from pages that are predominantly ominous and charged, as the dialogue dances between schemes and schemers who can look each other in the eye, lie through their teeth and grin while they’re doing so. Or, who knows? Maybe they’re telling the truth, or a truth, because the players are constantly taking the last speaker’s words and twisting them in their own personal direction.

Here are the remains of those Minutemen again:

“The deal The Trust struck with the rest of the world… Well, the world’s a lot smaller now.”
“And The Trust is a lot bigger. We live by the original contract. If we don’t… what are we?”
“About to break it.”

Azzarello’s characters do, of course, all possess more vocalised wit than humanly credible, with wordplay and power play galore, but that’s what makes this so hardboiled. It’s such a pleasure to see words dance in this deadly game of verbal fencing.

Everything about this series is serpentine – both coiled and deadly – so there’s no predicting where the layers of manipulation will lead, when the head will strike, or where it will strike. And sometimes the first strike is the decoy.

If you enjoyed our three Comicbook Of The Month choices, CRIMINAL, STRAY BULLETS and SILVERFISH, I recommend you now launch yourself into 100 BULLETS in the knowledge that it gets better and better and its reprints are almost complete. One more book to go!

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets book 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Ricardo Delgado.

Aaargh!

Just when you thought it was safe to creep back into the Cretaceous shallows that lurk down the bottom of your tree-lined cul de sac if only you had the courage to leap over your neighbour’s fence and jump into their garden pond… *

AGE OF REPTILES is back!

The impeccably choreographed AGE OF REPTILES OMNIBUS of do-or-die dinosaur survivalism is a best-seller here. Who on earth doesn’t love dinosaurs?

These are all silent series for the dinosaurs are resolutely not anthropomorphised as they are in many recent family-friendly animations, but ferocious and vicious and if not malicious then at least more than capable of defending their territory whether they be predators or prey.

Size matters. Size splatters. And there is much to be said for safety in numbers.

All of which you will witness in this new graphic novel where there’s a lot less light and a lot more looming.

Gone on the whole are the arid plains and open, cerulean skies for very ancient Egypt wasn’t the desert you’re accustomed to but boasted many more trees (enormous), much more water and plenty of bloody big fish. There are two forewards on hand by outside experts to provide the geological and paleontological details, after which you’re left to fend for yourselves in a world which is teeming with life and indeed so much death that the pages in places become a blood-bath of angry red.

It stars a land-loving but equally subaquatic Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus. Imagine a crocodile but with longer legs and consequently greater agility but an equally considered, time-biding approach to getting what it wants most – food – while avoiding what it wants least: a crippling injury followed by death.

Our snaggle-toothed protagonist bears many scars suggesting that these are lessons learned through painful experience, but learned they most assuredly are.

Much of the first instalment is conveyed in slow and stealthy horizontal panels which are given a quick flick of movement in triangular fashion, whilst most of the epic this time comes in the form of the mighty weight of the vast herbivores rising up in numbers to bear down on our lone-roaming ronin.

Ronin…?

Yes. Far from a pack hunter, this is a sole survivor.

Please see the first of Delgado’s four impassioned essays in the back in which he talks enlighteningly not about archaeology but about controversially coloured Westerns and the far from black and white films of Akira Kurosawa which inspired them.

* Your neighbour’s pond is indeed a trans-temporal gateway. You may claim that your neighbour has no pond – and so may they – but they do!

SLH

Buy Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians and read the Page 45 review here

Aquila: Blood Of The Iceni (£18-99, Rebellion) by Gordon Rennie & Leigh Gallagher, Patrick Goddard…

“Raze Londinium. Burn it to the ground and piss on its ashes, as the Romans once did to Carthage. They will rebuild it, and send a legion… and then another one. And another one if need be… to punish and destroy you.”
“Is that why you’ve served the people who enslaved you and put you to the cross? Because you see no alternative to defying their power?”
“I have served them because killing is my stock in trade, and service in the legions of Rome is the quickest and easiest way to ply that trade.”

Originally published in three chunks over twenty-four 2000AD progs in 2012 and ’13, this is a bloody nasty bit of magic-infused, period mayhem set in the first century AD. For our main character, slave-turned-gladiator Aquila, it all starts over a century before that, though, with his part in the Spartacus-led revolt. Obviously we all know how that turned out, and Aquila was one of the six thousand rebels crucified right along the 132 miles of straight road between the cities of Capua and Rome. In his hour of need, however, upon the cross, he prayed to all the gods he knew for a swift demise. But whilst his prayers were answered, it wasn’t quite the salvation he expected that he received. Instead an inescapable immortal life of servitude awaited him, to Ammit the Devourer, to wreak destruction and death in his name.

After nearly 130 years of dispatching souls for the Devourer he’s unsurprisingly had enough of the bloodletting. So when he hears rumour that he might not be the only cursed immortal, invulnerable havoc-causer wandering around the battlefields of Europe, but that this one has slipped the mystical chains of his godly master, he decides to try and track him down. A certain Emperor of Rome, though, with a penchant for pyromania and stringed instruments, has designs of his own about not growing old gracefully and takes more than a passing interest in our long-lived chum…

Along the way even a certain Peter the Apostle makes an appearance, cropping up on the hit list of Nero and Aquila both! Oh and Queen Boudica who, quite understandably in my opening pull quote, is somewhat perplexed as to why Aquila would fight on behalf of those who nailed him to two planks of wood. She’s got a point, I feel. But when a man’s got to kill, a man’s got to kill. Particularly when there’ll be a certain demonical deity wanting to have a swift word if he starts coming over all soft and cuddly…

Ah, I did enjoy this mix of historical carnage and supernatural slaughter. Always nice to see something a bit different in the galaxy’s most zarjaz comic. I think Gordon Rennie has created a character here that will be reprised for several more story arcs yet. I mean yes, it’s arguably a variation on the Slaine-esque theme but when they totally done that particular character to death, what better to do than come up with an immortal alternative?! One for the followers of tartan-clad Mr. McRoth then certainly, but possibly also Miller’s 300 and Gillen’s THREE, I think. There’s sufficient historical content to elevate this well above a mere slashathon.

Suitably gritty art from Leigh Gallagher and Patrick Goddard which minded me of Darick THE BOYS Robinson in places. In fact this is exactly the sort of thing I could imagine Garth Ennis penning so if you’re a fan of his this might well be worth a look too.

JR

Buy Aquila: Blood Of The Iceni and read the Page 45 review here

Darth Vader vol 2: Shadows And Secrets (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larocca…

“You guys are not team players.”
“GRRROOOWWWL.”
“Yeah, the wookie’s right, you better not have crossed us, Aphra.”
“Statement: you can’t hide from the bounty hunters.”
“Strictly speaking you can hide, it just tends to be ineffective. Running is statistically better, but only fractionally.”
“Comic murderous pedantry aside, the droid’s right. You all know I’ve got a fairly lax attitude to property rights, but do you think I’d cross four of the deadliest bounty hunters in the galaxy?”
“I think you’d think about it.”

Everyone in the galaxy seemingly has an opinion about the new Star Wars film. Most seem to run quite contrary to mine in that they wholeheartedly enjoyed it. My first, and still remaining thought, upon exciting the cinema was, why on Endor couldn’t they get a comic writer to do the script? Disappointed I was…

I mean, Gillen’s DARTH VADER has everything, absolutely everything I would want from a new STAR WARS yarn. An intricate, intriguing, interesting plot with more twists and turns than a womp rat scurrying for cover. Hilarious witty dialogue (right up there with Bendis in his pomp, I feel) that can raise a chuckle or make you shiver in trepidation in equal measure, from note-perfectly observed old characters but also delightful new creations alike.

His utterly selfish corsair Aphra and her psychopathic droid duo of Triple Zero and Beetee are simply brilliant, darkly reflecting Luke, C3PO and R2D2 in such an ironically twisted manner, I would dearly hope someone at Disney was paying sufficient enough attention to think, “You know what, let’s pinch them for a Darth Vader film.” Because no doubt surely there will be one at some point if they’re even making a young Han Solo flick… In fact, while Disney are at it, can they also get Kieron to write it, please?

JR

Buy Darth Vader vol 2: Shadows And Secrets and read the Page 45 review here

Jessica Jones: Pulse – The Complete Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, Brent Anderson, Michael Lark, Michael Gaydos, Olivier Coipel.

JESSICA JONES: ALIAS volumes one to four constitute the finest comic series Marvel has ever published. It is the story of a brilliant woman trapped in a self-perpetuating spiral of self-loathing and self-destruction with a beginning, middle and oh so satisfying end.

Essentially a detective series with some of the deftest dialogue in any comics genre, it’s packed with anti-establishment attitude and thoroughly cathartic. It has very little to do with costumed fisticuffs and I commend it to almost all of you heartily, no matter what else you’re currently reading. Each book has been reviewed and praised to the heavens with zero spoilers.

Although there are several chapters here with ALIAS artist Michael Gaydos back on board which reprise the heart and spirit of the old title here – specifically when Jessica is introduced by Carol Danvers to Sue Storm and they do lunch (so, so good!) – this is not that, and I do believe the grotesquely twee, airbrushed cover says it all.

SPOILERS!

With one wince-worthy exception written over a decade ago I try to avoid spoilers. Even if I’m reviewing the fourth volume of a series, it’s essentially a sales pitch to new readers for the first book (if, you know, I love it) with some new angle to keep those already on board guessing.

Here I’m out of options so please, please read the whole of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS before you read this review.

SPOILERS!

I’m not even kidding you. Go away!

The first third of this has an identity crisis. It’s not sure if it’s a Spider-book or not. Jessica didn’t appear on a single one of its covers and with Gaydos unavailable Bendis brought in Mark Bagely, his artistic partner on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. I love what Bagley did there. He was perfect for what was a teenage-centric book, but here he makes formerly nuanced and ragged adult characters look like toy dolls.

Many writers are either inspired by their co-creators or write specifically for them. I know Bendis does, but here his trade-mark witty staccato banter, caught in the conflicting sensibilities, becomes a juddered mess of awkward exposition. I can hear it being typed, which is a no-no.

SPOILERS!

Seriously, just because I haven’t spoiled anything yet, I’m about to with the very next sentence not just for this book but for the whole of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS.

Now that Jessica is pregnant her priority is medical insurance. Self-employment as a private detective won’t provide that so she accepts a gig from J. Jonah Jameson as a columnist for the Daily Bugle, making reporter Ben Urich her partner and co-star along with boyfriend Luke Cage, the prospective father of her child. But just as she does so a fellow female reporter ends up dead in the water, having followed up one lead too many that takes her to Osborn Enterprises, home to the Green Goblin. Yeah.

The second sequence is a vast improvement, thanks partly to GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark and ASTRO CITY’s Brent Anderson. The art is much more grounded, the characters very much a part of their environment which is about to become very uncomfortable. A superb evocation of frustration, fear and bewilderment, I’d recommend you read this in advance of Bendis and Dell’Otto’s SECRET WAR (singular, not plural – and it ties in directly) so that, being equally out of the loop, you can empathise with Jessica’s traumatised isolation and helplessness.

For here, in a split second, she finds a woman at her window, her apartment torn apart and her boyfriend blown into a coma. Because of Luke’s unbreakable skin surgeons find it impossible to operate. Then the terrorists strike again – this time at the hospital. The Emergency entrance becomes the emergency… and Luke Cage goes missing.

What do the terrorists want? Why are they doing this? What does it have to do with Luke’s past involvement with Nick Fury, and why will nobody – not even her employers at The Bugle nor her ex-boyfriend at S.H.I.E.L.D. – help her? It’s complete and utter carnage and – I would remind you – Jessica is pregnant. Everything about this book is about the baby.

The final instalment brings back Gaydos and everything feels right with the world again.

If Andi Watson’s LITTLE STAR was all about being a Dad, this is the closest thing in comics I can think of to being a pregnant Mum of the verge of giving birth. In a world where Dr. Strange is going to deliver your baby, sure, but the lunch with Sue Richards offering Jessica insight as to what to expect from motherhood was right on the money and written from experience.

Look this space, dappled light and shadow! I’d eat anywhere drawn by Michael Gaydos.

“Well, I’ll give you the good news… The good news is that once you’re a mom, all this energy you spend on yourself, all that self-involvement…”
“I have self-involvement?”
“The second your baby’s born… it’s all gone. It’s this huge weight – [to waiter:] thank you – this huge weight that you didn’t even know was there… and it’s lifted right off you. It’s such a relief. And that energy you used to put on yourself… now it’s all directed right at her. It’s all on her now. All of you is on her. The bad news is that it’s a horror movie that never ends. Just terrifying. Caring for a child. Just terrifying. I know you don’t want to hear this, but it is – it’s terrifying.”
“Great.”
“Because you can’t control so much of it. They fall down and split their lip — ugh. The boo-boos. They’re fine in five minutes. Me? I have to lie down for the rest of the afternoon. Oh my god! And — and you have to let them fall down. You have to. It’s life. It’s learning. It’ll kill you, but you have to.”
“Your kids have… powers.”
“Had. Yes.”
“Are you scared?”
“Oh my children? No.”
“Of what then…”
“Screwing them up?”
“Yeah.”
“Of course! But not because they have powers or because we’re superheroes… it’s because… Listen, you are talking to someone who has read every baby book written on this planet, and a few from other ones… no joke. And all I learned is this: There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only love and — and guidance and kissing the boo-boos. And you can do everything right… and they still might grow up to put on a big frog costume and jump around the city.”

Quite. If you wrap kids in cotton wool, you end up with the eponymous star of PERCY GLOOM.

The final chapters run with the first exploration in detail of “What if a woman with superpowers gave birth? What would that really involve?” and it’s done with careful consideration. Then Luke does something markedly un-Luke-like and it’s brilliant.

Bye-bye!

