Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2018 week one

February 7th, 2018

The New Neighbours PAGE 45 EXCLUSIVE SIGNED BOOKPLATE EDITION (s/c £6-99; h/c £11-99, David Fickling Books) by Sarah McIntyre.

 

Yes, our first 100 copies of either hardcover or softcover come with a free, signed bookplate designed by Sarah McIntyre exclusively for Page 45!

We could not be more grateful or proud.

Not only has Page 45 long been in love with Sarah McIntyre’s exuberant and kind-hearted craft, but here she delivers a big fluffy bundle of witty, exuberant joy for Young Readers which also wraps its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers, whoever they are and from wherever they’ve roamed.

Look, there’s a welcoming mat on the cover for just such a purpose as Sarah invites you in for tea, cake, and quite the cacophony! It’s going to grow ever so riotous inside, and the stairs are going to take quite the thumping. I love that the carrier pigeon which breaks the big news is dressed like the landed gentry who shoot grouse!

 

 

“Guess what!” shouted Piper.
“We have RATS in our flats!”

They really do! And Piper is beyond all containment.

Oh how the young bunnies bounce around any and all flats which open their doors to their din!

“RATS!
“We’ve got RATS!”
“WAHEY!
“YIPPEE!”

Brick towers tumble, a game of draughts is disabled and someone’s stuffed their head right into an upturned saucepan full of spaghetti. You can’t really blame them.

 

 

Their elder sister Lettuce is the first they encounter. She considers this development and responds with that which is right:

“Hmm… RATS! I’ve never lived with RATS before…
”We should go and say hi.”

Of course they should! So off they all hop down the stairs!

But their next neighbour Vern casts one note of slight caution:

“I don’t think rats are very tidy neighbours. We need to make sure they keep the place clean. Let’s gather everyone in the building and figure out what to do.”

And that seems okaaaaaay… But without giving too much awaaaaaay…

This is the crossroads. This is where excitement, enthusiasm and inquisitiveness begin to descend from “I don’t think” and “I am not sure” into accumulated, ill-informed gossip.

 

 

Each successive floor reveals itself to be inhabited by animals from all over the globe – like polar bears and great big buffalo bison – and they are all adored by each other now that they are established neighbours. But what of the brand-new, whose put-about reputation precedes them?! First rats are untidy, then they are dirty, then they are stinky and finally they supposedly steal!

The stairs become more crowded, dingier then darker as what began as a welcoming rush turns into a veritable lynch mob, and each time McIntyre adds a new verb until…

“Everyone HOPPED and TROTTED and TOTTERED and PADDED and CLATTERED downstairs…”

… And lastly they tumble, tripped up by their own unnecessary panic, into one chaotic heap on the floor.

But who’s going to knock on the door? No one dares!

 

 

Now, I’ve given far more away than I would ordinarily within any review, but my guess is that there are very few Young Readers who’ll be reading our blog themselves, so all the secrets will stay surprises for those with wide eyes who will read or be read to. Oh, how this demands to be read aloud like all Reeve & McIntyre books! I adore doing exactly that on Page 45’s shop floor, when I present families with any of our Young Readers illustrated books and graphic novels.

I will leave the final reveal to Sarah, but you can rest assured that there will be much contrite and sticky egg on many embarrassed faces.

Sarah is an immigrant herself, you see, from America, so understands how important it is that we all embrace each other’s individuality with open arms.

 

 

The legendary Will Eisner promoted the same message to adults throughout his career, specifically documenting various communities’ comings and goings in ‘Dropsie Avenue’ contained in A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY, while YOU BELONG HERE, THE JOURNEY and THE ARRIVAL all spread the same love for all ages.

Before we wind up, there is so much more to recommend this on a visual level. McIntyre has eschewed her usual strident pen lines and primary colours for softer watercolour pencils which are fabulous for bunny fur – but also for a more comforting feel throughout – along with pastel shades (and indeed pastel textures here and there) for a more carefully controlled atmosphere which, as I’ve said, subtly shifts as events take their course. Wait – no, they don’t! I mean, as the characters’ trajectory is dictated by their own over-anxious hand-wringing then mutually amplified, increasingly thought-free sensationalism.

There is enormous energy on every page which propels readers through the story while those who would linger will relish exquisite background details like the pigs proclaiming rats to be messy while their own pots and pans pile up in the sink, unwashed.

 

 

I loved all the wallpaper and ‘70s decor. It speaks of the safe, comforting and homely. It also says everything about renting accommodation, and not having enough dosh to redecorate – clever!

There is also a wonderful sense of shared community here and a rich harmony which will be restored. You can sense the rejuvenation of spirits on the penultimate double-page spread where (once again, like the opening rooftop) you can see the light from outside flooding in.

The funny thing is that creators – writers, artists and illustrators – like Sarah McIntyre will have taken months thinking all these things through, weeks structuring the whole, and days deploying their skills on these ideas and each individual page… and we, the readers, simply tear straight through them in nano-seconds because we cannot help but desperately crave reading what happens next! It’s their own fault, of course. If these authors weren’t so good at what they do, then we wouldn’t give a tinker’s cuss.

 

 

For more Sarah McIntyre and indeed Philip Reeve please see their dedicated section within our Young Readers enclave.

To guarantee your free signed bookplate, drawn exclusively for Page 45 by Sarah McIntyre, please pre-order ASAP for collection in-store or delivery to your home or workplace. Released March 1st 2018.

We Ship Worldwide!

SLH

Pre-order The New Neighbours s/c and read the Page 45 review here
Pre-order The New Neighbours h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Read Sarah McIntyre’s blog on Creating The Artwork for The New Neighbours
Read Sarah McInture’s blog on Stories Behind The New Neighbours

For more on migration, please see SKETCHES FROM A NAMELESS LAND – THE ARRIVAL COMPANION reviewed for the first time below.

Marcy And The Riddle Of The Sphinx h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye) by Joe Todd-Stanton…

“Every evening, Marcy loved to listen to the tales of her father’s adventures. She never quite believed him… After all, he was very old and far too portly.
“But at night, everything changed. The creatures from her father’s amazing tales turned into terrifying monsters in the shadows. Marcy felt utterly lost and alone in the dark. All she could do was close her eyes tight and wait for sunrise.”

Yes! After reading all about the adventures of Marcy’s dad, when he was just a slim whippersnapper himself in the fabulous ARTHUR AND THE GOLDEN ROPE I can state two things with certainty. Firstly, I can vouch that he was indeed a formidable hero and secondly, that I was desperately hoping for more of the family Brownstone from Joe Todd-Stanton!

 

 

Once again, this time narrating from the splendour of the Brownstone family’s observatory, complete with a kaleidoscopically coloured telescope and a gigantic clockwork mobile of a galaxy spinning away merrily, the elder bearded Brownstone of the modern era has returned to reprise his introductory preamble to another member of his adventurous ancestors.

Before too long Marcy is plunged into a death-defying adventure of her own that will see her gamely battle ancient Gods in dusty Egypt for high stakes indeed. But first we see the replete, grey-bearded Arthur, complete with eye patch, attempting to take Marcy on her first gentle adventurous excursion into a cave, to surprise her by meeting the benevolent King of the Water Spirits, who looks like a sort of free-floating giant waterfall complete with beatific smile and a tiny crown.

 

 

However, upon reaching the entrance, surrounded by spooky shadows that look very much like the ones that plague her bedroom ceiling at night, little Marcy is frozen with fear and unable to proceed any further… But when Arthur disappears off on an errand to find a mysterious book and doesn’t return, Marcy decides she’s brave enough to head off after him to save the day. After all, in her eyes, her dad has trouble just bending over when he’s dropped his glasses!

 

 

Donning the cap Arthur always told her would summon the mighty bird Wind Weaver, more in hope than belief, Marcy is delighted to see the giant red-feathered friend waiting to whisk her away to lands far, far away in search of her father. And so, her first adventure truly begins! She’s going to encounter dangerous deities bent on world domination, stowaway on a flying boat floating through stunning night skies, brave terrible traps in subterranean, stygian depths, and of course, get to play a round of riddle-me-ree with the mysterious Sphinx itself!! But can Marcy manage to conquer her fear of the dark to rescue her dad…?

 

 

Of course she can!!

What a triumphant follow-up to the brilliant ARTHUR AND THE GOLDEN ROPE this is! This has all the attention to detail in the exquisite art and madcap mayhem in its plotting that made its predecessor so swoon-worthy and gallantly gripping in my eyes. Once again, reading with Whackers, little fingers continually stopped me from turning the pages so she could take in each page in all its glorious detail, spotting hidden delights and tracing trails of potential doom narrowly avoided!

 

 

I can only add I’m already avidly awaiting the next instalment of the epic endeavours of the brave Brownstone brood!

JR

Buy Marcy And The Riddle Of The Sphinx h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wraith: House Of Wicked Creatures (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & ELK.

“Yes, Bean, it’s true.
“We spent some time investigating.
“Humans are moving in.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Page 45 presents its Greentea Publishing collection: eight beautiful comics imported direct from Vera Greentea herself in America.

I was always going to review this one first because, what a cover! An immaculate composition using the late autumn silver birch trees with their very last leaves to frame a remote country mansion which is in need of considerable renovation, so proving the perfect home for foxes, racoons, magpies and mice and the most exotic squirrels the world will ever see.

I think they’re squirrels. One of their families has cross-bred with a Siamese cat, the other is anyone’s guess – but, oh my, they’re gorgeous! The former is Pan, the latter is Wraith who’s not been a part of their cosy community for a while now.

“Humans came to her previous home and killed her entire family… using food.”

Using food!

 

 

The fox is called Frida and she too boasts the bushiest of tails and ever such glossy, well-washed fur.

Within the abandoned home, still fully furnished, some of the plaster has cracked and come down, and the odd weed have taken root, but nests have been built and there’s still the odd thing to forage. Just as a gentle mist hangs low outside, so the inside is suffused in soft, floating light and shadow.

 

 

ELK’s forms are lithe and the animals acrobatic, but are they up to defending their home from human beings when determined? A little lateral thinking may be required.

Greentea generously gives ELK all the room required to both charm and alarm the reader: a self-contained story like this could so easily be overwritten when what we want most is to bathe in its beauty. Instead we are shown all that we need to know, like the alarming arrival of very large lorries, wending their way through the scrubland.

Coming back to the cover, it sang to me of my childhood: of William Backhouse’s endpapers to Jane Shaw’s retelling of Joel Chandler Harris’s ‘Uncle Remus Stories’.

 

 

These were read to me by an Aunt who wasn’t an Aunt, but a nurse from Northern Ireland and I’m so sorry she never read to you, because her accent was everything.

“And Br’er Fox, he lay low!”

SLH

Buy Wraith: House Of Wicked Creatures and read the Page 45 review here

Courtney Crumrin vol 2 s/c: The Coven Of Mystics (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh.

Second of seven COURTNEY CRUMRIN volumes to receive the softcover treatment, it’s one of my favourites which will rob you once and for all of the illusion that every Young Adult book necessarily comes with a cosy conclusion. I should also emphasise that this series is equally treasured by Old Adults alike: hello!

Courtney Crumrin desperately needs help to save the innocent faun-like Skarrow from summary execution at the hands of The Coven Of Mystics. That information may rest in the shadows of Radley Hall and the mind of dead demon Tommy Rawhead. But how to get in? Leave it to mystic moggie and actual cat burglar Tobermory – he’s getting intruder window.

“As ray of moonlight passes glass, so shall Tobermory pass.
“Take a note, Miss Crumrin. It’s much simpler to trick a spell than to break it.”

 

 

Young Courtney Crumrin will be taking a lot of notes here about how the world works around her: it’s full of self-interest and hate in the human heart. For those in love, the worst sin is silence, inaction the absolute killer. The good news is that Courtney and silence are far from synonymous, but will she be listened to in time?

Love, love, love this series, now in full colour. Ted Naifeh’s moonlit Council of Cats is like Kelley Jones’ equivalent work in SANDMAN: DREAM COUNTRY after an infusion of Mike Mignola and a wide- and shiny-eyed dose of his own design flair for a Crumrin transformed into cat.

 

 

That which she finds sheltering in fear from two arcane archers is quite magical and long been the stuff of my dreams. Naifeh does soft, sleek and otherworldly to perfection; his monsters are hideously twisted. He is exceptional at making you believe in impossibly large things lurking in improbably small cabinets, like the next one you’ll foolishly open.

Following COURTNEY CRUMRIN VOL 1,  this finds our belligerent young lady in her second year at school and under close supervision from Ms Crisp, a teacher with close ties to Uncle Aloysius but who understands that isolating yourself from the real world comes at a cost. That is a lesson which will be most painfully learned by all.

 

 

A demon has been summoned which dispatches whole families. A curse has been placed on witch Madam Harker, rendering spoken words into a cascade of frogs. When she tries to write, her hands become wriggling serpents. Someone is silencing all and sundry, while a mute woodland creature called Skarrow seeks sanctuary in Uncle Aloysius’s once well respected domain. Instead the villagers move in, their metaphorical pitchforks in danger of becoming cold steel. What under earth is going on?!

It’s time to convene the Coven Of Mystics, the council by whom all will abide. Wrap up warm, my lovelies; because I’m afraid it’s about to grow chilly.

SLH

Buy Courtney Crumrin vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sketches From A Nameless Land – The Arrival Companion (£14-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan.

“Who was I, in this place?
“Everything and nothing.”

From a spread of notes taken by Tan from interviews and biographies in which migrants spoke about their lives, embellished with the sketches they inspired.

“Often, the most difficult experiences were described by migrants in a very concise, understated way, partly because of poor English skills, but also due to the more general inadequacy of language to convey complex feelings and impressions.”

It’s one of the many reasons why the final graphic novel is silent, using instead the universal language of pictures whose tones are transformed according to the emotional highs and lows of its protagonists.

 

 

Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL has to be one of the most beloved books at Page 45, bought then bought again as its readers are inspired, galvanised into spreading its empathy towards those most in need of understanding and help, but who are often the most ostracised and even vilified by the right-wing press, opportunist politicians, and the thoughtless, with hate in their hearts.

This is the story of the graphic novel’s evolution then construction, full of preliminary art and process pieces, photographs of friends posing for pictures etc which Shaun reproduces with extensive explanations or brief annotations, like the Registry Room or ‘Great Hall’ at Ellis Island in America circa 1907-1912, through which each new arrival had to pass in order to enter the country.

 

 

 

“Here, I tried to amplify the subtle ‘poetry’ of the original image: the huddled darkness of massed people, the bench-lines receding towards a flag in the centre (a strange symbol of authority and freedom) and the protective embrace of the cathedral-like vaulting. The over-exposure of the upper-storey window suggests a land of luminous opportunity just beyond the gates.”

In his final piece Shaun replaces the blinding light with vast, distant towers from which those who have been accepted – after intrusive inspections by military surgeons – are dispersed in balloons. In place of the flag hangs a gigantic sign in a fictional language indecipherable both to the book’s readers and those queuing for admission. So it is that throughout we walk these miles in their shoes. Later on Tan will demonstrate the construction of this script from a rearrangement of Roman letters and numbers using scissors and transparent tape.

Of his choice to use a shadowy serpent coiling round bleak, dilapidated housing in the asylum-seeker’s homeland, Shaun suggests it was “an ideal metaphor for many unspoken fears: political oppression, religious persecution and even ecological collapse. At the same time, they escape such specific interpretation, and I think that is the most important thing in illustration: that an image feels truthful beyond any explanation.”

 

 

 

For someone who’s fashioned a career largely from silent, pictorial narratives, Shaun Tan is ever so eloquent, as anyone who’s read his TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIABIRD KING art book and THE SINGING BONES, inspired by the Brothers Grimm. He writes about his own complex international heritage, and this made me sit up and think because, when one casts one’s mind over the creator’s catalogue, it rings perfectly true:

“Consciously or otherwise, I’ve always been attracted to stories about characters who find themselves lost, displaced, in an unfamiliar world, or experiencing some other troubled sense of belonging.”

 

 

Please pop Shaun Tan into our search engine to discover his range for yourself.

SLH

Buy Sketches From A Nameless Land – The Arrival Companion and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Almost Silent h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

Only The End Of The World Again h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Tory Nixey

Get Naked (£22-99, Image) by Steven T. Seagle, various

Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mat Johnson & Warren Pleece

Perfect h/c (£8-99, Graffeg) by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher

Red Winter (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anneli Furmark

Scales & Scoundrels vol 1: Into The Dragon’s Maw s/c (£8-99, Image) by Sebastian Girner &  Galaad

The Legend Of Korra: Turf Wars Part Two (£9-50, Dark Horse) by Michael Dante DiMartino & Irene Koh

Crisis On Infinite Earth s/c (£26-99, DC) by Marv Wolfmann & George Perez

Avengers & Champions: Worlds Collide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Jesus Saiz, Humberto Ramos

Inhumans: Once & Future Kings s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Christopher Priest, Ryan North & Phil Noto, Gustavo Duarte

 

 

 

Page 45 Evolution Announced: Brand-New Shop Floor AND Front!

February 5th, 2018

Are you excited? We are beside ourselves!

And it is going to be glorious!

THERE HAS BEEN A DELAY!

OUR PRIMARY BUILDER IS HOSPITAL-ILL!

ALL THAT FOLLOWS WILL STILL HAPPEN, BUT THE DATES WILL INEVITABLY BE DIFFERENT!

 

Meanwhile we trade as normal from our ever-gorgeous shop floor and website at www.page45.com while we wait for our new dates to surface! Hooray!

 

 

 

October 2015: on our 21st Anniversary, Page 45 bought its entire building.

Ever since when we’ve been planning this physical restructure – a complete regeneration which will be sharper, sleeker and even more chic – so that more graphic novels can be displayed face-front on our ground floor, and lit like radiant stars.

Because TBH our lighting has always been shocking.

Page 45 Will Remain Open Throughout Refit In Two New Locations

There will be no pause in service: not one single day.

That is vital, for you cannot forego your regular, hallowed comics fix!

New Comics Day will remain Wednesdays.
Restocks will arrive 5 times a week as always.
There will be no break in your Page 45 Standing Orders, their immediate dispatch worldwide via www.page45.com or their availability to you for collection.

How will we do this? Because, best beloveds, we have prepared!

Here are your omelettes and eggs, whisked up already and about to hit our frying pan…

 

 

Dates Of Disruption: Commencing Monday 19th February

Page 45 will trade as normal until 4pm Sunday 18th February at which point the original shop floor will vanish forever in its entirely.

Please flock along before then to buy lots of books and take commemorative photos! I certainly have!

Page 45 will reopen the very next morning at 9am, on Monday 19th February in the ground-floor unit immediately to our right of where we are now.

Page 45 will then also reopen upstairs through new a door to our left on Thursday 22nd February once those new stairs and door have been built. Hey, it’s takes three days!

So as well as being open worldwide at www.page45.com, that’s two temporary trading locations for three and a half weeks. Wheelchair users, please see FAQ below: upstairs is temporary!

 

Date Of Discovery: Friday 16th March

Page 45 will finally reopen in full, blazing glory on Friday 16th March 2018 at our current ground-floor location of 9 Market Street with every single fitting brand-new.

Or a little earlier if we can.

Hooray!

 

We Need Your Help!

I won’t lie to you: there are risks involved.

During the transition period we will be vulnerable to: a) people suspecting we’ve closed for good, in spite of all our signage, b) I don’t know – going bankrupt…? We must keep making money, please!

Please spread news of this blog as widely as possibly. That is me publically begging for retweets, tweets of your own and Bookface postings, linking to this blog, the most important that I’ve ever written. Why not pop along to Instagram our extemporised action, and join in our wartime spirit!

Please keep visiting our temporary shop floors for our full range of comics and graphic novels, and ask where we’ve housed what! Please don’t wait for the new shop floor. You’ve got to wonder what our temporary accommodations look like, right?

Also, if we may, an immediate small call to alms (arf!): if there’s a graphic novel or two that you’ve been meaning to buy, either for yourself or someone else, why not pop along to www.page45.com and purchase it right now, either for shipping or collection in store. That would be incredibly helpful and extremely generous of you. Thanks!

 

 

Please visit now, before our move on February 18th and buy all the comics! That way Jonathan and I will have to carry fewer crates upstairs and next door on Sunday night. We’ll be evacuating everything that’s on our shop floor! *cries*

If you’ve nothing in mind but you’d like some ideas, please read our Christmas Best Of 2017 blog or perhaps peruse past Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month selections (click on any cover in grid for reviews). Thank you!

 

Watch This Space!

There may be updates – even to this blog – because Acts of God.

As soon as we begin this renovation, then we will start posting photos of extreme farce on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @pagefortyfive.

It’s a big story, right…? And your future’s involved!

Will we reopen in time…? I do not know!

Twitter hashtag already in use: #Page45Evolution

 

FAQs

How much are you spending? £50,000

Why? To make comics look even more attractive than they already are to brand-new, potentially life-long readers, as well as loyal veterans like you!

Are all these dates guaranteed? No, but we’ve planned extensively for two whole years and given ourselves a little wiggle room on top.

Don’t you feel awful that only half of your comics will be easily accessible to those in wheelchairs for 3 whole weeks? No. Folks, it’ll be 3 short weeks versus my personal, career-long commitment to access for all, ever since I first drew up the Page 45 Business Plan 24 years ago. Other shops would have opened upstairs or downstairs years ago. We never will. Our upstairs floor is only temporary and will close as soon as our ground floor reopens.

Wheelchair users: For three weeks, please sweep into our temporary ground-floor location and we will arrange to have whatever you need from upstairs brought down, even if you just want to browse through it: no pressure to buy anything at all.

This section may well expand depending on what I’m asked, post-publication, on Twitter!

 

 

Credit Where It Is Due:

When we crawl from this wreckage, gasping for air then gawping at the sheer majesty of the new, evolved Page 45, please remember that it was meticulously researched, planned and designed in its entirely by our very own Jonathan Rigby, co-owner and co-manager of Page 45, with Colombian architect Julie Waldron who created the 3-D model from which I’ve taken screenshots for you.

All I had to was watch, listen and learn, before signing off almost instantly, because each individual element of this new design is an exceptional improvement completely in keeping with the long-term goals and aesthetics of Page 45.

If in any doubt, I would remind you that it was our Jonathan – alongside Random River’s Chris Dicken – who gave us Page 45’s international website www.page45.com which Kieron Gillen of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE memorably described on its launch as “crushworthy”.

This too will be the most monumental upgrade. I’ve only shown you bare bones of the beauty so far.

Trust me! Trust Jonathan!

But in the meantime, if you’re excited and believe in Page 45’s goals for comics and graphic novels, please spread this message as widely as you can.

Thanks!

 – Stephen

Co-creator, co-owner, co-manager (and complete liability) of Page 45

Page 45 Credentials, Bringing Comics To All

Page 45 won the first ever award for Best Independent Retailer in Nottingham 2012
Page 45 won the Best Independent Business in Nottingham 2013
Page 45 was shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Independent Bookshop Of The Year 2014
Page 45 won the only ever Diamond Comics Award for Best Retailer in the UK in 2004 before links began
Page 45 was selected as UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature’s Bookseller 2017

And, with your help, we’ve only just begun!

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week five

January 31st, 2018

Featuring Chabouté, Alexander Utkin, Tara O’Connor, David Gaffney & Dan Berry, Enrique Fernandez, Christophe Gibelin, Claire Wendling, Christophe Bec, Eric Henninot, Milan Jovanovic, Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester.

The Park Bench (£14-99, Faber & Faber) by Chabouté.

Do you often sit on park benches?

Maybe you just pass them by?

Perhaps you’re out jogging and use one to limber up on; rest your hand on its back while stretching. There’s a guy on a skateboard who regularly whizzes by, flipping over the length of its seat to land gracefully on the other side.

Another bloke with a briefcase strides first right every morning on his way to work, then later left, a little limp and exhausted. He’s been doing that for years: day in, day out, he clocks in, trudges out.

It’s part of a dog’s daily routine too. Usually it only pauses to mark its territory with pungent spray, but sometimes the rain has set in – torrential rain, at times – and it cowers for cover underneath.

But if you do sometimes sit on park benches, to catch your breath, have a snack or simply gaze at the scenery beyond, do you ever wonder who else was once perched there? Who was its last occupant, and what did they do? Who’ll be its next, and whatever will they be thinking?

Over ten seasons and 325 silent but exceptionally communicative black and white pages, Chabouté charts the course of two dozen or so lives whose route regularly takes them via the park bench. A lot can happen in two and a half years. You could find yourself pregnant – twice! People can change, even the most staid or conformist, or have change thrust upon them.

Others will leave their mark.  Right at the beginning a girl watches a boy carve a message for posterity: “I ♥ U”. I wish he’d watch where his thumb was. It’s going to survive the groundsman’s next lick of paint, but this graffiti won’t:

“THE WORLD’S STUPIDITY IS INFINITE.”

Which is fair enough.

A young man plonks himself down so that his t-shirt’s slogan artlessly replaces two of the words behind him, while the paper bag in his hand covers a couple letters:

“THE PARTY IS FINITE.”

This is equally sobering. Something similar occurs with a newspaper headline.

We are shown the bench from many angles, from many heights, but we never quite see what its visitors see – presumable relatively open civic parkland – just a glimpse of a tree-line beyond. In quick succession two similar women open two very different letters. What they see will change their lives substantially. Their expressions are so very subtle yet telling, but we’ll only discover the specifics later on.

Interactions between different parties whose paths you thought would never cross spark surprising results, while older relationships will evolve in astonishing ways. The park warden is bloody-minded, officious – and oh so proud of his cap! – belligerently moving on and issuing written warnings to a quiet old man with a long grey beard and two rucksacks. Sometimes the Methuselah manages to catch a kip, spread out at night, unmolested, but mostly it’s one long history of harassment. Where that one goes, eventually, left me in howls of laughter – so well thought out – but I loved how, on first arrival, the itinerant fetches a bottle of wine from one backpack and takes time to inspect its back label. We all deserve dignity and some of us inherently possess it.

Also very funny are the gags involving a child’s balloon evidently pumped with the most powerful helium on the planet,  and a sequence in which an old man’s distraction, lost in private reverie, gives him much more to ponder about the fattening effects of fast food.

However, I am an old softie so couples in love melt my heart, and my favourite, semi-regular park pilgrims are an old couple who have quite obviously doted on each other from day one, their mutual adoration undiminished. Once they are seated (to the left of the carved dedication), the woman looks up into his eyes, over her glasses, with the most tender gaze that I have ever beheld, as her Master of Ceremonies opens the small cardboard box on his lap, takes out his penknife and cuts their shared cream cake in two.

The scene is played out for quite some time as the sun in front of them slides down and they are seen from behind, cast in silhouette. Eventually the gentleman helps her up, and off they slowly stroll, still in silhouette. But they’ll be back. They’ll buy a different cake next time, and the next.

Under such a commanding conductor, this graphic novel would have brought enough joy had the lives all stayed separate. But they don’t, nor do they stay still: the orchestration is interwoven and has a direction with an emphatic end – and then an epilogue. Some stories continue even when you suspect they won’t.

The winter sun is out, so I’m going to take a break now, and pop down to the River Trent. It’s just a five minute amble from where I live, half of that in the countryside. There’s a park bench at the end of the path. I wonder who will be sitting there.

SLH

Buy The Park Bench and read the Page 45 review here

Gamayun Tales vol 1: The King Of Birds (£12-99, Nobrow) by Alexander Utkin.

“Now then, best beloved, I will tell you an amazing tale: The King Of Birds.
“It all started with an apple.
“No ordinary apple, but a golden apple that grew on a magic tree in the garden of a warrior princess…
“Anyone who ate a golden apple would become young and mighty again.”

Ooh, that sounds fab – I’ll take two!

It’s a beautiful opening to a beautiful book, o’er-brimming with opulence and mesmerising from cover to cover.

Its narrator is Gamayun, a magical, human-faced bird from Slavic mythology, whose blue face, golden tresses and wide, glowing eyes emerge theatrically from behind fanned, feathered wings, all with more than a hint of the Egyptian.

