Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week three

March 16th, 2016

This weeks’ new books and extensive, illustrated News underneath!

The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) (£7-99, self-published) by Rozenn Grosjean.

“You cannot go on living in ignorance.Mystic Woods cover
“It will never bring you happiness.”

An exquisitely beautiful comic whose English-language edition we’ve imported directly from Rozenn in France.

If the colours aren’t enough to make you weep with joy – and I believe they will be – Grosjean has been kind enough to sketch Ansuz, its white raven, in every single copy.

The cover displays a complete command of space as well as weather conditions. I adore the contrast between the wet watercolours bleeding softly beyond the further reaches of the tree – its canopy receding into the mist high above the forest – and the rich, crisp, plumb of the nearest branch and leaves. Between the two Ansuz descends, its equally crisp inverse silhouette quite evidently not of this world.

It’s a cover defined by shapes rather than lines, and the same can be said of much of the interior: the white raven with its yolk-yellow eyes and soft, fleshy pink tongue; its mortal, black brethren perched in the wintry trees later on; the young girl’s fingers and forearms; and the ghostly apparition of Elhaz, the guardian stag-spirit whose pure white glow shimmers in the shallow waters.

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On the following page, I love how the ripples of the young lady’s tears, fallen into the mere, are reflected in the expanding, circular light of the stars.

“Ansuz, the forest has been dwindling for almost a year. What is happening among the spirits?”

What indeed?

It begins with the all-too human girl cupping an onyx-coloured egg ever so gently in her hands, her soft fingers wrapped protectively around its shell. The natural cycle is about to renew. It doesn’t, but why?

This is a haunting story told in three short acts whose middle season with its glacial white snow and frozen greens is juxtaposed with the warmest of purples on either side, the times of transition. The ending is an enigmatic ellipsis whose spectral execution reminded me of the videogame Ico.

Touched on within is our historical interest in omens – in Oracles and other soothsayers – with which the raven has long been associated.

The rest, I leave to you, adding only that the raven’s smile made me do the same, as did Grosjean’s glorious preparatory sketches of the bird in the back, after which follows the original 4-page, black and white story which inspired THE MYSTIC WOODS.

Rozenn’s own magnificent website is linked to in the News section at the bottom of this blog.

SLH

Buy The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) and read the Page 45 review here

Mercury Heat vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Omar Francia, Nahuel Lopez.

“Mercury’s sun-facing side is hot enough to melt lead. The other is cold enough to liquify oxygen.
“At the border between the two, there is a zone with a survivable temperature.
“It rotates so slowly that its solar day is twice as long as its year.
“On Mercury, you can outrun dawn.”

Gillen’s a dab hand at the 60-second pitch as anyone who’s read the back cover to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels knows full well. He’s also quite neat at leaving a beat.

“Just as long as you can keep moving.”

There are ever so many approaches to science fiction, even when set in space. That SAGA is set in space at all is almost is almost tangential to its central core comedy, family, war and romance – except, of course for the diversity of species. Much of THE FUSE, on the other hand, is very much informed by the fact that its police procedural takes place on a gigantic solar panel orbiting Earth, yet one of its delights is its familiarity: space-shuttle interiors resembling aircrafts’ for they serve much the same function; town shop fronts and pavements in what is effectively an indoor city centre.

MERCURY RISING, however, is not only about what might happen specifically on a colonised Mercury and why we’d be there, but the technology we’d develop for – and as a consequence of – a post-skill-set economy. It relishes its cyberpunk elements.

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We’d be there for the solar energy: it’s the planet closest to our sun. Far from post-apocalyptic, an enlightened humanity here has achieved much, proudly reversing our environmental apathy / devastation upon Earth and taking it to another planet instead. Hurrah! You might detect a conflict there. You would be right.

As to the skills which we currently learn in order to earn – during years of soul-destroying, entertainment-free education often followed by a three-year, booze-addled chaser – these can now be plugged in using memory crystals, along with any further top-ups required for specific purposes or locations like learning a language. Kieron has extrapolated further from this. Instead of being recorded in your cranium, one could choose to store specific memories on these crystals, acting effectively as external hard-drives and so jettisoned if proving troublesome. I can think of many social blunders I’d delight in deleting along with a few exes, but there are repercussions. There would also be downsides to deploying emotional dampeners. There are some fairly sound reasons for these emotions, you know.

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Gillen’s inventiveness doesn’t stop there: colour-coding memories – for example false ones, downloaded, so you know they’re not yours – and inserting tabs, little footnotes for future reference or in lieu of what you’ve dispensed with. You’ll see.