SLH

Buy Jessica Jones: Pulse – The Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

A Girl On The Shore (£13-99, Random House / Vertical) by Inio Asano

Cerebus vol 3: Church & State I (Remastered Edition) (£25-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo Trilogy (Slipcase Edition) (£26-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 11 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Shutter vol 3: Quo Vadis (£10-99, Image) by Joe Keatinge & Leila Del Duca

Southern Cross vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger

Starve vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Brian Wood & Danijel Zezelj

War Stories vol 3 (£18-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Matt Martin, Keith Burns, Tomas Aira

Hellblazer vol 12: How To Play With Fire (£14-99, DC) by Paul Jenkins, Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece, John Higgins

Death Of Wolverine s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven

Batman: Arkham Knight vol 1 (£10-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & various

Flash vol 6: Out Of Time s/c (£12-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth

Flash vol 7: Savage World h/c (£16-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth

Guardians Team-up vol 2: Unlikely Story s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by various

Star Wars vol 2: Showdown On The Smugglers Moon (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 2: Fractures (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Robbie Morrison & Brian Williamson, Mariano Laclaustra

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 31-33 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Youth Is Wasted (£10-99, Adhouse Books) by Noah Van Sciver

Baltimore vol 6: The Cult Of The Red King h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting

Judge Dredd: Dark Justice h/c (£14-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Greg Staples

Batman: Detective Comics vol 6: Icarus s/c (£12-99, DC) by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

Red Hood And The Outlaws vol 7: Last Call s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & Geraldo Borges, various

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 3 (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Mike Mayhew

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 4 (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Dalibor Talajic

Darth Vader vol 2: Shadows And Secrets (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca

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

Souleater Not! Vol 4 (£9-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

News!

 Yippee! Philippa Rice’s SOPPY ‘s back in print! Dear Jodie!

ITEM! For fans of Allie Brosh HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, I give you Sarah Burgess’ beautifully observed, empathy-filled and organically structured single-page comic on a pattern / cycle of behaviour you may find very familiar!

ITEM! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s stellar Kieron Gillen on writing comics from story idea to finished script.

ITEM! Announced: Colleen Doran to adapt Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge to comics – Colleen’s own comments.

ITEM! Broken Frontier’s Comic Awards 2015. Who gone won the day?

ITEM! BOXERS & SAINTS’ Gene Luen Yang, the Library Of Congress’ National Ambassador For Young People’s Literature picks five graphic novels, each of which is stocked by Page 45. Please pop ‘em in our search engine!

ITEM! Article on10 comics which the Comibook Legal Defence Fund was forced to defend from censorship in America, so-called Land of the Free.

ITEM! Damien Walter on the women-hating, thumb-sucking menchildren in comics and games fandom. Let us counter this phenomenon with the wit-ridden wonder that is OffWorld games journalism.

ITEM! This a graphic novel, not an art book! It comes with a ltd ed signed bookplate and it looks pretty complex! THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE by Sonny Liew coming soon. Paul Gravett interviews Sonny Liew himself and previews the graphic novel.

ITEM! Lastly, did you see the comics car-crash that was Angoulême this week?

Grand Prix d’Angoulême 2016 lifetime achievement award shortlist featured 30 nominees, all of ‘em blokes, then Franck Bondoux responded to criticism with “Unfortunately there are few women in the history of comics.”

Which is rubbish, obviously. I can’t recall how many tweets I expended, listing female comic creators off the top of my head, but ugh!!!

The Angoulême car-crash continued….

…threatening to become a multiple pile-up…

ITEM! Typically PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH’s Sarah McIntyre responded to Angoulême with a huge, constructive, empowering resource encouraging more people – women and men – to make comics.

Well done, Sarah!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week one

January 6th, 2016

I Love This Part (£8-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie 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.

That’s part-relief, part-frustration but if I’m invited back onto the panel of judges for the British Comics Awards 2016 then they’ll get that dissertation, in full, later this year.

I love that part.

SLH

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

Jessica Jones: Alias vol 4 (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Benidis & Michael Gaydos with Mark Bagley, Rick Mays.

This is it.

This the big pay-off, the climax and conclusion to JESSICA JONES: ALIAS, the finest series Marvel has ever published. Why has Jessica Jones, private investigator, been wandering around from bar to bar drinking whatever she can lay her hands on and fucking whoever will have her? Why is she caught in this self-perpetuating spiral of self-loathing?

It’s far from simple or straightforward. It’s not a single event but a conglomeration of blows upon bruises which began in childhood. But yes, there was one final, painfully extended trauma which tipped the scales right over and it’s finally going to come out.

“Young maiden of Midgard, thy language leaves something to be desired.”

Oh dear. Jessica’s has just thrown up all over Thor’s yellow boots. Well, I say “just” but that was back in her teens after she first found out she could fly. But not very well. She came splashing down in the Hudson River and almost ended up drowning. Hence throwing up on those boots.

Now: she’s woken up once again in a strange bed with a chronic hangover.

“Where the fuck am I? Seriously. Where the fuck – I have no idea where I – ah! Fffgod damn it! Where are my clothes?
“Oohh… Please tell me I didn’t fuck someone I don’t know.”

It’s then that she spots the man’s enormous, familiar, trademark yellow shirt.

“Shit. Seriously, shit.”

Way back in JESSICA JONES ALIAS VOL 1 she ended up shagging Luke Cage: one more drunken misdemeanour in a succession of many before and since. Thing is, Luke was an adult about it; Jessica wasn’t. Thing is, Jones is now supposed to be dating Scott Lang. And the final thing is, she doesn’t seem overly keen about it… or on him.

“You up?”
“Hey Luke…”
“You can’t be my sidekick if that’s what the shirt’s about.”
“Should I even ask where my clothes are or what I am doing here?”
“You don’t remember?”
“Luke, please…”
“It was some wild shit. We had a big freak on. You gang-banged the New Warriors and then –“

Jessica gives him the evil eye. I love Michael Gaydos’ art – it’s so expressive. In a single, subtly nuanced expression you can see her not finding that remotely funny, albeit she has no moral high ground to stand on.

“Do you remember calling me?”
“Clearly: no.”
“You don’t remember calling me drunk out of your fucking mind and telling me that I’m not half the man Matt Murdock is and that I could go fuck myself?”
“Oh man…”
“Yeah. And then, about fifteen minutes later or so, you flew into my window and crashed into my fridge.”

Exhibit A: a seriously trashed window. Exhibit B: a severely dented fridge. Guilty as charged.

Luke was a gentleman last night and, once more this morning, he is a complete but no-nonsense adult about it. And she was doing so well. She hadn’t had a drink in quite some time. So what made her come undone?

It was a job: a job involving a callously, carelessly but still calculatingly manipulative bastard whom she had prior history with. Oh, our Jessica is far from a pushover and decides to face up to her past in order to lay it to rest while helping others and finally get some closure. But I’m afraid it doesn’t go well.

So.

I cannot begin to tell you how well written – how well structured – and how well drawn this all is. Bendis takes what was once a relatively throwaway, c-list supervillain whose specific ability had been used previously by other writers as little more than a plot-point for pugilism and makes of it the most horrific essay in emotional abuse. And then he plays with it, and – in doing so – allows the playa to play a little longer too. There’s no fourth wall breach here but there is the illusion of it as cast so jauntily by the self-involved, egomaniacal wretch himself.

Before you get anywhere near that, however, this volume opens with two whole chapters of flashbacks far further into Jessica’s past than you would have anticipated – into to her teen years at High School. Initially it looks like an improbable, throwaway joke tying in to not one but two major superheroes’ established – *gasp* – secret origins. The art there is a delicious, delirious, accomplished and apposite evocation of Steve Ditko for the extended cast and of romance-era Jack Kirby for Jessica Jones herself. As time passes and Jessica ages the style morphs closer and closer to Gaydos’ own.

Additionally there are some hilariously bouffant, Farah Fawcett hairdos.

So when the first real trauma which will catalyse so much of the deep-seated guilt kicks in, you will be watching it as incredulously as any catastrophe you can think of. Then you can see young Jones beginning to build those insurmountable walls brick by godawful brick.

Then we return to the present; then we return to the really nasty shit.

But, do you know what? Way back when I promised you a journey and I promised you a miracle. Not a Deus Ex Machina, but a brilliant, broad beam of hope.

And – with subtle foreshadowing but subsequent misdirection – Brian Michael Bendis typically leaves it until the very last minute. What a lovely, lovely man.

Unlike almost every Marvel Comic series which quite rightfully has its specific sort of fans, I recommend this almost unequivocally to the Real Mainstream – the average person on the street who enjoys non-genre, contemporary fiction – so long as you’re over fifteen.

SLH

Buy Jessica Jones: Alias vol 4 and read the Page 45 review here

The Abaddon (£18-99, Z2 Comics) by Koren Shadmi.

Coloured in a wan and sickly combination of conjunctival red and pale, broad-bean green, this really is my idea of Hell. It’s suspiciously close to many a bad dream I’ve endured before.

The closest nightmare in comics I can conjure up is Si Spencer & DIX’s KLAXON: things are eaten which should not be eaten and the neighbours aren’t very nice.

Let’s get ‘Abaddon’ out of the way first: in Hebrew terms it’s a bottomless pit and Koren Shadmi has successfully created just such an eternal, cyclical torture. It’s also something else, but that might constitute spoilers.

The opening page is a cracker: a man knocks on a green door, wondering what lies behind it.

It’s a surprisingly well appointed and spacious living room populated by tenants who seem quite agreeable even if every single name has been hideously abbreviated to Shel, Vic, Bet and Nor. Even our protagonist’s called Ter. It’s as if no one can remember the second syllables. Certainly our man Ter with the bandaged head can’t remember much of who he is or why he’s here except in search of lodgings. The room Bet shows him is far less palatial: cramped with cracked walls and a single bed, its ceiling is one of those horrible whorled-plaster affairs and the overhead light won’t switch off.

On the other hand, when he asks how much the rent is, Bet replies, “Oh, we’re very flexible, whatever you can pay is fine. We don’t even have a lease here as far as I know.”

It seems too good to be true.

 

Because it is.

Without giving too much away the publisher does mention that this is loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Huis Clos’, a play whose various English translations (Behind Closed Doors’ or ‘No Exit’, ‘Dead End’) all fit the bill. But it’s only that scenario they have in common, so I’d say more “inspired by” than “based on” – there’s not a great deal of existentialism going down.

Instead after hostilities open with a startling non-bluff by Vic, Ter finds himself trapped in an apartment of mismatched flatmates constantly in conflict for he finds that he cannot leave. The apartment door is locked and not only is there no key, there’s no keyhole. It only opens when Bern comes calling and no one except Ter seems remotely interested in leaving or the fact that there is no way out. There are not clocks, either, and things have a habit of resetting themselves, so maybe the lack of consequences is some sort of comment on existentialism after all.

Oh, and the windows are all bricked up.

That’s only the set-up and the set-up of the first act at that. I haven’t even mention the substantial side-bar when Ter’s memories slowly return.

I’m not quite sure what the fly motif as all about, but there’s a real spirit of decay about the place. Stuff starts oozing out of cracked piping which Nor then sculpts to please Shel who’s far more interested in vamp-like Bet and because of the colouring when Bet begins to bathe in a free-standing bath the water is as red and gloopy as the ooze – it might even be the same stuff.

Like KLAXON this made me feel queasy and thoroughly unsettled. I don’t want to read it again, thanks!

SLH

Buy The Abaddon and read the Page 45 review here

Low Moon (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

The Things We Do For Love.

Finally it’s back! Coming in at over 200 full-colour pages, this was at the time Jason’s thickest work to date: 200 pages of thwarted passion and murderous intent divided into five stories of varying degrees of absurdity. Jason is a master of suspense, building expectation with repetition and unanswered questions as his anthropomorphic black and white bears and beaked ones solemnly go about their business, their expressions seldom giving anything away. Wide-eyed and often clueless yet determined, half of them are dapper but a surprising number are dowdy. It’s comedic enough in itself.

‘Emily Says Hello’ sees an awkward suitor murder a series of men for a skinny woman in exchange for an escalation of sexual favours only to experience the ultimate in anticlimax.

‘Low Moon’ takes place in a West which is so very far from Wild that its inhabitants are more likely to die of ennui than anything else. Their equivalent of duelling is a game of Extreme Chess as Bob McGill returns to town for a rematch, bringing with him some killer moves.

The incongruities may make you smile.

‘&’ follows two separate stories on opposite sides of the page as one man takes to crime in order to pay for his mother’s operation, whilst another persists in trying to obtain his loved one’s hand in marriage whatever the barriers.

The comedy is ratcheted up each time the same process is repeated in accelerating fashion, Jason employing the shorthand of eliminating increasingly unnecessary panels just as he does in ‘Proto Film Noir’.  There the adulterous lovers’ persistence in successfully offing the woman’s husband each day is matched only by the husband’s insistence on returning home each morning for breakfast, delighted at the prospect of another sunny day in the garden. So predictable does this become to them that when a policeman calls in search of the victim after another grisly deed, they confidently tell him to come back in the morning.

Lastly I can assure you that ‘You Are Here’ only sounds familiar because it’s the title of a Kyle Baker graphic novel, and not to be confused with another Jason book, YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE, whose name alone still causes me much mirth.

SLH

Buy Low Moon and read the Page 45 review here

Buttertubs (£7-00, Avery Hill) by Donya Todd.

“Boo hoo” sobs a spoiled little madam, high up in here castellated tower.

“Sob sob sob,” she boo hoo hoos.

I don’t know why, she lives in Pretty Land above the Sparkle Sea beyond the comparative dowdy Plain Plains. Oh wait, no she doesn’t – that’s where Princess Puppy known to her friends as PeePee lives, and she’s throwing a party. Unfortunately I think the stomping stroppy thing has had her invitation nabbed by the Hotdog Queen and “It’s not bloody fair!”

“Oh hush ya royal little wibble shit!”