 

 

Almost immediately a knight on his steed gallops over the roofed walls and steals an armful of the ripe, restorative fruit in order to cure his ailing father. But Gamayun is a tease, for she will not reveal what happens next; not of the knight and his father, at least.

No, it is the apple which was dropped which proves so pivotal. It’s one small accident with collateral consequences whose wide-spanning repercussions are enormous.

For, where once was harmony throughout the realms of the birds and the beasts there will be soon be a battle and blood loss, all because one small bird and one tiny beast break their firm friendship over this fallen treasure. Everything, they shared until now: every morsel of scavenged food. But the mouse is too taken by this golden apple to care, whips it away for herself, and is discovered!

 

 

The sparrow is aggrieved and flies far south, thousands and thousands of miles, to the kingdom of animals in search of justice. Had the Lion King only considered the complaint, then that might have been the end of it (yet, admittedly, the end of the mouse), but no! And so the ripples of cause and effect continue to emanate as the bird seeks restitution and revenge from the Bird King not only for the mouse’s misdemeanour, but now for the King of Beasts’ haughty snub.

And this, best beloved, is but the beginning of a tale that will take you over vast oceans to three sequestered citadels housing great treasure and, within each, a royal relative. It will transform the fortunes of one lowly merchant who finds within him the compassion to forego harming his natural enemies and prey and, if only he can keep his promises, he will reap rewards for his generosity – as well as a fright for an earlier slight.

 

 

I promise you the unpredictable.

Where there are temptations they are generally given into – just look at the mouse and the sparrow! – and when dire warnings are issued you know that almost always they will be disobeyed. But don’t be so sure. Retaliations will be other than what you expect. Anything could happen. So much of it will!

Always remember not just your manners but, forever more importantly, good will and gratitude!

Well, as you’ve probably gathered by now, this is all a bit gorgeous. It’s one of the most luxurious graphic novels I’ve ever laid eyes on. The colours don’t simply glow, in Africa they radiate heat. While on the wing, you can feel the cool sea breezes that help keep the eagle aloft.

 

 

The initial battle is ferocious, full of sharp edges from the lion king’s crown of sharpened bones to the talons that scatter them. The eagle’s mighty wings are whipped with colour, slashes of it fanned out in feathers: green, blue and black on fire-burning brown. It’s all teeth and beak, while all-seeing Gamayun stares you straight in the eye: all because of an apple.

Even more majestic is the first of the three citadels, rising from the deepest blue sea like a gigantic, earthen eyrie. Its copper colour is complemented by clouds billowing above the horizon while the ocean is reflected in the eagle king’s wings, just as it reflects the brighter blue sky up above. This is exactly the sort of spectacle of monumental, fantastical antiquity which has lit my imagination since first encountering the films of Ray Harryhausen. Even Gamayun cannot help but gaze in wonder, turning her head to direct your own eyes to its apex, its external “throne”.

 

 

And this, best beloved, is still just the beginning!

No, really it is. Even this graphic novel is just the beginning, a first instalment to whet your appetite for what is to come. I did warn you that Gamayun is a tease. Over and again she promises to pick a thread up later – and she will, but not yet. No single tale is completed: not the thief’s nor the merchant’s; not the King of the Beasts’ nor the King of the Birds’ – although the eagle may believe that his is.

Oh, you will be thoroughly dangled! But you will relish every second!

What is up for discussion here? Loyalty, harmony, generosity; patience and priorities; retribution, to be sure, and the real risks of war. Gratitude is always a good thing.

 

 

But, best beloved, I will keep you no longer, for I see that you are eager to begin. So I only add this: make sure you keep turning the pages right unto the very end, and remember that blue-skinned is beautiful. Hmmmm….

To be continued!

SLH

Buy Gamayun Tales vol 1: The King Of The Birds and read the Page 45 review here

The Three Rooms In Valerie’s Head (£17-99, Top Shelf) by David Gaffney & Dan Berry.

 

“You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object at him.”

That’s such a lovely line, lobbed in as effortlessly and unexpectedly as everything else, taking the reader – and Valerie’s boyfriend – completely by surprise. It’s not done in anger but out of calm curiosity, and the trajectory of that particular sequence will prove even more startling and funny than you think.

We will return to that anon.

 

 

Dan Berry’s exceptionally expressive cartooning you may already know from THE END, CARRY ME, SENT / NOT SENT, THROW YOUR KEYS AWAY, BEAR CANYON or THE SUITCASE (a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), plus the Eisner-Award-nominated 24 BY 7 and COELIFER ATLAS, both of which, like THE THREE ROOMS IN VALERIE’S HEAD, were originally commissioned by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes over the entire town of Kendal every year in October. All of these we have reviewed extensively.

The singularly dextrous David Gaffney, meanwhile, will now be shooting to the top of your attention and the forefront of your radar, once the wit in this read has been savoured. It is ever so carefully constructed.

There are three rooms in Valerie’s mind: a front, a back, and a cellar. But if you think that the front room’s a living room, you are very much mistaken. All she does there is obsess.

What should perhaps command her attention is studiously buried and ignored by banishing it into the back room.

 

 

What Valerie takes out to play instead are the ghosts of her former boyfriends, resurrected from the cellar, positioned like a trad-jazz band and articulated by herself. It is they whom she converses with throughout, wondering where it all went wrong.

“The drawback was having no space in the front room for anything else.”

Well, quite.

Before you leap to too many conclusions, I promised you surprises and I don’t break my promises. There may well be a very good reason why Valerie is so retrospective. And before you go blaming Valerie for being so unlucky in love, the individuals who’ll be paraded in front of you will prove to have looked through odd prisms of their own. Ever such odd prisms, and the art will adapt accordingly!

One, for example, invents a car windscreen to compensate for his myopia so that he doesn’t have to wear his glasses or corrective lenses while driving. Which is fine for him and it’s a genius foil against car thieves. Unless they possess the same prescription as he does, they won’t be able to see what’s in front of them. On the other hand, it’s a wee bit rubbish for any passengers he’s carrying and his own rear-view mirror may prove something of a blur.

 

 

There’s a lot of allusion and metaphor in this comic, but I swear that it’s sweet and not half as heavy-handed as my own. “Symbols should not be cymbals,” as Edward Albee once wrote.

Music is one of the big ones, specifically Mahler’s 2nd Symphony plus Valerie’s love of accordions and other bellow-based instruments. Don’t think you have to be an all-knowing clever clogs because I’m certainly not. Listen to Gaffney about music instead:

“It’s pure. Music doesn’t imitate, it doesn’t explain, it doesn’t try to be like other things.”

I’d not thought of that before. Most drawings, paintings, prose, poetry and comics all seek to create, recreate, imitate or elucidate on that which they are not: life, real or imagined. Words convey thoughts, actions or occasions as best they can and I adore them for that, leaving me with the freedom to let my imagination roam. Images imply or are otherwise representational. Music may elicit or imply, but otherwise it is its own beast. In the hands of the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser even songs’ lyrics are left to be similarly ethereal because she left her voice free to be a musical instrument – no real words at all…

But this is a comic with images which do imitate ever so subtly well, and one of its best is the page in which Valerie responds to a former boyfriend’s recollection of their shared, supposedly idyllic past which doesn’t chime favourably enough with her own. The colouring aside, which is mood-specific throughout and beyond this specific page, it’s the body language and expressions which delight. Jake’s finger and closed eyes turn a contradiction – bad enough in Valerie’s eyes – into something close to a rebuke. As to those eyes, narrowed in the fourth panel as she leads challengingly forward, they really do seethe and spit daggers.

 

 

“Valerie,” we learn later, “kept a ball of tissue under her armpit and dropped shreds of it into his food to keep him loyal.”

This is an observational gem, more fanciful and energetic than Tomine’s but no less perceptive and far more engaging in that the reader is enticed into the recollections as an active observer on the spot, rather than a witness at a distance. Dan has gone to great lengths to make this so, including a sequence which – I was told in complete confidence – he drew with his left hand in order to accentuate the giddiness which worked all too well on myself, giving me an immediate sense of vertigo while lying flat on my back in bed. That’s no mean feat.

So we return to the where we came in with the opening quotation and its reprise of the vase on the very second page which Valerie’s so intent on remaining oblivious to. I showed you that vase earlier on. Like so many other visual refrains repeated unexpectedly throughout, it’s a fab piece of foreshadowing whose exceptional choreography by Dan Berry is surpassed here as Valerie throws caution to the wind and a bouquet at her boyf in an act of abandonment which is – to her – delightful spontaneity.

 

 

“You can discover everything about your boyfriend by tossing a breakable object at him.”

As the shining white and blue china hurtles towards him, Brett freezes, recoils and cowers in terror, and the leaves and flowers begin to tumble from their fragile, spinning vessel.

“Is he poised?
“Confident in his judgements?
“Does he seem willing to take responsibility for someone else’s actions?”

David Gaffney has a way with words which dance around and right off the pages to stick with you forever. There’s nothing extraneous or laden. Instead they trill so brightly and lightly like a musical movement that’s subtle and always heading somewhere. As often as not, they’re headed somewhere far from expected.

“You learn the most if the object belongs to someone else.”

SLH

Buy The Three Rooms In Valerie’s Head and read the Page 45 review here

The Altered History Of Willow Sparks (£17-99, Oni) by Tara O’Connor.

A cautionary tale for Young Adults about the delicate balance in friendships – of loyalty, listening and shared experiences – this has evolved considerably during its 8 years in construction as O’Connor generously displays in the process pieces that follow.

It has an element of the fantastical, but it’s not as extensive as you might as first think.

Willow Sparks and Georgia Pratt make kind and natural best friends, propping each other up when the going gets tough; the going gets rough almost immediately, because that’s what their life at High School is like.

It’s bad enough for Willow that her acne’s flared up just when a new haircut – more severe than she is comfortable with – fails to fall over any of it. She’s been invited to cover for Mr. Ages at the local library the next night and close up at 8pm on the dot, and that’s very of cool because Mr. Ages is all kinds of quirky. He’s rocking the bald, beard and ponytail look, which is brave.

However, before then Willow must endure the day, and what a day!

 

 

The school bully, Jenny, has already got it in for her, backed up by Jill and Perry. And if zits weren’t enough of an embarrassment, she’s rubbish at dodgeball (which seems to me to be a particularly punitive and overtly aggressive sport), fails to dodge said ball which is subsequently slammed right in her face, and develops a whopper of a big purple bruise which makes her pimples all the more livid. Oh, and then there’s the sanitary-towel-in-the-classroom debacle. Awkward.

Can this day grow any more humiliating and debilitating?

Yes. The bullies are there when Willow attempts to close up the library, and they refuse, point-blank, to leave. Willow persists, but they get right in her face, and there’s an accident. It is actually an accident, but it’s – ouch! pretty serious – so they scarper. It won’t tell you how, but it’s then that Willow discovers a hidden inner library of books and one of them bears her name.

“This must be a joke…”

 

 

Within it, what she reads is astonishing: the minutiae of her life which led directly up to that point, followed by dozens of blank pages. Tied into the tome is a nib pen with the warning words “for emergencies only”.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, volcanic acne clearly classified as an “emergency”, so Willow begins to write and in the morning, the bruise and the pimples are gone.

Willow can re-write her life. Tempting, no?

At a first, superficial glance this looks very much like Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SECONDS illustrated by Hope Larson circa CHIGGERS. But, as I suggested, the elements of magic realism are actually surprisingly minimal. It’s far more about what the subsequent secrecy and balance of power does to Willow and Georgia’s friendship. There’s nothing that Willow writes in the book with its pen that is at all destructive or really, in any way, out of order.

 

 

It’s what she does or does not do with her best friend Georgia – who is undergoing considerable upheavals of her own – that causes the schism, and there’s an exceptionally well written scene, born of complete comprehension, about the impact a “free pass” for one, but not for the other, does to what was once equally shared experiences.

The art has loads to recommend it, as you’d expect from any comparison to Hope Larson. O’Connor’s use of a light blue hue is perfect for mid-tone light and for shadows which ripple and break towards their edges. Her eyes are inky black pools. Hair waves, the forms are so soft, and I love what she does with the lettering when it comes to a final sigh before falling asleep.

 

 

It’s on top form too during the wince-inducing, heart-stopping fall. There the jagged, unyielding, cold concrete steps are contrasted both in stark white against black, and with Willow’s painfully vulnerable back for which a pullover can prove no adequate protection. There’s a cracking dream sequence too, once Willow has discovered the life-changing book, as she is chased buffeted about by its pen.

For there is one added complication that I have so far failed to allude to: what Willow doesn’t know is that before she took possession of her own “journal”, another similarly singularly titled tome was returned to Mr. Ages in profound contrition by a young man called Samuel.

 

 

And Samuel was not looking well.

SLH

Buy The Altered History Of Willow Sparks and read the Page 45 review here

Tales From The Age Of The Cobra (£22-99, IDW) by Enrique Fernandez.

This delivers everything you’d expect from the cover and more: high-octane, swashbuckling action, romance and skulduggery in an exotic setting.

Passions will be postponed or permanently trodden upon; lovers will be betrayed if not intentionally then by accident or tragic distraction; others will find themselves thwarted either because they cannot comprehend the true, giving nature of love – mistaking it for acquisition – or because the king who should command their marital affection and attention is actually more interested in the un-fairer sex.

Forgive me, but this is going to be a quick one even though the graphic novel itself will fill you up far further than you might understandably expect. The first third is packed beyond all probability with whiplash cause-and-effect actions, inactions, diversions, transformations, repercussions and reversals of fortunes without once relinquishing the author’s deep love of language and extraordinary facility in its deployment. It could at any second so easily slide into the pitfalls of purple prose – of which, I own, I am an appalling abuser – but is rescued each and every time with linguistic gymnastics to keep it as free-flowing and exuberant as the art itself.

 

 

Throughout the art minded me of mid-period Kyle Baker when he first discovered digital. The art of Kyle Baker is at all times and during all periods a delicious, delirious thing.

From the creator of BRIGADA, a firm favourite of comicbook creators Bill Sienkiewicz, J.H. Williams III and Ben Templesmith: Fernandez is an artist’s artist.

The entirety is presented as a piece of theatre by a masked person unknown, to a sometimes sceptical and impatient audience. (I use that comma carefully.) This is entirely apposite given that the finale itself is a similar piece of theatre designed to topple a throne. However, theatrics can be learned when the influence and impulse is right, so please don’t suppose that your earlier actors have cracked. When all is revealed – and all will most assuredly be revealed – you may find that someone else entirely has taken the stage and carried the story forth.

 

 

We begin with a couple in love: Sian and Irvi, the pair you see snogging on the cover.

Neither is in possession of anything except exquisite beauty on the one hand, and preternatural acrobatic skills on the other – although Irvi is pretty fit on the other front too. They are separated by the cruel existence of The House of Princesses, a guarded hotel for hotties from which brides are bought, to which Sian’s parents gladly sell her. Which is nice.

But the couple have come up with a plan. With his keen acrobatic skills, Irvi will invade the House of Princesses in the quiet dead of night to ravish Sian, so stealing her most Prince-prized possession: her virginity. Yeah, that doesn’t work out, for others are in similar need and Irvi simply cannot say no. To his credit, he tries to, he really does – to begin with, anyway. But the House has many floors with so many in need and Sian is held right at the top.

I think we’re on page twelve.

 

 

What follows is the most almighty conflict of interests, intent, emotional advantage-taking, individuality-expunging, socio-political artistic elimination; then potion-guzzling, side-effect exacerbating conflict and craving for international power.

I think we’re still on page twenty-four.

And it’s still scene-setting. What comes next is one almighty conflagration.

SLH

Buy Tales From The Age Of The Cobra and read the Page 45 review here

Lights Of The Amalou s/c (£35-99, IDW) by Christophe Gibelin & Claire Wendling…

Has a lot of ferrets… and some incest. Between humans, not ferrets. Though be aware: there are some interspecies goings-on going on…

Just trying to set the tone for the level of peculiar in this enormously entertaining Euro-adventure, translated and republished under IDW’s autologically titled ‘Euro Comics’ imprint. They certainly couldn’t be done under trade descriptions, could they?!

I’m not being snarky – or whatever the equivalent French / Spanish / Italian / Esperanto snide aside would be – because I have for many years commented that there must be libraries full of quality ‘Euro Comics’ that never get translated and should. So let’s hope that IDW curator for the imprint chooses wisely. With this and TALES FROM THE AGE OF THE COBRA also fresh out, they are off to a solid start. In fairness, they have been doing various Hugo CORTO MALTESE Pratt for a while, but clearly they want to broaden English comic readers’ horizons, which is an excellent agenda.

You can read a little bit about their mission here.

 

 

Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t classify this as highly peculiar and wilfully esoteric as, say, Benoit Peeters & Francois Schuiten’s THE LEANING GIRL. Neither it is remotely in the ilk of some of Humanoids more dungeons and dragons-esque fantasy or science fiction output. It is ultimately an adventure story with some fantastically elements set nominally in our real world, though the action all takes place out of the unknowing view of the human race, who are utterly unaware of the existence of talking ferrets, alternate dimensions, weird creation myth magicks and errr… human-ferret hybrids…

 

 

Christophe Gibelin crafts a rather gripping story of a world, and species (plural), in danger from encroaching wooden-based entropic spirits, being defended and further imperilled by various ferret factions, including a couple of dashing adventurers, and indeed a few human (-looking) oddballs too. The closest parallel I could probably draw would be to say it has the fun elements of anthropomorphic action adventure MULP but with additional dreamlike, fairy tale qualities too.

 

 

Lovely, charismatic ligne claire art from Claire Wendling that will certainly appeal to Europhiles. I also liked the hand-lettering style. I’ve seen similar in several other Euro works and it adds to the general rustic, artisan feel of the work. I honestly have no idea how much of an audience IDW will manage to find for their ‘Eurocomics’. Hopefully sufficient to persuade them to persist with it.

JR

Buy Lights Of The Amalou s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Carthago s/c (£19-99, Humanoids) by Christophe Bec & Eric Henninot, Milan Jovanovic.

I love this sense of scale!

Is it okay if I start crying now?

Welcome to a whopping, album-sized, 275-page graphic novel of exceptional light and beauty – and the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth.

Specifically, the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth embedded in a mouth big enough to engulf a bathysphere as if it were a bonbon. That mouth belongs to an eighty-foot long Megalodon, a species of shark which didn’t have the decency to die out 2.6 million years ago as we were all promised. Since it didn’t die out, you can assume with some certainty that it’s not alone. It’ll have to have a few honeys to breed with.

How has it survived? That proved quite clever. Not everything here passes the credulity test quite so creditably: like Major Bertrand’s decision to dive back into the water once a diving cage has been crushed / mangled / mauled beyond recognition, just to see what enormous subaquatic creature could possibly have done that. It proves a pivotal plot point – on account of what else he spies lurking below which he vows never to impart to anyone – but you really wouldn’t do that, would you? “All you can eat” must surely be the default menu of any Megalodon on the move.

 

 

I thought it cruel, being made to read and review this, for I am terrified of sharks. Mesmerised, but terrified. I don’t really want any species to die out, but the very idea of diving in a cage surrounded by Great White Sharks – or even a solitary soul out for a leisurely, late-afternoon swim-stroll – is insane.

I used to have shark dreams once a week between the ages of eight and thirty-five. They rarely ended well.  I would see shadows of sharks even within in-door swimming pools, for which I blame James Bond. Strangely, those dreams ceased once I came face to face with a barracuda while snorkelling in Barbados. It swam, fast as lightning, to within two feet of my nose. Thankfully it executed an equally abrupt about-turn, but not before I was gifted with a true appreciation of how phenomenally hideous its ugly mug was.

All things are relative. It’s about to get uglier.

 

 

Carthago is the name of the international corporation which trades in both gas and oil, drilling out to sea for both. In 1993 one of their drills penetrated a deep-sea cavern and all four divers disappeared. They couldn’t resist investigating this new, exotic environment, and this new, exotic environment couldn’t resist investigating them. Nom-nom, etc.

I cannot begin to convey to you how tense and claustrophobic Henninot renders their initial, tentative, reconnoitre, so much hidden in the impenetrable, inky black which their tiny, inadequate flares and torches barely manage to illuminate. Thanks to the two-page prologue 73 years ago, we are anticipating a certain sort of… reception… but it’s ever so subtly introduced on the final, small panel of a right-hand page by a free-floating hand and attendant rivulet of blood.

Mr. Snyder, Carthago’s chairman of the board who sports a fetching black balaclava, is well aware of what went on way back then. He’s had video footage since day one. Now he shares it with his suit-and-tie board members, but with strict instructions that it must never be leaked lest they be hit with multiple law suits, not least for negligence. Further fears include the plug being pulled on further drilling, and their already precarious profits ($90 billion from one rig alone) will go into free-fall.

Unfortunately for Carthago, its chairman is not the only one in possession of that film. A radical environmentalist sub-cell within Greenpeace has copies too and shows one to Dr Kim Melville, fresh from discovering three-foot-long crayfish below the Sarrans Dam in France. Parenthetically her daughter, Lou, has discovered pike three times her size in the freezing waters, 150 feet down without the aid of any breathing apparatus or indeed any facial protection whatsoever.

“Lou’s not like other little girls…”

No, indeed, as you will see.

 

 

We’re still on the first two-dozen pages, but what follows is an ultra-competitive race between multiple factions to a) capture proof of a Megalodon’s existence b) expose Carthago’s less than ethical cover-up and collusion, then  c) get to the very bottom of the sea’s hidden depths and secrets sustained over the centuries – improbably so, since photography was invented.

Drop in the ocean? I should say so! I’ve not even touched on the prime mover, one elderly Mr Feiersinger, confined to a futuristic wheelchair / life-support system. An unimaginably wealthy, ruthless and obsessive collector of the rarest artefacts imaginable, he resides in Eagle’s Eyrie atop the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in a vast, Gothic castle whose cathedral-like hallway resembles the central nave of the British Museum. He has in his indebted thrall the graphic novel’s action hero, London Donovan. You will learn of this debt and of the expedition which led to Mr Feiersinger’s current condition anon, but not here.

 

 

All these paths and many more will cross, criss-cross and re-cross again in an increasingly convoluted, full-blown sci-fi experience involving maritime survivors, monomaniacal malfeasance, more monsters than I’m willing to give away here, hereditary hiccups, ancient civilisations and, yes, the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth.

The planet is changing: it’s realigning. Ice floes are shifting. Whales and dolphins are beaching themselves in what appears to be a coordinated mass suicide or desperate flight. Forces – both familiar and familial – are coming into play, and if you believe that “the blood-dimmed tide” is already loosed then I swear that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This is spectacular. It truly is spectacular.

 

 

Delphine Rieu’s colours in particular complement Eric Henninot’s crisp, clean lines to perfection. Her whites and blues are bright and pure, while Henninot’s faces are a little like P. Craig Russell’s. His sense of scale is as thrilling, particularly when looking up at the dam or Eagle’s Eyrie’s interior, so rich in vertical detail. Moreover, his sharks are ferocious and, as I’ve intimated, they are not the only challenge present.

His successor halfway through, Milan Jovanovic, isn’t quite all that but only because you’ve been spoiled rotten beforehand. The tidal waves are still terrifying, the underwater menaces still petrifying and there’s one page featuring the most misjudged practical joke of all time which will render one young lad speechless for years.

 

 

However, honestly dictates I concede that two-thirds of the way in it threatens to collapse under the weight of increasingly ridiculous coincidences, along with improbable decisions and observational failures on the part of the cast. It doesn’t, but it threatens to, especially when those cast members haven’t proven so dim in the past. (Apart from Dr Kim Melville, perhaps: “Take your daughter to the seaside!” you will be screaming at her for the hundred odd pages it takes her to do so.)

As to Mr Feiersinger’s younger brother… forty years younger? Okay, if he’s revealed later on to be a covert catamite instead, I will whoop with penitent joy and enormous respect for the lack of hand-holding clues early on. Otherwise pfft!

 

 

SLH

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

Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brad Meltzer & Phil Hester.

If you were given a second chance at life, would you be curious about who had attended your funeral? What would be worse: surprise absences, or worryingly unexpected guests?

Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, wasn’t the first of his brightly dressed friends to die, so he made contingency plans for when the inevitable happened also to him.

But now that he’s back he finds that those instructions weren’t followed to the letter, and his old friends discover exactly whom he entrusted them to.

Brad wrote IDENTITY CRISIS, one of DC’s very finest superhero books (suggested 16+)  so if you’re one of the many who’ve enjoyed that then you’re more than likely to feel at home here, since once more it deals with the importance of privacy and the comfort of friends. There’s plenty of mischief on hand when the rest of the DC super-crew put in duper-cameos and, now that I think about it, the patter and a lot of the layouts combined with a more animated-cartoon-art style are as much reminiscent of ALEISTER & ADOLF’s Mike Oeming as anyone else.

 

 

Oracle is DC’s ultimate networker, the crippled daughter of Commissioner Gordon, holed up in a high-tech surveillance tower, from which she works closely with Dinah, the Black Canary. Ollie also works closely with Dinah, but in a different way. Here Green Arrow and Oracle are communicating via Black Canary’s earring:

“What are you doing on Dinah’s line?”
“She left her earrings on my… uh… kitchen table.”
“Don’t lie, Oliver. That microphone was switched on all night. I heard everything. Everything. Trick arrows, my rear end.”
“You serious?”
“Jeez, Ollie, Clark was right – you have gotten gullible in your old age.”
“Listen, you gonna help me or not?”
“Just tell me what you need.”
“I’m looking for a positive I.D. on a guy in a photo.”
“Now you’re singing my song.  Just hold it up to the window — And don’t block it with your fingers. I’ll have one of my satellites scan it from space.”
“You can do that?”
“Oh, Ollie… such a sucker.”

Fool me twice!

 

 

SLH

Buy Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Courtney Crumrin vol 2 s/c (£11-99, Oni) by Ted Naifeh

Maurie Duval h/c (£19-99, Myriad) by Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin, Julian Waite

Eternal (£6-99, Black Mask) by Ryan K Lindsay & Eric Zawadzki

Godshaper s/c (£17-99, Boom!) by Si Spurrier & Jonas Goonface

Briggs Land vol 2: Lone Wolves s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater, Vanesa R. Del Rey, Werther Dell’Edera

John Lord (£11-99, Humanoids) by Denis-Pierre Filippi & Patrick Laumond

Parker: Slayground s/c (£15-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

Kill The Minotaur s/c (£17-99, Image) by Chris Pasetto, Christian Cantamessa & Lukas Ketner

Wayward vol 5: Tethered Souls (£15-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Ant Wars (£10-99, Rebellion) by Gerry Finley-Day, Simon Spurrier & Jose Luis Ferrer, Alfonso Azpiri, Luis Bermejo, Lozano, Pena, Cam Kennedy

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 6: The Terror Beneath (UK Edition) s/c (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann, James Peaty & Warren Pleece, Mariano Laclaustra

DC Super Hero Girls vol 5: Date With Disaster s/c (£8-99, DC) by Shea Fontana & Yancy Labat

Venom vol 3: Blood In The Water s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by various

X-Men: Mutant Genesis 2.0 s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, John Byrne, Scott Lobdell & Jim Lee

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week four

January 24th, 2018

Featuring Terry Moore, Sarah McIntyre, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser, Joris Chamberlain, Aurelie Neyret, David Gaffney, Dan Berry, Ales Kot, Danijel Zezelj, Pierre Christin, Olivier Balez, Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon.

Strangers In Paradise XXV #1 (£3-25, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore.

SEE SOMETHING
SAY SOMETHING

There’s a sign on the New York subway accentuated, emphasised and made urgent by piercing eyes. It says:

SEE SOMETHING
SAY SOMETHING

In a pressed white shirt, suit and tie, a smart man on his smart phone is standing. He is sombrely checking for texts or the latest, breaking News Headlines. He would do well to do that. Satisfied, he slips the phone into his overcoat, scowling at the crowd as the carriage doors open. Commuters get on, commuters get off and, once on the open platform, he checks his coat pocket as per habit, pat-pat. It is not well weighted.

“HEY! STOP!
“STOP THAT BOY!
“STOP HIM!”