Why yes, there would be a black market for memory crystals too; a big one for more sensitive stuff.

So if you can acquire any skill set, what might determine your suitability for a job? Personality types. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that a tendency towards murderous rage might make one a poor match for babysitting, or an overabundance of empathy less than ideal for a seat on the Tory side of our Commons.

At which point I give you what makes much of this even less obvious: our protagonist, Luiza Bora, whose personality was assessed at a tender age and determined to be 57b. Not an ‘a’ or an ‘f’, to be fair, but a 57 all the same.

“I don’t want to hurt people,” she protested when young. She wanted to help people. She wanted to police.

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Unfortunately personality class 57 is not conducive to kindness, nor acceptable for police work on Earth. So a life as a soldier, it was! Until Luiza realised this: 57b ruled out policing on Earth… but not on Mercury.

I’ll leave you to discover the specifics of the career aspects here – no one works under contract any longer; you have to sell yourself on a daily basis via the Grapevine and the tendering process is ingenious – but this is Luiza’s first day on Mercury, she doesn’t have form, so she has to take what she can get. All she can get, for a minimal fee, is a seemingly simple case most would sign off on: the death of one Waldo Burgess separated on the artificial solar belt and burnt up when dawn came upon him. Ouch. I guess he ran out of breath and stopped running. But there’s an anonymous message attached to the case and all of a sudden Luiza’s intrigued.

“While advancing the case to primary will increase your fee,” warns the Grapevine, “initiating unnecessary investigation will negatively affect your Grapevine status.”

I think you can imagine, given that we’re only on page 10, that the investigation will prove just a tad necessary and will encompass almost every aspect of the world I have typed up to date. That impressed me no end.

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It wouldn’t be Gillen if there wasn’t some ‘sploding and there’s plenty of that – this is an action comic – but refreshingly Luiza never did want to hurt anybody, and if the lethal force required impresses individuals then she’s less than impressed with them. These more “tactile” sequences are enhanced with the help of combat upgrades reminiscent of video game-play (Kieron cut his writing skills in games journalism) whose not inexhaustible capacity is monitored by tabs which keep the tension taught while letting the fists and ammo fly.

Nor would it be Kieron without comedy, much of which comes in the less than classy class of technician whom Luiza is lumped with given her limited funds. Oh, and this is emphatically not an all-ages comic.

Omar Francia has dealt with the design work with relish and handles high-octane with aplomb. But when she’s not thrusting her fist in a face, Luiza stands tall, never once thrusting her derrière in your face as is the wont of some artists when given action-orientated lady-leads.

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Better still, there’s a great deal of subtle reaction going on between Luiza and Lucas, and I don’t mean merely reacting to what’s threatening to do them some damage, but to each others’ reactions to what’s threatening to do them some damage. Study those two early pages (above and below) which involve the first act of sabotage, knuckle-crushing metal-wrenching and a beam of extreme heat: over and again, Lucas is reacting to Luiza for she is essential to his survival. It’s a lot less common in illustrated action sequences than you might expect.

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There’s also a delightful and marked softening of lines when it comes to memories of the past – artificial or otherwise.

Don’t think I’m no fan of Lopez – I barely noticed the transition halfway through at the time – but when Francia returns for the ‘Interlude’ (which was original the FCBD edition distributed in advance of the series itself) those forms do surely soften again.

Given how this uses the future to comment on the present and the often robust exchange of ideas (which we call insults), I’d recommend this heartily to fans of Ellis and Robertson’s TRANSMETROPOLITAN – except that this comes with a genuinely Filthy Assistant.

SLH

Buy Mercury Heat vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Sean Murphy…

“Davey Trauma.
“A psychopathic narcissist and millennial nostalgist who got his mind trapped in the net.
“As soon as we grab one o’ his geeks, Davey shuts them down.
“The world’s a video game to Davey. He can control anyone with a nanopac in ’em.
“Meanin’ everyone.
“Everyone except me. Straight edge perks.”

Rick Remender seems to be on a one-man mission to demonstrate the many possible flavours of speculative and science fiction these days. After his turns doing comedic / weird: BLACK SCIENCE, post-apocalyptic / aquatic: LOW, plus super-heroic: UNCANNY X-FORCE, UNCANNY AVENGERS, and even his CAPTAIN AMERICA: CAST AWAY IN DIMENSION Z involved Steve Rogers being castaway into a dimension where time travelled at a far faster rate to our own (possibly meant metaphorically as well as literally as he did adopt a child whilst there. I feel like I have spent considerable time in Dimension Z, wearing out and aging rapidly, over the last four years since Whackers was born…), he’s now crafted something that is straight-up cyberpunk.