Yes, just in case you were taken in by pretty cover and the equally colourful My Little Pony pageantry inside, the weenie witch Hotdog Queen sure has a potty mouth and there’s going to be a race through this bizarre, fantastical quagmire of danger to see who’ll get to the party first: the sweary one and her flying pet Booboo or Hester and her friction-free Buttertubs.

 

Buttertubs, you see, is a great big ball of butter-blubber, constantly dripping and slipping and sliding all over the place. On the very first page it’s clearly too close to the camp fire on which Hester’s having an eggs and sausage fry up.

I can actually smell the black, soporific clouds of fatty fumes floating above the frying pan, and I can almost feel the greasy sweet-sweat being constantly exuded by Buttertubs.

I’m not sure what else to tell you. It’s all very loud and very energetic with thunder, lightning and mustard rain, plus the most enormously dilated pupils and weird, floppy fronds filling the pages to what must surely be maximum capacity.

SLH

Buy Buttertubs and read the Page 45 review here

American Jesus (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Peter Gross.

From seven or so years ago, this was a much better title for this than the original CHOSEN as will become apparent only at the end.

“Can I ask you something, Father?”
“Of course you can. That’s what I’m here for, right?”
“Nah, you’ll just think I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t even be here. My mom and dad aren’t even Catholics.”
“Well, neither’s Muhammad Ali, but I’d still give him five minutes of my precious time. Just tell me what you want to know.”
“Do you think it’s possible I’m the returned Jesus Christ?”

Jodie’s a normal kid who’s been living the normal life a normal kid does – comics, salvaged porn and average grades at school. Then one day a truck careers off a bridge and lands right on top of his noggin, but Jodie walks away without a scratch – just a fresh fluency in any known language, an intuitive understanding of all forms of science and a complete encyclopaedia of history on tap in his head.

 

When his mother tells him she’s never had sex, he begins to entertain the idea that he’s the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, as do many of those around him with the emphatic exception of the local priest. As the priest explains, it’s common for people Jodie’s age to think they’re a little different, especially after they’ve survived some sort of accident. It’s tempting to give in to grandiose presumptions of being special. Tempting, and dangerous.

 

Gross keeps suburban life real, whilst Millar keeps the suspense simmering, exploring what a young boy like Jodie might make of the situation. I loved the extended comparison Jodie comes up with between the Bible Testaments and the Star Wars Trilogy. Not only does it work, it’s just what a kid might do if they were suddenly that bright. As for what’s really at work, well, Jodie’s thirty-three as he looks back at these difficult days, so he’s evidently come to terms with how things have turned out.

One way, or the other…

SLH

Buy American Jesus and read the Page 45 review here

Planet Hulk: Warzones s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Sam Humphries & Marc Laming.

In which I talk about the tradition of Marvel monster comics and their long-established place in Hulk’s hefty history. Oh yeah, I know stuff.

But for the moment, seldom has an artist filled every conceivable inch on the page with big, bold forms without it for one second feeling cluttered or crowded.

And that’s what you want from a HULK comic: big, bold forms! Especially when there are multiple Hulks of so many sizes, hues and varying degrees of semi-sentience. Regardless of whether or not they’re given dialogue, each is imbued by our monkey Marc with a distinct personality, some even less friendly than others. I’ll be back with you in a second…

Previously on SECRET WARS #1 and SECRET WARS #2 (both reviewed): the Marvel Universe was destroyed, Earth ceased to exist and almost everyone on it perished. In its wake a new world appeared populated by those who will be familiar to you but in oh so different circumstances. This Battleworld was divided into kingdoms or Warzones between which trespass was strictly forbidden by God above, the lord and master of all he surveys, ****** ****** *** ****. Let’s play Hang Man, shall we? It wouldn’t be inapposite.

SECRET WARS, then, was the central title around which were launched satellite series like this, most of which focussed on a distinct kingdom or zone to which the curiously titled WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN VOL 00: WARZONES! proved a hitch-hiker’s guide because Logan can’t even spell ‘verboten’. Here an incursion is actually authorised – but by whom? Who is it sitting there scowling implacably on his throne? He’s a lot less loquacious than usual, I’ll tell you.

As the comic commences a blonde warrior called The Captain is hailed as victor in the latest Killiseum combat tournament transmitted throughout Battleworld. Huge jubilation to the non-existent rafters etc.

His chain-mail, cloth and leather garb combo is a fusion of warrior-race soldiers many moons ago, although its icons and arrangement are strangely reminiscent of a certain Steve Rogers. He has triumphed with the aid of an axe, a star-striped shield and a bellicose, bi-pedal, Cretaceous-era chappie whom we’ll simply call Tall, Red And Toothsome.

Recognise him, anyone?

The Captain’s not done this for fame; he’s not done it for fortune. He’s done if for information about his missing companion, Bucky, and for this single moment when the vainglorious master of ceremonies, Arcade, strides forth to commend his accomplishment and when Steve Rogers springs his trap which is ready and waiting and right by his side. When you realise where Arcade’s been imprisoned, I promise you will roar with laughter!

What does any of this have to do with multiple Hulks? They’re subsisting in a barbaric environment similar to the original PLANET HULK, ruled by the Red Hulk and under attack by the Hammers of God whom we call Thors. According to ****** ****** *** **** this is where The Captain will find his companion. Now why do you think he would impart this much-prized information to someone who has royally pissed him off?

Sam Humphries provides lies, treachery and slights of hand and a Captain America who’s wracked with guilt and goaded by Doc Green into getting in touch with his gamma side. I did wonder why but I shouldn’t have doubted – I just didn’t see that particular twist coming.

But the big draw for me was the art. As he proved in KINGS WATCH Laming’s sense of scale is jaw-dropping and here he has delivered something long lacking from Marvel: a truly monumental monster comic! That’s what classic HULK tales under the late, great Herb Trimpe were always about.

They were the comicbook equivalent of Godzilla movies: the military versus the monsters. General Talbot Ross and his cronies supplied the former while the latter came in all shapes and sizes (but basically big) from familiar Marvel villains like The Rhino, The Juggernaut and Wendigo to tailor-made gamma-goons like the Abomination and the Harpy. Finally there were the really off-the-wall – literally, in the case of the Hulk’s shadow. Yes, even the Hulk’s shadow couldn’t be depended upon for loyalty. It was also a case of crossed wires when it came to Zzzax, the big ball of humanoid electrical fizz/ fuzz who spoke like he had a mouth full of wasps.

“Zzzax feedzz on energy from humanzzz’ brainzz!”

Zzzaz was a zombie. He must be the only zombie who ever got that apostrophe right.

Muck-monsters like the Glob and the Man-Thing were a staple diet in HULK comics, but for sheer quantity in a single story you couldn’t beat THE INCREDIBLE HULK KING-SIZE ANNUAL #5. There the terrifying bundle of white fluff known as Xemnu had replicated aliens from the old TALES FROM SUSPENSE and WHERE MONSTERS DWELL like Groot, the talking tree trunk (oh yes, he’s not new) and Blip – although given that he was from the junior generation, I guess he was just a minor Blip.

Then came Goom and Taboo and Diablo:

“Hulk has never seen smoke-thing before — why does smoke-thing want to kill Hulk?”

It’s on every packet of 20, you viridian vacuum!

But I digress (as Peter David used to say).

This is a monster comic. That’s what HULK comics were and I’d be bloody delighted if that’s what they became once again. As long as Marc Laming or someone like David Finch is on board.

I laugh heartily at the very idea that I may once more be able to bellow: “I am Taboo!”

SLH

Buy Planet Hulk: Warzones s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

There will be more here on Thursday. Yes, Thursday which is New Comics Day this week once again for reasons we cannot possibly fathom!

Revival vol 6: Thy Loyal Sons & Daughters (£10-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton, Jenny Frison

Superior Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Yildiray Cinar, Laura Braga

Silver Surfer  vol 3: Last Days s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred

Jessica Jones: Alias vol 4 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

Copra Round Three s/c (£14-99, Bergen Street Press) by Michel Fiffe

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book 2 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

Aquila: Blood Of The Iceni (£18-99, 2000AD) by Gordon Rennie & Patrick Goddard, Leigh Gallagher

The Heroic Legend Of Arslan vol 4 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Yoshiki Tanaka & Hiromu Arakawa

Attack On Titan: Before The Fall vol 6 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Ryo Suzukaze & Satoshi Shiki

Fairy Tail Ice Trail vol 1 (£8-50, Kodansha Comics) by Yuusuke Shirato & Hiro Mashima

Die Wergelder vol 1 (£14-99, Kodansha Comics) by Hiroaki Samura

Uncanny X-Men vol 5: The Omega Mutant s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Chris Bachalo, Kris Anka

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book Two: Primordial h/c (£16-99, 2000AD) by Pat Mills & Simon Davies

Judge Dredd Casefiles 26 (£19-99, 2000AD) by John Wagner, Mark Millar, various & John Burns, Henry Flint, various

News!

will return next week once I am sober. Thank yoooooooooooo!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2015 week four

December 23rd, 2015

Brand-new John Allison GIANT DAYS story hidden in an anthology and Page 45 News underneath including Christmas opening times, New UK Comics Day details and our very own Queen’s Christmas Speech.

Boom Box 2015 Mix Tape one-shot (£7-50, Boom) by various inc. John Allison.

“103… 104… 105… My olives are diminished!”

Quelle catastrophe!

Includes a brand-new GIANT DAYS short story not only written by the creator of BAD MACHINERY but – like the original self-published GIANT DAYS mini-series – drawn by John too! Exquisitely lithe lines and Daisy on quite ridiculous physical form in the very first panel. I do believe I have a piece of interior art for you to demonstrate this.

Do you remember your university daze? John Allison’s memory is astounding. I don’t think he drank enough.

Here it’s the all-too-familiar plundering of fridge-food that’s encountered, whether from halls of residence or shared flats and houses. I never resorted to labelling mine, but others did. It made not one jot of difference.

First-year university students Esther, Susan and Daisy have congregated in the Catterick Hall’s communal kitchen where each has discovered that the larder has been looted and their prized midnight feasts have been carried off by some scrounging scoundrel. But who would do such a thing? Who?! Perhaps a stake-out is in order.

“It’s a “kitchenette”. They don’t trust us with a) nooks or b) crannies.”

Maybe a steak out instead?

No, it’s their own food they’re craving – that and the sweet taste of justice. I hope they find both before they fall out. Poor Daisy!

“You two aren’t nice with low blood sugar!”

Also in this annual, album-sized anthology (with French flaps and everything!): ten other contributions including some CYANIDE & HAPPINESS strips and a new LUMBERJANES short story by Shannon Watters and Carey Pietsch which is absolutely adorable. It centres on what has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures and treasures: the making and receiving of mix-tape music compilations as a token of your undying adoration. I have a dreamy, faraway smile on my face.

Mal has made Molly just such a CD, and Mal knows her music so well. Molly blushes with pride and joy as she absorbs at its track list, gazing at it as fondly as she might if it were a wide-eyed, lolloping puppy before declaring, “I’d like to make one for you too!”

But Molly knows nothing about cool music and is feeling woefully inadequate. Awww. What’s she to do? Time to explore some new, unusual and ever so exotic music scenes! Then time to remember what’s really important.

SLH

Buy Boom Box 2015 Mix Tape one-shot and read the Page 45 review here

Trauma Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing…

“The goal of this book is to be a non-scary introduction to trauma. For many people, understanding what the brain is trying to do protect them helps healing.”

Follow up by the same creative team to the excellently explicative PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE. This time around chiropractor Steve Haines and illustrator Sophie Haines tackle the subject of precisely what happens to our brains when we experience traumatic events. Acute and chronic, physical and mental, our duo forensically break down the internal processes at work of how we respond neurologically and thus physiologically to such situations. Plus, as Steve states in the quote above, how we might be able to apply some degree of conscious control to improve the outcome rather than just being swept along by the tumultuousness of it all.

Steve, once again in talking head mode, thus diagrammatically takes us through the myriad different forms that trauma can take and what responses we can expect. As before, it’s the incredible degree of symbolism and visual metaphor that Sophie puts into every single illustration which transform this from merely being a succinct and extremely clear explanation of the facts to a fun filled pamphlet of pictorial educational enablement. I think the beauty of this and their previous work is they manage to deal with such complex topics in a manner that would be perfectly digestible and understandable even for primary school kids without remotely compromising on the scientific facts. Brilliant!

JR

Buy Trauma Is Really Strange and read the Page 45 review here

Violenzia & Other Deadly Amusements (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Richard Sala.

“I find people are less reticent about sharing information when they can see their own blood.”

I find people have more time to share information when they’re not being bludgeoned to death by blue-suited cultists plastered in Gary Numan eyeshadow. I may be at odds with orthodox thinking.

From the spookster supreme of MAD NIGHT and THE HIDDEN fame etc, in full-colour and even more absurd form than ever, at least on either side of what may be some surprisingly serious thoughts on man’s very real history of relishing truly grisly images of ritual torture, devils and demons, and shrouded, skull-faced, scythe-wielding avatars of death.

Just type “medieval monks torture” into your search engine and click on ‘images’ if you doubt me. The racks and entrails are everywhere.

This takes the sepia form of ‘Forgotten’ which begins innocently enough (for Sala!) with a respectable-looking gentleman with neatly cropped hair wandering into an old town, head-down, oblivious to the ghouls and ghasts which populate its bridges and walkways, shambling by or leering at him over low stone walls.

“Where am I going?
“How did I get here?
“Try to remember… Oh yeah, I’ve got an appointment. I’m on my way there. And I seem to know the way.”

I can think of countless similarly somnambulistic scenarios from Sala: the straying of lost souls into an eerily empty town, danger lurking but a doorway away or perhaps in an ill-advised acceptance of an offer of a lift. But this is where I began to take this episode more seriously:

“The next step in evolution is already happening: Empathy is dying out. The world of your children will be viewed from the cast-iron minds of sociopaths, shielded from all caring and sincerity.”