 

 

The boy and the man are dashing up the escalator, the small boy diving between pedestrians while the smart man is impeded and – shit – there’s another kid who’s tossed the cell phone sideways in passing! It’s nimbly caught in a pre-planned relay race, the brat in the hoodie heading up the stairs at speed, swerving right towards the foyer’s crossover before throwing this exceptionally mobile phone clean over the gleaming glass balustrade!

It’s gone.

 

 

Down below a good-looking woman in her thirties, well dressed for winter in a jacket and loose woollen scarf, calmly and casually removes the SIM card from its casement. As she discards the rest, the detritus unnecessary to her purpose, she glares up at the smart man who’s not now feeling very smart at all, looks her victim straight in the eye and she gives him a grimace which he will never forget.

Oh my God! It’s —

Welcome to Terry Moore’s STRANGERS IN PARADISE – or indeed, welcome back! – on this, its 25th Anniversary. You can read our prior reviews if you fancy, but you need know nothing in order to settle straight in to one of the series we have been most phenomenally fond of in all of our years working in comics, for this is a very fresh start.

After surviving all that the world and Katchoo’s pitch-black past could throw at them, Katchoo and Francine are now happily – nay, blissfully – married, living out in the dessert with their two delightful daughters in a luxury villa financed by Katchoo’s highly successful career in fine art… but probably her previous one too.

Katchoo was a Parker Girl. She “belonged” to Darcy Parker. Darcy Parker was a vicious woman who used other women to infiltrate the government at its highest levels. The Parker Girls were essentially the highest paid prostitutes imaginable, and they never got to leave.

Katchoo left, though I will not say how, and now sits with one of Darcy’s former enforcers, the formidable, ever-brooding, stone-faced Tambi, as they watch Francine play, splashing away during the heat of the day, in the extensive garden’s swimming pool with one of their beloved daughters.

There is so much laughter!

Katchoo is smiling maternally, lovingly, with all the adoration she has always held in her heart for her now-wife Francine, right from the very first moment we met them. Reciprocation did not come easily and it did not come quickly. STRANGERS IN PARADISE was a very long series: 2,400 pages long! But here they are, and they have arrived.

You’ll notice Tambi and Katchoo share a certain look. Darcy Parker liked blondes very much. Tambi is not smiling lovingly and her arms are criss-crossed with scars.

 

 

“You know,” begins Katchoo, a twinkle in her eye, “I used to think you only had two looks, mean and meaner. Then I saw you hold my babies.”
“You fought hard for what you have, Katchoo. Wife, kids, a new life… Nothing came easy for you.”

That’s very true.

“I don’t want to see you lose everything you worked for.”
“Why would I lose everything? Tambi?”

I loved the reversal on the first few pages where we came in. Initially I fretted for the smart man with the smart phone (his name’s Scott) for we all fear pickpockets and fewer ever say something even if they see something, and fewer still do anything about it. And Terry keeps you going breathlessly for three pages before you discover the phone’s final recipient.

 

 

Scott’s married to a woman called Laura, by the way.

She’s called Laura, but that’s not her name. Her real name is Stephanie, and she has that certain look too.

“Tambi?”

Oh no.

 

 

Please see RACHEL RISING, ECHO and MOTOR GIRL (reviewed rather than narrated, haha!) for more Terry Moore.

Nice reference to the original collection’s cover on the subway sign.

SLH

Buy Strangers In Paradise XXV #1 regular cover and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Strangers In Paradise XXV #1 sketch cover and read the Page 45 review here

Kill Or Be Killed vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“And suddenly every word that she said was a gift.
“Every smile was a miracle,
“I’d been so stupid… We’re all so stupid all the time.
“We stop noticing our miracles.”

We do indeed.

And now for the bits you’ve been waiting for!

KILL OR BE KILLED book one began in blazing gunfire, a sequence we’ve been promised a return to, and by the end of this volume you will finally see Dylan in that “hotel” with the shotgun, you’ll understand exactly why he’s so focussed, specifically on social injustice, and it’s all but the beginning of a meticulously thought out act-and-distract plan to shut down the local Russian mafia for good.

If he doesn’t, they’ve given every indication that they will come for his girlfriend, Kira.

 

 

KILL OR BE KILLED has been the practical and psychological self-examination of one educated young man’s descent into mass murder.

It didn’t start with the Russian mafia, it began with a suicide attempt and several episodes which he now hopes were psychotic, but I still don’t want to give that game away because we’re looking for new readers here, and it forms such a substantial strand of the series that will keep you speculating feverishly far beyond this volume and well into the next chapters beginning with KILL OR BE KILLED #15.

As to practicalities, we’re most of us more capable than we imagine we are. Dylan is ruminative by nature – which is why it’s taken two volumes to get to this point! – thinking things through, though not all the time with a clear head; that, he would be the very first to concede. Here he contemplates courage, and the nature of fear as something self-imposed as well as instilled in us through aphorisms and cautionary tales designed to curtail our curiosity or limit our ambition (Daedalus / Icarus and “A bird in the hand…” etc). We are persuaded to believe not in ourselves, but in our weaknesses, drawing lines in the sand which we dare not cross. But if others have crossed them – if one person can kill a grizzly bear – why cannot we?

 

 

He’s forever referencing films, is our Dylan, and books. As I say, he’s educated and it’s his constant self-questioning which in part makes him so very credible and captivating, engaging his audience conversationally – for he is emphatically addressing each one of us – as to his various successes or failures in storytelling and whether we find him frustrating, which is funny. Here is he shown for umpteenth time breaking and entering into the brothel.

“Okay, so look, I promise you we’re getting very close to this moment.
“By the end of this chapter… for sure.
“I mean, this is all part of that plan I was formulating…
“As you’re going to see soon. Really soon.
“But before we get to this –
“And I know, I know, I’m the worst narrator in history for actually getting to the point…
“Well, maybe after Tristram Shandy
“But there’s just some stuff you have to know before the action gets going again.
“I mean, it can’t all be action… right?”

 

 

Dylan’s also unusually self-aware, constantly rummaging around in his own troubled memories and the physical boxes of published art which his father left behind, whilst musing on Kira’s past as well as his father’s sad life and suicide.

“I guess it’s different for people whose fathers didn’t commit suicide, but if yours did, then he’s probably a fairly tragic figure in your memory…
“That familial memory that shapes who you are.
“That’s how it always was for me. My father was legendary and tragic and sad… all at one time.
“And if I had to pick one word that described him best, it would’ve been a tie between “lonely” and “isolated”.

Dylan has just described himself, and little wonder: “That familial memory that shapes who you are.”

He’s far from alone but lonely instead, isolated inside his own head. So often there are moments of hope that he will be able to free himself from the shackles of his pragmatic secrecy, this solitary existence, and steer freely away from the desperate trajectory which he has found himself locked on.

One of those is where we came in and he realises that “We stop noticing our miracles.” Yet it’s these very preoccupations which prevent Dylan from fully engaging and actually existing inside the moment, and those moments of hope do not last long.

All of that is conveyed in the art: in the cinema, for example, with Kira beaming while Dylan sits dead-faced, obsessing over his predicament. And that’s after his supposed satori.

 

 

Thanks to Phillips and Breitweiser, Dylan is surrounded by so much arboreal beauty which he singularly fails to notice – even as he’s strolling through Central Park with the love of his life, lit bright with laughter, which was formerly all that he craved – and it will only become more pronounced in the next volume.

 

 

 

 

It’s not just that he fails to notice it, either: it is that he is entirely removed from its life-affirming balm by his inner demons – the psychotic shit that’s going on his head – and by the very real danger that surrounds them both. That Kira is oblivious to the danger (because Dylan has repeatedly refused to communicate for fear of blurting out the rest) makes the gap between them loom even larger. He has built the proverbial brick wall.

Next volume: Dylan attempts to break down the brick wall down and in so doing, finds it built even higher.

Oh, wait…. The shooty bits…? Knock yourself out. Non-consecutive pages, mind, but Lord, how I love Sean Phillips gunfire.

 

 

 

 

Parenthetically, there’s a very funny sequence in which a Russian courier clumsily attempts to flirt with a barmaid who may well be gay by solemnly impressing upon her the virtues not of Charles Portis’s novel ‘True Grit’ (which is a tremendously compelling narrative told by a fourteen-year-old girl of exceptional fortitude), but of its cinematic adaptation which was a travesty, and in particular the manly magnificence of John Wayne’s performance which… anyway. The sincerity on that man’s face!

For far, far more (gunfire, plus talk about 3-tier grids, full-bleed art, immersion and cleverly colour-coded displacement) please see prior reviews of KILL OR BE KILLED. Thanks!

SLH

Buy Kill Or Be Killed vol 3 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kill Or Be Killed #15 (£3-25, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips with Elizabeth Breitweiser.

This follows immediately on from KILL OR BE KILLED VOLUME 3.

I wouldn’t normally do this, but we’ve been talking about the disconnect there – between Dylan’s wretched preoccupations and the beauty which surrounds him which he, cruelly, has no mental access to – and it is only accentuated further on the first two pages here.

It’s something that comics can do ever so well under the right writers like Brubaker and artists like Phillips and Breitweisser: the words and the pictures “disagree”. Jon Klassen has made a career out of this for comedic, Young Readers purposes. This is tragic instead.

Look at the exquisite silver livery on these idyllic snow-swept scenes and the rapture being relished by those able to fully inhabit those landscapes by being in the moment and sharing between them its gift!

 

 

Now read the words of a perceived grinding life and the fall of the world into geopolitical disorder. “Sad” doesn’t begin to cover it. In volume three of KILL OR BE KILLED Dylan consciously castigated himself thus:

“I’d been so stupid… We’re all so stupid all the time.”
“We stop noticing our miracles.”

Yet within that same volume he almost immediately failed to retain that self-knowledge. It wasn’t wilful, it wasn’t negligent. It was because he was trapped, in his own head and his immediate circumstances of needing to act or the love of his life would be dead. Now he is shackled once again, even further removed from this extraordinary, ordinary joy.

 

 

The cover may give you a clue, but only on reading this will you understand how he got there. It has nothing to do with volume three whatsoever. This is an entirely new development.

He’s not really still wearing his mask, but isn’t that ever so telling? Secrets are a terrible thing.

SLH

Buy Kill Or Be Killed #15 and read the Page 45 review here

There’s A Shark In The Bath (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre.

Bed-time reading at its very best, this new red-ruby-foil edition shines especially bright under lamplight

Plus any book of fish that finishes with “FIN” is bound to be all kinds of pun!

(I’m sorry.)

Did you once have a fly in your soup?

Or a frog in your throat?

What about a shark in your bath? How frightful!

That there might be three is unthinkable: a Papa Shark, a Mama Shark and a Baby Shark. A Baby Shark in dental braces! It’s too, too funny! But not for young Dulcie, because Baby Shark’s teeth are as sharp as can be, and they are all ever so hungry!

 

 

Dad forgot to pull the plug on last night’s bath and let out all the water. Now the sea has swum up the house spout and brought all kinds of creatures with it!

I’ll show you them soon once they’ve clogged up the room and made a right mess of the sink. But Dulcie’s in deep if she can’t think fast on her feet so it’s lucky they’re curious, don’t you think?

Baby Shark wants to know what toothpaste is, and quick-witted Dulcie delights in showing them.

It is time to play the first game!

Oh, this is ever so clever! How do parents persuade reluctant children to do things they might otherwise avoid? Like brushing their teeth or taking a bath! Having greasy hair washed can elicit very loud wails because some girls don’t wanna have fun! And oh, boys can be even worse: they’d rather grow as manky as a medieval monkey than have Mummy or Daddy wash under their arms. So how do parents do it? (How do they do anything, to be honest? I am in awe.) They turn everything into a game!

So it is here that little Dulcie has learned their lesson well, successively and successfully staving off the starving sharks in a ONE HUNDRED NIGHTS OF HERO sort of a way – not with stories, but with an elaborate set of bathroom rituals and gleeful games.

 

 

Look how they love brushing their teeth! With a tooth brush, a back brush and a – oh, Papa Shark, that is a loo brush, you ridiculous buffoon! Ewwww!

Then it’s time for shampoo wigs and, hello, is that a crab?

 

 

I did mention, did I not, that the sharks were not the only animals that have swum up from the sea? Very soon the bathroom-based sea-creature carnival is joined by star fish, puffer fish, flying fish, eels, turtles, sea anemones and so many more salt-water critters. And, err, a frog, I think. They play with shaving foam, talcum powder and even lipstick.

Hey, frogs like lipstick! I never knew! (I love the snail’s puckered lips, if you spot them.)

 

 

And that is what so much of this riotous fun is about: exploration for wide, shiny eyes! That’s what delights our young ones: spotting all the oh-so-silly yet ever so witty details. Sarah McIntrye has made a career out of giving families value for money in JAMPIRES, PUG-A-DOODLE-DO and so much more (pop Sarah into our search engine – then please let her out to breathe!), spending days on each illustration which adults may only glance at for minutes but which our more inquisitive, discerning former selves would and will spend hours fixating upon!

I’ve drawn several diagrams showing how cleverly the three sharks are projected from the bath, aligned like waves or fountains in their “It’s time to eat you!” interruptions, but you’ll just have to discover those for yourselves.

 

 

I leave you instead with this truth: children are inquisitive, bursting with questions, and come fired with a feverish imagination that eludes most of us adults over time. This is precisely what this plays to, and why all your loved ones will relish it over and over again.

I haven’t even told you about the elephant in the room, have I? No, not the bathroom; in the kitchen, silly! It’s in the cereal – shhhhhh!

Top tip: give every kid’s book a similarly wicked reprise!

SLH

Buy There’s A Shark In The Bath and read the Page 45 review here

Cici’s Journal h/c (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Joris Chamberlain & Aurelie Neyret…

“See you later, Mom!”
“Alex! Wait!! Where are you…? That’s so strange! He does this every weekend now! He zips off, he’s gone all day, and he comes back covered in dirt and mud!”
“Mine is just the same! And the little girl next door too.”
“Hmm… I don’t know what they’re hiding from us… but it’s all very strange!”
“I can’t even begin to guess!”

Ah, that’s typical Cici! Solving one mystery only to create another, in this case where all the local children keep disappearing off to every spare moment they have, much to the bemusement of their mildly concerned parents. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you, but it all came about from the ever-curious Cici spotting a strange old man in paint-spattered overalls carrying a parrot in a cage…

 

 

He was wandering through the woods near the treehouse which Cici and her two best friends Lena and Erica use as their secret clubhouse. As a writer-in-training, Cici fancies herself as a keen student of people, often profiling the locals and creating elaborate stories for them, so the pigment-coated pensioner promptly piqued her inquisitiveness sufficiently enough to begin a covert investigation into his goings-on. The results astonished her.

Unfortunately her propensity towards the secretive spills over into her relationship with her mum, often involving her two friends, who frequently find themselves covering for her whilst she’s off investigating solo. It’s not that she doesn’t want her mum knowing what she’s doing per se… she’s just got into the bad habit of not telling her, or indeed telling her something else entirely… Understandably, her friends are getting a bit fed up of shoring up Cici’s unnecessary fibs and it’s putting a strain on their friendship. It also grates considerably on her mother that Cici seems to prefer elderly neighbour and published author Mrs. Flores as her confidante…

 

 

There’s also a second case in this collection, featuring the widow Ronsin who takes out the exact same book from the local library week after week. All she has to remind her of her late husband Hector are his terse, dry letters from The Front talking about the daily, stark unending reality of war, collected in said book, entitled The Rose And The Mortar, about his troubling times in a secret communications battalion. Hector was so traumatised by what he encountered during the conflict that he came back completely mute, unable to vocalise his feelings for his wife until his death. Yet the widow remains convinced, by the light in his eyes and by his actions, that he still loved her truly and deeply. If only she had something more reflective of his true, caring personality to remember him by…

Enter Cici, fascinated by the widow’s repetitive reading of the particular book in question! Before too long she’s snooping around the library and once again telling fibs to her mum about her whereabouts and further alienating her friends. Even Mrs. Flores is starting to get fed up with Cici’s little deceits. But can Cici discover an emotional treasure trove that’s lain hidden for decades and manage to salvage her relationships with her friends and mum before it’s too late?

 

 

Joris Chamblain completely enchanted me with this partly first-person perspective story-telling style, split between mostly pure comics and pages from Cici’s personal journal which is filled with theories regarding her cases and her private thoughts about herself and her friends. Aurelie Neyret illustrates the comics pages in a gorgeously colourful, vibrantly vivid artistic style, very distinct to the journal pages which are chock full of doodles, photographs, crayon drawings and diary entries. It’s a fabulous combination, though, that blends absolutely seamlessly together from a reader’s perspective. There’s even the occasional spot-panel of journal to highlight a certain critical clue or point in the middle of a comics page, which never feels remotely incongruous but only adds to the relentless feel of a young writer-in-training firmly on the sleuthing case! Highly recommended.

JR

Buy Cici’s Journal h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Days Of Hate #1 of 12 (£3-25, Image) by Ales Kot & Danijel Zezelj with Jordie Bellaire.

In whichKot and Zezelj project American socio-politics just a few years down the line from where they are now. As you might suspect, they aren’t very pretty.

“The United States of America, 2022.
“The loss that ripped them apart drove one into the arms of the police state and the other towards a guerrilla war against the white supremacy. Now they meet again. This is a story of a war.”

No, by the way, you are quite mistaken, as was I. Ales Kot will surprise you.

It’s far from dystopian or post-apocalyptic – most of mainstream society’s getting on with life as usual, as it generally does. It’s not they who’ve been targeted. Most of mainstream society doesn’t care what happens to minorities.

“Remember when we all hated on 2016 online? Called it a “trash fire”?
“And then on 2017? 2018, the elections?
“People don’t even hate on 2022. We’re catatonic.”

 

 

But the internment camps are back for the dregs of society, and Peter Freeman, head investigator of the Special National Police Force Unit for the Matters of Domestic Terrorism could not be more delighted. That’s what happens when right-wing shit gets normalised.

He’s summoned a Person of Interest, by the way, and interrogating her in a most courteous, affable manner. Will she tell him what he wants to know? The chances are, he already knows it.

 

 

Meanwhile, some of the white supremacists are holed up in Herbie’s American Dining, on the outside as bleak as can be – and deliberately bland  – in an open concrete retail park, on the inside oppressively adorned with almost every inch of wall space decked out in red-and-white-striped, nationalistic Americana: giant, overbearing, emblematic bald eagles, wings stretched out proprietarily across flags.

It’s a social occasion, and they are far from stupid. Nor are they inhuman: never make that mistake. Dehumanisation is their preferred province. But the ladies will soon be heading out while the men discuss matters of domestic terrorism. Just not the sort that Peter Freeman’s interested in investigating: who even cares about the queers?

Fortunately someone else does.

 

 

“Multiple molotovs thrown through the windows and someone somehow accidentally left a few well-placed and easily flammable objects in close proximity to specifically those windows. Oh, and the doors got locked from the outside and the bouncers got shot.
“Clearly an accident.”

Zezelj excels at the toxic. Not necessarily the chemically toxic, but the socially unsafe, precarious, treacherous. His rough-hewn, shadow-heavy art is haunted. You can see the skulls beneath faces.

 

 

Oh, but this sprawling city shines in the dark! Its glossy skyscrapers, glowing with uncaring activity, rear between busy bypasses, overpasses, underpasses, all snaking circuitously in coils round Los Angeles.

Was that a bomb going off?

 

 

So yes, with Jordie Bellaire’s considerable colour enhancement, Zelzelj can do sleek and slick too. Those freeways are almost wet with light in the night.

We don’t yet know what happened in Philly. There’s a whole heap of history to explore.

Can we please keep doing our most vocal best to ensure that this never happens? Otherwise it will all begin to look increasingly familiar, normal, mundane.

SLH

Buy Days Of Hate #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Robert Moses – The Master Builder Of New York City s/c (£12-99, Nobrow) by Pierre Christin & Olivier Balez…

“Have no fear of change as such and, on the other hand, no liking for it merely for its own sake.”
– Robert Moses.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everyone, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
– Jane Jacobs.

To build something truly epic in scale, grandiose in both concept and construction, you first need to have a vision, then the indomitable will to carry your plans to completion over a vast stretch of time, no matter what the obstacles or difficulties you encounter. Clearly then, you have to be single-minded, perhaps to the point of being bloodily so, both in terms of your certitude in the face of dissent and disagreement from others, and also in terms of the sacrifices you are prepared to make, on your own part, but also what you will put others through, just to achieve your aims. Robert Moses, a man I would imagine very few of us have ever heard of, was just such a man.

 

 

For a period of around forty years, between the mid-1920s and ’60s, Robert Moses effectively built up complete control over the planning and implementation of any and all construction in New York City be it housing, civic centres, roads, bridges, tunnels plus all the other general infrastructure that allows a city to function. He managed to head various bodies directly controlling vast amounts of income such as road tolls, millions upon millions of dollars, to effectively have the complete autonomy to create whatever he wanted.

And so he built what we know as modern-day New York. Inevitably, of course, his star ultimately began to fade, as there were the failures as well as the many successes which affected his public popularity, plus his by-then rampant ego causing as much damage for himself as anything else. There were dissenting voices all along the way, not least the strident Jane Jacobs, also accusations of racism against the black communities, but it wasn’t really until the mid ’70s, when he himself was in his mid-80s, that the wider public opinion, informed by a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography revealing much about the man himself, finally turned vehemently against him. Though over further time that eventually softened and a strong legacy does endure. Undoubtedly he shaped the New York we know, I think most impartial and informed commentators would agree, both for better and for worse, but what we have today is certainly his vision.

 

 

I bought this work in without knowing anything about Robert Moses; I did so entirely on viewing a few exquisite pages of the art which Nobrow had posted on social media, of iconic scenes such as Times Square and the Flatiron Building. Ironically, it was at the Flatiron Building – or the Fuller Building to give it its correct name – where a young Moses volunteered his services to the then administration in the early 1920s. It was an invaluable yet frustrating lesson of the quagmire of politics bogging down progress. Something that no doubt played its part in Moses’ dogged determination to circumvent any outside interference whatsoever in his grand schemes by those with political power.

 

 

It’s fitting, actually, that a biography about such an extraordinary man is illustrated so beautifully. I could talk all day about what I’ve learnt about Robert Moses, when I should be raving about Olivier Balez’s art. It has a wonderfully elegant period feel, of a city on the cusp of radical change, both architecturally and also socio-economically with the turbulent forces of the Great Depression of the ’30s rapidly followed by World War 2, then cataclysmically shaken up again by the swinging ’60s.

Balez neatly encapsulates the enormous divide between the ’20s era Gatsby-esque socialites colonising Long Island, oblivious and probably uncaring for the most part, of the deprivations faced by those less fortunate of their not too distant fellow citizens, whose conditions you’ll clearly recognise if you’ve ever read much Eisner. It’s also clear that a desire for social justice did drive Robert Moses to a degree, though how much of that was forged purely by his sense of disenfranchisement from the social elite by his own Jewish heritage is debatable.

 

 

But one thing is clear, he was an advocate of social change, and that change in his eyes, could only be achieved by rebuilding the city to his design. As we move forward in time, Balez captures the huge changes in the landscape: architectural, politically and socially, shifting seamlessly back and forth between the changing skylines and construction sites, bustling street scenes and character studies of the locals and bigwigs alike in an understated palette of ochre, pastel blue and other such subtle tones. This work is a fitting testament to Robert Moses, I think, because it succeeds so admirably in its epic portrayal of a man and his city, for the long decades it was simply his.

JR

Buy Robert Moses – The Master Builder Of New York City s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 7 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon…

Originally collected separately as ‘Kingpin’, Bullseye’. ‘Frank’ and ‘Homeless’, this comes to you from the writer of SCALPED (South Dakota crime and grime in the wake of the great Sioux Nation) and the artist on PREACHER (bigger body count than Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’ LP).

Highly recommended, then, but before we begin, I would remind you that ‘Max’ indicates 16+

Punisher Max: Kingpin

“My eyes, Jesus Christ… I can’t… Are we going to the hospital now?”
“Sure thing, Joey.”
“I don’t know, do they just… just stuff ‘em back in or…?”
“This is far enough.”
“What? But we… but this… This isn’t the hospital.”
“Shut the fuck up, Joey.”

<BANG BANG>

“Oh fuck, I been shot, I been shot! Oh fuck! Oh God in heaven, am I… am I dead?”
“Not yet.”

 

 

Intense, non-continuity punishment to the max as we get an alternative presentation of the rise of the most brutal crime lord of all, Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin. Except in this spectacularly brutal version of events, even by Punisher Max standards, The Kingpin is initially mythical, a non-existent figurehead created by the bosses of the various families to draw Frank Castle out into the open. After nearly thirty years of taking the war to them he’s virtually brought the mob to its knees, and they’ve finally decided it’s time to get together and get smart to take him down. Except, of course, the person who has agreed to be put in the firing line, a bodyguard for one of the bosses, has his own ideas which include that actually being the Kingpin might prove rather rewarding. So as the bosses are playing their game against Castle, little do they realize they’re also fighting a war from within against Wilson Fisk until it’s far too late to do anything about it.

Fantastic black humour throughout from Jason Aaron, but make no mistake: this is serious stuff, complemented by some squeamishly fiendish finger-chopping, handsaw-wielding, head-squishing, eye-popping, gruesome art from Dillon. Both are on top form, combining to produce a very enjoyably dark tale. And just when you’re feeling all sad because it’s come to an end, yet another favourite villain with an eye for the target is introduced in the final panel promising an even bigger body count next time.

Punisher Max: Bullseye

“But, how did you…?”
“Your Russians should’ve never let me through the front door. Doesn’t matter if I’m unarmed or not. Hell, I could kill you with this toothpick. See?”
“AAAH!”
“Don’t be an idiot. I can’t kill you with a toothpick. But I can with this…”

BANG!

After the über-intense retelling of the rise to power of one Wilson Fisk (thinking about the rats scene still gives me the shivers), this equally relentless and brutal volume opens with the new Kingpin of crime looking for some heavy firepower to take  Frank Castle out… before the Punisher gets the chance to take him out. Enter Bullseye, here reworked as a rather more disturbingly realistic – though no less psychotic – costume-free hitman for hire with a somewhat… unorthodox approach.

 

 

Rather like a method actor, Bullseye feels he can’t undertake the act of killing Frank until he understands what makes him tick, and to do so he needs to ‘become’ the Punisher. This includes kidnapping a mother and her two children (after having shot the father) and taking them to Central Park to be massacred by some of the Kingpin’s lackeys in front of Bullseye whilst they’re all ‘enjoying’ a lovely picnic. Unsurprisingly it doesn’t work, and the Kingpin begins to increasingly question the wisdom of employing an even more unpredictable headcase to rid himself of the one who’s on his case. Mesmerised by Frank’s relentless killing ability, Bullseye begins to fall almost in spiritual love with his quarry, and becomes all the more determined that he has to be the one to kill him.

Whilst no one should be surprised that someone writing something as downright mean and moody as the brilliant SCALPED can produce the incessant, ever more innovative violence that should always be on the menu for this title, it’s great to see Jason Aaron ladles out the sick humour with just as much gusto as Ennis ever did, which combined with the foil of Dillon’s artwork always serves to make Punisher Max a dish best served… from behind a bulletproof serving hatch.

Punisher Max: Frank

 “I don’t know at exactly what point I first became what it is that I am now.
“Maybe it was Vietnam. Maybe it was that day in the park.
“Or maybe I’d been that way all along.
“All I know is, once I finally embraced it, I quickly realised…
“I was never going to stop.”

Okay, it is official that Jason Aaron has now matched Garth Ennis’ previously peerless PUNISHER MAX run. This follows straight on from last volume’s epic physical and psychological confrontation with Bullseye and sees a battered and broken Frank cooling his heels in the State Penitentiary. As he’s laid up in the hospital wing, word spreads of his incapacitated condition and all the cons start sharpening their shivs and daring to dream about becoming a living legend by claiming the biggest scalp of all.