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The year is 2089, the location the Isles of Los Angeles. Society has most definitely polarised even further between the haves and have-nots, to the degree that the streets are basically one big floating cesspool of humanity, tranquilised on cerebral implants pumping out endless entertainment programmes directly into their vision, and nano-tech continuously adjusting and maintaining their emotional states, and even their physical appearances. All at a punitive financial cost, of course.

That vicious cycle of consumption, addiction and consequent fiscal slavery is not the worst of the population’s problems right now, though, at least for the duration of the opening issue. No, that would be Davey Trauma. When Constable Debbie Decay says the world’s a video game to him, she’s not kidding. To Davey, the Isles Of Los Angeles right now is like his own personal Grand Theft Auto as he goes crashing, smashing and spree-murdering his way to fame and high-score glory. Davey has his own twisted gaming rules, however, such as not taking control of Debbie’s police partner and lover, Led, who is practically catatonic in real-world terms, being permanently immersed in the virtual world, plus utterly addicted to – and superjacked up on – steroids, bone growth stimulators, adrenaline and various other physical enhancers. He’s not above taunting her about the fact he could, though – or with his theories about why she’s involved with Led. Ouch.

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This series is as much about Debbie and Led’s peculiar relationship of co-dependence as the central conceit of technology warping the behavioural mores of the individual and wider society. In fact our bipolar duo are just about to be given a mission that will take them to the last straight edge country on the planet: The Garden Nation of Tokyo. For Debbie that’s her idea of heaven. As for how on earth Led will cope getting back to basics and living the good life like Felicity Kendal, well, going organic is going to be a rather more trying experience for him as the narcotic and technological withdrawals really start kicking in. I can well imagine it would be exactly the same if I turned off the wife’s white wine supply and restricted her access to Facebook…

I have commented before that Rick’s artist cohort on BLACK SCIENCE, Matteo Scalera, has a style very similar to Sean Murphy. I do wonder if the choice of Sean for this title is based entirely on Rick’s personal artistic preferences? Plus I’m sure he saw the speculative fiction gold Sean wrought with his own PUNK ROCK JESUS. Combined with the choice of Greg Tocchini for his aquatic artistic endeavours on LOW, messers. Jerome Opena and Daniel Acuna on the Uncanny X&A material, plus Romita Jr. doing a damn fine and trademark distinctive Cap’n A., I can see Greg really seems to appreciate an artist that stands out from the crowd.

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Here Sean’s typically dense use of ultra-fine, myriad, parallel black lines and complex yet distinct detailing is perfect for rendering the frenetic hyper-speed streets and angular lunatics of the not so Angelic Isles. Those delicate touches are equally well-employed to produce some astoundingly beautiful and tranquil landscapes in rather more salubriously well swept streets of the Garden Nation of Tokyo. The phenomenal amount of line work Sean puts in to create some of even the apparently more simple panels and sequences is very deceptive. If you allow your eye to linger and start to deconstruct the art you’ll realise just how much effort goes into every single panel. No short cuts. Such dedication to the craft is what makes him of outstanding illustrative talents of his generation.

JR

Buy Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden and read the Page 45 review here

Agony (£9-99, New York Review Comics) by Mark Beyer…

“The way I see it, Amy, you’ve either got to conform to people’s expectations or pay the penalty, though sometimes there’s a difference between acceptable behaviour and what you can acceptably get away with.”

Wise words there from Jordan towards his long-standing and equally long-suffering companion Amy, not that that particular maxim is going to do either of them the slightest bit of good. Unfortunately for these two, regardless of their good actions and their fervent desire to conform to society’s norms and have some sort of moderately peaceful and undisturbed existence, Mark Beyer seems determined to put them through the wringer in all manner of horrifically surreal ways you can’t even begin to imagine, trust me.

Agony-1

In fact, let me name a few: being decapitated by a ghost, having your legs bitten off by a fish, being menaced by a bear, surviving nuclear fallout, being abducted by subterranean dwellers and so it goes on and on…

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It seems like Amy and Jordan are forever doomed to suffer their own peculiar brand of urban despair to an extent that would undoubtedly destroy the resolve of anyone to overcome such travails. Anyone except our ever-optimistic duo, that is! Yes, they’ll frequently have their moments of existential crisis when they wonder how the world can possibly be so cruel, but then they’ll find some ingenious method of escaping one particular torment only to fall headlong into the next. Mark Beyer, you are one hilariously cruel bastard!