Nothing in the art betrays any such departure yet: it’s still all squint-eyed hunchbacks, Nosferatu silhouettes and bats as balloons, blowing in the wind. Still, there’s a very good reason this man knows his way, even if he’s forgotten it.

I own that I could be way off-base: it could be just another exercise in self-amusement, but it did make me think. And shiver. And strengthen my resolve never to enter doorways I haven’t been invited through, preferably by people I know.

In addition there’s a colour poster gallery of ‘Malevolent Reveries’ – an A to Z of assonance and alliteration in which I obviously felt thoroughly at home – which might be book covers or B-movie posters with far more “Boo!” for your buck than most. We were lucky if Lon Chaney Junior wired his jaw for a single grotesque in any given celluloid outing, but almost all of these propositions like ‘Bad Business Brewing’ are overflowing with assorted monstrosities. ‘A Quagmire of Qualms’ was more favourite title. It spoke to me.

It made me laugh too. If there’s more than that behind the titular Violenzia episodes then, some satisfying story structure aside, I have no idea what it is!

The interior art image I’ve captured here says it all: into many a melee – each and every one of them ridiculous – slips, slides and somersaults the silent Violenzia, dressed like a modern Robin Hood (ooh, gender non-specific!), bang-banging out barely aimed, double-barrelled justice with economy and equanimity.

She is implacable, unstoppable and although I cannot quite picture Richard Sala playing early Tombraider that, nonetheless, is the comparison I’d make.

I do not, by the way, consider that lowering the tone.

SLH

Buy Violenzia & Other Deadly Amusements and read the Page 45 review here

Harrow County vol 1: Countless Haints s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook.

Bucolic horror set in the American South starring a seventeen-year-old girl called Emmy, raised alone on a farm by her father, Isaac.

“Look at all them fresh graves! You had a spot of misfortune, Isaac?”
“Nothing I can’t handle. Just a fever running through the livestock. And nothing you need worry yourself with.”
“You sure about that? Emmy’s almost of age.”

What do you think they are worried about?

Many moons ago the good folk of Harrow hanged a Healing Woman called Hester from an old oak tree.

Then, for good measure, they set fire to her gasoline-soaked corpse. Except it wasn’t a corpse and, as the flesh of her face bubbled away in the conflagration, she hissed out a promise:

“Not the end… never the end for me… I’ll be back…”

Now I’ll have you know that Emmy’s a good girl, she is. Devoted to her Dad whom she knows needs her, she hasn’t travelled far, never cussed nor never kissed a boy, neither. But Isaac’s cattle are beginning to suffer: calves being born deformed with too many legs or pustules round their eyes. And Emmy can’t do a thing about too many legs, but one bright morning she cures a calf of its blisters with but a touch, and even the most doting Dad would start to harbour niggling suspicions…

Community is a mighty fine thing, isn’t it? I’m serious, it is: neighbours looking out for one another when the authorities won’t. But there’s a flipside to that – the sheep mentality, the mobs and the masses, turning on those who do not fit in. Young Emmy fits in fine right now and has the kindest heart you could ever imagine. It would be the most godawful, crying shame if her neighbours, friends and even family turned her into the enemy which she most emphatically is not. Is she?

Hmm, shades of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there – creating your own monster through rejection and adversity.

Haints, by the way, are lost souls; restless spirits of the dead who have failed to move on from the physical world. You’ll find plenty of them here and I’ve cut back on the variety of interior art with its nasty, nasty entities to ensure there are plenty of visual surprises, to focus instead on the landscapes which are glorious whether wintry or in their fiery, autumnal splendour. The oak tree is oh so surely an oak tree with all its gnarled, knotted, pock-marked bark.

For me the star of the show so far is the woodland itself.

Although I did like Emmy’s unexpected, floppy-skinned ally with its skinless counterpart straddling the trees up above. I’ll need to read more before making my mind up, but the final few pages certainly promise the unexpected!

The colours are ever so rich, ripe, muddy, waxy and rancid as required.

For more comics which rich in the witch, please see RACHEL RISING by STRANGERS IN PARADISE’s brilliant and blessed Terry Moore.

SLH

Buy Harrow County vol 1: Countless Haints s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Second Book of Hope (£16-99, Bries) by Tommi Musturi…

“Sniff. Sniff. What’s that smell?”
“Ahem… must be the dog.”
“The dog’s been dead for years.”
“Well… I guess it’s me then. Tee-hee. The truth may lurk anywhere.”

I am mainly reviewing this self-published work which we got in via John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half US distribution channel because there is a collected edition of the first swath of material entitled, surprisingly enough, THE BOOK OF HOPE coming from Fantagraphics very shortly, plus it is downright hilarious. I think the simplest way I can start to describe this material is it has the feel of Chris Ware’s JIMMY CORRIGAN, albeit living in a cabin in the arse end of nowhere. Tone-wise too this is just as downbeat and melancholic as Jimmy’s urban non-exploits, but there are some significant differences.

For whilst Jimmy is a kind and simple mouse of a man, destined to never succeed, instead being continually trampled and trammelled down by life (and his relatives), here our middle-aged, moustachioed married lead is left wistfully wondering how it all got away from him. Just how did he end up right here in this moment, in this place so far removed from anything? An unusual palette of tertiary colours, purples and mustards, only adds to the backwoodsy, isolated feel.

For the most part there is silent contemplative acceptance of his lot, punctuated with daydreaming moments of inner flights of surreal fantasy or the occasional utterance of some choice savant philosophy to no one in particular. Here’s one such soliloquy offered to the universe, brought on by staring into the remaining eye of a tatty old childhood teddy bear whilst attempting a bowel movement on the outside privy at in the lonely cold depths of night, full moon shining down through whispy clouds and bats fluttering through the air…

“Childhood ends when the fight begins.
“Youth fades when the word falls from your lips for the first time.
“Say it slowly, and you can hold on to it for an instant…
“… before you are overwhelmed by the wary weight of midlife…
“… you console yourself, saying…
“… perhaps there was no before…”

Movement complete. I was too. Moved that is…

JR

Buy The Second Book of Hope and read the Page 45 review here

Facility Integrity (£8-50, Pigeon Press) by Nick Maandag…

“Pooping.
“One of a number of bodily functions that we deal with on a daily basis. Not something to think too much about about, right?
“Well it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about.
“More specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about the bathroom habits of our over one thousand employees working for us here in our corporate headquarters.
“This report on the investigation I commissioned has confirmed my suspicions. It concludes that the practice of allowing our employees to take a shit on the job accounts for a productivity loss of over four percent. That we deal with on a daily basis.”

Mr. Azwype has his mind in the toilet, quite literally. It’s been bothering him recently, the amount of deliberate dilly-dallying and time-wasting taking places in his business’ bathrooms… He’s long suspected that people aren’t pooping promptly enough and taking unauthorised breaks on his time and now he has the evidence to prove it! The question is… what is he going to do about it?!

Now, the concept of firms monitoring their staff’s toiletry tardiness is certainly nothing new. A good friend of mine got fired from a certain large call centre in Leeds over twenty years ago due to routinely needing longer than was allowed for a loo break. The firm was able to monitor their staff’s <ahem> movements because they had to log in and out of their call software every time they left their desk. His protestations of irritable bowel syndrome were to no avail.

Mr. Azwype however, has decided to take things one step further. He’s simply decided no one will be allowed to do a number two during working hours. Lunch hour excepted, of course – what a benevolent boss! A tinkle in the trap at other times is fine, but nothing more, and to enforce this new constipating corporate policy he’s brought in a security guard to ensure people can’t access the cubicles! The cunning staff, though, are determined not to let their boss have the final word if it’s the last thing they poo, I mean do! Some of them are planning on causing a real stink…

Haha, he does daft very well Mr. Maandag. I also loved his other current work THE OAF about a couple of extremely mis-matched housemates. Here he does that classic trick of picking one already ridiculous concept and just letting the nonsense grow and grow to the point of utter ridiculousness. Yet let’s be honest, it’s really not that much of a stretch of the truth given the pressurised working conditions we hear about in the factories producing Apple products in China and the like.

JR

Buy Facility Integrity and read the Page 45 review here

The Oaf (£5-99) by Nick Maandag…

“How did tomato sauce get on my dress shirt?!
“… Oh, that…”
“What do you mean “Oh, that”?”
“I forgot about that. That might have been my fault.”
“How do you get tomato sauce on my… this isn’t coming out!”
“Don’t you have another dress shirt?”
“No! This is my only one!”
“So buy a new one.”
“There’s no time! The interview’s at two! I have to leave NOW! I’ll have to wear THIS!”

The huge stain is all over the back of the shirt, which means the Oaf’s housemate has to ensure he remains strictly face-on to the interviewer at all times! One hilarious interview later and of course he doesn’t get the job… which means he is stuck with his crap job as a pizza delivery man, and thus can’t afford to move out. It’s almost like the Oaf wanted that to happen…

The relationship between the slovenly, unemployed Oaf who seems practically welded to the settee in their horrible apartment and the fastidious friend is classic Odd Couple material, yet I’m not entirely sure the Oaf’s friend is quite so different from the Oaf as he’d like to believe which is probably the real reason he’s still living there, or perhaps at least he’s not murdered him yet… For that’s certainly something he’s given some serious consideration to!

Even so, despite their evident apparent differences, the escalating tension, and the friend’s ever increasing blood pressure, this work had one of the most amusingly appropriate ‘happy’ endings I’ve read for a while. Great fun.

JR

Buy The Oaf and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 12 – Metamorphosis (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Peter Snejbjerg, Julian Totino Tedesco

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 1: Terrorformer (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Robbie Morrison & Dave Taylor, Mariano Laclaustra

Gunnerkrigg Court vol 2: Research s/c (£12-99, Archaia) by Tom Siddell

Future Imperfect: Warzones! s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Peter David & Greg Land, Daniel Valadez

American Jesus (£7-50, Image) by Mark Millar & Peter Gross

News!

ITEM! New Raymond Briggs interview!

We love Raymond Briggs! Please see:

ETHEL & ERNEST – the biography of his parents and a brilliant piece of British social history.

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS – a searing indictment of the atomic con: i.e. that we could survive such an assault.

GENTLEMAN JIM – about a gentle man who cleans toilets.

ITEM! Angouleme’s Official Selection for 2016 – the most prestigious comics awards in the world. Some belting nominations there!

ITEM! 2016 UK exhibition Comix Creatrix featuring female comic creators. I could personally lose that excess of ‘x’s but perhaps that’s just olde fashioned me. Some of my all-time favourite creators of any gender there!

ITEM! Joan Cornella animation project on Kickstarter. The video has to be seen to be believed, but seen right to the end. Have you watched it now? Yeah, I know!!!

I hope his MOX NOX comix collection is reprinted soon!

D’oh!

ITEM! The Sequential Artists Workshop! Learn to craft comics and become completely obsessed with spiders.

Am I selling that to you?

ITEM! And now we break for Christmas! Merry Christmas!

Next New Comics Days:

Wednesday 23rd December as per normal
Thursday 31st December (New Year’s Eve! We may close around 4pm)
Thursday 7th January…. then back to Wednesdays as normal

Please note: the comics will only arrive on our doorstep during those Thursday mornings so they will take some processing! Please don’t expect Page 45 regular Standing Orders to be ready for collection immediately. The laws of space and time apply – which not even I can override in spite of my deal with the devil.

Page 45 Holiday Opening Hours:

9am to 6pm, Mondays to Saturdays as always
11am to 4pm Sundays as ever
Closed: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day – or my family would kill me.

Please note: we usually close early around 4pm on Christmas Eve because

a) everyone else does
b) I’m usually half-cut by then.

Pictured is my favourite-ever Christmas present as a kid, aged around 7. This is the actual copy, well leafed-through, still treasured and roughly the size of your abdomen. I read it 8 billion times and then learned to draw from it. Comics of any genre were a rarity back then, so lord knows how my parentals acquired it. Look at all the loveliness we’re so lucky to choose from now!

That’s it, we’re done! Thank you so, so much for a fabulous 21st year selling very cool comics to the most beautiful people in the world. We wouldn’t be here without you.

– Stephen xxx

I am am almost crying with nostalgia. Thanks, Mum. And Dad. x

Comic for Christmas, eh?

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2015 week three

December 16th, 2015

Feauturing 2000AD’s DAN DARE, Jim Henson’s STORYTELLER DRAGON, Grant Morrison & Duncan Fegredo’s KID ETERNITY and MUCH more!

Also: more cards Jodie Paterson perfect for thanking your loved ones for Christmas presents, and return of Page 45’s News section underneath!

The Only Child h/c (£14-99, Random House / Vertical) by Guojing.

Beautiful, beautiful, and so flecked with snow!

Almost perfect for this Christmas time of year, each and every soft-pencil page comes flecked with a static of snow until the young, female wanderer, lost and alone, is buoyed on the back of a solicitous stag up out of her real world fraught with fear and into a comforting dreamscape high above the clouds.

With the snowfall absent, the contrast of quiet is truly arresting.

Like Daishu Ma’s LEAF and Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, this is a silent graphic novel but there’s a lot less interpretation required for the story itself perfectly straight forward – it’s the storytelling techniques which are clever.

A young child left alone at home while her mother goes to work at first finds the door closed on her to be both forbidding and final. A whole page is dedicated to a year view of the girl staring at the comparatively gargantuan implacable, thick wooden door for what could be an eternity. It doesn’t open: her mother does not return.

Gradually galvanising herself, she enjoys brief bursts of solitary play before slumping back down, head in hands, surrounded by toys which without her animation fall silent and lifeless. Then she discovers a scrapbook and, in it, photographs of herself being doted on by her grandmother. Outside snowflakes fall over factory chimneys. It beckons her out and the door is unlocked.