 

 

Meanwhile, as Frank’s body heals, he finds his mind wandering to his last days in ‘Nam after the climatic end to his third tour of duty in the hellhole of Valley Forge, and his subsequent attempt to return to civilian life before he lost his entire family in Central Park. As intense as Ennis’s ‘Born’ in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1, this is Aaron’s attempt to further add to the mystery behind the transmogrification of Frank Castle into the killing machine feared, and maybe even a little revered, by the underworld. There’s a truly shocking moment too when, just before the fateful carnage in the park begins, we hear Frank’s final words to his wife.

Punisher Max: Homeless

 

 

A fitting conclusion to Jason Aaron’s non-continuity run in which pretty much everybody dies, with the body count reaching truly prodigious levels, as the Kingpin and Frank enter their mutual and most assuredly destructive end game.

JR

Buy Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 7 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

 

 

Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 1 (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Laura Muller

Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 2 (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Laura Muller

Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 3 (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Laura Muller

Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 4 (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Laura Muller

Recipes For The Dead #1 – Dark Delight With Cranberries (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Ein Lee

Recipes For The Dead #2 – Apricot Asylum (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Ein Lee

Recipes For The Dead #3 – Steam Minted Meringue (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Allison Strom

Wraith: House Of Wicked Creatures (£4-99, Greentea Publishing) by Vera Greentea & Jade Mosch

 

 

The Altered History Of Willow Sparks (£17-99, Oni) by Tara O’Connor

Anti-Gone (£12-99, Koyama Press) by Connor Willumsen

Carthago s/c (£19-99, Humanoids) by Christophe Bec & Eric Henninot, Milan Jovanovic

Downward To The Earth h/c (£23-99, Humanoids) by Robert Silverberg & Philippe Thirault, Laura Zuccheri

Hellblazer vol 18: The Gift (£26-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco, Frazer Irving, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Lorenzo Ruggiero

The Lie And How We Told It h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Parrish

Marcy And The Riddle Of The Sphinx h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye) by Joe Todd Stanton

The Park Bench (£14-99, Faber & Faber) by Chaboute

Renato Jones: Freelancer Season 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kaare Andrews

Shirtless Bear-Fighter! (£14-99, Image) by Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner & Nil Vendrell

Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest s/c (£14-99, DC) by Brad Meltzer & Phil Hester

Amazing Spider-Man vol 7: Worldwide s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Stuart Immonen, Greg Smallwood, others

Punisher vol 3: King Of The New York Streets s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Becky Cloonan & Kris Anka, Matt Horak

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 6: Days Of Anger s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Mike Deodato Jr.

X-Men Gold vol 3: Mojo Worldwide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn, Marc Guggenheim & Jorge Moline, Mike Mayhew, Marc Laming, Diego Bernard

Sweet Blue Flowers vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Takako Shimura

Sweet Blue Flowers vol 2 (£16-99, Viz) by Takako Shimura

Fairy Tail vol 63 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week three

January 17th, 2018

Marazano, Luo Yin, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Ales Kot, Andre Araujo, Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, Dean Ormston, McClung, Guerrero

The Wicked + The Divine vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 s/c (£14-99 each, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie with Matt Wilson.

“Mortals have always shown more interest in gods ever have in mortals.
“Generally speaking, gods desire nothing but adoration.”

Every 90 years a Pantheon of a dozen gods is born anew, activated and guided by ancient Ananke who finds them in overwhelmingly young individuals previously oblivious to their potential or fate. This is to be loved and be hated and to shine like stars and – within two years – to be quite, quite dead.

In this modern incarnation one element in that equation has now changed irrevocably, so that none of that sentence remains necessarily true, except this: they were each born anew. They retain none of their previous experience on which to formulate priorities or base a sense of perspective.

 

 

Now a balance has been broken, the trajectory changed. Warnings have gone unheard or unheeded. Those who are left behind are flailing in their newfound freedom, some falling into unthinking, untempered hedonism regardless of the cost to others’ hearts, and fighting each other because they can. And because power.

All of that power is intoxicating and addictive, both to witness and to wield.

Even the mildest among them are flashing their metaphorical teeth.

 

 

Also, can you imagine having been someone else? Perhaps you once were. Perhaps all of us once were, to some extent, after a teenage transmogrification, but few of us have survived this sort of schism.

That is one of the keys to Kieron’s success in making this pantheon of elevated individuals so very familiar and therefore intriguing: they are as emotionally vulnerable as those of us less exalted. Conflicts aren’t just battles you have with other people.

 

 

That is radically different to the way I’ve previously sold THE WICKED + THE DIVINE both on the shop floor and in extensive reviews. Do please check those reviews out if you are new and intrigued, because by this point we are trying our best to avoid spoilers while still luring new readers in to what is already one of our biggest selling series of graphic novels alongside SAGA, LAZARUS and anything by Brubaker & Phillips like CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT or KILL OR BE KILLED (all reviewed too).

Speaking or Rucka and Lark’s LAZARUS, however, that series contains within (I will not say where) the most successful sleight of hand I have ever encountered in comics so that, upon reading the final page of volume four, you will be compelled to re-read everything up to that point. Similarly (similarly – ha!), THE WICKED + THE DIVINE contains a dozen such sleights of hand to this date. Let me elucidate without explaining: there are a good half a dozen sequences which, as you read them, you will take as read; but what you have witnessed is not what occurred. Then there’s the retrospective reveal and each one holds water: hindsight can be a miraculous thing.

 

 

However, let us return to power as “intoxicating and addictive, both to witness and to wield”.

None of this intoxication – of modern mortals relishing gods in their midst, or of these petulant powerhouses getting high on their own supply – would be remotely credible were it not for McKelvie and Wilson delivering on the awe-inspiring wonder front.

Between them they have managed to channel what is chemically psychotropic into its visual equivalent and equal.  I once saw Goldfrapp perform while I was stone-cold sober, yet I could swear that I had necked ecstasy on top of elephantine quantities of speed. So it is here: what McKelvie and Wilson present on the pages is mind-altering and mood-altering, yet legal.

 

 

Almost every volume of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE comes with an extensive back-matter process piece wherein you are given a glimpse as to how the creators between them conjure (and I use that word with precision) effect after effect whose affect is nothing short of alchemical.

It’s far easier to talk of this in terms of adrenaline effect than it is to specifically parse or prise apart its constituent catalysts. Or at least, it is for someone like me: I’m a writer, not an artist. I’m still reeling from the day-glo.

But its day-glo is colour-coded, for example, to each individual’s propensity or power set, subconsciously informing you whence it came: its instance of origin. See Dionysius’s crowd-leap of faith.

 

 

Letter artist Clayton Cowles manages much the same thing in his cuing and so cluing: each individual has a unique signature speech which leaves the combined creators room to keep the free-flow show rolling without having to provide expository asides that would otherwise ruin your immersion.

What I am trying to impress upon you is that this is the most modern of multi-creator comics. It is all-embracing and all-inclusive not only in terms of its protagonists and audience, but in its cooperative cohesion when it comes to sequential-art storytelling: each element is understood as equally important and each uniquely-skilled contributor invited to give of their therefore informed and very best.

This is generous storytelling. It reaps rewards.

 

 

Which would be a fine note on which to finish any review but there’s a couple of action panels that I am particularly fond of this issue, when it is usually the nuanced conversations which I enjoy most, accompanied by equally subtle shifts in expressions which are evidence of an actor/director (the best artists are both) at their peak.

In the first, lightning strikes, in the form of Baal punching down on a bed. A split-second earlier, on it lay Sakhmet and Persephone. Persephone is thrown back by the force, but she wasn’t Baal’s target: his fist was aimed squarely at Sakhmet. Sakhmet is a lion-warrior goddess and I don’t believe that Baal was downwind. Such are her instincts and agility that she is already back-flipping behind Baal like the lithest of Olympic-level athletes on high-jump. That image alone is a triumph of action/reaction kinetic form and balletic grace, never mind its immediate, skin-shredding successor.

 

 

But that’s not actually my point. My point is the contrast between that and a panel in the second, earlier chapter when another woman is discovered by Baal in bed, dressed in tribute to Sakhmet. She is beautiful in her own right, but neither her build nor her poise possess any of the prowess that it would take to elude a similar strike. Nothing needs explaining: the visual is all you need to alert you in an instant to this mistaken identity.

Still, she does have quick enough wits to ask for an autograph.

SLH

Buy The Wicked + The Divine vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 5: Rise Of The Robots (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

“You are a liar, Quon. You are a good liar, but a liar nonetheless.”

TIM-22 is right, of course: Dr. Quon’s entire career has been built upon one key deceit.

“Robots never lied before you created the TIM series… before you gave robotkind the upgrades that made us more human and more like you.”

Dr. Quon’s stellar success followed his creation of the companion machines called TIM, each resembling an angelic human boy. It was a huge advance in robotics which he claimed as his own, but he stole the technology; and when the celestial, planet-sized Harvesters arrived ten years ago to wipe out vast swathes of organic life and so catalyse a war on all robots, it was discovered that they bore the same machine codex – the robotic DNA – of the TIMs.

We still don’t know why.

This is the penultimate volume.

Please see previous reviews of DESCENDER for more. The watercolours on the inside are every bit as beautiful as the covers.

SLH

Buy Descender vol 5: Rise Of The Robots and read the Page 45 review here

The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 1: Rabbits On The Moon (£11-99, Lion Forge) by Richard Marazano & Luo Yin.

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man…”

 – Zhuangzi

It remains to be seen whether that famous, quizzical, open-minded perspective – quoted halfway through this first beautiful blizzard – carries any pertinence to the proceedings whatsoever, but if in any chaotic doubt, quote someone profound: it looks ever so impressive.

This too looks ever so impressive from cover to cover and the first three sky-bright, green-grass pages will have young eyes hooked. It’s all exceedingly Hayao Miyazaki, isn’t it? Those landscapes are lush!

 

 

It is quite evidently Spring, with pink cherry blossom blowing on the breeze before being buffeted further, almost psycho-kinetically, by Tutu’s first temper tantrum. Upon her second outburst at the position she has found herself in – away from home, her potential return coming only at a cost – those feathery flakes are then joined in the cerulean splendour by a cloud of radiant white butterflies on some elusive, migratory path. This isn’t accidental, but it is all quite, quite magical.

 

 

I love that the three-page sequence begins looking up from the verdant meadow as if kneeling (c.f.  Monet’s ‘Woman With The Parasol’) with majestic, snow-capped mountains rising in the distance under breathless, billowing clouds, and concludes in gazing down into the valley town whither she and her talking cat must evidently, so reluctantly return and such is the delicate detail that it almost demands a double-page spread of its own:

A clean and crisp island citadel surrounded by deep blue water, joined by bridges to its adjacent concentric rings and other outlying areas, all encompassed by more glacial mountains but, in between, similarly sweet Spring pastures.

 

 

Six months earlier, and what Tutu has accidentally tumbled into instead is a city, albeit extraordinary, which lies gripped under a bizarre dictatorship and in an eons-old winter, whose consequent, insatiable demands for heat energy has enslaved so much of its population to a daily grind of, umm… hamster-handling.

I’m not even kidding you.

Earlier that day, on a bright winter’s morning:

“Hurry up, children. Today we’re going to explore outside…”

Out into the snow dash a dozen children lead by their teacher. They are excited! Strangely, they have left Tutu behind. She emerges from her comfy bed in the shared dormitory (evidently this is a boarding school) to dress and discover that the only occupants left are the cooks.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! A whole day of freedom! Finally!”

And out into the snowscape strides Tutu too. Except that an un-forecasted storm suddenly closes in, the teacher finally thinks to do a head-count (because you always do that halfway through your field trip, don’t you?) and Tutu who’s solo is lost in the freezing-cold gale and wanders into that previously undiscovered town.

 

 

It’s an odd place indeed, populated by hostile, anthropomorphic animals which don’t appear to like little girls, not one jot. Ugly little girls aren’t allowed to have names, and they’re certainly not allowed out at night. They aren’t actually allowed, basically. And no one, it seems, likes strangers.

“Just what do you have against people who aren’t from here?”
“Well… they’re not from here, right?”
“Yes, that’s it! They’re not from here!”

 

 

Possibly the finest creation here, these are the Emperor’s Secret Police, initially arriving to arrest her. Ears flopping all over the place, they’re a bumbling bunch of albino rabbits which reappear over and over again to cause chaos wherever they go. Conversational and kindly, but largely clueless, they take her to court whereupon Tutu is billeted with a maternal budgerigar who is immediately on hand to meet and greet her and put her to bed. It is, at least, a very efficient care system!

The next morning she’s promptly pushed out on the street and told to work at The Factory.  What Tutu isn’t told, in this archetypal lost-dream scenario, is how to get there, but it’s here that the Secret Police begin to come into their own because they’re the least Secret Police of all time! Sent by the Emperor to spy on her, they instead break cover continually to help Tutu catch the right bus or boat on her way while trying to keep tabs on what she might be up to.

 

 

Most of the townsfolk remain far from friendly, scattering from the bus in horror, but a giant panda – himself on his way to work – is on hand to introduce Tutu to her new daily routine. Unlike the rest of this candy-like city, the industrial waterways are a grim, smog- and soot-clogged nightmare. This is odd, given that the whole system is powered organically by hamsters running frantically in tiny, treadmill wheels. It’s a bit barbaric, to be sure, but there’s no carbon or coal being burned, so why all the smoke? From an environmental viewpoint, it’s ecologically ideal, while its distribution system seems to be a stream of self-powering, air-borne Chinese lanterns.

If you haven’t yet twigged then, beyond the beauty, I am having a fair few problems here.

In my review of Joe Todd-Stanton’s excellent ARTHUR AND THE GOLDEN ROPE I opined that “In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.” Rules can be broken – they almost demand to be broken – but without establishing these boundaries first, dramatic tension quickly dissipates.

 

 

And I can see that the chaos of this city brings with it the most unexpected delights – you never know what to expect in this endless series of odd interventions! – but so much here does not add up. The only rule that seems to apply here is that Tutu needs to sleep every night in her bed (and so dream of Spring) but she doesn’t appear to need to eat: everything offered is so revolting that I don’t think she’s eaten for a week.

I think I’ve figured out the environmental conceit: the lost butterflies which Tutu’s been charged with finding and why this city is in perpetual winter. I think it’s something similar to Daishu Ma’s silent graphic novel LEAF but I could be wrong.

 

 

Look, this is lovely. It’s pretty. There’s certainly no lack of exploration for eyes. I like that the city looks like Bratislava with all its candy-coloured domiciles and exceedingly hostile inhabitants. (Trust me: I’ve been there.) I love that the Budgie’s house is built around a living tree topped with a giant nest, and that bath time at Mrs B’s comes with bog-eyed, sentient suds.  I adore that some of the civilians are automatons – one a bipedal gas lamp in a raincoat and hat.

But in this first of four parts at least, it lacks a certain degree of grist and that vital credibility needed to ground the otherwise fantastical. Still, first of four parts: hopefully the second will give me good cause to eat, then rewrite my words.

SLH

Buy The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 1: Rabbits Of The Moon and read the Page 45 review here

Generation Gone vol 1 (£15-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Andre Lima Araujo.

News headline:

“African American Shot After Offering Help To Lost Driver.
“Driver assumed man was going to rob him.”

Welcome to Generation Gone.

Most of our best comics’ covers contain some narrative element but few exceed snapshots or an elegant, perhaps impassioned distillation of what lies within. Almost all of my favourite graphic novels fall into those categories. I find no fault in that marketing strategy: please give me maximum impact.

But this collection’s cover speaks of so much more if you study it closely, and it contains not one lie.

However, were you to flip through this after a first read then you’d find page after page of unbridled anger, furious displays of once repressed rage; now empowered and unleashed: flashing eyes and screams of injustice bursting from previously gritted teeth.

 

 

“General… with all due respect, I don’t think you understand what I did…
“I know you are like me. You want to succeed at what you do.
“What I do is evolution…
“What you do is war.
“So I built you a perfect war machine.”

Ummm… no, you didn’t, Mr Akio: perfect war machines don’t have minds of their own. Perfect war machines aren’t already embittered towards their governments through acts of police brutality, endemic racism and authorities mismanaging that which they know to be toxic. Perfect war machines don’t already harbour long-standing grudges towards each other as well as the world and, in simple terms, are uncomplicated.

This is going to get complicated.

 

 

We begin on the other side of the Military Science fence with three young friends who have lives and ambitions of their own.

Two of them are a couple, late at night, flat-on-their-backs, and wishing upon stars. Elena wishes that her boyfriend Nick would reciprocate her love for him, vocally. Nick wishes that his “babe” would just shut the fuck up. Actually Elena’s aspirations aren’t even that high: she’s all apologies for her open declaration of unequivocal affection, while Nick insists that she should feel gratitude for his indulgence of (and tolerance towards) her pathetic, needy, cloying emotions. Sadly, she does.

“Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Born ready. Born to make a mark.”

They’re really not ready for anything that will follow but, yes, Nick wants to make a mark. Delighting in his own ego, he is unable to meaningfully engage with any degree of comprehension; he’s a big fan of the film ‘Taxi Driver’, but I’m not sure that he’s learned the right lessons. I don’t think you’ll like him at all.

Nick, Elena and Baldwin are also consummate code-breaking hackers. They’ve already broken into the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s exceptionally well protected website twice and, in a trial run for their real end-goal which is money, they are about to do it a third time.

 

 

Baldwin is alone, organised, disciplined but driven. You may discern what drives him right at the top of this review. He exercises at the crack of dawn then blends nutritious juice to sustain his peak physical and mental acuity. Then he wipes the surfaces clean. He is meticulous.

Elena is loving and doting, not only on dismissive prick Nick to whom she is loyal, but on her mother who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Constantly they cuddle up on the coach. They tease each other too.

Nick eats with what’s left of his family in silence before skulking upstairs – to his childishly door-declared exclusive domain – to draw his own bath. Perched on the toilet and staring into his smart phone while the water runs, his finger is idly pressed between his big toe and second, and you just know that he’ll sniff himself before getting in.

How each behaves during their final trial (but still live) run at code-hacking is telling, excruciating even.

 

 

They think they’ve gone undetected. They haven’t. They’ve been hooked.

So let’s flick back to the military’s perspective:

“Everything in the world is code…
“The human genome. The computers. Your phones. The traffic. The movements of the oceans, the movements between our neurones.
“Everything is code. Including our flesh.
“So how do we rewrite it?”

This is young, bespectacled Mr. Akio, working for S.T.A.R., a subsection of D.A.R.P.A., tasked with helping to re-establish America’s global dominance which, as he perceives it, has been eroded “at an increasingly rapid rate since 1970s”. He has contributed to this military endeavour by building ideas, codes and machines, all part of Project Airstrip. We are shown some very big mechs indeed.

 

 

Now he unveils to the military board his own private ideal, Project Utopia. It is code-based and clever, pertaining to humans. But how do we rewrite that code in humans which generally takes multiple generations of genetic evolution?

“Have you ever read a book that changed your life? I bet you have. The content of the book changed the way you processed information. Then it changed the way your brain processed the information. Then it changed the way you interacted with the world.”

I don’t think the General is much into reading.

Mr Akio is ordered to stand down, but he doesn’t and is discovered. The General is infuriated.

 

 

“Project Utopia is dead.
“Please point out all hard drives containing anything pertaining to Project Utopia to the soldiers. We are confiscating everything related to the project effective immediately. Why the hell would you think, even for a second, that you can do this behind our backs? We own everything you make.
“We own you.”

From the writer of WOLF, ZERO and MATERIAL comes what seems on the surface to be a far more traditional comic about power and powerlessness but it still packs a political punch and has many an unusual angle to explore. You don’t generally associate Generals with powerlessness, do you? Yet over and again – and in spite of his iron-fisted rule – you will find this military man wrong-footed both by those under his immediate command and mere civilians whom he believes he can intimidate.

It begins from the outset, for once more behind his superiors’ backs, Mr. Akio throws the book full of life-changing code at our three hackers. Alter the code, upgrade the human – physically, anyway.

 

 

The immediate transformation at the end of the first chapter – and almost everything that follows born of multiple miscalculations – is a pretty grim ordeal, but the single Araujo image that haunted me most – and does still – is Mr. Akio’s eyes when threatened and dismissed.

SLH

Buy Generation Gone vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dragonseed h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Kurt McClung & Mateo Guerrero…

“You saved me… you don’t even know me. Be mine, little hero… all mine!”

Steady on, I only recommended you some great comics! This doesn’t quite hit those heights, though it is certainly enjoyable enough, particularly for fans of Euro-fantasy fiction.

It proved a fascinating read, actually, from a reviewing perspective. I started off rather enjoying the story and the setting out of the characters, as we all know that can be the weak point with Euro-fantasy, yet struggling with the art slightly, which is certainly not on the ligne claire levels of other Humanoids output such as THE SWORDS OF GLASS. That soon past, however, although I did find it eventually became somewhat excessive on the Euro-boobage score for my tastes.

 

 

The plot revolves around the denizens of Krath and the uneasy, millennia-old truce that holds between humans and dragons. Our hero Adam Spittleseed, a half-man, half-dragon known as a Dragonseed is charged with finding the teardrop stone, a mythical relic that has the power to stave off the impending conflict by continuing to power a prophecy machine. Such stones are incredibly rare, mind, formed only when a dragon sheds a tear, an event occurring just once in each dragon’s lifetime. I should add, in case you are wondering about the eye-watering improbability of such an inter-species offspring, that dragons, in addition to their various other abilities, are also shape-changers…

 

 

By the end, however, I have to confess I was wearying of the continually over-dramatic language and slightly disjointed story-telling. It all makes sense story-wise, I just found myself having to concentrate a bit harder than I would have liked to follow the flow of the action for some reason, which is a shame, because it is an enjoyable romp with a decent, in-depth plot and some cracking characters. Still, as I say, if you fancy a bit of swords and sorcery with hordes of dwarves, elves, orcs, ogres and of course dragons, or are just likely to be titillated by some <ahem> robust figure-work, this could be for you.

 

 

JR

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

Black Hammer vol 2: The Event s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston…

STOP… HAMMER TIME!!!

So I did just that, and read volume two of Jeff & Dean’s Pindaric ode to superheroes. What a resounding celebration, indeed homage, to many a classic cape ‘n’ tights character it is. It’s just that it is so much better than most of the DC and Marvel output which inspired it!

We pick up with our disparate group of bickering superchums still trapped in the surreal small town in the veritable middle of nowhere that increasingly seems more like a prison constructed to trap them forever than mere alternate reality. Being mangled as they are through Jeff’s trademarked wringer of angst at their temporally testing fate, their collective patience is getting stretched ever-tighter than Mr. Fantastic’s Y-fronts, and someone is about to snap…

 

 

We also learn precisely how Joseph Weber, the headstrong Black Hammer, managed to get himself disintegrated trying to affect an immediate escape to get back to his family. Which blows my own personal theory about precisely where they are totally out of the water… We also get his origin story in a glorious little nod to Jack Kirby.

 

 

Black Hammer’s then ten year old daughter Lucy was one of the few back in Spiral City who never stopped believing her dad and his friends are still out there somewhere. Ten years on, now a young woman who’s spent the last decade desperately missing her hero dad, she’s never stopped searching and her patience is about to be, at least, partially rewarded. That old adage about being careful what you wish for is what springs to mind, though…

Look closely at the single issue covers, by the way, included here in this collection as chapter breaks, and I suspect you may well ‘recognise’ some of them. Reading this title is just such fun, albeit rather punishing for our poor cast. What a double team Lemire and Ormston are! If Jeff is dour and downbeat Bruce, gradually grinding his characters into the proverbial chiropteran guano then Dean is showy and ostentatious Dick, all flashy lines and gaudy colours livening up the show!

For far, far more, please see BLACK HAMMER VOL 1.

JR

Buy Black Hammer vol 2: The Event s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Kill Or Be Killed vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

The King Of The Birds (£12-99, Nobrow) by Alexander Utkin

Lights Of The Amalou s/c (£35-99, IDW) by Christophe Gibelin & Claire Wendling

Robert Moses – The Master Builder Of New York City s/c (£12-99, Nobrow) by Pierre Christin & Olivier Balez

Sketches From A Nameless Land – The Arrival Companion (£14-99, Lothian) by Shaun Tan

Tales From The Age Of The Cobra (£22-99, IDW) by Enrique Fernandez

The Three Rooms In Valerie’s Head (£17-99, Top Shelf) by David Gaffney & Dan Berry

Nightwing vol 4: Blockbuster s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Javier Fernandez, others

Punisher Max Complete Collection vol 7 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon

X-Men: Legion – Shadow King Rising s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Fabian Nicieza, Peter David, Jim Lee & Bill Sienkiewicz, Butch Guice, Marco Silvestri, Andy Kubert, Whilce Portacio, others

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 4 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

There’s A Shark In The Bath (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week two

January 10th, 2018

Featuring Neill Cameron, Kate Brown, Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, Nate Powell, Frank Miller, Geof Darrow, Shuzo Oshimi, Jeff Lemire, Mike Deodato.

The Silence Of Our Friends (£8-99, Square Fish) by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos & Nate Powell.

“Men of conscience have got to stick together…
“Or nothing is going to change.”

It may be of use to you to learn, going in, that co-author Mark Long is indeed the son of camera journalist Jack Long depicted on the cover shoulder to shoulder with civil rights activist Larry Thompson. I mention this from the outset to impress upon you that this is a personal recollection of real events surrounding Texas Southern University in 1968 and – with its artist in common – this graphic memoir therefore sits comfortably beside Congressman John Lewis’s MARCH trilogy memoirs, about which we wrote with a passion.

I say “comfortably”, but of course it is far from comfortable watching any of man’s many and ever so varied inhumanities towards man, and it is particularly painful to watch peaceful protesters sitting on the ground and therefore at their least offensive let alone defensive, being brutally beaten by police from behind with batons and gun butts, then framed for crimes which they were transparently incapable of committing by those decrying the very violence that they themselves had overtly, officially sanctioned.

 

 

 

Nonetheless – and in spite of so much more within, from venomously spat neighbourly racism and so much subsequently learned behaviour manifesting itself in their susceptible children, to hit-and-run truck drivers targeting black children on Wheeler Avenue – this is an overwhelmingly uplifting book about solidarity with a final few pages to make your hearts soar at the proven potential in all of us to do some much better by standing up for others, not just ourselves, overcoming the odds and effecting that change.

 

 

On the subject of solidarity, here’s something that made me stop and think: a scene in which families pull up in cars on a hillock overlooking a shore so that some of them can go coastal crabbing. Nate Powell has a way with song, both here and in MARCH, so that it swirls through the air in old-school ecclesiastical ribbons from singers or speakers and, once elsewhere here, into the very camera / microphone by which Jack Long records it. On this afternoon the sound emanates through the open doors from each car radio: the very same tune playing at the same time in the same wide, open space in harmony and unison.

Now, I ask you: when is that ever likely to happen these days when we choose our own soundtracks with stereo CD-players? It won’t even necessarily happen in a shop like ours, when so many choose to wear their own private headphones and so fail to hear our gently welcoming interaction, “If you have any questions, just shout”.

 

 

Music bonds elsewhere when Jack Long reciprocates Larry Thompson’s initial invitation to cross his threshold (virtually unheard of and far from approved) by inviting his entire family (wife Barbara, children Danny and Cecilia) to his Sharpstown residence much to the slack-jawed shock of his curtain-twitching neighbours, but also to the almost immediately inquisitive delight of his son Mark and daughters Michelle and Julie who’d never before met any children of colour, let alone ruffled through their hair and vice-versa.

Not everyone will react as you’ll fear here, because the courage of some emboldens others. But you’ll find disappointment aplenty too, for racism was rampant and America in the late 1960s came with another obsession and fall-out: The Vietnam War.

 

 

The era is later than the majority of MARCH and it’s evoked ever so well through furnishings and technology and play.

It’s a different perspective from MARCH’s because it’s predominantly white and middle class at that. But it comes with its own lessons and aspirations never to be forgotten, and if the risks to the likes of the Longs are comparatively slight (comparatively, but not necessarily negligible, as you will see), it’s a story which comes with its own fortitudes too.

 

 

Once last time in the spirit of encouraging support and solidarity, I leave you with this, by one of the most eloquent individuals of any century, who knows exactly of what he speaks.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

 – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

SLH

Buy The Silence Of Our Friends and read the Page 45 review here

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

“What are you doing?! Someone lives there!”
“They don’t, though. That’s the point. People used to live here. Fishermen and their sons. But one by one, all the houses got bought up by… rich bankers from Surrey. They come here for two weeks in the summer, and the rest of the year it’s just empty.
“Uncared-for, deserted.
“Dark.”