At first the freedom and flurries are a source of joy as the child makes her way through the urban environment to the bus station. Evidently she knows how to get to Grandma’s. But she makes the mistake of falling asleep and when she wakes up the bus is quite empty: she’s lost and alone in the middle of woods which she doesn’t even recognise.

She bursts into hot, warm, salty tears which stream down her face. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

What ensues, however, is a flying, floating, fantastical adventure through cloudscapes involving dreamt-up animals, conjured from her memory of home, as the solitary child seeks solace in warm pelts and the familiar.

It’s a triumph in terms of temperature and scale with pencils as softly shaded as Katriona Chapman’s.

My only two problems with this are entirely personal – entirely:

1. I could almost hear Aled Jones warbling, ‘Walking Through The Air’ and for me that is not a good thing. (Yes, yes, I know Aled didn’t sing the animated original – that hardly matters.)

2.  I don’t happen to find moon-faced, rosy-cheeked children in any way cute or endearing. Quite the reverse so, truly, I must be a monster.

Should you not suffer from such an inhumane lack of empathy, you’re going to absolutely adore this fabulous, fuzzy thing.

SLH

Buy The Only Child h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dan Dare – The 2000 AD Years vol 1 h/c (£30-00, Rebellion) by Pat Mills, Gerry Finley-Day, Steve Moore & Dave Gibbons, Massimo Belardinelli…

“This was our Dan Dare…
“Telling a seven-year-old that what he’s reading is a travesty will get you nowhere. You can’t tell him the original Dare was a true hero, the embodiment of traditional English values; he’s too busy marvelling at the guy carrying the psychotic living axe. You won’t get very far talking about the wonderful clean lines of the Anastasia; he’s transfixed by the battle of Jupiter, with men drowning in acid and living spaceships throwing moons like rocks, and a Martian giant on the cover of Prog 11 beckoning us into the blazing hell of the sun. And you can guess what mentioning a gentler, more compassionate time will mean to him; what price compassion next to a squad of space commandos pouring automatic fire into that week’s alien freak?”

Thank you Garth Ennis! I feel slightly guilty quoting so extensively from someone’s foreword but it just perfectly encapsulates my then – as a five-year-old – sentiments, and equally my father’s contrasting nostalgic ones, to the Dan Dare of 1977’s 2000 AD. My dad just couldn’t get his head around how disturbing, twisted and violent this brave new world of Dare was. He let me keep reading it, though, to his credit! I do remember being genuinely disturbed by some of the characters though, including that psychotic living axe, but particularly a demented fused pairing called the Two Of Verath, which I think was entirely due to the art of Massimo Bellardinelli. He was a very firm favourite of mine as a kid with stints on HARLEM HEROES, MELTDOWN MAN and BLACKHAWK.

Even the Mekon was impressed with the new Dare, unaware of his suspended animation survival following a fortuitous, retconned-in accident, allowing Pat Mills to neatly move Dan forward in time from the 21st century (when the original Frank Hampson Eagle material was set) to the rather more violent 22nd century…

“Dan Dare? It cannot be! This human looks nothing like the despicable worm who thwarted me in the past! And, besides, Dan Dare would be a drooling ancient now! Yet I have learned to expect the unexpected from the infernal Dare!”

Indeed. Then after a brief, five-Prog pause, Dare returned again, this time with writer Gerry Finlay-Day, and Dave Gibbons on pencils for Dan’s stint with his space fort and rag-tag bunch of commandos investigating the Lost Worlds, an area where thousands of colonists and escorting battle cruisers had vanished without trace. Drawn from a cesspool of outcasts and outlaws, his motley crew featured the likes of Bear, an enormous psychotic Russian with a hair-trigger temper and Hitman, a nutter with a gun permanently fused to his hand after a space accident.

The relentless pace of the weekly action, as Dan alternately destroyed or freed planet after planet, made for some serious Thrill Power, as Tharg put it! Gibbons’ art style was rather different to Belardinelli’s, but it’s beautifully fluid smoothness still ensured Dare was one of my favourite strips each week. Re-reading it I was astonished just how many panels I could recall perfectly, they made that much of an impression at the time.

In fact re-reading this material some 38 years later (good grief…), I must say it really does stand up. The only advisory comment for people encountering this material for the first time would be, much like the early JUDGE DREDD CASEFILES, is that it does feel slightly choppy due to the ‘story of the week’ nature of the plotting, and thus the continuous need for cliff hangers or conclusions every few pages.

But as with all the early 2000 AD material you simply have to admire and be in awe of the quality they managed to turn out without fail, week after week. The trials and tribulations of that process, and just how close to cancellation the title came on a number of occasions were fantastically detailed in the sadly out of print THRILL POWER OVERLOAD: THE FIRST THIRTY YEARS OF 2000 AD. Given that was published in 2009 after the 2007 anniversary, hopefully they’ll update and re-release it for the forty year anniversary shortly after that occurs in 2017!!!

[For another, more recent reincarnation, please see the DAN DARE OMNIBUS by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine, also highly recommended – ed.]

JR

Buy Dan Dare – The 2000 AD Years vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kid Eternity: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Duncan Fegredo.

A much sought-after treasure from before the Vertigo label, and the first thing to note is that Fegredo’s art style took an interesting detour around 1991, exploding from the page with Bill Sienkiewicz heads and layouts and lines, whilst the fulsome colouring owed a little to McKean circa BLACK ORCHID, a little bit more to the prevailing aesthetic of U.K. comic magazine CRISIS, or perhaps a trip to an abattoir at night with its electrics on the blink.

I’m only guessing, you understand.

There’s a furious speed and frenzy in the images and a lurching giddiness in the sometimes spiralled layouts which was perfect for Morrison’s frantic mayhem.

The second thing to note is that this deluxe edition contains sixteen pages of extra material called ‘Charting The Chaosphere: Preparations and Recollections from Duncan Fegredo’ culminating in a sketch Duncan drew for the 1991 UK Comic Art Convention in which Kid Eternity shouts, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND IT?”

As Fegredo notes, “Says it all, doesn’t it?”

Expressionistic horror, then, as Kid Eternity turns himself into a thought and escapes from Hell through the mind of a stand-up comedian during a particularly tedious yuppie party, bringing with him all manner of ruthless pursuit.

“A bass note. The floor vibrates. A glass breaks. And the room goes bang! like a great flashbulb. And my face is scorched and my fillings rattle. And the buffet will never recover.”

I suppose giving birth through your head can be something like that. Who is Kid Eternity…? A man who died seventy-five years too early, got turned away from the Pearly Gates and, as compensation for his troubles, was given the talent to summon the dead for assistance.

Alternatively:

“A crazy, mixed-up Bonsai waiting to live forever. Eight letters, okay? And the last letter’s a ‘Y’.”
“Listen, I hate this puzzle shit, man.”

Depending on which side of that fence you fall is the clue as to whether this book’s for you.

A return trip to Hell ensues as a resurrected, ash-haired Kid Eternity leads the way through demons and the damned, like a dandified John Constantine or your own, personable Jesus.

Bleach out, and touch faith.

[Editor’s Note: Stephen In Almost Accurate Shock! On soliciting Fegredo’s opinion on the first paragraph, Duncan replied with typical, self-effacing modesty: “Your observation is not far out although it was more about trying to shake off my embarrassing episodes in Crisis and evoking Dave McKean with a hint of Bill Sienkiewicz but none of the photo reference…”]

SLH

Buy Kid Eternity: The Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Snow Blind #1 of 4 (£2-99, Boom Studios) by Olie Masters & Tyler Jenkins.

“An elevated crime story that feels like it should be the best indie film of the year.” – Warren Ellis

Well, that’s a cool cover, isn’t it? Full of narrative, once you’ve read what’s inside you’ll understand how well composed it is too. You’ll be seeing a little more of that Arctic Fox right at the beginning and right at the end.

The lovely, loose line art and wet-wash colours are both provided by Tyler Jenkins who leaves plenty of space for the white Arctic light to shine through. The style and palette’s identical on the inside, and there’s a tremendous sense of movement whether someone’s rising from a chair with their weight on the table, striding through a door without careful consideration as to who’s on the other side, smacking a tree trunk with bare fists in frustration / anger or, umm… look out — !

Thanks to those washes there’s a sodden feel to the coniferous pines even when they’re not laden with snow. Plus there’s a particularly fine shot, from behind knees, of a guard dog challenging an intruder with well developed calf muscles.

She or he (we don’t yet know) isn’t the only intruder. Teenage Teddy Ruffins seems to make a habit of breaking and entering throughout.

“After last time, my Dad asked me why I broke into a library of all places.
“I didn’t answer.
“I didn’t tell him that sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own home. That I felt more comfortable around the pages of dead authors than I do my own parents.”

That’s because those books are telling you things, Teddy. Your parents are – and have been all your life – a lot less communicative.

They moved up from Louisiana to Alaska when Teddy was a baby. Teddy never thought to ask why and they certainly never told him. Teddy’s no communicator, either. He doesn’t get on with the local lads because he believes they don’t like him unless he bribes their company with a case of beer stolen from his Dad. He’s just done that at a BBQ his Dad’s throwing for friends.

“But as the alcohol took hold, I felt like I had something to prove. To them… and to my Dad. So when he got passed-out drunk, like he always did, I figured… If I have to be here, I might as well have some fun at his expense. I was finally being “one of the guys”.”

That’s what he overheard his Dad tell his Mom: that he wished Teddy would be “just one of the guys”.

So he paints his passed-out Dad with lipstick and paps a snap, sharing it on social media with, “Dad’s definitely the prettiest girl at the party. Maybe he should run for Miss Louisiana next year?”

Far from surprisingly, Teddy’s Dad is furious. But it’s not because Teddy had mocked his masculinity all over the internet – the worldwide web – where anyone anywhere can see it. I wouldn’t say it went viral but it went viral enough and now maybe it will become clearer to Teddy why they’re in Alaska and never go home. Maybe it will become clearer to Teddy’s parents that you should always communicate, especially under circumstances like theirs in the age of the internet.

I’d not thought of that before: circumstances like theirs in the age of the internet.

Bravo to Ollie Masters: more breaking and entering yet zero more communication: leopards/spots, habits of a lifetime.

Gripping.

SLH
Buy Snow Blind #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Katzine Issue Three (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman.

Every issue of these cardstock-covered beauties is a treasure-trove of discovery both for the reader and their creator.

Unlike so many online autobiographical comics which I find vacuous, repetitive, egomaniacal and twee, Katriona Chapman’s personal interests and observations have me enthralled.

She is emphatically not producing these four issues annually to obsess about herself, but to pass on her knowledge of the customs of the countries she’s visited, the Highlands and islands she has explored and the mountains she’s climbed.

Each of the eight peaks, volcanoes or ranges here is rendered in soft shading and sinuously craggy detail, distinctly, individualistically and from different eye levels.

There’s no skimping on detail, visual, historical or geological:

“The Torridon mountains rise steeply to 1,100m from deep sea lochs. They’re made of Torridonian red sandstone sitting on top of the Lewisian gneiss, some of the oldest rock in the world. The mountain tops are capped with quartzite.”

 

Or:

“Volcán Chicabal – A volcano covered with cloud forest vegetation with a crater lake at the summit. Department of Qetzaltenango, Guatemala. Sacred to the Mam Mayan people and still used as a ceremonial site. 2,712m.”

Her fascination is infectious, her enthusiasm enthralling, and her experiences always worth sharing.

For example, her trip to Skye and ‘Dutch Campsite Memories’ in which she travels to Amsterdam with her then-boyfriend after being kicked out of a rented room in Wandsworth back in 2002. Although they both find gainful employment, housing was in short supply even for Dutch nationals so they spend the last of their savings on a tent, two sleeping bags and camping gas stove. It’s March and far from warm – plus they have to move sites every fortnight as per regulations – but Chapman’s resourcefulness always impresses and she has campsite shower strategies to pass on. In any case I’ve always believed that the experience of deprivation is important in order to appreciate the basics when the home comforts are back – like heating, hot water and the privacy of a room; I just hadn’t thought of the silence.

‘Quicksand’ is an eloquent and unexpected departure in style and shift in P.O.V. and, with its relatively simple line unadorned by Chapman’s love of soft, moulded shading it looks just as spectral as the words are haunting.

Returning to travel, however, ‘Virgen de Guadalupe’ about Mexicans’ pride of place for the Virgin Mary is yet another reminder of the versatility of Chapman’s layouts and the clarity of her pencilled lettering which is always fully integrated into the page but also meticulously spaced, improbably neat and an almost impossibly well balanced part of the compositions themselves. In addition I was thrilled when I noticed the classy, subtle, shadow-shading floating below the title itself.

KATZINE ISSUE ONE and KATZINE ISSUE TWO both in stock and reviewed in detail. Also out now, on our shelves and up online to buy: KATZINE ISSUE FOUR

SLH

Buy Katzine Issue Three and read the Page 45 review here

Vampire Cousins (£18-99, Pow Pow Press) by Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau & Cathon.

“By the deepest depths of Hell! What vile concoction could exude such mephitic stench?”
“That’s yummy tummy garlic soup with garlic pie… and a side of fresh garlic salad with garlic vinaigrette!”
“What treacherous demon could incite you to buy so much garlic?”
“It’s all they’ve got at the grocery store.”

Oh, the horror of it all!

I knew I was in for something truly disturbing the second Camillia thrust an S Club 7 cassette into her car stereo.

Camillia is affectionate, healthy, ditzy and oblivious, the perfect foil for her cousin Frédérique’s, wild-eyed, gothic – nay, vampiric – self-possession, and the first third of this was exquisitely funny, riffing off quaint Hammer Horror films and undercutting them at almost every turn with immaculate timing.