Poor Tamsin!

The neighbour’s baby boy has been snatched from its cot, she’s out searching at night amongst all the posh houses, her older brother’s just angrily smashed his way into one of them and is now proceeding to deliver a National Housing Federation report. She’s only 11, and she’s missing Coronation Street!

From the creators of TAMSIN AND THE DEEP comes the first follow-up which I’d consider a transition piece – preparatory work and the gathering of forces for what lies ahead – if its ominous epilogue is anything to go by.

 

 

What lies here is a shift from underwater to underground, for if Cornwall is famous for its rugged rocks and mighty waves, it’s equally renowned for its clotted cream teas. Mmmm… Clotted cream teas… No, wait! It’s equally renowned for its ancient tin mines where they dug up the ore called cassiterite, as we discover on a school field trip.

“It’s a fascinating mineral. This area in particular is known for its pseudomorphs, where the tin actually replaces and takes the shape of another mineral.”

Are you paying attention at the back? This is hard science!

It’s also a subplot.

Oh, I’m not taking you any further down that route – the props have come loose. You’ll have to negotiate that for yourselves; don’t take your hardhats off, for it’s not the faint- hearted.

 

 

Instead I’d point you in the direction of the introductory legend about the chief of the indigenous giants being bested and cast underground, and the tradition of mine workers to give a little back to the land, be it a lump of iron ore or the final portion of their lunchtime pasties (true!). Now, admittedly, little is being removed any longer – except affordable housing for the local population – but nothing’s being given back, either, to the Small Folk, the Buccas who looked out for the miners. The natural balance is off-kilter. Babies don’t go missing on their own…

I covered TAMSIN AND THE DEEP in depth (you’ll find it in Page 45’s Phoenix Books Section) so I heartily encourage you to look that way for an exploration of all the neat little devices that Cameron and Brown make much use of, as well as Tamsin Thomas’s role as last in the line of Pellars, and wielder of ancient thought-power through the psychic operating interface that is her stick.

She’s getting a bit cocky as this kicks off, but there’s no one like a big brother to bring you back down to earth.

“He’s always “out” these days. What’s he doing?”
“He’s a teenage boy, Tamsin. So basically, I dread to think.”

 

Morgan is beautifully portrayed. He’s getting gangly now, and watching him writhe on the settee in front of a console game, wrestling the controller up and across, then down to the ground with emergency reflexes and zero dignity (while Tamsin keeps herself centred) is hilarious.

What does register as a danger to his dignity is delivering baby clothes next door to young Sharon or doing research for his sister on Small Folk and Fairies. That isn’t going to happen – not this time, anyway – but thankfully some families are better than others at the oral tradition of storytelling.

 

I also love that Morgan desperately needs a haircut in the way that a lot of early teens do, and his face is still slightly shy of full-on adult masculine. It’s a bit pudgy, the more chiselled bits very much in the making, and when either sibling gets grumpy or frets you can tell immediately that they are cut from the same genetic cloth.

In Sesame Street terms, this episode is brought to your by the colour purple, but the condition called red eye, when you finally encounter it, will not be a bout of conjunctivitis. Brrr…..

SLH

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

Hard Boiled h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller & Geof Darrow, Dave Stewart.

The Darrow is in the detail!

Carl Seltz is a devoted family man with a loving wife and two angelic children. Carl Seltz is a traditionalist who drives out of his quiet suburban neighbourhood every morning in an American classic to a car-congested, smog-ridden city of consumerist hell. Carl Seltz is an insurance fraud investigator.

Nixon, on the other hand, is an enthusiastic, pro-active tax man who aims to collect.  Have you seen what he aims with? He has a license for that.

Actually both Nixon and Carl Seltz are para-personalities encoded into the same, deranged, homicidal robot who’s being both covertly and overtly goaded into destroying everything that built him by a girl pretending to have been kidnapped by a homely old lady who bears a striking similarity to Mary Whitehouse.

Mary Whitehouse was the UK wizened sourpuss who took it upon herself to be the nation’s moral guardian, insisting there be no bare bottoms or boobage before bedtime on British TV. I cannot imagine that her impact was felt across The Pond, but then I cannot believe that this is a coincidence given that HARD BOILED is one great big book of nudity, copulation and carnage.

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme carnage, relentless carnage, car-crash carnage: comedic carnage, meted out on the motorway and crashing through supermarket aisles where the shoppers are so intent on shopping that they remain oblivious.

The first is a masterpiece of scene-setting:

The first panel introduces all the dirt where we would expect instead clinical, futuristic cleanliness; a robotic dog with a surely redundant male lower carriage; an overweight technician in a lab coat and jumper bearing a barcode. Then there are the two armed guards with 3 holstered pistols on either padded shoulder saddle, grenades strapped onto each, a further pair pinned on either side of their night-vision helmets, gloves with finger-tip razorblades and phalange-mounted missiles… “Nuke” Nike patches and a CND logo!

 

 

This first landed on our shelves long before Geof Darrow’s SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET and SHAOLIN COWBOY: WHO’LL STOP THE REIGN and you can file this too under social satire, toxic excess and consumerist dystopia. Look at all the litter!

At the end of the cybernetic industry stands Mr. Willeford. Ummm, no he doesn’t! His repulsive, flabby form floats pink and naked in a bath, his waste automatically removed through tubes while his body is pumped by Body Buddy 2000 with the pulverised soup of Cola, 7-Up, frankfurters, fries and there are even a few naked babies lined up for processing.

 

 

Details, details, details: you cab pick any page and stare at it for hours!

Even at all the earrings are ridiculous.

SLH

Buy Hard Boiled h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thanos vol 1: Thanos Returns s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Mike Deodato Jr.

I am reliably informed that old craggy-chops is destined to become the next villain in the Avengers film franchise.

If you want a Recommended Reading List concerning Thanos to date then I am more than happy to oblige at the tail end of this review. You lucky things!

If you want a quick history lesson, however, this will serve you well for within Thanos’s opponents reminisce on what fun he was at school (they don’t; he wasn’t) before taking advantage of the fact that he is, for once, feeling a wee bit peaky. After slamming seven shades of shit out of the Titan (he literally does come from Saturn’s moon Titan), they lock Thanos up in the most secure prison in the universe.

Yes, I laughed when I read that line too.

 

 

Also intent on taking advantage of Thanos feeling under the weather are: his thankless child Thane, his bacchanalian brother Eros, spaceship burglar Nebula, a big bloke I’ve never heard of… and Death. Thanos and Death have had a complicated relationship over the years. Oh yes, all the jokes!

Unfortunately one of them is being Donald Trump about their true objective, and Theresa May about the truth.

There is one excellent sequence of storytelling which opens chapter two following an exquisite cover by Deodato. The cover is of an ancient tree under starlight, at the base of which stands the squat powerhouse that is Thanos, holding up his thick mitt towards a flame-coloured butterfly.

 

 

 

Inside we hear of the planet Nulla which has an unbroken history of tranquillity and – rich in natural, medicinal resources – has long been a haven for the ill and the needy: serene and majestic etc. Inside we see the planet Nulla, first from space, then from ground-level as an Arcadian idyll, its pastures bathed in an early sunset haze as less familiar, more exotic winged insects  with translucent sapphire-blue wings dart amongst its feathered fronds. Only gradually and gently does a single dissonant note start to appear in the art which otherwise maintains its hazy, golden glow through crinkled leaves.

In other words, the pictures and the script subtly stop agreeing. Ever so Jon Klassen, that.

Otherwise, Mike Deodato’s art is always a joy to behold when you need something sturdy, sombre and ominous (see Ellis’s THUNDERBOLTS and Bendis’ DARK AVENGERS), and Thanos at his best is all three. Deodato also does pulverised wear and tear very well, and there is plenty of that on offer, from first-to-face impact to white-hot-laser-beam prison-wall endurance. Lots and lots of Letratone (or its computerised equivalent) too: very bold!

 

 

Eros is played like a British aristocratic (“my dear”) which works well for me – he was ever the self-pampering sybarite – but Lemire fails to convey his fabled powers of persuasion at a crucial juncture. Yes, I can quite see that suspicions need be aroused eventually when delays deplete his dwindling options, but before he runs out of steam surely we should first hear such eloquent oratory designed to distract, fitting that renowned reputation? Nope…? Okay, just a lazily offered, broken-promise plot point, then. No need to actually deliver. Lastly, I doubt there is a single comicbook collection in any genre during which protagonists address each other more often as this in the familial terms “Father!” “Brother!” “Nephew!” “Uncle!”

“Ah, Uncle, you do make sport of me!”
“Why, Nephew, you don’t half deserve it!”
“But, Uncle, your Brother, my Father, he is bloody rubbish, you know!”
“Yes, Nephew, your Father, my Brother is bad. This dialogue’s a bit dodgy too.”

Not actual dialogue, although it swings close.

 

 

For prospective friends of Thanos I personally and emphatically recommend his first appearances when created by drug-addled Jim Starlin in the COMPLETE CAPTAIN MARVEL and COMPLETE WARLOCK way back in the ‘70s. Then I implore you to fast-forward to Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS whose storyline leads directly into the two exceptional, modern INFINITY books and you’re done!

There’s much more you can buy in between and we cannot stop you. In fact we implore you to buy far more product. See, therefore, AVENGERS VS. THANOS, SILVER SURFER: THE REBIRTH OF THANOS, INFINITY GAUNTLET plus its ever diminishing returns should you fancy. We’re just ever so careful about what we personally hand-on-heart recommend so that your trust in us is maintained undiminished.

[Now that we’re done, I will just add that Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS and INFINITY books do lead directly into the endgame that was Marvel’s second SECRET WARS. Nothing to do with Thanos, but clear directions are always handy in negotiating Marvel’s ever meandering maze. Happy to help!]

SLH

Buy Thanos vol 1: Thanos Returns s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Flowers of Evil Complete vol 1 (£19-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi…

Collects the original first three volumes.

Of volume one, our Jonathan wrote:

“You perv.”

I was somewhat intrigued by the synopsis for this manga, wondering how the French poet Charles Baudelaire could possibly fit in with a high school romance / coming of age tale which might well also have some mild sado-masochistic elements. After reading this first volume I see exactly how so now, and it proved a mildly titillating read, I must say!

Our story begins as the hero, on the face of it just a very typical high school student, Takao, flunks his maths test. However, he then already begins to prove himself slightly deviated from the standard norm as his deep obsession with literature becomes clear and – at this particular moment – his utterly rapt absorption with Charles Beaudelaire’s ‘The Flowers Of Evil’.

 

 

(At this point, in a typically pointless, rambling aside, can I just add that whilst by no means being a connoisseur of poetry – in fact finding much of it rather dreary except from a good slap to the head style haiku – Beaudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil is one of the few ‘worthy’ traditional works of poetry I did enjoy reading at school. Beaudelaire was a bit of a louche character, it must be said, loving his opium, drink and loose women, but what made his work interesting was much of his output revolved around the rapidly changing pace of life taking place in the ‘modern’ urban world of the big cities like Paris at the time, and how an individual was inevitably no more than merely a tiny fleeting part of that. It was probably the first poetry I was exposed to that didn’t involve copious amount of vales, hills and daffodils etc. etc. and thus was of infinitely more interest to myself. Right, digression over.)

So, after demonstrating his complete lack of interest in long division, Takao, possibly moved by Beaudelaire’s heady words, has a moment of madness and pinches the gym kit of his attractive classmate Nanako, whom he secretly has the hots for, of course! Unfortunately for him, his perverted pilfering is observed by the class outsider Nakamura, who begins to blackmail him into a distinctly one-sided friendship, which also appears to have some as yet unclear sexual element to it, culminating in making Takao wear the gym kit under his clothes when he takes the demure Nanako out on a date.

 

 

It’s well written stuff and rather slyly amusing in places as Takao is increasingly put through the wringer by the delightfully devious Nakamura, when all he wants to do is forget his indiscretion ever happened; particularly now it appears he might actually be able to start a relationship with the girl of his dreams.

Guaranteed to remind anyone of what their early teenage years were probably like when it comes to the often excruciating subject of burgeoning sexual attraction. I’ll definitely be reading the next volume as I’m keen to find out exactly what nightmares Nakamura has got lined up next for Takao – if he actually makes it through his first date with Nanako – unscathed and unexposed, that is!

You can carry straight on after this with the original FLOWERS OF EVIL vols 4, 5 and 6.

JR

Buy Flowers of Evil Complete vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Descender vol 5: Rise Of The Robots (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen

The Wicked + The Divine vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Cowboy Ninja Viking s/c (£17-99, Image) by A. J. Lieberman & Riley Rossmo

The Dream Of The Butterfly vol 1: Rabbits Of The Moon (£11-99, Lion Forge) by Richard Marazano & Luo Yin

Hellboy And The BPRD – 1954 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Stephen Green, Patric Reynolds, Brian Churilla, Richard Corben

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year Three Complete Collection s/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor, Brian Buccellato, Ray Fawkes & various

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 5 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

A Strange & Mystifying Story vol 1 (£8-99, Sublime) by Tsuta Suzuki

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week one

January 3rd, 2018

Featuring Rian Hughes, Jaime Hernandez, Liz Prince, Warren Ellis, more!

I Am A Number h/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Rian Hughes.

Riddled with wit and bursting with as much mischief and behavioural insight as any Kyle Baker book, this collection of short strips and cartoons is exactly the sort of the masterclass in style and colour that you’d expect from the king of comics-orientated logo design.

You’re not a number, of course.

But even the most anti-authoritarian among you might be surprised at how quick we are to fall into line, and how disconcerted many become when the boundaries by which we seemingly seek to define ourselves blur, such is our obsession with hierarchy: how we rank others, how we rate ourselves, how we conform and kowtow to this constriction – consciously or subconsciously – and the ways in which we might choose to hop ahead of our given lot by making the most of what we’ve got.

 

 

Before really getting to satirical grips with our social ticks, Hughes begins with a relatively simple, linear demonstration with passengers sat on a bus, each wearing a brightly coloured, numbered onesie. The bloke bearing the highest ranking Number 4 demands the front seat, pushing poor 25 towards the back. Number 25 takes it out on Number 27 and so on. After all this upheaval, the story ends on an ellipsis as a bus stop is approached where waits Number 3.

I suspect that Number 37 will shortly be roused roughly from his sleep in order to stand, and while we don’t see the driver’s number, I bet you anything you like that it’s a long one.

 

 

This is immediately followed by a cartoon of a clothes rack hanging with similarly numbered garments, emphasising the implication, in case you missed it, that this hierarchy is by no means a natural order and can be subject to change if we have the means and / or a mind to. Plenty of that will follow in the form of literary allusions, a burning of bras, and a wealthy Starlet being fitted out in a glamorous green frock adorned with a snazzy 29 by Assistant 189 and photographed by Paparazzi 311 and 512, before we flash back to the garment being fashioned by a tired and fretful 13029 in a rat-infested sweatshop.

 

 

There’s one particularly poignant piece in which three kids splash happily in the mud together as naked and equal as the day they were born. Once clothes are imposed with their attendant numbers by a parent, however…

Speaking of equality, what a noble sentiment and disastrous social experiment was communism! And how rank with hypocrisy it was from the very beginning! No numbers there: instead the despot du jour proudly presides over a parade of minions obediently marching below, all of them decked out in uniforms “=” and identical to their beneficent Chairman’s. No numbers, he proclaims from on high, because everyone is is “=”!

On the next page he is seen waited on, hand and foot, while he watches Starlet 29 on widescreen TV. Outside the palace the clothes remain the same, but the circumstances are not so similar.

Entirely silent except for symbols, the economy of communication matches its universality, at least to those who understand Western Arabic numerals. Hughes has studied them in such depth that he has even found multiple ways to surprise us with their physical properties – their lines of symmetry, for example – when holding a mirror up to our self-esteem or the calculated connivances of those who would pull the woollen jumper over our eyes.

 

 

 

 

It always boils down to the numbers but, with a whole lot of lateral thinking, Hughes has managed to mine them for all their worth by deploying them in such different contexts that a trip to the beauty parlour results in a very different sort of make-over, and even a man in meditation, startled to hit the Buddhist jackpot, finds himself embarking on a subsequent search for further answers which may enlighten you both.

SLH

Buy I Am A Number h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Love And Rockets (Locas vol 6): Angels And Magpies (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez.

Poor, poor, wonderful Maggie…

“You should know by now that if you’ve spent one fleeting moment with her, it can last with you forever.”

I think Maggie may be the most thoroughly realised character in comics. So much has happened to her over the years, yet Jaime appears to have no trouble in unearthing more history still, while moving her stoically endured, arduous journey forward.

Moreover she remains a beautiful, graceful woman in what I imagine to be her mid-to-late forties. It’s a soft, vulnerable and everyday beauty. Her hair is more conservative now but it still billows in any breeze, and there is a slight bulge under the chin, yet she carries it all off far more effortlessly than she imagines she does.

I love her comfortable party shirt which Hernandez checks without any account as to its folds, just like our Mark used to.

 

 

She has no shortage of suitors – here Reno and Ray – but it never quite works out for her. Indeed she is oblivious to Reno’s repeated references to his very first kiss which came from Maggie and which has stayed blazed into his brain forever.

The opening dream sequence is a perfect piece of psychology. In it Maggie finds herself lying face up and naked on a waxy leaf as broad as her outstretched body, exposed to the sun thousands of feet above an endless ocean.

 

 

Initially her expression is blissful until she becomes conscious of her precarious situation and vertigo kicks in. She tries to hug the leaf with her back, too fearful at first to risk a fall by finding the better purchase which being on her front would afford her. Gradually she gains enough courage to ease herself onto her stomach and that’s all she can manage for a while.

“Then I figure I must have had the courage to get myself up there, so I should be able to get down. Slowly, I move my way backwards to the stem. At least on the stem I feel like I have something to hold onto.”

She wraps her legs as well as her arms round the stem.

“The stem feels spongy, yet sturdy so I start to feel more confident as I inch my way down. Even if it takes a lifetime to reach bottom, at least I won’t fall to my death.”

Of course, the further she slides down, the broader the stem, until its radius is wider than her outstretched arms…

 

 

So, ‘The Love Bunglers’ itself takes place in the present with Maggie making a play to get back into the mechanics business and Ray wondering if he wants to get back into the Maggie business while Reno watches protectively over her. Unsettlingly there is also a stranger whose interest in Maggie borders on stalking.

Within the main body, however, lie two gut-punching flashbacks to a period in Maggie’s childhood when her difficult mother moved the family from Hoppers to Cadezza in order to be nearer to Maggie’s father whom they were only seeing one weekend a fortnight. Cadezza is where her Dad works. Maggie imparts her gloom at his upheaval by letter to Letty, the friend she left back in Hoppers.

 

 

We don’t actually see Letty, though we will in the second flashback seen from Letty’s point of view entitled ‘Return For Me’ when Maggie has indeed returned to Hoppers, becomes a mechanics prodigy, and Letty is trying to rekindle their friendship – an effort frustrated by Maggie’s mother. It ends with an unfinished sentence and one of the most arresting final panels in comics which rendered me speechless for hours.

This is as nothing however, to what happened in Cadezza; specifically events which Maggie remains ignorant of even to this day. When reviewing that sequence which originally appeared in LOVE AND ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #3 our Tom very wisely eschewed giving you any details at all.

 

 

“Suffice to say“ he wrote, “that once you have got to the end, you’ll go back looking for – and finding – the subtle connections Jaime weaves into the panels. It’s in the body language of the characters, and in their facial expressions… You just need to look at how he has his characters interacting, how he subtly directs the reader’s eye using the direction the characters are looking in.”

Also, I would suggest, what one is wearing and how he is wearing it.

“Any aspiring comic creator would do well just to study his panel composition [and] how he foreshadows events without hitting the reader over the head with it. There’s a great example with Maggie’s little brother Calvin watching a marching band with the baton-twirling leader, then a full seven pages later playing on his own at being the baton-twirler before a fairly significant event happens; and the baton still has a leading role to play.”

Wow. I spot a scrying pool of prescience and at least two major understatements there.

 

 

So that’s THE LOVE BUNGLERS – almost certainly my favourite LOVE AND ROCKETS material of all time – which you can buy as a separate hardcover and is as good an introduction as anything else. To considering a body of work this vast “daunting” is entirely understandable. Entirely! But it is as accessible and completely self-contained as, say, Gilbert Hernandez’s MARBLE SEASON which was an original graphic novel rather than a collected edition.

In addition, this collection includes ‘Gods and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls’ (Jaime’s unique, ever so quirky take on the superhero genre of yore which, TBH, isn’t my thing) but also, far more interestingly, his 2006 New York Times serials ‘La Maggie La Loca’ / ‘Gold Diggers of 1969’ in which Maggie is, respectively, independent, approaching forty and in single digits, living under the rule of her somewhat ill-tempered pregnant mum. The latter is a straightforward black and white comic, each page told in two tiers of three panels each and not a million miles from Charles Schulz in aspect. The latter’s pages are told in three tiers with narration introducing each silent panel, and tone which I think was originally colour. It has all the trappings of an exotic mystery adventure story – with nocturnal excursions on a sequestered island inhabited by a former acquaintance who in some circles is regarded as a peerless superstar, and reached only through covert clues and assignations – all grounded by the calm and colloquial recollections of a comparatively mundane Maggie.

As if Maggie, or Maggie’s life, could ever be mundane! Oh, the many worlds which Maggie has inhabited…

SLH

Buy Love And Rockets (Locas vol 6): Angels And Magpies and read the Page 45 review here

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection (£8-99, Top Shelf) by Liz Prince. 

Brief bursts of autobiographical self-denigration as Liz Prince plays the dating game, pitching woo at boys with beards and losing 13-nil.

Comedic gold, she mines both her disasters and non-starters for all their considerable worth, whether it’s online with OK Cupid or hanging out in bars with male mate Farhad, effectively cock-blocking each other. Of course people think they’re a couple. It seems she can’t win, even when approached by one of her readers – one of her bearded readers! – in an art store while obsessing over sketchbooks and pens with one of her female friends who has a flash-thought:

“Oh no! Do you think I’m dyking this up?”
“Hmm.”

That’s a beautiful piece of cartooning, Liz frowning, fingers on chin, giving the matter the most careful consideration. So is this, with poor Liz left lank at the bar, shouting after a woman who’s already made her mind up:

“You remind me of my gay friend Jess: she’s short, has glasses, dresses like you… She only falls for straight girls, though.”
“Oh, then she’d probably love me.”
“No, I said she likes straight girls.
“I… but I am… HEY! CAN’T YOU AT LEAST HAVE THE DECENCY TO STAND HERE WHILE I WEAKLY DEFEND MY SEXUALITY?!”

Men, of course, prove utterly useless, either full of their own self-importance, utterly unable to make decisions, conversation or even the first move. Actually that first move thing seems more like a power-play.

Here, however, is the shocking truth: Liz Prince actually gets some! She gets quite a lot! She gets, dates, snogs and shags! And they make take six minutes of hilarious, hair-tearing wait, but she also gets knock-out replies to flirty texts. Every second of that sequence is emotionally infectious for Prince’s lines are as expressive as anyone’s in the business, her body language adorable whether she’s feeling foolish, deflated or glowing with girly glee.

She doesn’t give up, either. There’s an absolute champion of a strip in which she appropriates Charles Schulz’s famous American football routine whose humour grows cumulatively on each reprise. In it Lucy cajoles a reluctant Charlie Brown into kicking the ball she’s holding up for him. He’s reluctant because he remembers that each time he gives in to her temptation and has a go against his better judgement, Lucy whips the ball away like someone pulling the rug from under you. Here the roles are reversed, for it is Liz being goaded by Charlie Brown as Cupid.

“Don’t you want a chance at love?”
“Every time I take a kick at love you pull it out from under me!”
“Eventually you’ll make contact. Everyone does. Odds are this next kick will be the one. I’ll do my part and hold it down.”
“He’s right. This has to be the time I kick that old ball. Lucky at love! SO HERE I GO!”

Hahahaha! Yup.

What cements this book (from the creator of TOMBOY, WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME IF I WET THE BED?), BE YOUR OWN BACKING BAND and writer on COADY AND THE CREEPIES) is that there is, of course, a great deal of truth behind all this mirth – the recognition factor. But also it’s the wit in its deployment as above, and so below.

After yet another unsatisfactory – and this time quite protracted courtship crushed by unanswered emails and texts – Liz Prince is reading The Book of Love while considering her options.

“It is hard to say “Bye” when someone asks you to give them a second chance. But part of growing up is learning to remove yourself from undesirable situations.”

At the same time her bleating heart is far from still, fighting the wastrel’s corner by reminding Liz of how good it once was. She snaps the book shut on it, silencing it, then opens it up to reveal her heart, dead as a doornail.

“When you’re not on the same page, it’s best to just tear that page out and move on.”

As she tears that page out there is a sound effect that doubles as a death knell:

“RIP”

And that’s why I love Liz Prince

SLH

Buy Alone Forever: The Singles Collection and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, various.

“Avengers.
“It’s time for your meds.”

I believe that sums up this beautifully.

With plenty of dark humour to relieve the edge-of-your-seat tension – and two particularly furrowed, perspiring brows – it’s like watching the runaway train heading for the collapsed bridge over a very deep canyon whilst impending-calamity piano music plays at ever-increasing speed and volume.

It’s a book about manipulation, sanity and power, starring the most sociopathic individuals in the Marvel Universe, all led by the least stable of the lot.

It’s a direct follow-on from Warren Ellis & Mike Deodato’s THUNDERBOLTS (recommended for its claustrophobic, subterranean sweatiness) which itself was an immediate result of Marvel’s original, catastrophic CIVIL WAR.

 

 

Traditionally THE AVENGERS is Marvel’s flagship title, its lofty, squeaky-clean team consisting of the most altruistic available and closely vetted to answer that vocational call. This is its juicy, perverse antithesis, its ultimate corruption, successfully defiling all that should be dignified, honourable, above board and working towards the public’s best interest. The closest equivalent I can offer you is America’s real-life White House 2017 commanded by its blatantly lying Loony-In-Chief. He’s added a new meaning to the term “self-service”.

Behold the precognitive powers of Ellis and Bendis, for the parallels are striking!

Norman Osborn – the monomaniacal Brillo-bonced businessman, nightmare and seething cauldron of insanity also known as the Green Goblin (who once murdered a woman called Gwen Stacy) – has risen to the socio-political top. Media-savvy, he’s duped the world with an entirely unexpected conquest and gone on to persuade the public that he is reformed, so all his sins have been not only forgiven but officially pardoned. He’s currently and legitimately in charge of US national security plus all things superhuman. He has even created his own team of fiercely formidable Avengers.

 

 

They’re both fierce and formidable because they are walking, talking monstrosities for whom shoot-to-kill is not just a default setting, it’s a pastime and a pleasure.

These criminals – lascivious, devious super-criminals – are all seemingly in thrall to Norman Osborn, although some of them may be making their own predatory moves.

We have Venom posing as Spider-Man, Bullseye posing as Hawkeye, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Logan’s son as Wolverine, and Ares the god of war simply because there is fighting involved.

 

 

The Sentry remains because the Sentry is mentally and emotionally vulnerable and Osborn has been ‘courting’ him, for want of a better word. They’re both in possession of split personalities so Norman understands. Norman can reach him. Norman has him under control. Norman has the ultimate weapon at his side for Bob Reynolds, the Sentry, could black out the sun.

 

 

It’s not your normal exchange of super-powered fisticuffs by any stretch of the imagination. There are blistering battles and pyrotechnics aplenty during which Deodato excels with a grim, visceral splendour, but they aren’t the traditional stand-offs of power sets for we veer into the Biblical and far, far beyond. The curved hips which Deodato likes to emphasise (c.f. Michelangelo’s s-shaped teenage lads unfathomably cavorting naked behind ‘The Doni Madonna’, 1503) are actually apposite here, for Ms. Moonstone is sexually objectifying herself in order to secure her own nocturnal power base within the ranks.