I can almost hear Miriam Morgolyes’ booming voice as Blackadder’s ever-outraged, puritanical aunt every time Frédérique opened her mouth to proclaim. That’s what she does throughout: proclaim. Her wide, white bug-eyes are like a reptiles’s during extreme sunlight with but the thinnest slit for each iris. I’m pretty sure there was a bald alien who looked similar on the closing credits to the original Star Trek series.

Frédérique has invited cousin Camillia back to her house on the hill where they spent a childhood summer together. Since then Frédérique’s Dad dabbled in the occult and croaked it, leaving his daughter to dabble too and she is desperate to impart the demonic results of this double-dabbling to Camilla as they sit opposite each other in the library. She’s really building up to her big reveal when Camillia interrupts her with a great big yawn.

“Oh, my dear cousin. I do find your story very interesting, but this herbal tea has made me quite drowsy. I think it’s time for me to sleep.”
“But… Don’t you want to know about my most astounding discovery.”
“Of course. Of course. But not tonight.”

There’s a single, silent beat as Frédérique – bug-eyed as ever – stares at Camillia’s smiling face in disappointed and disbelief.

“I do promise that is it is quite astounding.”

 

Equally funny is the scene in which Frédérique, as per tradition, begins railing against the superstitious villagers below from her balcony up above only to be interrupted not once but twice by her cousin first hearing something “indistinct” then seeing something “indistinct”. Realising she’s not going to get a good night’s rant in, Frédérique switches the lights off then bolts from the bedroom, dropping her theatrics for a dismissive “Yeah yeah”.

 

There’s some delicious drawing going on with notes of Richard Sala: lots of decorous detail with framed family portraits, ornate candelabras galore and one of the panels is shrouded round the edges like black and white horror movies once were.

The first third is also very tight. After that I’m afraid it kind of loses its way, meandering slowly before simply stopping. On the other hand I wouldn’t have missed Frédérique’s climactic proclamations for the world.

“I offer youth… eternal beauty… and you dare refuse it? You will transcend time itself, be free of degeneracy. You will posses infinite powers! You will be able to FLY!”

She wags a figure to emphasise her point:

“Being able to fly is awesome.”

SLH

Buy Vampire Cousin and read the Page 45 review here

My Hot Date (£5-99, Kilgore) by Noah Van Sciver…

I suspect everyone remembers the excruciating nature of trying to puzzle out one of the great teenage mysteries most of us faced, that of finding a date, hot or otherwise. I know I certainly do. Noah Van Sciver (FANTE BUKOWSKI and SAINT COLE) once again treats us with a glass of his own very special brand of half empty, only this time it’s personal. In fact it’s autobiographical as Noah dishes the dirt on his own proto-romantic failings.

After chatting up his intended with his brash skatepunk, rap-inflected stylings – via the safety (now here’s an irony) of an internet chatroom – they finally arrange to meet at the local. It doesn’t go well as, if you’ve read any of Noah’s works, I’m sure you can imagine, not least because the girl in question is considerably older than Noah. It’s not quite up there with Joe PEEPSHOW – SPENT Matt’s romantic disasters in terms of scale, but it isn’t far off, and I’m quite sure for Noah himself it was painful enough.

Noah recently shared on Facebook a postcard he’d received from Robert Crumb of all people, singing the praises of MY HOT DATE and exhorting him to continue making more autobiographical comics. High praise indeed and I wholeheartedly concur!

* I feel strangely compelled to share this moderately synchronous story after enjoying Noah’s soul-baring honesty on this subject. Does anyone of a certain age out there remember Partyline? A strange, mid-eighties invention whereby eight people could speak on the same phone line, conference-call-stylee, though it usually felt like at least double or triple that as there was usually several teenagers huddled round each landline handset (no hands-free speakerphone in those days, either!!).  They were all local as well, so there was clearly some sort of telephonic science involved behind the scenes working out where people were calling from and grouping them together.

Anyway, occasionally we’d get lucky and there would be far fewer people on the line, and my best friend Savage and I would get actually chance to talk to some girls. Eventually we managed to find some that were daft enough to meet us at the Merrion Shopping Centre in Leeds city centre. Excited thirteen year olds that we were, we were surprised / delighted / terrified to discover the two good ladies in question were considerably older than us. Where it all really started to go wrong, though, was when their two ‘boyfriends’, who unbeknownst to the ladies in question, had suspiciously followed them into town, suddenly revealed themselves and ended up chasing us round the Merrion Centre brandishing Stanley knives… I’ve never run so fast!! Good times!

JR

Buy My Hot Date and read the Page 45 review here

Safari Honeymoon (£12-99, Koyama Press) by Jesse Jacobs…

“When you spend as much time as I do out here you’re sure to host a number of parasites.
“A few years back a parasite slipped into my mouth as I slept.
“It secured itself firmly at the base of my throat.
“Within a few minutes it had devoured my tongue and attached itself to the stub where my tongue used to be.
“It’s still in there.
“The parasite behaves like a tongue, allowing me to function normally. It’s really more of a symbiotic relationship than a parasitic one.
“My sense of taste has actually improved. That’s why I’m such a talented chef.
“In return it takes a small portion of every bite of food I chew.”

The jungle is a dangerous and unforgiving environment, that’s for certain. Particularly this one, replete as it is with terrifying, multi-limbed beasts with huge teeth lurking behind every bush, telepathic simians with wibbly-wobbly antennae trying to take over your mind, and even foothills peppered with stroke-inducing temporal distortions. It’s an odd choice for a romantic honeymoon getaway, that’s for sure, but then the new groom, a successful businessman wanting to impress his new much younger trophy wife is used to getting what he wants.

Their guide, who cooks a mean grilled croque-monsieur with crème fraiche and gruyere topped with an organic quail egg, is having a hard time simultaneously keeping the newlyweds out of ever-present trouble, mostly of their own idiotic instigation, whilst whipping up a culinary storm over the campfire. Eventually, of course, matters do get psychotically, completely and surreally utterly out of control, but by then the not-so-happy couple are too busy just trying to stay alive to realise their travel insurance probably isn’t going to cover this one…

Haha, I thought this was a brilliant bit of farce. The triumvirate of characters: the arrogant businessman, the doting trophy wife and the dashing guide are exaggerated up to suitably ridiculous levels. The ever-increasing disbelief of the businessman, still refusing to believe he can’t get matters back under his control to the very bitter end, is hilarious. Even when he thinks he’s not going to make it, he’s lambasting his wife to make sure she sues the travel agency on his behalf!

Published by the same outfit that puts out much of Michael DeForge’s output, Koyama Press, this is just as bonkers as anything he comes up with. The art reminds of both DeForge and also Huizenga.

JR

Buy Safari Honeymoon and read the Page 45 review here

Dad’s Not All There Any More (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Alex Demetris…

“I remembered Muhammad Ali on TV back in 1996.”

“This is sad. But it looks like he’s having a wank!”
“Dad! You can’t say that!”

“Maybe the Gods overheard that comment. Mind you, Dad never got this kind of body tremor.”

Oh that is so, so wrong but it did make me laugh. Still, I think humour in the face of adversity is one of the best medicines there is. Or indeed palliatives in the face of terminal illness which is what John’s Dad Pete is facing now that he also has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. And whilst Pete fortunately hasn’t developed the tremors typically associated with the condition that Muhammad Ali so bravely put on show to the entire world whilst he held the Olympic torch aloft, he has developed dementia. A very specific sort of dementia linked with Parkinson’s known as Lewy body dementia.

Named after the neuroscientist Friedrich Lewy, who discovered abnormal protein deposits in the brains of a small proportion of deceased Parkinson’s sufferers, this form of dementia is sadly just as pernicious as the more well known types. Thus we see Pete’s story unfold from his diagnosis through to his current state in nursing care. His son John recounts the sad degeneration from spritely retiree to a mentally befuddled, physically incapacitated wreck. I should also add this comic is based directly on creator Alex Demetris and his family’s experiences with his own father’s Lewy body dementia, so  whilst it is ostensibly fiction, I’m sure what you’re reading is most heartfelt and extremely personal to some considerable degree.

I have to say, though, for a comic dealing with such a tragic personal story (and topic generally), there is a surprising degree of levity to be found. It is some consolation to John that his dad – and this is certainly not for the case for all dementia sufferers – seems fairly content, despite all his problems. As John puts it, just below a pair of panels with a ribald joke from his dad too rude to repeat here, “His mind may be misfiring, but his personality is still very evident.” It’s one of the great mysteries of dementia isn’t it? How someone can be fully present one moment, conversing with loved ones, then gone again the next? Another excellent medically orientated publication from Singing Dragon who are to be wholly commended for their efforts in championing this genre of material.

JR

Buy Dad’s Not All There Any More and read the Page 45 review here

Number 1 (£5-50, Retrofit / Big Planet) by Box Brown…

“Hey, Diamond Dick! Diamond Dick Corduroy! You’re my idol!!”
“Listen kid: here’s 10 bucks worth of some free advice.
“There is a layer of bullshit over everything you see.
“Everything.”

Diamond Dick Courduroy is, well was, a wrestler, the superstar of his era and as a kid, Virgil was his biggest fan. Their initial meeting whilst Dick was in his pomp first brought the wrestling concept of kayfabe (the portrayal of fake rivalries and staged events as real) into Virgil’s consciousness, where it got under his skin and stayed there. So much so that after tracking Diamond Dick down and being offered some more salient words of wisdom…

“Mr. Corduroyzsky? Yeah. I looked up your real name on the internet. Yeah. Your whole ‘layer of bullshit’ theory? It fucked me up.”
“BROTHER!! Let me tell you something: the sooner you realise everyone’s gonna act based on their own motives and their own personal agenda the better! Everyone in this business is either out for themselves or… they’re suckers! And the business ain’t just wrestling, it’s life.”

… Virgil decided the people must know this universal truth and so the Kayfabe Quarterly free magazine was born. To everyone’s surprise, including Virgil’s, it was a huge, ever-expanding hit, becoming a titan of the free publication world, making him a vast fortune in advertising. But can any success story, either in wrestling, or in real life, never mind the cutthroat world of publishing last forever?

Ha, Box Brown returns to two of his favourite themes, ludicrous low concept speculative storytelling (AN ENTITY THAT OBSERVES ALL THINGS) and the whacky world of wrestling (ANDRE THE GIANT), tag-teaming them perfectly, to produce yet another glorious leap off the top rope piledriver slam of a story. Also new in stock from Box in this new anthology series is NUMBER 2, with stories about skateboarding, filmmaking and tramps!

JR

Buy Number 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Storyteller: Dragons #1 of 4 (£2-99, Archaia) by Fabian Rangel Jr & Daniel Bayliss.

Dragons are a draw. Few words sell comics or art books so successfully as we discovered with IN SEARCH ON DRAGONS.

This self-contained story boasts the same artist within as without, so if you’re loving the look of that fanged, aquatic dragon with its iridescent dermal scales and wild-stag antlers then there’s more on the inside. More of that dragon, and other beasts with equally ornate markings.

A proud father is taking his young son fishing with spears, determined to pass on his skills of self-sufficiency and provision. He urges his son to pay attention. However:

“Most fathers often struggle with being too hard or too soft on their children. And this father was no exception. But with just a wink he could set his son’s mind at ease.”

Caught in the middle of a maelstrom as an attacking dragon is itself seized upon by airborne, electrically charged Thunderbirds which seem to shatter the skies which their screeching, their boat is broken in two and the pair are separated. The son is washed ashore, stranded on a strange island and forages for what food he can find; the father too is washed ashore, on an even stranger island too barren to provide material for a raft. Guess what lives there, then?

 

 

 

 

It’s a poignant little tale, well told, with plenty of surprises and every word that I’ve written and quoted is relevant. Of course, if you’re going to call a comic STORYTELLER and you can’t tell stories then you’re only setting yourself up as a laughing stock.

Includes the words “dreadful”, “ghastly”, “deafening” and “fury”.

I was never a fan of the framing device of an overly knowing bloke preaching to his pooch. He was thankfully absent from STORYTELLER: WITCHES which contains some seriously beautiful and unusual compositions, but his presence here didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story he’s telling.

Also available: the original JIM HENSON’S THE STORYTELLER collection with, as I recall, more preaching to pooch.

SLH

Buy The Storyteller: Dragons #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye vol 2 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Eliopoulos, Javier Pulido, Annie Wu.

“Okay, this… this looks bad. Is there a plan here, Kate?”

Oh, Kate, of course you’ve no plan. You’re as bad as Clint is!

Finally, the hardcover conclusion to Matt Fraction’s run collecting HAWKEYE VOL 3 S/C and HAWKEYE VOL 4 S/C.

Much of the mirth in HAWKEYE has been watching Kate Bishop – the younger, female and infinitely more clued-up of the two Hawkeyes – pick up the pieces of her mentor Clint Barton’s cock-ups. They have been manifold, and Kate has been constantly peering over her sunglasses at the archer / Avenger with a mixture of recrimination and resignation. Now it transpires that our equally impetuous Ms Bishop is equally prone to pratfalls.

I’ve described HAWKEYE as being a book about helping people starring the one guy who cannot help himself. We’ve now swapped coasts – New York for Los Angeles – as well as sharp-shooters’ perspectives, but hilariously nothing has changed except the age and gender of the dive-in-first and wonder-what-on-earth-went-wrong wrong-righter.

Okay, no, the artists have changed for some of this at least. While Aja remains on board for the Clint Barton episodes, Kate’s West Coast sabbatical is introduced by Javier Pulido who will delight Darwyn Cooke fans with a fine line in fashion coloured by Matt Hollingsworth as if L.A. was the brightest, most beautiful city with the freshest air in the world. As Annie Wu takes the driving seat things grow much darker, though the body language – both broken and indefatigable – can rarely be beaten along with the facial tics which reveal exactly what our Kate’s thinking long before she’s uttered a word.

Kate Bishop has set off for L.A. in a very flash car after finally losing patience with Clint as well as her cash-rich father.