 

 

I believe this is where S.H.I.E.L.D.’s former accountant Victoria Hand first appeared, here promoted to the equivalent of Norman Osborn’s Chief Of Staff, determined to keep a lid on the multiple bubbling cauldrons and – to her credit (and Bendis’s) – doing a commendable job of it under the intimidating circumstances. She doesn’t fluster, she doesn’t panic; she stands her ground and is not without resources of her own. Again to Bendis’s credit, her ultimate fate at the end of this day is far from predictable.

For we all know Norman’s machinations are going to implode spectacularly at some point, and we all know that hubris will be his undoing; it’s merely a question of just how much chaos and misery he can cause in the meantime. SPOILER: the answer is plenty.

This book mirrors Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS VOL 4 and dovetails directly into his seven-year endgame called SIEGE

SLH

Buy Dark Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Frankenstein’s Womb (£4-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Marek Oleksicki.

1816, and Europe is shrouded under a volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora. On their way to meet Lord Byron at Lake Geneva are Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin, her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her step-sister, Claire Clairmont, who is pregnant with Byron’s child. Thanks to Shelley’s peculiar line in conversation, the carriage is feeling quite cramped.

Still in Germany they pass by the ruins of Castle Frankenstein where Mary persuades them to stop. Supposedly abandoned, she finds there a creature born of her own fertile imagination who shows her the past, tells of her future, talks of love, live, death, and introduces her to a modern defibrillator.

It’s a neat way of providing a little history lesson à la CRECY, for they were an incestuous lot, utterly fascinating and pretty much doomed.

There’s some atmospheric art too, where you get your money’s worth of ink in the form of heavy shadows and good old-fashioned texture on the castle’s bare stone walls or on the shore under a tempestuous sky.

SLH

Buy Frankenstein’s Womb and read the Page 45 review here

Aetheric Mechanics (£4-99, Avatar) by Warren Ellis & Gianluca Pagliarani.

A 44-page comic with no more than five separate scenes, but what five scenes they are!

With his crisp, intricate art, Gianluca Pagliarani’s has nailed each environment asked of him from the Royal Hospital Chelsea to high above the Thames, down in the old brick terraces and inside a meticulously appointed English drawing room with its ornate tables, chairs and bookcases on a period carpet.

The period being 1907, as Captain Doctor Robert Watcham demobilises after barely surviving a stint across the Channel on the warfront in Ruritania with its monstrous, humanoid war engines, and returns to his digs in a house shared with a certain Sax Raker, gentleman detective and loquacious stickler for detail. He’s ruminating on his current case of The Man Who Wasn’t There, a man seen by scientists flickering in and out of vision like a faulty transmission as he murders an expert in Aetheric Mechanics. But who is The Man Who Wasn’t There? And why do those chasing him seem strangely familiar?

 

 

Concise and clever, it’s a cool little number with a very different voice for Ellis as he affects an upper crust Queen’s English so convincing you’ll be hearing it in your head.

With additional WWI connotations, this is another slice of steampunk to set alongside Ellis’ CAPTAIN SWING, or indeed the lush, album-sized CASTLE IN THE STARS VOL 1  by Alex Alice which also involves that fabled fifth Greek element, aether.

Our second image here isn’t included (a similar shot “taken” 10 minutes later is, instead) but I thought you’d like to see it.

 

 

SLH

Buy Aetheric Mechanics and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon s/c (£14-99, DC) by Jill Thompson…

“Diana grew from adorable baby to lovely girl as if overnight.
“The tears of the Gods had enchanted this girl and she possessed beauty, intelligence, strength and wondrous powers.
“Handsome and graceful with thick flowing hair, she mesmerised all who met her.
“Weavers spun ethereal threads and tailors stitched night and day to design her the most delicate of robes.
“Clever thinkers invented machines to amuse her.
“Sweet delights were served to her on golden platters at every meal.
“Musicians composed melodies to serenade her as she played or slept.
“Gardeners grew the flowers that were most pleasing to her nose.
“Theatrical performances were created in her honour…
“… and no one ever told her “no.””

Oh dear.

“So the beautiful princess who was so doted upon not only was striking and elegant, but also conceited and arrogant, as well.”

Yes, before the Amazonian Wonder Woman who – as Jill so eloquently puts it towards the conclusion of this exquisitely beautiful exploration of Diana’s early years – ‘wanders the world, defending the weak, righting wrongs and fighting evil’, there was a right over-indulged spoilt little madam. Which in a small child is perhaps mildly amusing, at times at least (especially if they’re not your own), but not in a full-grown woman.

 

 

No, such character traits, if unchecked or unameliorated by adulthood, are obviously going to lead to the tears of many a person, not just the brat themselves when their every whim isn’t catered for instantly.  And so it proves here with disastrous consequences for the delightful denizens of the hidden isle of Themyscira, as there are some very valuable life lessons which are belatedly going to have to be learnt the hard way…

 

 

But first Jill recounts just how the Queen Hippolyta and her Amazons came to sequester themselves away from mankind, Hippolyta’s poignant longing for a child, and the Gods’ answer to that fervent clarion call of desire. It’s a version that will satisfy the comic purists and the scholars of classics alike, told as it is with an elegance and grace to match Jill’s glorious watercolour painted artwork, particularly the Mediterranean palette of olive, terracota and aquamarine divinely invoking the heady sensations of an endless summer in paradise. Why would anyone leave such a veritable heaven on earth to brave the base outside world with all its sins and suffering…?

 

 

Fans of Jill’s SCARY GODMOTHER and BEAST OF BURDEN material, and also her take another comics classic, the Sandman and his family, with the hilarious THE LITTLE ENDLESS STORYBOOK and DELIRIUM’S PARTY, will know precisely what to expect. But for people, perhaps Wonder Woman fans, new to Jill’s majestic touch with the brushes and indeed lyrical weaving of words, I think it will be quite the revelation. There’s a fantastic few extra pages of process (I would have loved more!) at the end where she takes us through from pencils to finished colours on a few pages, and it’s quite the visual feast.

JR

Buy Wonder Woman: The True Amazon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Saga vol 8 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Dragonseed h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Kurt McClung & Mateo Guerrero

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

The Silence Of Our Friends (£8-99, Square Fish) by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos & Nate Powell

Injustice Ground Zero vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Sebela, Brian Buccellato & Pop Mhan, various

Black Bolt vol 1 (£15-99, Marvel) by Saladin Ahmed & Christian Ward, Frazer Irving

Iceman vol 1: Thawing Out s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Sina Grace & Alessandro Vitti, Edgar Salazar, Ibraim Roberson

Venomverse s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Iban Coello

Inuyashiki vol 10 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Hiroya Oku

Spider-Man Deadpool vol 4: Serious Business s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Joshua Corin & Will Robson

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 4: Fracture s/c (£17-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona

Generation Gone vol 1 (£15-99, Image) by Ales Kot & Andre Araujo

Kill 6 Billion Demons vol 2 (£13-99, Image) by Tom Parkinson-Morgan

Flowers of Evil Complete vol 1 (£19-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Thanos vol 1: Thanos Returns s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Mike Deodato Jr.

Thanos vol 2: The God Guarry s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Germen Peralta

Hard Boiled h/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Frank Miller & Geof Darrow, Dave Stewart

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 5: Tiny Rick (£17-99, Oni Press) by Kyle Starks & C J Cannon, Marc Ellerby

Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges (£17-99, IDW) by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Brian Bolland, various

First Year Out: A Transition Story (£15-99, Singing Dragon) by Sabrina Symington

Dark Judges Book 1: Fall of Deadworld h/c (£18-99, Rebellion) by Kek-W & Dave Kendall

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2017 week three

December 20th, 2017

Featuring Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean, Terry Moore, Rachael Smith, Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, Kurt Lustfarten, Naomi Franquiz, Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoet and more!

Expansion (£13-99, Adhouse Books) by Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean…

Back in the mists of time, in an altogether unremarkable part of the Universe, two epic forces collided with such spectacular results that nothing would ever be the same again…

Yes, as the two-page introduction details, back in 2010 Matt and Malachi decided to make comics together…

“Matt drew a whole page that Malachi inked. We liked it enough to try a whole story.
“The first page of Expansion was only the second page we ever drew together.”

As Malachi then hugely understates in the next panel, “Not too bad.”

So, nearly eight billion years ago, in an extremely unusual bit of the Universe, two, well in fact, three elements of temporally very distinct cultures clash, in a pocket-sized science fiction epic that devotees of Arthur C. Clarke in particular will love.

 

 

Agents Turner and Briggs, sole survivors of an overwhelming attack on their tiny spacecraft by a huge battlecruiser in the wilds of deep space, only manage to escape by desperately plunging their doomed ship into a strange, black, spherical anomaly. To their surprise they find an ancient, huge arc-like vessel lurking monolithically within. Its peace-loving inhabitants, having sequestered themselves there until such time as the Universe is ripe for repopulating with their non-violent credo, welcome the new arrivals with open arms. Even if that means waiting until everyone else is extinct…

 

 

What’s aiding the cult in their peculiar mission is that the black sphere is a temporal distortion, where time is moving at a velocity at many orders of magnitude greater than real space outside. As it gradually begins to dawn on Turner and Briggs that allowing a bunch of religious nutjobs – as banal and well-meaning as they seem to be – a blank canvas to repopulate the entire Universe might not be the best idea for the future of mankind, the agents hatch a plot to foil the fundamentalists. Which takes us up to about the first third of this work, plot-wise. It only gets wonderfully weirder as matters spiral out of anyone’s control on an epic scale.

 

 

Fervent fans of Matt and Malachi’s similarly universe-level apocalyptic ANCESTOR, their spectacular alternative history of the space-race collaboration in NOW #1 and Malachi’s equally time-bending FROM NOW ON will find this punches all the right buttons like a bequiffed star-ship Captain frantically trying to fire off a salvo of photon torpedoes to stave off total destruction… or something… As will acolytes of Brandon Graham’s exceptional PROPHET series, to which they both contributed their prodigious artistic talents and story-mashing chops. The art here is amazing too, with some incredibly delicate linework and substantially black and grey inking, quite different from their other works to my mind. In fact, if I wasn’t aware of who had drawn it, I might have been tempted to guess Chester Brown, oddly enough! It would have been a wild guess, I’ll grant you, but there are some similarities in style here.

 

 

For a ‘first work’ this is mind-warpingly brilliant. Also, spoiling nothing, but ending a speculative fiction work satisfactorily is a notoriously tricky task, and one not even the greats get it right every time. Here, however, just as they did with so skilfully in ANCESTOR, the boys let the dystopian dream burn itself out to an extremely satisfying conclusion…

JR

Buy Expansion and read the Page 45 review here

Misfit City vol 1 (£13-99, Boom) by Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, Kurt Lustgarten & Naomi Franquiz.

“Thank you so little for coming. Buh-bye now!”

Once a year someone pops into Page 45 for the first time in a decade, expressing the most enormous relief that we’re still open after 23 years as if we were the dearest thing in their lives, engages in chatter as if we were their best friends in the world, then leaves without even looking at a comic, let alone buying one.

So now I have my new fond farewell!

“Thank you so little for coming. Buh-bye now!”

That’s Macy of the turquoise dreadlocks, the electropunk band with her brother Todd, and the job at the coastal Cannon Cove Film Museum. This houses traditional tribe ceremonial garb of the earliest settlers, the Tillamook, some pretty grim evidence of the fur traders who then came along and stole whatever they could lay their hands on including land, and a costumed mannequin of Black Mary, the late 18th Century pirate whose crew consisted entirely of Tillamook and who therefore took great delight in sinking any ships allied to those pelt-pilferers. I tell you this now because it will prove pivotal to the mystery that follows, so I hope you’re paying more attention than the sort of college-age, rich-kid idiots who turn up in droves interested only in the museum’s scant movie memorabilia from  ‘The Gloomies’ which was filmed locally:.

“These are the sweatpants worn by Dodge in the infamous “I want my balls back” scene…”
“”That scene changed my life!”

 

 

Macy is not what you’d call a careful curator, so when what looks like a treasure chest is bequeathed to the museum by the recently departed Captain Denby, she’s a lot less interested in this additional “box of junk” than his great nephew Luther and great niece Millicent who’d double quite decently for Cruella de Vil. It’s only when Macy’s friends call round that night for a game of cards that she is cajoled into opening the chest not with a key but a cutlass. Note: not a careful curator!

Out rolls a scroll complete with landmarks, tracks, compass points and indecipherable writing that could possibly be in Tillamook but could equally be a cipher of sorts. Also, a picture of a black, rearing horse which Dot duly indentifies as a rebus. Dot also declares the parchment and ink deterioration to be consistent with documents from the late 18th Century – at a single glance!!! Dot, daughter of the local librarian, is the smart one, you see. And I hate to do this, but Macy and her friends do so invite categorisation. Dot’s the learned, astute one; Macy the cynic with biting line in rejoinders; Karma’s the New Age naïf; Ed or Edwina’s the gay gal with a Tillamook ex she’s not entirely over; while local Sheriff’s daughter Wilder is the one with ambition (primarily to leave what she considers the back end of nowhere) and the anti-authoritarian stance on the local ecology (“Frick Off To Fracking!”). They even have a dog called Pip who’s a dab hand at cards and farts on cue every twenty minutes exactly. It’s basically a feminist Famous Five with flatulence.

 

 

The map is the mystery catalyst and off they set to solve quite clever clues in search of what they hope will prove pirate treasure.  Time is not on their side, however, because the annual festival is imminent, Macy’s band is performing, the two goth siblings are hot on their heels in a mean set of wheels (“I almost got run over by the lead singer of Bauhaus”!), and this brings with it the additional encumbrance of the ever-present long arm of the law.

All the tensions required are present and correct, so this clops along at such a cracking pace that I hadn’t realised that the end was in sight and this is only part one! Noooooooo!

 

 

Franquiz’s expressive, gymnastic cartooning is all you could want for a Young Adults adventure of this frantic ilk. This femme five leap about like nobody’s business, in one nocturnal instance from the construction-yard frying pan of death-by-dangerous-driving, right into to the proverbial fire of death-by-internet-indignity when they crash helter-skelter all over each other onto the lanes of the local bowling alley populated by their less pleasant peers. Once again, Franquiz’s expressions are exquisite: Dot is dazed and wide-eyed; Macy is mortified; Ed is nervous and cowed, defensively; Karma anxiously clutches Wilder who has one eye shut, hastily summing up the situation before a ball is bowled at them and “STEEEE-RIIIKE!”

The cool crowd’s cell phones snap-snap into camera-evidence action.

“At least we’re still alive.”
“Not socially.”

 

 

SLH

Buy Misfit City vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wired Up Wrong (£10-00, self-published) by Rachael Smith.

“What are you depressed for? You have so much going for you!”
“Why do you have a cold? You have a really nice house.”
“… Huh.”

Succinctly done! If you’re wired up right, there is a cause-and-effect logic to what can drag you down; if wired up wrong, logic and reason doesn’t even enter the equation.

In HYPERBOLE AND A HALF Allie Brosh explains and elucidates on this disconnect and so much more in far greater depth from her personal experience of crippling mental health disorders, and she does so while entertaining. Rachael Smith has evidently taken the efficacy of Brosh’s balanced judgement into account for these four-panel snapshots and one-page cartoons which also capitalise not just on the healing power of comedy, but on its communicative strengths as well.

She joins so many others like Sarah Burgess in BOYS CLUB in being brave enough to bear her soul and disorientating disorders in order to promote understanding of those suffering from depression and anxiety beyond what is normal. And Smith succeeds: not only are so many of these pages rendered with lateral-thinking wit and so the element of surprise, but they provide insights into daily dysfunctions which those of us lucky enough to be merely maladjusted rather than chemically imbalanced don’t necessarily comprehend at a distance.

 

 

Smith is the first to admit – and goes to great lengths to emphasise in her introduction – that she is no trained psychotherapist, so if you have the choice between seeing a doctor to seek counselling and/or remedial medication and reading this as some sort of therapy… please go and see your doctor! Moreover, she is at pains to point out that this is no sign of weakness, but of strength. So many of my friends and relatives have suffered from paralysing mental health problems, but fortunately almost all of them have benefited enormously from counselling and anti-depressants (some of them – everyone reacts differently to different pills) on their road to recovery.

The even better news for us emotional idiots (as opposed to those who are diagnosed as clinically depressed) is that – just like Sarah Andersen’s BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP – there is still so much here to relate to, and if you don’t nod at least once or thrice in recognition then, hey, you are just perfect and we are evidently unworthy of your acquaintance.

These nigh-universal experiences include self-consciousness, self-doubt, a wonky internal sleep clock, the worries that whir around you during those early hours all at once, overwhelming anxiety about a task that lies ahead (but which, once started, proves far from problematic), fixations on what you said wrong rather than all you’ve done right, fear of flying (not me – I still thrill to pretending that I’m piloting Thunderbird 1 during take-off!), and postponing the household chores until someone actually threatens to come round see what a state we live in.

My favourite single page follows an earlier one in which Rachael compares the illogicality of her reactions to having a “roulette wheel in my head that two little men spin to see how I’m going to react.”

 

 

It’s actually one of those great big glittering Spinning Wheels of Fortune or, as Smith calls it, ‘The Wheel of Feels’! The little man standing at the equivalent of the old-school telephone operator’s switchboard with its spaghetti of criss-crossed wires reports in:

“She’s just watched an advert on TV that has kittens in it.”
The man at The Wheel of Feels gives it a spin. “Um… I’ve got “full of rage”?”
“Huh,” says the first, plugging the connection in. “Ok… this should be interesting.”

 

 

 

One of Smith’s other conceits is of a black dog as an embodiment of depression. Yes, yes, it is such a long-standing tradition that it’s even a synonym (see Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH), but where she departs is in having two black dogs with differing demeanours and diverse methods of attack. The bigger black dog stops her point-blank in its tracks from even going out by barricading the door with its substantial body mass. But the smaller, sleeker hound with narrowed, Ancient Egyptian eyes… well, let’s hear Rachel discuss them.

“You know you’ve got these two versions so Barky mixed up on the “cast” page, right? The little black one looks much worse than the big fluffy one!”
“No, that’s the right way round. The big fluffy one is worse.”
“What? Why?”
“Because he’s nice and soft and big. Even though he still represents my depression, it can be comforting to cuddle up with him. Like wallowing I guess. When he tells me things I believe him. I hardly ever stand up to or argue with him. Whereas the smaller black one – I know he’s evil. I know what he tells me is rubbish. I don’t like him at all, so he’s easier to stand up to.”
“Sounds complicated. But at least you’re aware of this stuff. So maybe you’re getting better!”
“Maybe…”
“Although… you are having an imaginary conversation with your cat about two imaginary dogs sooo.. maybe you’re more mental than ever.”

 

 

In case it helps anyone make the first move towards therapy (first moves can often prove the most difficult – see STARTING), Rachel takes you through her own experiences both of securing said help and of the sessions themselves. Under the fourth example she even gives you a website address from which to download a v. helpful sheet of unhelpful thinking practices which are ever so common (“textbook even!”) to show that you’re far from alone and perhaps address some of them (though perhaps not on your own but with a trained therapist).

Which brings me to my sole qualm with this publication: the above aside, I’d have preferred pagination to the post-script annotations underneath which cannot help but rob the punchlines of their often considerable power.

The strips themselves, however, are all gaily drawn in a Graley / Ellerby fashion, sometimes in spite of their contents. Quite right too: in order to help one must first attract, and you don’t attract the already vulnerable by frightening them away in the first place. Similarly the colours are bright and there is optimism in abundance, the final flourish referencing and defiantly putting to bed one prior problem at least – one which may seem comparatively trivial but the liberation from which is actually is among the most empowering things you can do.

SLH

Buy Wired Up Wrong and read the Page 45 review here

Motor Girl vol 2: No Man Left Behind (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“She just wants to help.”
“I don’t need any help! Okay?
“I carry my own load! No one has to help me!
“I help them!
“I’m the strongest person in the room! That’s how it works!”
“Really?”
“Damn straight!”
“Then why am I here?”

You’ll find out precisely why Mike’s in Sam’s mind, and why he is specifically a mountain gorilla.

It involves a young boy in Iraq who was chained with steel braid to a big bundle of explosives, then left in an upstairs window to lure in someone just like Sergeant Samantha Locklear.

It worked.

Terry Moore has made a career out of juxtaposing comedy and tragedy: not combing, but setting them off against each other so that the comedy comes as a blessed relief, yet the tragedy hits you hardest, when least expected.

Over and again he has succeeded to spectacular effect, better than anyone else in comics and especially during STRANGERS IN PARADISE and RACHEL RISING. Here, however, in MOTOR GIRL, the contrast is so extreme that you might fear for his failure.

The comedy is burlesque with an imaginary, sassy gorilla, comedy green aliens, a gum-flapping, four-foot powerhouse of an octogenarian called Libby, ridiculously inept henchmen Larry and Vic, a monstrously ruthless big-business weapons manufacturer and his comically trigger-happy mercenaries, all assembled in the American desert to do battle.

 

 

 

But it’s not the first desert Samantha’s survived, and the sequences in Iraq are halting and horrific, rendered without any of the cartoon galumphing exhibited by Walden’s paid goons.

The stark contrast is bridged by the quiet solemnity of Sam’s current, consequent medical condition when Libby goes silent and Sam and Mike finally begin to address each other seriously. And I found the sincere respect due to veterans so deftly done, for example paid here by a barman after yet another drunken altercation between Sam and Mike – or, to any observer, thin air.

“What’s her problem?”
“Sam? She did three tours in Iraq. Captured, tortured, survived two bomb attacks.”
“Damn.”
“If she wants to come in here and yell at the back wall, I say yes ma’am, thank you for your service and would you like a beer for your ‘friend’.”

 

 

I don’t have of the Iraqi pages to show you, but perhaps that’s for the best: they should come out of the blue and blow you to bits. But even during its comedic confrontations MOTOR GIRL is more than just mouth and mania: it’s about the little guys getting trampled on by the big boys with money and clout; about those under threat looking out for each other. Eh, it’s also about slapstick, soap-sudded aliens in your bath.

“I know how the military works, Libby.”
“I know you do. I’m just saying…”
“There’s more to it than duty.”
“Like what?”
“Like caring what happens to people who can’t defend themselves.”

 

 

STRANGERS IN PARADISE returns in January 2018 with STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV #1

SLH

Buy Motor Girl vol 2: No Man Left Behind and read the Page 45 review here

Satania h/c (£22-99, NBM) by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoet…

Following on from their deliriously disturbing delight that was BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, Vehlmann & Kerascoet return with a descent into a surreal netherworld that will scorch your eyeballs out whilst simultaneously chilling you to the bone. And that’s just the art!

Budding young scientist Charlotte fervently believes her brother Christopher is alive and well. He recently disappeared without a trace whilst exploring a notorious local cave system. Christopher was trying to prove his crackpot theory that, according to Darwin’s theories of evolution, Hell must actually exist.

Charlotte has assembled a peculiar group of individuals for her rescue team including an ace spelunker, a devout Catholic priest and errr…  a publisher! Before too long they’re hopelessly lost and facing near certain death themselves. Every possible route out only leads our hapless posse deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. Charlotte, convinced she’s following in her brother’s footsteps, doesn’t mind that ever-downwards detour whatsoever. It’s not too long before they discover that the possibility of a parallel evolutionary system lying beneath our own civilisation isn’t so farfetched at all…

 

 

 

Prepare yourself to be astounded by the journey Vehlmann and Kerascoet will take Charlotte on as she searches for her sibling. I shall reveal no more of the plot for fear of spoilers. Though suffice to say, several extraneous members of the rescue squad prove as disposable as the eponymous red shirts on a Star Trek away mission… Those that manage to stay the treacherous course find their sanity being bent, and indeed in one case, well and truly broken by their apparent descent into the bottomless Pit…

 

 

 

Kerascoet outdoes himself on the artistic front presenting us with endless perturbing creatures and myriad expansive locales that are both dazzling and terrifying in equal measure. He also manages to use every single colour in the visible spectrum to bring these subterranean denizens and satanic domains to vivid, squirming life. And death. And many states of tortured existence in-between.

 

 

JR

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

Jazz Maynard vol 1: The Barcelona Trilogy h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Raule &  Roger.

“I’m always next in line.
“My aunts liked to poke fun at me at weddings, giving me a little nudge and saying: “You’re next…”
“They stopped when I started doing it to them at funerals!”

Crime in Catalonia, from political corruption and police collusion with a very unpleasant mob boss and sex trafficker, Cebes, to protectionist rackets, stealthy theft and a steady stream of bullets. Throw in the Sons of Kain and their cut-throat katana and you have plenty of slickly drawn slice-and-dice action.

The central chapter is where it comes into its own: three simultaneous stories involving squeaky-clean Captain White set up for slaughter during a hostage situation, the settling in of sleazy Mr Chen at Cebes’ luxury tower block, and Jazz’s infiltration of a remote country mansion in order to steal a very rare golden coin. The wider ramifications of his early use of an EMP are only later revealed in a perfectly positioned flashback which made me grin my head off: it giveth by taking away.

 

 

Alas, the third instalment undoes all this carefully controlled intrigue when every individual who survived the previous carnage (Jazz Maynard, fellow former street-thief Teo, fellow former street-thief-turned-criminal / philanthropist Judas, Judas’ girlfriend and crusading journalist Lucia Lopena, Jazz’s sister Laura, Captain White et al) are flung together on an assault on said tower block and they trip over each other not in a thrilling fight-fest but in a jumble of unconvincingly plotted paths.

A bit too free-form, that Jazz, who of course plays jazz, and you just know it’s going to sing itself out in a virtuoso display trumpeting, don’t you?

Lovely pencilled endpapers, though, and sleek figure work throughout.

SLH

Buy Jazz Maynard vol 1: The Barcelona Trilogy h/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Found More Stock!

Adventures Of A Japanese Businessman h/c (£19-00, Nobrow Press) by Jose Domingo.

Okay, let’s start with a bold statement, then slap a couple of caveats on, to thus produce an odd semantic sandwich to chew over whilst we get proceedings started.

This is now my favourite wordless comic ever. Given that puts it in the company of works like Erik Drooker’s BLOOD SONG and Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, I realise that could raise a few arched eyebrows, but this is quite simply stunning, inventive, ingenious and also absolutely utterly and ridiculously hilarious. So whilst it might not end up being your favourite wordless comic ever (THE ARRIVAL does take some beating, let us be honest about it, in fact I might have to amend that to joint-favourite heh heh) I am pretty confident it could end up being your favourite comedic wordless comic.

Semantics is a good word to invoke around wordless comics, I feel, given one of its usages is in the meaning or interpretation of words, sentences, or other linguistic forms. Comics are one of those other linguistic forms obviously, and wordless comics a very particular subset again which, to truly succeed, need above all for the story to be clear to the reader. Not that events shouldn’t require some interpretation on behalf of the reader, for is that not the sheer beauty of THE ARRIVAL, putting yourself in the place of the émigré, who suddenly finds himself in a literally incomprehensible place, trying to make sense of the unfolding strange, new world around him?

 

 

ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN is not that dissimilar, as the poor unfortunate and unsuspecting salaryman, who we first meet quietly waiting to cross the road, is about to embark upon an unwilling expedition to weird and wonderful (plus several not-so-wonderful) realms, and various states of being, not to mention existence, which together will all make for the ultimate bad day at the office!

Things start off not relatively implausibly to begin with, partly to lull us into a false sense of security, I’m sure, as he gets caught in the crossfire of two Yakuza trading lead at each other from limousines on opposing sides of the road, and barely makes it past them intact. Unfortunately he walks straight into some sort of incident involving a raging customer at a sushi stand who promptly gets flattened by the giant sushi roll which falls off the roof when he starts shaking it, cue much panic and hysteria as passers-by frantically leap out of the way. As the businessman ducks to one side he inhales some escaping fumes from a nearby Biotech company and promptly starts hulking out into some weird blue monster and then goes on the rampage. And so on, and so forth… And if you think that sounds surreal, believe me, it’s the absolute powder-coated tip of the iceberg!

 

 

So, what makes this truly nonsensical adventure shine then? Well quite simply, it’s the construction of the work itself and Jose Domingo’s art. It’s done in a strict 2 x 2 grid, aside from the occasional whole-page splash. The book being a lovely outsize edition, by the way, so each individual panel is pretty huge in and of itself. Which is fantastic because they are all positively crammed with detail, and each page forms a little, well, gag strip in itself, I suppose, with the businessman frequently extricating himself from his current predicament only to be immediately dragged into the next situation in the final panel of each and almost every page. (I did wonder if the format was a little nod to the Japanese pre-modern-manga tradition, when comics in Japan were pretty much just that, just one-page gag strips, before people such as Tatsumi started producing ‘gegika’ like BLACK BLIZZARD, proper stories composed of literally ‘dramatic pictures’. )

The art itself put me in mind of a neat and tidy Marc Bell, but rendered in beautiful full colour. (I have included a few interior pages for you to have a look at.) You may also see hints of others like Jim (CONGRESS OF THE ANIMALS) Woodring and Jason (ISLE OF 100,000 GRAVES) in there, though, not least because of the surreal nature of the tale puts them in mind. Each panel typically has the same viewpoint, perspective-wise, so the story really just seamlessly flow on from absurd scenario to even more absurd scenario, and just when you think you’ve reached the zenith, or nauseous nadir from the point of the businessman, something even more truly bizarre occurs. And yet, it always does make creditability-stretching sense in the context of what has immediately gone before, which is another genius element of this work.

 

 

The businessman does get a few brief moments of respite and false hope along the way to catch his breath, but they always turn out to be false dawns before the next nightmare swiftly commences! As absurdist fiction goes, I can’t think of anything comparable in terms of such a smooth, flowing read as this. The artwork is truly gorgeous as you would expect from a Nobrow book, of course, they really do seem to be managing to maintain a very high standard of output.

There’s even a hilarious little epilogue just to round things off nicely. Initially the businessman is firmly clenching his briefcase for dear life like a protective shield or talisman, but eventually he is parted from it. Just as I was finishing the story I was found myself wondering what had happened to it, and so was greatly amused to find its ultimate fate is revealed in said epilogue! Near perfection, this for me, which when it’s your wider comics debut, is clearly going to take some following up.

JR

Buy Adventures Of A Japanese Businessman h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hulk: World War Hulk h/c (£19-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Peter David & John Romita Jr., various.

The first thing you’ll notice is the size of the panels (or maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll just sit, jaw agape at Romita’s massive and magnificent art, but trust me, the size of the panels is important). Unlike the wretched gimmick employed during THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN whereby one panel per page was removed in the countdown until the final issue was composed entirely of full-page spreads thereby turning it into a static slide show with absolutely no flexibility, fluidity or power, John knows how to tell a story with nuance and power.

That story is the return of The Hulk to Earth, hell-bent on revenge against the Illuminati (Iron Man, Professor Xavier, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Namor, Doctor Strange) who flung him into space and – he believes – did so using a duff spaceship which ultimately exploded, destroying everything he had struggled to build in exile, and slaughtering all those he’d come to love there.

There’s something he doesn’t know. Before he finds out, though, it’s one long rampage of monumental destruction as he takes on The Inhumans, The Avengers both Mighty and New, the Fantastic Four and anyone else who gets in the way, like Rick Jones.

Whether this will rock your boat depends on how much more you require than that. Because, to be honest, there ain’t that much more on offer. Best-selling HULK collection we’ve ever experienced, that’s for sure.

SLH

Buy Hulk: World War Hulk h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Love And Rockets (Locas vol 6): Angels And Magpies (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Jaime Hernandez

Alone Forever: The Singles Collection (£8-99, Top Shelf) by Liz Prince

Black Hammer vol 2: The Event s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston

Deadly Class vol 6: This Is Not The End s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Wesley Craig

Fifty Freakin’ Years With The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (£8-99, Knockabout) by Gilbert Shelton

Rick And Morty (UK Edition) vol 6: Some Morty To Love (£14-99, Titan) by Kyle Starks, Sean Vanaman, Olly Moss & CJ Cannon, Marc Ellerby, Benjamin various, CJ Cannon, Katy Farina

Batman Arkham: Joker’s Daughter s/c (£17-99, DC) by Bob Rozakis, Geoff Johns, J. Torres, Ann Nocenti, Marguerite Bennett & Irv Novick, Juan Ortiz, Paco Medina, George Jeanty, various

Batman vol 4: The War Of Jokes And Riddles s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Tom King & Mikel Janin, Clay Mann, others

Batman: Detective Comics vol 4: Deus Ex Machina s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Christopher Sebela & Alvaro Martinez, Carmen Carnero

Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad s/c (£22-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson, Tim Seeley, Rob Williams, Si Spurrier & various

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon s/c (£14-99, DC) by Jill Thompson

Generations (UK Edition) s/c (£22-50, Marvel) by various

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop vol 2: Masks s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 4: Beyond The Fourth Wall s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings &  Gurihiru

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 5 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 6 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 7 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Assassination Classroom vol 19 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Attack On Titan vol 23 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol 1 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

Happiness vol 2 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness vol 3 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness vol 4 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness vol 5 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Happiness vol 6 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Platinum End vol 4 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

The Promised Neverland vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Shiver h/c (£15-99, Viz) by Junji Ito

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 2 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2017 week two

December 13th, 2017

Featuring Julie Maroh, Benji Nate, Alex Potts, Sophie Campbell, Elaine M. Will, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos, more!

Body Music (£22-99, Arsenal Pulp Press) by Julie Maroh.

Love and relationships in all their diversity:

“If there’s no construction, you’re not on the right road.”

What is delicious about the offering of that eye-opening truth is that it’s uttered offhandedly by a woman who is simply giving directions to a friend or family member over her mobile phone.

“No, no, you must have taken a wrong turn… If there’s no construction, you’re not on the right road.”

It’s certainly borne out here, along with so many other open and honest insights into how we treat each other when in love or in lust, explored over twenty-one vignettes with great subtly and empathy by the creator of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR who has quite evidently spent a great many years not simply considering but also listening.

 

 

It should all be so straightforward, really, this thing called love: thrilling, empowering, enlightening, giving, supportive, and celebrated for its pure beauty whenever and wherever encountered. But it comes with complications and a myriad of attendant thoughts and feelings – some of them conflicted and therefore confusing – otherwise everyone who has found a soul mate or fuck buddy would be radiant with pleasure, no one would argue and no one would ever break up.

Over and again I recognised so much within this considered and contemplative graphic novel which speaks of the universal, but BODY MUSIC also reflects a far fuller spectrum of desire and circumstances than any other fiction or non-fiction that springs immediately to mind, so it’s refreshingly inclusive in that aspect too. This can only be healthy, even if some of the relationships are far from it.

 

 

 

For by “diversity” I do mean “between women, between men, between women and men and gender non-conformists alike, all varying in age and race” but I also mean relationships at different stages in their development and success or failure: from first confident flirtations conducted with wit and imagination to first-date post-mortems wrestled over wretchedly and separately by both individuals unsure of themselves, their attractiveness, what they said and why they said it, while one of them waits desperately in hope that the other will text as promised in order to set up a second date… just as the other frets that to do so would just be opening himself up to almost certain rejection. That one’s called ‘”Are you sure you want to delete this contact?”’ and it is agonising in its dramatic irony, whereas the courtship in ‘Playing with Fire’ is funny, feisty, and seductive to boot.

“What are you doing?”
“Looking at you.”

The author has her eyes closed, meditating on much more than the single sense of sight could ever ascertain. Slowly one eyebrow draws dreamily upwards as her little finger nail catches between her corner teeth. Pity the poor barman, then, who is given a most excellent, explicit message to deliver a minute or two later!

 

 

 

Other relationships are far older. One is on the cusp of a new crossroads, a fresh movement forwards, towards even greater intimacy but someone has to speak first and trust that they’re on the same mental tracks, heading in the same direction (“on the right road”, as it were) whereas another relationship – or rather a series of same-time, same-place assignations – has reached such a state of intransigence and immobility that nothing new will ever be constructed, while yet another still, which might seem to have sickened on the surface, proves not merely salvageable but in no danger of destruction because one partner loves the other unconditionally.

I am trying to be discreet in my details, for the joy lies in your own discoveries and there is plenty of the unexpected to surprise both the participants and this book’s audience. Such startling injections include a single, strong dash of the fantastical which is beautiful to behold, although I would emphasise that this pretty much applies throughout: winter park wonderlands frolicked in with abandon; a Montreal fully realised both in its monumental buildings and starry-night skies, streetlights calling across still waters; the zip-zip of cell-phone text messages (the vast majority mundane and inconsequential, others of the most urgent importance); beautiful body forms in bed; muscular, hot and sweaty, shirtless gyrations to a pounding club’s heart beat; small, swollen buds patiently waiting out freezing snowfalls on bare, spindly twigs; oh, and that exquisitely embarrassed waiter!

 

 

There is so much to warm your hearts here, including this which I will give away from chapter one:

“You don’t know each other, you haven’t met.
“Yet you’re about to fall in love.
“Soon both of you will be ready, at the same time.
“That will be in a year or two.”

You think you’re listening to an omniscient narrator proclaiming an inevitable, predestined future as a woman on her mobile strolls obliviously past a bearded, back-packed dad busily attending to his young child, the two failing – this time, only this time – to notice each other in a hot, July, municipal park.

You’re not.

You’re being privy to the deeply romantic, entirely speculative thoughts of a woman old enough to have a working-age son who’s been calling her repeatedly to dinner, while said mum has been lost in her own private reverie upon overlooking that park.

If that doesn’t move you as it did me, what will do much later on is her determinedly un-embittered love for what was, a long time ago.

SLH

Buy Body Music and read the Page 45 review here

It’s Cold In The River At Night (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Alex Potts.

Alex A QUIET DISASTER Potts returns with his first full-length slice of his trademark downbeat droll!

Our central protagonist Carl is teetering on the edge of a full-blown existential crisis, probably of the early-onset mid-life variety, in his own mind at least… And it’s only being exacerbated by being cooped up in a small riverside house on stilts in the middle of nowhere in Europe, accessible only by boat, with his girlfriend Rita, who is assiduously trying to get her thesis polished off. Methodical, applied, diligent. She’s everything that Carl is seemingly not. If only he could find something to do with his life?! Or at least occupy him for the next few weeks!

He strikes me as being prone to the odd flight of fancy, and indeed fantasy, does our Carl. So after a failed attempt to catch some sardines for lunch, purely because he’s getting fed up with the helpful (and perhaps a tad nosey) landlord Mr. Beuf popping by on his boat with ham and bread for them, he hits upon his next crackpot scheme. He will track down the last remaining artisan responsible for producing the boat-shaped coffins preferred by the locals for their customary interment rites.

 

 

Having located said skilled coffin-maker by means of asking a few questions of the gossipy old men knocking back the vino in the local bar, Carl’s promptly riding the bus even further out into the back of beyond, to offer his services as an unpaid apprentice. How could the artisan possibly refuse such an offer…? One terse, instant refusal later and he’s swiftly heading home, tail between his legs, feeling more sorry for himself than ever. He’s not one to be easily put off, though, our Carl, I will give him that. And the next day sees him gird his loins and head straight back to the coffin-maker’s compound, determined to make him accept his sworn offer of fealty in exchange for teaching him the ancient skills of woodworking.

 

 

The artisan refuses, of course. Carl, believing his life can’t possibly get any worse starts dejectedly heading back to the bus stop, before realising he has somehow lost his wallet… So he’s left with no other choice but to attempt to throw himself at the mercy of the coffin-maker’s hitherto unforeseen, apparently unbeating, mahogany heart and beg for some change to get home. In fact, when in desperation Carl offers to sell him his watch, the artisan finally, reluctantly acquiesces, invites Carl in and puts him to work.

Carl, ecstatic at being in his eyes apprenticed, is consequently somewhat baffled when he finds he has merely been press-ganged into pulling the nails out of some scrap wood, then planing it smooth by hand. Convincing himself it has to be purely a Mister Miyagi-style master-discipline test, he sets to work with gusto. For hours. And hours. And hours. Then, when after several days work, the artisan casually tosses him a box of matches and tells him to burn all the wood he’s just so carefully prepared, he’s is utterly distraught, but still somehow believes it is all part of his initiation. His grand ceremony, however, is still to come…

 

 

 

Illustrated with a vibrant Mediterranean watercolour-esque platter, alongside some very dour and sour long-faced expressions – mainly on Carl and the coffin-maker’s parts in fairness, everyone else including long-suffering girlfriend Rita and the oily Mr. Beuf seem pretty chipper – this work neatly captures the feel of a man on the edge. A very rough, unplaned, jagged-nail, protruding edge… that’s set to snag and tear at the emotional cloth of Carl’s very soul… He strikes me as exactly the sort of person who is in need of a bit of tough love, mind you! Break out the sandpaper!

JR

Buy It’s Cold In The River At Night and read the Page 45 review here

Catboy (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Benji Nate.

Short bursts of infectious, wide-eyed wonder at the way we behave, with sparkles of get-up-and-go.

Olive is an aspiring, out-of-college artist who makes do with a distinct lack of furniture.

“I’ve never needed it. It’s not like I have people over. Plus,” she explains, eyes sanctimoniously closed at her sacred calling, “I’m a minimalist.”
“No you’re not!” pipes back Henry. “I’ve seen your closet!”

Olive has plenty of clothes to spare, which is handy for Henry, because Henry has none. He’s never needed any before: he’s a cat.

But late one night Olive wished on a shooting star that Henry could hang out with her like a real person and so – Alakazam! – he’s now tall, bipedal and ever so communicative, but innocent of the ways of the world. This is the book’s hook: Henry looking at the world and what we do it anew or askew, oblivious to sleights, jealousies or competitive friendships and indifferent to good or bad form.

 

 

 

But he’s still a cat and conforms to type, so a trip to the local furniture store does not come without cost, his dating advice is questionable (have you seen cats courting…?) and he’s still rather partial to the odd kill.

“Oh! I saved you some bird.
“I think your diet is lacking in bird.”

Olive not so much, but Henry’s expressions of both glee and worry put me very much in mind of BOYS CLUB’s Sarah Burghess, I love the way his head pops up unattended by the rest of his body with odd observations / assertions (“You can put anything in a soup!” – you really can’t)…

 

 

… and, as to oblivion and indifference, it matters not one jot to Henry that he’s wearing Olive’s togs. In fact, he rather rocks them, and between each five-page episode there are portraits of the two dressed up together in different get-ups on which cut-out-and-dress-up paper-doll tabs wouldn’t look at all out of place.

One curious conflation, if you like, is that the cast are of an employable age yet act like ten-year-olds. It works so well, and one of my favourite sequences comes during Henry’s unorthodox organisation of a slumber party to which he’s invited a cat called Scrappy, Dixie whom Olive dislikes (it’s fairly mutual) and Fran, a very odd girl who interjects every five seconds at one hundred miles an hour and takes any opportunity – no matter how inappropriate or unsolicited – to gush about her dachshund puppy.

 

 

 

Anyway, Henry has heard that at slumber parties girls talk about boys they have a crush on, so he throws it open to the floor. Fran fixates on her puppy, Henry offers his appreciation for Old Man Billy “because he feeds the birds every day so I always get a midday snack” and then it’s the turn of the cat:

“What about you. Scrappy?”
“Mow.”
“How scandalous!”

Olive: “I don’t like boys.”
Dixie: “I don’t think we’re doing this right.”

SLH

Buy Catboy and read the Page 45 review here

Look Straight Ahead new edition (£17-99, Renegade Arts Entertainment) by Elaine M. Will.

When this first appeared four years ago, it was one of the best and most sensitive explorations of teenage psychosis and mental illness I had read in some considerable time. It still is, and this new edition comes fully endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Jeremy is an introverted 17-year-old high school kid with very few friends whose primary passion is illustration. He’s possibly genetically predisposed to seeing the world a little differently than everyone else to start with, and after an extended period of emotional bullying at school from the jocks and the mean girls, this develops into a full-blown psychotic breakdown episode, complete with auditory and visual hallucinations. Cue a period in a hospital for observation and the future of a lifetime on medication. Obviously, this isn’t something that seems particularly appealing to Jeremy, and so begins a period of internal and external struggle, as he begins to come to terms with his condition.

 

 

Elaine writes and illustrates in a manner which perfectly captures many elements of the conundrum faced by those in Jeremy’s position. Often, they feel at their best during the pre-break periods of mania where the delusions are almost intoxicating, rapturous even, before the paranoia well and truly kicks in. Afterwards, they can long to experience those states again, believing that the chemical suppression of their medication, which in reality is helping to balance their brain chemistry, is limiting their state of consciousness and preventing them experiencing reality as it truly is. Jeremy is in just such a position, but fortunately for him he has a supportive, understanding parent who is able to prevent him going too far off the rails and possibly hurting himself or someone else in the meanwhile.

 

 

All of which sounds rather intense, and it is in a way, I suppose, but it’s presented with such sensitivity and understanding, illustrating the inner turmoil people in Jeremy’s position face, that first and foremost it just comes across as an excellent piece of contemporary fiction, irrespective of the subject matter.

Elaine’s art style certainly helps in that regard too, and I can see elements of Terry Moore in her work, which should give you a good idea of what to expect should you decide to give this a try.

 

 

For more on this and similar issues, dealt with in different ways, please see Page 45’s Online Mental Health Section.

JR

Buy Look Straight Ahead and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 5: Where All Stars Fail To Burn (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Generation Doubt: late-teen girls of so many shapes, sizes and temperaments navigating sex and uncertain friendships, as one within their midst seethes with psychosis. She’s about to boil over.

Set on and around the Wet Moon College campus perilously close to the swamp, it’s been building steadily for some time now, but this one is nerve-shredding. You’re in constant fear for alone out alone late at night.

It wouldn’t matter so much if Campbell hadn’t mesmerised us into caring so deeply for Mara, Cleo, Audrey, Natalie, and even Trilby whom I singled out in the first volume as the least lovable of the lot. Hey, she’s grown. They’re moon-eyed and vulnerable, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and opening themselves up with wince-worthy candour on their internet blogs. I still don’t know how anyone can live out their lives in so much detail online – even I have an internal editor – but Campbell nails the gaping chasm here between self-knowledge and self-guidance:

“And another thing I can’t brush aside (maybe a private post would be better for this because it involves private stuff and people I know…).”

Yes, maybe it would! I mean, you’re about to out your ex for having sex with a minor you were supposed to be babysitting! As ever, however, Campbell shows her protagonists thinking progressively and there’s some serious contemplation about the issue’s implications.

 

 

Sophie has also created a convincingly familiar (oh too familiar!) malcontent in Myrtle, head and shoulders sagging into her bloated body, lying, scheming, sulking and stewing in the poisonous juices of her own imagination; the single eye that glares so ferociously with self-righteous anger from under her lazy parting, as her poor girlfriend Cleo – always so concerned for everyone else’s feelings – suffers the brunt of Myrtle’s self-destructive rage.
On the other hand, Campbell’s art is a magnificent tribute to the beauty of less conventional body forms when they house a heart of gold, and WET MOON was always streets ahead in her inclusivity of diverse characters of colour.

Also this volume: baseball, being walked in on whilst in / on the toilet, and a series of one-page sequential-art portraits as each member of the cast spends an evening alone. What do they get up to, individually, at night? A couple of eye-openers, there.

 

 

Lastly, against all odds, Trilby and her boyfriend Martin really do seem to have been making a healthy and loving nest for themselves in the most stable relationship here.

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 5: Where All Stars Fail To Burn (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

Jessica Jones Series 2 vol 2: The Secrets Of Maria Hill s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos.

“Sorry about the neurological damage.”
“It could only be an improvement.”

She’s not wrong.

Private Investigator Jessica Jones has been formidably unlucky in almost every aspect of her life, but then she is far from her own best friend. She’s 99% sass, impetuous, anti-authoritarian and inclined towards heavy drinking. I like her a lot.

Jessica does, however, have a loyal husband in Luke Cage, so doting that he’s even given up his prodigious line in swearing so that their baby girl, Dani, learns only Jessica’s fruity cuss words. Luke has been the making of Jessica whom we first met in JESSICA JONES Series 1 wandering around from bar for bar, drinking whatever she could, shagging anyone who would have her then waking up hating herself. It was a bit a cycle, that thing there. Then she met Luke Cage, and I’m not saying it was the easiest or even most obvious of courtships but it made for the finest four books that Marvel have ever published.

Unfortunately even that relationship is now on the rocks on account of… stuff… but Jessica’s working on that. She’s working on that pretty hard.

 

 

 

 

When everything was once good between the two of them, things went bad when Maria Hill – then director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – sent soldiers to their front door and tried to arrest Luke right in front of their baby daughter.

Now Maria Hill – no longer even an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (fired, disgraced) – turns up in Jessica Jones’s bathroom with a bullet in her belly and blood pouring out of her gut. Someone is trying to kill her, but she’s been unable to find out who that is, in spite of her decades of international espionage training. Or maybe because of them:

“I may not have all of my memories. I may have, voluntarily or not, given up memories for national security reasons. Probably so I can sleep at night.”

Against all her better instincts – her complete distrust of this professional liar – Jessica accepts the contract and, about an hour later, finds herself targeted from a rooftop… by Maria Hill.

 

 

Trust is very much at the forefront of all things Jessica Jones. I could write five or six essays on the issue of trust in JESSICA JONES plus her time in Bendis’s SECRET WAR (singular) and NEW AVENGERS books. Oh wait, I already have. Here Bendis builds it brilliantly in one and a half pages of intense, internal monologue as Jessica grits her teeth in full knowledge of Hill’s history of lies, before Maria Hill even starts to speak. Then when she does, she’s immediately disarmed by the truth.

When he’s on top form, Bendis’ dialogue is among the very best in comics, and Bendis is at his best when Alex Maleev or Michael Gaydos comes round to play. I’ve found that some writers flourish when properly partnered, then seem to flounder as soon as some other artist steps in (see PULSE).

Gaydos’s timing, with incremental adjustments to facial expressions between panels, is subtle and flawless and – like Alex Maleev or Michael Lark – it is a shadowy world that he conjures. It’s street-level and dirty and dangerous. Even the Jones’s office is in venetian-blind twilight… until the window gets smashed in, anyway. I hope she has a glazier on retainer.

Even Chinatown fast-food joints become cold, unsafe places to meet under Gaydos – glamour is almost an anathema to him, and not everyone has the looks of a model. Jessica is unsurprisingly permanently tired and weary while Sharon Carter, now sub-director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is looking her not inconsiderable age.

“Where’s Maria Hill? She hire you?”
“I don’t confirm or deny ongoing investigations… But if you want to hire me yourself, you can visit our website and get a look at our rates.”
“I can put you in jail.”
“I am very good at finding people. Is there someone else I can help you find?”

Beat.

“Maybe the person that did that to your hair?”

I did mention that Jessica wasn’t exactly her own best friend, didn’t I? That she was sassy, impulsive and anti-authoritarian.

Famously, Luke Cage spent time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. So that’s something they’ll be able to share in the shower if Jessica Jones ever gets out.

“Where are you going?”
“Um… home.”
“Yeah, to quote the great General Solo: that is not how any of this works.”
“But – “
“We’re S.H.I.E.L.D. This is a major public incident. You’re being uncooperative and hostile.”
“But… so is your hair.”

SLH

Buy Jessica Jones vol 2: The Secrets Of Maria Hill s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Invisibles Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Jill Thompson, Paul Johnson, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mark Buckingham, Philip Bond.

The Invisibles is a secret cell of anarchists talented in various aspects of what could loosely be described as the occult, determined to see our lives freed from the threat of a trans-temporal, inter-dimensional, pan-sexual straightjacket.

Reality, sexuality, gender, order, chaos, language and control, it’s all here for the decryption. Join Lord Fanny, King Mob, Ragged Robin, Jack Frost, Edith Manning, Jolly Roger and the rest of these mentalists in their fight for your future’s freedom!

I leave you with a guide as to what to expect using the original volumes’ seven-volume titles (this thicker edition reprints #13-15):

Say You Want A Revolution: Did it really all begin here, with a young boy named Dane and a secret world which he suddenly saw lurking behind what passed for reality?

 

 

Apocalipstick: Things go from bad to worse – you can always count on that. You can also count on things not being what they seem.

Entropy In The UK: They say that everyone has their breaking point. But it’s what’s being broken that really matters – and who’s breaking it.

Bloody Hell In America: Secrets are hard to keep, unless they’re too big to be believed. The bigger the government, the bigger the secrets become.

Counting To None: Time is of the essence, it transpires. But the essence of what might surprise you.

 

 

Kissing Mr. Quimper: Learning from history is one thing, but writing the history yourself is another, particularly when it hasn’t happened yet.

The Invisible Kingdom: Who even knows?

For more, please see INVISIBLES BOOK 1.

SLH

Buy Invisibles Book 2 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Motor Girl vol 2: No Man Left Behind (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

25th Anniversary Sketchbook – 8800 Days Of Blondes, Brunettes And Bozos (£14-99, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Satania h/c (£22-99, NBM) by Fabien Vehlmann &  Kerascoet

Bitch Planet – Triple Feature vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by various

Blood Bowl vol 1: More Guts, More Glory s/c (£13-99, Titan) by Nick Kyme & Jack Jadson

Cyanide & Happiness: Punching Zoo (£13-99, Boom) by Kris, Rob, Matt & Dave

Expansion (£13-99, Adhouse Books) by Malachi Ward, Matt Sheean

Jazz Maynard vol 1: The Barcelona Trilogy h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge) by Raule &  Roge

Lady Killer vol 2 (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Joëlle Jones

Misfit City vol 1  (£13-99, Boom) by Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, Kurt Lustgarten & Naomi Franquiz

The Forever War s/c (£17-99, Titan) by Joe Haldeman & Marvano

Wired Up Wrong (£10-00, self-published) by Rachael Smith

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles s/c (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV & Freddie E Williams II

Injustice Year Five vol 1 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Mike S. Miller, various

Suicide Squad vol 4: Earthlings On Fire s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Rob Williams & Tony S. Daniel, various

Trinity vol 1: Better Together s/c (£14-99, DC) by Francis Manapul & various

Champions vol 2: Freelancer Lifestyle s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos

Dark Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato, various

Defenders vol 1: Diamonds Are Forever s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

Hulk: World War Hulk h/c (£19-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Peter David & John Romita Jr., various

Ms. Marvel vol 8: Mecca s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by G. Willow Wilson & Marco Failla, Diego Olortegui

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man vol 1: Into The Twilight s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Chip Zdarsky & Adam Kubert, Michael Walsh

Rocket vol 1: Blue River Score s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Al Ewing & Adam Gorham

Star Wars: Captain Phasma s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Marco Checchetto

Venom vol 2: The Land Before Crime s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mike Costa & Tradd Moore

Castle In The Sky Picture Book h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki & various

Pokemon Adventures vol 10 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon Adventures vol 9 (£6-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Mato

Pokemon XY vol 1 (£3-99, Viz) by Hidenori Kusaka & Satoshi Yanamoto

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews December 2017 week one

December 6th, 2017

Featuring Joe Latham, Luke Hyde, Cyril Pedrosa, Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, Ian Edington,  D’Israeli, Gigi Dee, Simon Spurrier, Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews, Kim Newman, Paul McCaffrey.

Portugal h/c (£30-00, Fanfare / Portent Mon) by Cyril Pedrosa.

“What you are doing is pointless.”

What Simon is doing is nothing.

Well, he is teaching and that’s not nothing: it’s the most important job in the world. He’s empowering his young students in multiple ways by showing them that they can draw!

Simon used to draw.

He drew graphic novels which drew critical acclaim but which he didn’t like, and which brought him neither the solace of money nor fame. Critical acclaim can be small comfort if it’s material reward that you’re after.

He has a beautiful, brightly spirited, understanding and encouraging girlfriend called Claire with whom he shares a fairly idyllic townhouse. It’s reasonably rustic even if it’s rented. He probably should mow the lawn occasionally, if only he could be bothered. But swinging idly in a hammock’s much easier. He should probably converse with Claire… if he only could be bothered. But that would mean making some effort. He should probably create once again, as his therapist encourages. But he really cannot be bothered.