“Kate, let your mother get you a little something to drink.”
“She’s not my mother.”
“Well, no, but I hope, maybe with time, you’ll begin to think of me as –“
“You’re three years older than me. We were literally in school together, Heather.”
“That was a nice time. Diazepam?”

Lovely touch with Jack Kirby’s Sue Storm portrait in the background there!

Unfortunately before Kate has even turned her ignition key Madame Masque has Ms Bishop in her revenge-seeking sights and arranges for her credit card to be bled, her stuff to be stolen and that car won’t last long, either. Broke and homeless, Kate is determined to reverse her misfortune by taking on jobs as a Private Investigator. Alas, she has no knowledge of the law and absolutely no knack for investigating privately. She’s spotted within seconds. Also, swimming pools aside, L.A. isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:

“People can be so mean to each other and out here you can take bus tours to get better views of it all.”

But, as I say, this book at its heart is about helping people and, oh, it has so much heart!

There’s the tragic case of the Bryson Brothers who essentially were The Sixties to some. But the musical one, Will, became so absorbed in his masterpiece ‘Wish’ that he could never complete it to his own satisfaction so his production-orientated brother, Grey, could never release it. They’re now old, ill, and at odds in a sequestered mansion.

“It’s like if Mike Brady designed the Bates Motel. If I had to live here for 60 years I bet I’d have gone full Syd Barrett m’self…”

Fraction fills every page with these pop culture references both contemporary (which Kate mostly gets) and less so (mostly not, but please see above). It’s such a completely different approach to writing a superhero comic that this isn’t one. Never has been. It’s an action-adventure comedy of manners.

Back to the heart, and the first case Miss Bishop chances on involves her neighbours Marcus and Finch who, after waiting so long to be married, find their perfect day in danger of being ruined when the orchids of Marcus’ dream-vision are stolen. You won’t believe how fast that escalates and where it eventually leads to. Nor will Kate, but it all comes beautifully – yet appallingly – full circle.

Before then, however, there’s plenty of time to exasperate the L.A.P.D.’s Detective Caudle, infuriate Flynt Ward The Weed Lord (it is all legal there) and throw in a great many cat jokes while the mysterious man in the market aisle, a certain Harold H. Harold (you’ll never guess his middle name), offers words of encouragement at every wrong turn. Will our couple ever get their orchids back and their wedding on track? Regardless:

“Oh honey. You are my happily ever after.”

Awww.

Now, aren’t you forgetting someone, Kate? I think Clint’s going to need all the help he can get.

He’s been duffed up and deafened, his brother’s back in town and the Tracksuit Dracula mafia are about to launch one final assault on his tenement building.

I remember some saying that they found the deaf scenes difficult to read, but that was the whole point: a world without sound requires a great deal of additional interpretation. You’re going to have to walk the metaphorical mile in the proverbial shoes of those who have to do so every day including, now, Clint. Thanks to Fraction and Aja’s skilful storytelling, judgement and balance, the experience proved utterly immersive.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

It’s Your Birthday You Brilliant Beast! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

It’s my birthday!

Oh wait, no it’s not.

But if it was, there is not a card in the land I would rather receive than this.

It’s almost tailor-made for me, for I am indeed a brilliant beast, although not a smidgeon as brilliant as its artist Jodie Paterson whose calligraphy is virtually without peer and whose placement of purple ladyfinger biscuits makes this look like a Blackberry Charlotte on the verge of collapse.

The public quietly communes:

“Is this Stephen?”
“Those are his initials below.”
“He’s been deluded into thinking he’s brilliant.”
“I know. It’s a scream!”
“I’m going to send him this card, though, next year.”
“Are you really? I mean really?”
“Yes. I’m just going to cross out the ‘brilliant’.”
Brilliant!”

I HATE YOU.

SLH

Buy It’s Your Birthday You Brilliant Beast! Card and read the Page 45 review here

Hugs & Kisses Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

“Hugs & Kisses To My Favourite Person.”

What an endearing sentiment!

No matter that you splattered or spat out an apricot and raspberry mouse all over the card, Paterson’s personalised calligraphy shines through!

Did you know that Diana and Duncan Fegredo are massive fans of our Jodie Paterson? They are! They’ve bought her cards and everything!

Neither has sent me this one, though.

Strangely.

SLH

Buy Hugs & Kisses Card and read the Page 45 review here

Just For You Because You’re Brilliant Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

There’s something so classy about Jodie Paterson’s range of cards which not even my own inane witterings can undermine.

Her composition is absolutely exquisite and, after all, would you not rather send your loved ones something so organic and so completely individualistic that they could never find elsewhere?

You can’t buy these in any other shop other than Page 45 or Jodie Paterson’s own website where there’s an even bigger bounty of beauty than we sadly have room for.

“Just For You,” this says. “Because You’re Brilliant.”

And you are, you know, because you took the time and trouble to read this.

The splodge on the right reminds me that I really do need to buy a watermelon soon.

SLH

Buy Just For You Because You’re Brilliant Card and read the Page 45 review here

Thanks For Everything. Seriously. Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

In ideal world I would have bought one of these already, dedicated it to its author/artist, then sent it back to Jodie with love.

It would have been slightly to the left of ‘meta’, I think, but heartfelt nonetheless.

Did you know that Jodie prepped, packed then dispatched 110 Page 45 mail order parcels the other Wednesday?  All over the world they went! Even those supposed to travel no further than Beeston.

THAT IS A JOKE. OUR MAIL ORDER SERVICE IS PIN-POINT ACCURATE – AND TIMELY TOO!

We’d be lost without Jodie both on the shop floor and up in the mail-order salt mines, plus I can no longer imagine Page 45 without the decorous addition of her beautiful art.

Thanks for everything, Jodie. Seriously.

SLH

Buy Thanks For Everything. Seriously. Card and read the Page 45 review here

Wrapped Up Good Wrapping Paper Set (£6-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

2 x luxury wrapping sheets!
2 x ready strung gift tags!
2 x metres of ribbon, roughly the shade of your goldfish!

Please note: should you be in possess no goldfish, or even if your aquatic friend with zero memory retention who neither recognises your distorted face whenever it looms disturbingly into view nor is remotely grateful for the dried, smelly flakes you drop into its water has recently died and been flushed unceremoniously down the toilet… the colour of the ribbon will remain unaffected.

Gift tags are similarly strung.

Snap these up off our shelves for last-minute, face-saving emergencies along with that randomly chosen present you’re picking up for your wife / husband / concubine / catamite whom you’ve only just remembered.

On Christmas Eve.

SLH

Buy Wrapped Up Good Wrapping Paper Set and read the Page 45 review here

Merry Christmas Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson.

Three nigh-identical designs, the calligraphy is perfectly placed top-left, bottom-left or bottom right.

Warm, contemporary and organic, the leaf-like bulbs glow with an environmentally friendly and economically expedient zero-energy output.

Do not plug into electrical sockets as this may cause the cards to overheat.

By which I mean, burst into flames.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

SLH

Buy Merry Christmas Card and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Boom Box 2015 Mix Tape one-shot (£7-50, Boom) by various inc. John Allison

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 11: Smoke And Shadow Part 2 (£8-50, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

Cinderella Or The Little Glass Slipper h/c (£10-99, Harper Collins) by Charles Perrault & Camille Rose Garcia

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor vol 3: The Fountains Of Forever (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Nick Abadzis & Elena Casagrande, Rachel Stott, others

Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight vol 3: Slay Ride | Blood Lagoon  s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Alex De Campi & R.M. Guera & Chris Peterson

Mobile Suit Gundam Origin vol 12: Encounters (£22-50, Random House / Vertical) by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko

The Witcher vol 2: Fox Children s/c (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Paul Tobin & Joe Querio

Trauma Is Really Strange (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Steve Haines & Sophie Standing

Violenzia & Other Deadly Amusements (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Richard Sala

Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham s/c (£12-99, DC) by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace & Troy Nixey, Dennis Janke, Mike Mignola

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows: Warzones! s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Adam Kubert, Scott Hanna

Black Panther: Complete Christopher Priest Collection vol 2 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Christopher Priest & various

Inferno: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Javi Garron

Jessica Jones: Pulse – The Complete Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, Brent Anderson, Michael Lark, Michael Gaydos, Olivier Coipel

Attack On Titan vol 17 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Fairy Tail vol 51 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Tsubasa: World Chronicle 1 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Clamp

News!

ITEM! Last year Page 45 bought its entire building. This year rent negotiations were substantially smoother:

“I’m doubling your rent.”
“We won’t pay a penny more.”
“Okay.”

ITEM! Retailers of the UK, US and Canadian and quality comic lovers everywhere: Improper Books are now freely available internationally. For extensive previews and international ordering information for retailers or readers to give to your retailers, please click on the images on Improper Books’ website!

Page 45 stocks every single Improper Books comic and graphic novel and we’ve sold over 1,000 copies so far!

   

Reviews:

PORCELAIN: A GOTHIC FAIRY TALE
PORCELAIN: BONE CHINA (with exclusive, free signed bookplate)
BRIAR
NIGHT POST
MULP #1 & MULP #2
KNIGHT & DRAGON
BUTTERFLY GATE

ITEM! Broken Frontier’s Any Oliver interviews the fine folks at Avery Hill Publishing about their books, their roles and their year.

ITEM! Ian Williams selects his Top Ten Eerie graphic novels for The Guardian. We stock 9 out of 10 of them so, please pop ‘em in our search engine.

Ian Williams is the creator of THE BAD DOCTOR graphic novel which is doing a roaring trade here.

ITEM! Lots of other comic creators select their favourite comics and graphic novels of 2015. Some of my own favourites there. Again, please pop ‘em in our search engine.

ITEM! By RUINS‘ Peter Kuper: a short comic on climate change called CLIMATE UNCHANGE. You may want to start at the bottom.

ITEM! Dave Gibbons in praise of comics, addressing the Real Mainstream, the average person on the street who may or may not yet read comics. (Notice the “yet”!)

ITEM! Ian McQue is selling copies of his CHROMA art book directly – along with other books and gorgeous prints – for just £20-00 and will sketch in it for free!

ITEM! Marvel announces CIVIL WAR II by Bendis & Marquez. I’m an enormous fan of Marvel’s original CIVIL WAR by Millar & McNiven, in stock and reviewed, which had far more to say than “I hit you – punch”.

ITEM! Striking collage of all 12 covers to Brubaker & Phillips’ THE FADE OUT with a few thoughts. THE FADE OUT #12 has yet to ship but Sean Phillips announced just a couple of days ago that it was now finished.

THE FADE OUT VOL 1 reviewed
THE FADE OUT VOL 2 reviewed

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2015 week two

December 9th, 2015

Giant Days Pack (original 3 issue self-published mini-series) (£14-99) by John Allison…

All three John Allison self-published issues from the original mini-series before GIANT DAYS VOL 1 together in a pack!!!

Of Giant Days 1 Tom wrote:

Free from the shackles of school Esther Le Groot thought, like any young goth, that university might be a place to find like-minded people. A place to swap corpse paint-tips and exchange existential banter into the night. Unfortunately being a headgirl in school brings an altogether more sinister clique into play, as the legion of drunken preppies try to steal her away. Now it’s up to sheltered Enya fan Daisy and insomniac beatnik Susan to save her from becoming a BFF in the hardcore Freshers crowd.

Be warned, there will be boxing, tutus, and come-uppance. Ah, Esther, the second most beautiful woman in Tackleford comes into her own in this punchy off-shoot from John’s fantastic SCARY-GO-ROUND web comic. If you’ve ever been the new kid in town the empathy rays will be drawing you to this like a student to £1 drinks.

 

Of Giant Days 2 (at which point the series became full colour) Jonathan wrote:

“Were you CAREFUL?”
“In a prophylactic sense, yes, but… I may have knocked his guitar off the wall and broken it… while trying something.”
“SAINTS ALIVE!”
“He wasn’t pleased.”

Featuring the return of crazy-haired introvert Daisy Wooton, the phlegmatic and rather blunt Susan Ptolemy, plus the divine man-mesmerising beauty that is Esther de Groot. Readers of the first GIANT DAYS may recall our friends are in their first year of University, having only just made each other’s acquaintance in Fresher’s week. Already firm chums, they’re now settling in nicely to Uni life with all the endless socialising and lack of studying that entails. For Esther this also means pining for her boyfriend Eustace from back home and unwittingly attracting the romantic attentions of the completely harmless and also slightly gormless Ed Gemmell.

The fact that Esther is completely out of his league doesn’t deter Ed from dreaming but he’s going to regret revealing his crush to his streetwise new mate, and budding guitar god – in his own mind at least – Steve Shields. Cue one heated phone call from Eustace, a drinking binge for the ladies at the rock night down the Slag Pit (surely simultaneously the best and worst name ever for a night club?), and a rather unwise decision on Esther’s part about who to share a taxi home with. The next day there’s a very forlorn Ed to console, a reputation to repair, and a guitar to… err… repair as well. Note-perfect British comedy from Mr. Allison, illustrated as exquisitely as ever.

Of Giant Days 3 Jonathan wrote:

“Isn’t that Thom from Indie Society?”
“Yeah, with his pride and joy. Hey THOM, what’s going on?”
“Heh, just giving Vetiver a polish.”
“Vetiver?”
“My 1990 Fiat Panda. Once owned by David Gedge of the Wedding Present.”
“Literally the most indie car EVER.”
“Fully restored. My parents got her for my 18th birthday. Great for getting to gigs. We don’t get the good bands here very often.”
“Well, goodnight, Thom. Remember, hands on top of the duvet.”

Ha ha, the University adventures of Susan Ptolemy and Daisy Wooton continue, and they have a new friend in the shape of acid-tongued Erin as they investigate the merits of the Indie music society, whilst their chum Esther de Groot gets further lured to the dark side by the Black Metal Society. Ed Gemmell, meanwhile, is still following Esther around like a lost puppy dog, bless him, even though Black Metal is really absolutely most definitely not his scene at all.

JR & TR

Buy Giant Days Pack (original 3 issue self-published mini-series) and read the Page 45 Review here

The Private Eye h/c (£37-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin.

Hello! I do believe you’re reading this on the internet, which is where this review’s stored and where this comic first appeared, exclusively so. That was Marcos Martin’s idea, deliciously ironic given that this detective fiction thriller’s set in a future without Wi-Fi or any kind of connectivity whatsoever.

The internet is down. The internet is dead. It no longer exists.

“Once upon a time people stored all their deepest, darkest secrets in something called ‘The Cloud’, remember?
“Well, one day The Cloud burst…
“Nobody knows if was an act of war or an act of God, but for forty days and forty nights, everything just poured right out for the whole damn country to see. Every message you thought was safe, every photo you thought you deleted, every mortifying little search you ever made… it was all there for anyone to use against you.”

Since then there’s been quite the generational shift. Privacy is now paramount and photographing someone without their explicit consent is a felony offense enforced by the Fourth Estate. That’s right, the press police privacy! They’re also the only licensed detectives.

Private investigation is, under these circumstances, highly illegal and our protagonist is a P.I. calling himself Patrick Immelman whom you can see on the cover wearing a defiantly grinning hoodie. It’s actually a Dreamcoat, able to project a digital image of the background – the sort of cloaking device we’re working on right now.

Ah yes, and everyone’s wearing masks – the adults at least. It’s like one long Carnival on the streets. Some disguises are more elaborate than others. For a hefty price you can purchase a pseudo “nym”, a holographic device which can make you look like a anthropomorphic tiger if that’s your thing, and it’s now much easier to put on a happy face: you can you use “flatex” to look like anyone of any colour or complexion you choose. Venditti and Weldele played around a little more with that in SURROGATES.

There are of course consequences if you think about it and Brian K. Vaughan, writer of EX MACHINA and SAGA (whose letter column only accepts physical letters rather than web-winged missives) has thought about it all. It’s now the pre-Flood grandparents who sport ink, tattooed when people wore their hearts on their sleeves – and legs, chests and shoulders – before identification marks became the last thing you wanted. The substantial back-matter reprinting Vaughan and Martin’s email correspondence (after which they would Skype!) shows just how much Marcos contributed to this future too.

His Los Angeles high-rise architecture is as individualistic as San Francisco’s city centre, with graceful curves and rounded corners around which snake enclosed, overpass rail tubes and colour artist Munsta Vicente makes the most of it by both day and night: the pages positively glow. It’s more ecologically friendly too, with hexagonal solar panels and lush vegetation on rooftops.

Although, as you’ll discover later, there has been a price paid for our disastrous mismanagement of the global environment.

There’s still TeeVee, mind you. Those suckers are the size of your wall, which makes videogames highly immersive – you’re just going to have to handle them solo. And if you think Vaughan has already tapped into the current concerns of an age in which – thanks to us living out our lives online in public – almost all our private details and bad habits can be readily acquired by state, press, corporations or private individuals, he’s got another big one waiting in the wings.

Late at night, with the rain cascading over the midnight-blue city, one Taj McGill who is indeed wearing an expensive tiger “holo job” returns to her apartment to find a very rich man with a very big, sharp knife, wondering where she has been. To protect his past, his privacy and plans, he kills her and steals her hologram.

Unfortunately for the murderer he does so before finding out where she’d been. She’d been visiting our P.I. with an unusual request:

“I want to hire you find out everything you can about someone.”
“Oh, yeah? Who?”
“Me.”

SLH

Buy The Private Eye h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 4: Dark Days (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.

In which we finally, unforgettably, come to the most horrific chapters of all in STRAY BULLETS which, given what’s come before, is really saying something.

I’ve always described STRAY BULLETS as terrible things happening to terrified young people and nowhere is that truer than here. When I originally read these sequences over a decade ago I became increasingly worried about where this was heading but refused to believe that Lapham would actually dare go there. I remember desperately hoping even as it looked less and less likely that somehow the worst would be averted by an intervention or maybe I’d read it all wrong.

I hadn’t.

You too may suspect what is coming when Bobby is shown those photographs, but nothing will prepare for what bubbles and builds and then bursts.

Thankfully you’ll find out only once the ordeal is over, and it’s a testament to Lapham’s good judgement, mercy and restraint that he leaves those reveals to the police going through Ginny’s improvised diary entries afterwards. Few would have thought to do that.

What I had forgotten, however, is how long Lapham leaves you in limbo before then, intercutting the episode with another Amy Racecar fantasy which is entirely apposite to what’s happening to its author. Then we have Beth’s seemingly interminable and hopeless search for Ginny whom she’s supposed to be looking out for just as Ginny was supposed to be looking out young Bobby.

If this all sounds slightly evasive, I’m trying not to give anything away to those who may be new to STRAY BULLETS which I rate right up there with CRIMINAL.

 

To those who’ve at least read my previous reviews of the series, I’d remind you that everything is connected plus we go backwards and forwards in time, and here you will finally find out precisely why Joey was so frightened of car boots way back in the very first chapter of STRAY BULLETS VOL 1.

If you thought WATCHMEN was structurally sophisticated and SANDMAN so well thought through, well, they were. They are. But the seamless dovetailing throughout STRAY BULLETS which continues to this day – of episodes which happen earlier or later or at exactly the same time – is absolutely extraordinary. Dee and I were discussing just this weekend whether we thought Lapham had it all planned out in advance and we simply don’t know. I don’t know if he could have; but then if he didn’t, I don’t know how he does it.

The same level of control within each encounter itself is remarkable. I’m not sure if I could name any creator who plays so successfully with tension.

For a much more extensive overview, please see STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES edition which collects the first five volumes in one. Volume five as a separate edition is still a few months off.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets vol 4: Dark Days and read the Page 45 review here

Mimi and the Wolves Act 1: The Dream (£9-99, Alabaster Comix) by Alabaster >>

                            

With a first glance at this book you would be forgiven for thinking that it is going to be a cute, girly tale with its woodland creature characters living amongst a whimsical backdrop, but give this a read and you will soon find there is much more than meets the eye.

Like a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale it begins all rather lovely and innocent, with Mimi making garlands in her tree house. However, there is a much darker side to this story lurking just below the depths. Mimi is having a recurrent dream that she longs to understand, and with the gift of a lucid sleep potion made from Feverfew, Saint John’s Heart and orange rind she gets to understand its secrets, which change her life, for better or for worse.

‘The Dream’ may only be the first instalment: small yet perfectly formed, it will leave you eager for the next. And with its beautifully hand-screen-printed cover how could you say no to this little self-published gem?

MIMI AND THE WOLVES ACT 2: THE DEN now in stock!

JP

Buy Mimi and the Wolves Act 1: The Dream and read the Page 45 review here

Very Casual (£12-99, Koyama Press) by Michael DeForge.

A carefully arranged collection of previously printed work, we are presented with an obscure and grotesque anthology. With larger comics sandwiching many smaller strips the curation of the book envelopes you, submerging you in the surreal and absurd world of Michael Deforge.

Beautifully grotesque, the stories within VERY CASUAL don’t necessarily stick to any real rules of formatting or narrative. They instead feel free and carry with them a real honesty. The stories are not overthought, but are carefully considered, so as to involve the reader so much in such a short story.

Personal favourites of mine: ‘All About the Spotting Deer’, the longest in the collection, and ‘S M’. ‘All About the Spotting Deer’, originally published as ‘Spotting Deer’ by Koyama Press, is a documentary-style comic illustrating the life, habits and mechanics of this bizarre creature. From the biological details of its antlers and its mating habits in the wild; to its humorous identity in popular culture; to its life amongst humans in Canadian cities. However, in turn this story reveals the author of the documentaries: a depressed creator obsessed by this otherworldly creature that no one else seems to care about.

‘S M’ follows the Spotting Deer and has a different feel entirely. A much shorter story of only 12 pages, this is the tale of two rebellious punk girls after a hit. By cutting off a slice of a snowman-like creature and ingesting it the story becomes hallucinogenic, almost euphoric, but it soon escalates into something much darker.

A rollercoaster of humour, honesty and the downright grotesque, VERY CASUAL is a beautifully put together book and one certainly deserving a comfortable space nestled amongst your bookshelf. It is something that you can pick up time and again for a casual read when the moment takes you. However, those of you who are new to Deforge’s work may feel the need for a palate cleanser afterwards; such as a lemon sorbet or a picture of a kitten in a box.

JP

Buy Very Casual and read the Page 45 review here

Turtie Needs Work (£3-25, Koyama Press) by Steve Wolfhard.

In which a tiny turtle tries various jobs with comedic results. It could just be coincidence, but I’ve just starting reading the Mr. Men to Whackers (my daughter) of an evening and had forgotten that the Mr. Small story is all about him trying out different jobs, with hilarious consequences. Quite sure there’s no plagiarism going on, just a very odd bit of synchronicity. Not sure what the universe is trying to tell me, but anyway, whilst this was good, Mr. Small is better. Though obviously not comics, before the pedantry police step in. And squash him.

JR

Buy Turtie Needs Work and read the Page 45 review here

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 00: Warzones! s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Andrea Sorrentino.

One of the satellite series to Marvel’s 2015 SECRET WARS, consider this a tour guide to its environs, negotiated by someone who won’t take no for an answer.

It’s a sequel of sorts to Mark Millar & Steve McNiven’s original OLD MAN LOGAN which, unlike this, is completely self-contained and highly recommended as the finest Wolverine solo series of all time.

It was set in an arid future where the heroes had lost with most of them dead, the villains had carved up America between them and something so traumatic had happened to Logan that he’d become a pacifist, refusing to pop his claws for anyone or anything. When you learn what that was, you will understand why. Half the fun was wondering – then discovering – what had become of those you once loved.

To a certain extent the same is true here, not in the Marvel Universe’s future but in its alternate SECRET WARS incarnation composed of various composite domains all ruled over by Vicky von Doom, each playing out alternate versions of key Marvel crossovers from the past or whatever else the writers came up with. It’s kind of difficult to explain, sorry.

“AT LEAST YOU TRIED, STEPHEN!” Thank you.

These domains are all walled off and trespassing from one to another is strictly verboten by the Doctor of Doom himself.

It is into this baffling environment that Logan wakes up after all that has happened to him in the original OLD MAN LOGAN. This is important as I’ll try to explain for both now and later.

For the now: Logan has seen almost all his fellow X-Men die; other friends too. Yet here they are: different but alive if not very well. He travels from domain to domain. Now other versions of his former friends present themselves and if you think you’re getting a headache, imagine that you’re Logan encountering all this for yourself. His mates are equally flummoxed for this appears to be the Logan they knew and yet he has aged.

Just like the original, this is a journey. I liked that: it was in keeping.

It’s also completely incomprehensible if you haven’t read the 2015 SECRET WARS which we hope to have for you shortly as a collected edition.

What I admired regardless was Sorrentino’s lines and Maiolo’s colours.

The sound effects for a start are an integral part of the art, fusing sound and vision into a single sensory experience worthy of Dave Sim himself in CEREBUS. Its visuals come steeped in the shadow of Jae Lee on Paul Jenkins’ INHUMANS, though it’s closer in colour and texture to his more neo-Gothic outing in Grant Morrison’s FANTASTIC FOUR 1234. Both of those come highly commended as singularly eloquent, self-contained superhero graphic novels.

Moreover, some of the sequences are presented with Jim Steranko flourishes, like Logan’s assault on a gambling den of child-thieves, the lights going on / off in swift, staccato succession as if there were a strobe in the room. The figures fighting are lit up in stark black and white against a blood-orange background then each narrow window is brush-flecked in blood.

Blood. There is an awful lot of blood, but then this is a Wolverine comic so, you know…

I also adored the colours by Marcelo Maiolo which on occasions look like you’re travelling through a zoo’s tropical nocturnal house whilst under the influence of LSD.

For the later: this leads directly into the reconstituted Marvel Universe on the other side of SECRET WARS. Why is this important? As far as his friends are concerned, Logan died in the DEATH OF WOLVERINE. But albeit ancient and battered and having endured the events of the original OLD MAN LOGAN, Wolverine is back. How on Earth will he fit in? Find out in OLD MAN LOGAN #1 due in January 2016.

This has been a public service announcement on behalf of the befuddled.

SLH

Buy Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 00: Warzones! s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Kid Eternity: The Deluxe Edition h/c (£18-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Duncan Fregredo

Grindhouse Doors Open At Midnight vol 4: Lady Danger & Nebulina (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Alex De Campi & Mulele Jarvis, John Lucas

Jack The Ripper (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Francois Debois & Jean-charles Poupard

Harley Quinn vol 2: Power Outage s/c (£12-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, John Timms

Harley Quinn vol 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab h/c (£18-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Chad Hardin, John Timms

Hawkeye vol 2 h/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Eliopoulos, Javier Pulido, Annie Wu

Infinity Gauntlet: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Dustin Weaver

Runaways: Battleworld s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by various

Black Butler vol 21 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Yana Toboso

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 3: Conversion (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Al Ewing, Rob Williams & Simon Fraser, Boo Cock, Warren Pleece

Hugs & Kisses Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

It’s Your Birthday You Brilliant Beast! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Just For You Because You’re Brilliant Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Thanks For Everything. Seriously. Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

News!

ITEM! Haha! It’s retail at Christmas and I’ve spent all week on the shop floor delighting in the provision of show-and-tell recommendations tailored to your loved one’s desires.

Best part of the job! I truly adore it. Please, please do ask at the counter!

Plus I think I broke our Sunday trading record by a very wide margin this, umm, Sunday.

On the other hand I haven’t had a day off to read or to write so these reviews are fewer than you’re accustomed to, plus all the news links I’d normally pop in here are merely up there as tabs on my Firefox browser. Next week, my lovelies! Next week!

– Stephen

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