“It’s not writer’s block. I just don’t feel like it, that’s all.”

Simon doesn’t feel like it.

 

 

He won’t even pick up the phone to ask for a loan from his Dad in Paris. His Dad called Jean is really quite wealthy, you know. Then Claire and Simon could buy a house, save on the escalating rent and not need to borrow at exorbitant interest from the bank.

“I don’t get it.”
“There’s nothing to get. I just don’t feel like it.”

Understandably, Claire feels frustrated. Inertia, inaction, it’s driving her to distraction, because Simon is simultaneously treading water and drowning.

 

 

That’s beautifully evoked in the art, and not just during the swimming-pool sequence in which Simon only just comes up in time for air. The first several dozen pages are suffocating under drab, murky, energy-sapping olives and tans. When waiting for his father in Paris, Simon is overwhelmed – like the panels themselves – by the cacophonous crowd-chatter in French.

Fast-forward to Lisbon in Portugal to which Simon is invited, as part of a Comics Festival, on the basis of those very graphic novels which he so dismisses. The streets are still densely populated by pedestrians, but because he doesn’t understand Portuguese, the irritating chatter becomes mellifluous music instead, its speech balloons floating soothingly into one ear then out the other.

 

 

It’s something that’s picked up later on.

“A few words in broken English… hand gestures occasionally emphasised with a smile or a raised eyebrow. This basic language, stripped to the essentials, as frustrating as it is, helps us reveal nothing but the best in us.
“The tiny signs that, in a mother tongue, betray stupidity or jealousy no longer exist here.
“I see only their smiles.”

I’ve never read that posited before: that the nuances of one own native tongue can carry loaded connotations – subtle, deliberate or accidental implications; or inferences perceived either rightly or wrongly – whereas a foreign language, struggled with, conveys only the direct, unsullied bare-bones.

 

 

And look what happens to the art!

Like Fumio Obata’s JUST SO HAPPENS, in Portugal the human forms too glide like softened, ethereal ghosts, the buildings, steps and walkways warp as if underwater, and the colours immediately warm then ignite, especially on the sea-front itself! He’s surrounded by enthusiasm, energy and laughter.

 

 

This is Simon Muchat’s first time in Portugal for 20 years. It’s where his family originated from. He’s never been back as an adult. Indeed, he’s felt so distant from his family there that he almost refused a Wedding Invitation from his Portuguese cousin who’s marrying a bloke from a vineyard family in Burgundy. Both you and he will be so bloody glad that he didn’t, as will his Dad.

Because here’s the big thing: you may think that you have a problem with some parts of your family (weddings and funerals can be the worst), but do you ever consider that the generation above you might have even more issues dividing them?

 

 

Expansive, autobiographical excellence from the creator of EQUINOXES (whose multiple perspectives help render it one of the most successfully complex, thought-provoking graphic novels alongside Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR, Glyn Dillon’s THE NAO OF BROWN plus Moon and Ba’s DAYTRIPPER), the second section here will mean so much to those who have found family reunions to be either terrifying, enlightening or both.

This turns out to be an absolute blessing, though not in the most obvious or immediate of ways. There’s an early car journey in which the traditional family silence is perpetuated by Simon (already reticent), his dad and his dad’s brother. Simon doesn’t realise that it’s a silence stilled for a great deal longer than he has been on the scene. Nearly 20 years separates his father, Jean, and his older uncle, Jacques, and it’s only when their more impetuous middle sister Yvette gets rolling that they start to rock. She may be sixty now but Yvette has lost none of her mildly iconoclastic but never divisive drive. She’s a catalyst for conversation, a moderator in reasoned perspective and a reminder of what is important. Good manners only get in the way: good will is what’s important.

 

 

Like Pedrosa’s EQUINOXES this is sumptuous with a central Burgundy vineyard which will make you swoon with bucolic jealousy. It’s not without its problems like cattle coming in across the water when they shouldn’t, or freezers spluttering then dying, leaving meat to rot when it’s supposed to be feeding the proverbial five thousand. But each of these instances will coerce those who may have lost the capacity to cooperate to do so again, then share their past.

It’s an enormous wedding party spread over a very long weekend, but much more informal than most as guests split themselves up into groups and do their own thing. You’ll hear snatches of background conversation and so feel that you’re there, rather than simply seeing what’s staged.

This is a book of the past According to Simon, According to Jean, then According to their ultimate patriarch, Abel: three male generations of the Muchat family which initially held little interest for Simon, but whose migratory past he soon finds so fascinating that he is later compelled to… well, you’ll see.

 

 

Anyone who can speak Portuguese is going to enjoy a fifth more than most because so much of this is deliberately left untranslated, as much a mystery to me as it was to Simon. I like that!

SLH

Buy Portugal and read the Page 45 review here

Injection vol 3 (£14-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey with Jordie Bellaire.

“Assisted fist?”
“Builder’s term for hitting something with a hammer until it goes in.”

Paranormal investigative fiction in which we return to where we began: the British Isles.

Specifically, we return to the rugged land of barrows and tors, stone circles and moors; of ley lines, megaliths and pre-Christian pits; of spriggans, diviners and cunning-folk. It’s the supernatural as science, the very ancient decoded by the most modern.

Information is everything, and everything is information.

Previously in INJECTION: five experts in diverse disciplines led by Professor Maria Kilbride were given funding by the FPI to cross-pollinate, think outside the box and do stuff.

They did stuff: they poisoned the 21st Century.

They did it with an Injection, and now they discover that both they and this planet are far from immune from what the Injection’s become.

 

 

Now:

“Everything from this point on is sketchy, okay? Every second is like you’re in the middle of making a deal that’s going very bad very fast. You know how that feels. Watch everything.”

Technologist Brigid Roth is tasked by Moira Kilbride of the FPI to investigate signal interference in Cornwall resonating from a stone ring on Mellion Moor uncovered following an earthquake and landslide. Chained to one of the standing stones is the remains of a dead body, skinned and boned. Beneath its central stone they discover what appears to be a massive, slab lid. Would it be wise to lift it?

When Brigid seeks information from local lore expert Professor Derwa Kernick, she appears to oblige with legends that suppose the circle to be a gateway to the Other World. Underneath, in a pit, criminals were chained and in the morning they would be gone. Any mechanism for this, she suggests, must have been lost in our oral tradition. So what happened to the man on the moor chained to the stone circle?

 

 

The tension’s kept caught by the constant reiteration of the deal-about-to-go-wrong warning exchanged between Brigid and rich kid Emma Louise Beaufort whom Brigid selects spontaneously as her driver and back-up based on her past (instantly uploaded from the FPI’s extensive, privacy-flouting files) for drug-dealing, robbery and assault. Emma’s role in many ways is as a Doctor Who companion: someone who observes, questions and panics easily – someone whose safety one worries about – while Brigid inventively (and dangerously) improvises with the most modern technology available today. As you’d imagine from the writer of PLANETARY, the dialogue is ever so satisfyingly slick.

 

 

In keeping with the old and the new, Brigid also comes equipped with an female-empowering Sheela na gig around her neck that is far from cosmetic and which, combined with her contact lenses, allows her instant access to all the message traffic of a computer connected to social media and more. It’s something Ellis floated in DOKTOR SLEEPLESS and which Sheean and Ward used excellently in ANCESTOR. Once more, however, Ellis doesn’t eschew the ancient, like the legendary notion that iron acts as a magic repellent. Pedal to the metal, as they say around race circuits.

 

 

As to the line and colour art – for which Bellaire won the Eisner last year, right here – the fog which shrouds Mellion Moor and its environs is phenomenally effective, there are moments of pure, sinew-shredding horror during which Shalvey reminded me of Kevin O’Neill, while during several key climaxes you will be treated to an ancient, tree-stone cathedral of light erupting in the night.

It’s but a herald of what is to come.

 

 

Incursions are increasing. The Other World of Old England’s coming back.

And it’ll only give the Injection more room to manoeuvre.

SLH

Buy Injection vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

Digby Is A Wizard (£9-99) by Joe Latham…

“We all feel small sometimes.
“It’s quite normal to have hopes and dreams fill our heads with bubbly excitement from time to time. It’s also quite normal for those moments to inexplicably lead us down dark paths and exploded bathrooms.
“There are always lessons to be learned.
“I just hope I remember that when I am next scared and lost down a dark path surrounded by scary gnomes with sticks.”

Digby is about have a bad day. A very bad day.

Not quite on the level of Jose Domingo’s ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN, I’ll grant you, but it’s up there. Job interviews can ruin your chilled-out vibe like that, don’t you find?

 

 

It all started out so well too, with a hearty al fresco breakfast followed by a little accidental dungeoneering, broken up by backgammon with friendly goblins and convivial chats with other chums like the giant spider and the demogorgon. Digby even arrived in the nick of time for his interview after a brief misunderstanding with a bridge troll!

But then his composure began to unravel with the onset of a gippy tummy, a bubbling belly that caused him to mishear a question and begin to experience mid-interview anxieties promptly leading to full-on panic. Even after some extreme emergency wizardly… emissions… which resulted in him levelling half the building, he somehow still thinks he’s in with a great chance of landing the job! He’s clearly one of life’s great optimists, our Digby…

 

 

Back home, however, following the inevitable bad news after the usual protracted delay in hearing anything, that’s when the metaphorical shit storm promptly whooshes into town to really blow him away. A case of life imitating fart, perhaps… But as poor old Digby begins to rapidly learn that not gaining errr… gainful employment is about to be the least of his burgeoning problems, I was just chuckling with increasing mirth at his travails and lack of travail, and thinking how glad I am not to have to endure job interviews any more.

 

 

 

Told mainly in a two by three grid panel per page pattern, with the odd spectacular full-page spread or elongated landscape thrown in for good measure, this is a silent affair, though jovially narrated through the conceit of a single, simple surreal / sarcastic / sympathetic sentence hand-scribed below each illustration. There are no panel borders as such, just white gutters. Thus it gives this work the visual feel of a collection of carefully assembled Polaroid pictures, which I loved.

Joe’s art style is wonderfully loose, deceptively simple, yet upon examination reveals a tremendous amount of work, particularly in the countryside and forest backgrounds. Whilst Joe employs a heavier line, this did – perhaps for its delightfully whimsical approach – stylistically remind me of Jordan Crane’s sadly out of print THE CLOUDS ABOVE. In terms of colour palette he’s gone for a Feldgrau grey-green that varies in shade decorated with splashes of scarlet as Digby begins to really lose the plot!

 

 

Originally a Kickstarter project from Joe Latham, whose magnificent, synergistic triptych THE FOX / THE WOLF / THE WOODSMAN we could scarcely keep on our shelves when it first came out, I happen to know there are only a handful of these hardcover beauties left to purchase, and that there will be no reprints…

JR

Buy Digby Is A Wizard and read the Page 45 review here

Pollquest (£9-99, self-published) by Luke Hyde.

Ever such a clever conceit and cool social-media experiment engaging fully with an interactive audience, this has been executed with much to-and-fro mischief and visual panache.

The experiment was, if you like, a democratic version of the pick-a-plot books like Sherwin Tija’s YOU ARE A KITTEN and, in comics, Jason Shiga’s highly inventive MEANWHILE wherein you get to dictate what happens next.

But democracy has its dangers as the comic’s protagonist – Bacon the Adventure Dog – would have been worriedly aware of had he been able to peer behind the creative curtain and see what was happening behind the scenes. We will get to that in a second.

Ostensibly, Bacon wakes up one morning, fully refreshed with 3 red-heart lives glowing as they would in a video game, and decides to go on a Poll Quest. He “poot-poot”s himself out of bed, digs his battle-scarred sword out of a treasure chest, taps an app on his mobile which has charged overnight, selects the Haunted Arcade option and defenestrates himself from the top of his tower. I like that fact that it has come under attack on some previous occasion from arrows. I love the fact that he goes splat on his face, immediately losing a life which recovers. He won’t necessarily be so lucky in the future.

 

 

What Bacon doesn’t know is that he has no self-determination.

He’s been saved that particular existentialist crisis.

What we know that Bacon doesn’t is that his entire course of action has been driven by said democracy thus:

Luke Hyde tweets his Twitter followers with a poll which they can then vote on. You know the sort of thing:

“Do you believe #Brexit will be:

“A. Apocalyptic For Our Economy
“B. Bad For Britain
“C. Catastrophic For All Concerned”

Anyone on Twitter can press one of those options and the poll provider will then know what percentage of idiots believe that Brexit will be brilliant for anyone other than the far right like Farage.

In this instance Luke first asked his followers whether Bacon should “Leap out of bed screaming (8%)”, “Roll out of bed farting (46%)”, “Check phone for quests (15%)” or “Sleep another hour (31%)”. Even the poor dog’s flatulence is dictated from on high – which is no viable excuse if you let one off in our shop.

 

 

There were four further polls on that very first page and, vitally, these insights are printed on the left, opposite the ensuing, directly consequent action. Oh, how differently our own lives could have all gone, if we only had responsible adults dictating our decisions behind the scenes. And, oh, how differently our danger-dog’s adventure could have gone if only he too had responsible adults dictating his decisions.

He doesn’t: he has Luke Hyde’s followers instead.

After much Lara-Croft leapin’ about betwixt pillars under peer, dodging the choppy cold waves down below, Bacon back-flips onto a ladder which will take him in into the Haunted Arcade.

“Climbing up, you meet a large door. Do you…

“Open it slooooooooowly
“Blast through with a fist
“Open it butt first
“Jump in shoutin’ ghost pun”

Now, I ask you, which would you have selected? The arcade is haunted. We don’t yet know by what (although we will most assuredly find out), but I was already willing to bet my entire wine cellar that it wasn’t by Randall’s mate Hopkirk (deceased). Slowly seems prudent, a fist might prove pre-emptive and a ghost pun at least empowering / cathartic. But no, Hyde’s good and wise may or may not lead quiet lives, but they whatever they do, they do it butt-first.

 

 

“Butt!!!! Every time the butt!” live-comments Joe Latham, creator of DIGBY and THE FOX and THE WOLF and THE WOODSMAN. And I will remember that, Joe.

Hyde is such an expressive cartoonist that anyone resurrecting Ren & Stimpy, for example, should knock on his door right away. The frantic action has a pull all of its own and so worth the price of arcade-admission.

But there are so many laugh-out-loud instances of such wrong-headed ratiocination on the left-hand page – with poor Luke doing his best to protect the interests of his protagonist against the wilful whimsies of his followers’ wanton irresponsibility – that, as I say, the format of this publication’s reproduction is its forte.

 

 

Plus, Luke himself is a very funny guy. Battered and bruised and (in short) worse for wear, Bacon is given no option by the social-media sadists but to enter a new arena: the sea.

“You dive in… as you fall you contemplate the words ‘salt water’; and ‘deep lacerations.”

SLH

Buy Pollquest and read the Page 45 review here

Cucumber Quest vol 1: The Doughnut Kingdom s/c (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gigi Dee…

“Cucumber, dear, I just think you ought to run over and see what’s wrong! I’m sure the school will let you reenrol once you’re done saving the kingdom.”

Magician-in-training Cucumber is all set to head off to Puffington’s Academy “for the Magically Gifted (and/or incredibly wealthy!)” when he receives a missive from his apparently imprisoned father that he, and only he – definitely not his infinitely more savvy and tough nut of a little sister Almond who wants to be a knight – can save the Doughnut Kingdom from disaster! For the evil Queen Cordelia has taken control of Caketown Castle and is intent on assembling all the Disaster Stones to resurrect the Nightmare Knight. BOO!!! HISS!!!

The only possible way to stop this dastardly plot is for Cucumber to go see the world protector Dream Oracle and head off on a dangerous quest to acquire the legendary Dream Sword and perform some swash-buckling, sword-wielding antics and save the day. But all poor old Cuco wants to do is learn how to cast spells… Now if only we, and he, knew someone who desperately wanted to be a questing knight…

 

 

Haha, it’s certainly a high fun factor in this all-ages fantasy comedy that also has a surprisingly sharp satirical edge in places. This edition collects a first volume’s worth of material from the hugely popular webcomic that has been running since 2011. After a ridiculously successful Kickstarter that resulted in the self-publication of several books, publishers FirstSecond have bought the rights and put out this first glossy collection.

 

 

With an art style squarely aimed at gamer-friendly minds and a vibrant colour palette to boot, it’s actually a visual feast, not least because all the characters are named and subtly dressed as fruit n’ veg! With bunny ears… I don’t really know what the bunny ears are all about, in truth, other than to further heighten the cute factor, presumably.

 

 

They massively puzzled Whackers, the bunny ears, when I tried this work out on her 6-year-old noggin to her great acclaim. “So they’re all wearing bunny ears, then?” she must have asked about ten times as I attempted to carry on, forging valiantly ever onwards to that delirious moment when bedtime reading is concluded and I can finally go downstairs and relax.  “No, they have bunny ears,” I kept replying, through increasingly gritted teeth. “But they’re not bunnies,” she kept retorting. Statement not question, you will note. Finally, I gave in… “Actually, you know what, I think you’re right: they are wearing bunny ears.”

“… I knew it.”

 

 

Anyway, this is a whole fruitbowl full of fun, a veritable cavalcade of family-friendly crudités. Gigi D.G. has definitely created a work that will delight kids just with its sheer, natural, sugar-laden energy and also make adults cast a wry smile at the more ‘serious’ social commentary jokes thrown in. Thus neatly blending an all-ages smoothie to satisfy both the sweetest of tooth and also provide a bit of crunch.

JR

Buy Cucumber Quest vol 1: The Doughnut Kingdom s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Complete Scarlet Traces vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Rebellion) by Ian Edington &  D’Israeli.

Well, it says vol 2 and we certainly have SCARLET TRACES VOL 1 but I started here, and when you turn over the first four pages you’ll want to too. This is exceptional: scathing socio-political satire made sweet by being British speculative fiction through and through.

With more than a nod to Frank Hampson’s DAN DARE, D’Israeli has excelled himself. There’s an enormous weight to the gravity-defying aircraft, detail galore in the smallest of panels, and the semi-futurist cityscapes come with a vast sense of space and a commanding control of light. You wait until you fly up to Mars!

Coloured to rich, warm perfection, I have rarely seen four more stunning pages kicking off a sci-fi comic, as the tranquillity of a bloody big British loch is shattered by something resembling Thunderbird 3 which catches the lake’s surface with one of its three jutting jet-engines, then nose-dives into what cannot be warm waters.

 

 

Fortunately there’s a rescue party immediately to hand at the shore’s edge. *checks definition of rescue mission*

Oh. Unfortunately what looks like it might be a rescue party turns out to be an assassination squad and the craft crew’s buoyancy blues are compounded by laser beams shot straight through their space helmets. We’re not really talking “injury-to-eye” motif; we’re talking brain-matter skull-‘splode.

 

 

D’Israeli ain’t finished, either. The very next page boasts an orgasmic aerial shot of Crystal Palace Aerodrome rising high into the sky above a lean, clean city with space for verdant parkland and the full majesty of the original giant glasshouse still standing. The lines are crisp, the light is lambent and the design of the leviathan coming in to land – vertically like a Harrier – is so exquisite in red and white that the six-year-old still very much alive in me would dearly adore a heavy model metal version to hold aloft and sweep around my playroom while going “Neeeeeeeeyyyyyyaaaaoww!”

Fans of LUTHER ARKWRIGHT or MINISTRY OF SPACE are also going to get a kick out of this alternate history in which Britain has retained the power it lost with its empire and made leaps in technology before its time – in this instance by reverse-engineering the spoils from a thwarted Martian Invasion.

 

 

In retaliation Britain has taken the fight to Mars with Field Marshall Montgomery in charge, but after 40 years of futile fighting – with national and international opinion set dead against them – things are growing dirtier. Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie, Secretary General of The League Of Nations, comes out with a speech astonishingly similar to Kofi Annan’s condemning Israel mid-2007; Canada, New Zealand and Australia are all set to secede from The Commonwealth; and you just know we’re in trouble if Sir Oswald bloody Mosley is Home Secretary. So you can kiss freedom of the press good-bye, and you can be equally sure there’ll be the thuggish boot boys to beat out insubordination, subversion or subterfuge should anyone get too close to the truth of what’s happening on the red planet.

Photojournalist Charlotte Hemming is determined to have a go, in spite of the odds, and after a treacherous journey finds evidence of a civilisation far older than their enemies, the reason that no one is coming home, and Earth’s Final Solution to its problem.

 

 

It’s all very slick, with winks here and there (an ancient mural depicts Doctor Who’s Silurians and Sea Devils as the contemporary, dominant species on Earth!), and Edginton fills his news reports with all manner of sly contemporary references before things turn very, very brutal indeed…

“In the East End of London, Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Metropolitan police raided a house in Sydney Street where Scottish seditionists ‘The People’s Caledonian Militia’ had established a hideout. After a heated gun battle, many of the insurgents took their own lives rather than face capture.

“However, it is suspected that several escaped in the confusion.
“Detective Inspector Craven of Special Branch anticipates their immediate arrest but warns that if you should see any individuals with a Scots or Northern appearance, do not approach them, but dial 999 immediately.”

Do it, please, for all our sakes.

SLH

Buy Complete Scarlet Traces vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Simon Spurrier & Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews.

“A hundred years ago the Crystal was healed and in its light a lost race was reborn.”

We’ll return to that anon, but what you’d most like to know as soon as possible, I suspect, is how this fits in with Jim Henson’s puppet-theatre film?

It’s the sequel. It’s the direct, fully authorised sequel which was developed over many years and original intended to be released as a feature film. As such it’s scripted by Simon Spurrier (CRY HAVOC: MYTHING IN ACTION etc) based on screenplays by Craig Pearce and Annette Duffy and David Odell, and its art doesn’t half glow, which is a good job given that it features a brand-new race called the Firelings. They live near the planet’s molten core. Anyway, here’s Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company and the Muppet maestro’s daughter:

“Jen and Kira have been peacefully ruling Thra from the Crystal Castle for many years… They have grown very old and are living in a haze of memories and ritual, and the peaceful complacency of their court belies a neglect and lack of engagement with the Crystal and Thra itself. Into that setting, a young Fireling girl from the centre of the planet comes to ask a difficult favour of them, a shard from the Crystal to save her civilisation.”

 

 

I’ve only skimmed the first of these chapters reprinting the first four of twelve comics, but it did strike me as odd that “A hundred years ago the Crystal was healed” was impressed upon us three times during the three-page pre-credit sequence, bursts first from the title page yet again, then is repeated two pages later, then two pages after that. It struck me as odd right up until the first chapter’s cliffhanger when I realised why this favour to the Firelings would be so very difficult.

The Gelflings are an animist culture, worshipping the Crystal as a god.

And for a shard to be given, they must first shatter the Crystal itself.

 

 

For more graphic novels, please see Page 45’s Jim Henson Section plus the LABYRINTH 2017 SPECIAL one-shot, released last week and still in stock at the time of typing and the forthcoming 12-part LABYRINTH series whose first issue you’ll find there on our site, although you are very much encouraged to set up a Page 45 Standing Order for the series for collection in store or shipping worldwide as each issue comes out. You don’t pay in advance, only as each issue is collected or dispatched.

SLH

Buy Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Anno Dracula – 1895: Seven Days In Mayhem s/c (£17-99, Titan) by Kim Newman & Paul McCaffrey.

Let’s lobs some labels at this, shall we, and see if they stick with you?

Steampunk, neo-gothic vampire comic with elements of Fu Manchu and Giant Monster Movies complete with Kraken. It’s all here, I promise you.

A brand-new story written by the author of the Anno Dracula novel along with its successors set during subsequent eras, this – like its original – takes place during a Victorian England whose crown, through connivance, now belongs to Vlad the Impaler along with Britain’s glorious far-reaching Empire. Not everyone is happy with this (though I’d have thought that one blood-sucking aristo was just as bad as another) so there’s a multinational European naval force assembled just off the Frisian Islands’ North Sea archipelago which is all set to invade / liberate our Sacred Isle depending on your perspective.

Think of them as The Allies. It’s kind of like WWI and WWII except in reverse.

 

 

On top of that there are various clans with secret plans bent on revolution from within, so if skulduggery is your thing you’ll be well-in here. They all seem pretty privileged too, and wear ever such flouncy clothing, plus a great many of them are vampires. This is a certain sub-section of society for whom this is the best wet dream ever.

The series is populated by historical figures, literary characters and those from film and television, so in that regard a bit like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (except that everything there was fictional including the environments) and you might have a great deal of fun spotting them.

 

 

Now, before we go any further, I should emphasise that HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola is the most enormously enthusiastic fan and provides the introduction in which he is at pains to point out that he’s a purist about Bram Stoker’s Dracula and therefore one of the least likely to succumb to the undoubted charms within, but succumb he has. Plus Neil Gaiman wrote “Compulsory reading… glorious!” and I have the most unequivocal respect for Neil to the extent that I know full well that I have never typed – and never will type – a single paragraph that could match his hastily scribbled weekly Sainsbury’s shopping list.

What I am trying to impress upon you is that they are almost certainly right and I am almost certainly wrong. Seriously.

But I cannot read a book in which someone cries “Egads!” or mumbles “’Ow do, lass?” then an anthropomorphic walrus declares, “The jig’s up, socialist rabble.” The first dozen pages made me squirm with embarrassment, so I set it aside and moved on.

 

 

For steampunk fans I recommend instead graphic novels like LUTHER ARKWRIGHT, CASTLE IN THE STARS, GRANDVILLE, CLOCKWORK WATCH or SCARLET TRACES.

P.S. Words like “skulduggery” and “turpitude” should only be deployed with an arched eyebrow as well.

SLH

Buy Anno Dracula – 1895: Seven Days In Mayhem s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Cannibal vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Brian Buccellato, Jennifer Young & Matias Bergara

Injection vol 3 (£14-99, Image) by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey

It’s Cold In The River At Night (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Alex Potts

Portugal h/c (£30-00, Fanfare / Portent Mon) by Cyril Pedrosa

Wet Moon vol 5: Where All Stars Fail To Burn (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Babyteeth vol 1 (£13-99, Aftershock) by Donny Cates & Garry Brown

Be Your Own Backing Band (£8-99, Silver Sprocket) by Liz Prince

Body Music (£22-99, Arsenal Pulp Press) by Julie Maroh

Catboy (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Benji Nate

Cici’s Journal h/c (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Joris Chamberlain & Aurelie Neyret

Helvetica Standard Italic vol 1 (£14-99, Manga) by Keiichi Arawi

Invisibles Book 2 (£22-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez, Jill Thompson, Paul Johnson, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mark Buckingham, Philip Bond

Look Straight Ahead (£17-99, Cuckoo’s Nest Press) by Elaine M. Will

Lumberjanes vol 7: A Bird’s-Eye View (£13-99, Boom! Box) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Ayme Sotuyo, Carey Pietsch

Over The Garden Wall vol 2 (£14-99, kaboom!) by various

Steven Universe: Anti-Gravity (£12-99, Titan) by Talya Perper & Queenie Chan, Jenna Ayoub

Batman: The Dark Prince Charming vol 1 h/c (£11-99, DC) by Enrico Marini

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 5: Supreme s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Goran Sudzuka, Alec Morgan, Ron Garney

Jessica Jones vol 2: The Secrets Of Maria Hill s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

The Girl From The Other Side vol 3 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Rivers Of London: Detective Stories (£13-99, Titan) by Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel & Lee Sullivan

Star Wars vol 6: Out Among The Stars (£17-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour & Salvador Larroca, Andrea Sorrentino, Michael Walsh

Batman & Robin Adventures vol 2 s/c (£17-99, DC) by Paul Dini, Ty Templeton & Brandon Kruse, Dev Madan, Mik Parobeck, Joe Staton

Green Arrow vol 4: The Rise Of Star City s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Eleonora Carlini, Juan Ferreyra, others

Blame! Vol 6 (Master Edition) (£29-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei

Dragonball Super vol 2 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 5 (£9-99, Viz) by Yasuo Ohtagaki

The Mortal Instruments – The Graphic Novel vol 1 (£9-99, Yen) by Cassandra Clare & Cassandra Jean

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