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The art will undoubtedly perplex and confound many being as simple and surrealistic and just plain stoopid as it is. Most simply won’t like it, some might even assume it’s the deranged doodling of a demented nine year old. It actually really does remind me of the crazy shit a former school friend named Adam Buckle used to draw back in junior school. Last I heard he was a comedy writer which doesn’t surprise me at all. Besides, a ‘story’ this insane wouldn’t work with sensible art, it needs something this deranged to work and frankly I feel the art only adds to the crackpot appeal of it all.

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To my mind it’s just fantastic to see this lost classic from thirty years ago on the shelves again. It feels as fresh and contemporary as it did back then which is testament to the powers of humankind to be endlessly titillated by safely watching the fictional adventures of other people enduring abjectly horrific and perilous situations. Or as the publisher blurb quite rightly states, “Enjoy the ecstasy of agony.” And before you say I’m one sick puppy, I’ll bet you used to laugh at Laurel and Hardy as a kid, you know you did…

JR

Buy Agony and read the Page 45 review here

The Opportunity (£14-99, Myriad) by Will Volley…

“You need an asset, you need to own something of value, and I’m telling you, this is the only company that will give you the opportunity to own your own business within two years.”
“Be a sales manager?”
“No, this isn’t a sales job. If you want to do sales you can go and work at Burger King down the road for five pounds an hour, okay?
“This is an opportunity.
“And you, Ashley, are going to make it big. I guarantee it.
“You have all the potential. You’re a complete natural, but you have to have a goal… something to work towards…”

A searing indictment of the sales companies which are little more than glorified quasi-legal pyramid schemes, preying on graduates insufficiently worldly-wise enough to realise, initially at least, it is all one massive con at their expense. Anyone who has ever been unfortunate to agree to work for one of these companies, on a commission-only, door-to-door basis, trying to sign people up on direct debits for various charities and other things will undoubtedly shudder at the recollection. I think even anyone who has ever spent some time working at a call centre, the next marginal step up on the modern day slave-labour ladder of pain, will probably grimace in sympathy.

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This is the story of Colin, one of those people seemingly on the very brink of making it big, becoming a manager, being given his own sales office, finally starting to reap those huge financial rewards apparently always just around the corner… provided he can continue to keep his sales team motivated for just that little bit longer, to keep hitting those all important targets week after week. So he, sorry they, can all, start to achieve those elusive personal goals.

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Colin, of course, is rapidly heading for a nervous breakdown. As the emotional and physical pressures of worshipping Mammon and marshalling his mesmerised sales team continues to build ever more intently (plus the promised promotion seems simultaneously finally within his grasp… but slipping through his very fingers at the same time), something has clearly got to give. Colin can’t see that, so fixated is he on his belief in his proximity to that ever elusive personal goal…

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This is one of those gleefully painful reads. On the one hand, I felt myself feeling rather sorry for the increasingly desperate Colin, yet at the same time revelling in the torments of such a completely self-centred egomaniac. We all know people like Colin, I think that’s the point, so deluded in their get-rich schemes and dreams that they are utterly unable to see how the levers of cause and effect truly work, either on in the real world or on an internal basis. Self-delusion, compounded by greed, it’s not usually a recipe for a happy life. But it does make for great comics!

The black and white art, with additional grey tone shading, reminds me a tiny bit of early Steve ZENITH Yeowell in places. Colin in particular, when in full fiscal proselytising mode to one of his minions has a wonderfully manic look that, were it come from a random stranger, rather than your trusted boss and mentor, would have you running for the hills.

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One of Will’s self-confessed biggest inspirations is David V FOR VENDETTA Lloyd – and you can definitely see that very strongly as well – which possibly also gives this work a slightly false sense of period, oddly enough. If someone had told me this was published in the nineties I would have completely believed them. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. There are also some great little dissociations in pencilling style near the end as Colin’s mental collapse really takes hold that made me think of the A-Ha video for Take On Me, which again, probably helped create some strange faux-period association in my mind! I do think for a debut graphic novel this is tremendously accomplished illustration.

JR

Buy The Opportunity and read the Page 45 review here

Embroidered Cancer Comic (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin…

“Come to bed with me…”
“Yeah I guess so.”
“We could look at that Victorian erotica book you like.”
“Huh? No, I’d rather read this book about cancer. Is that ok?”
“Sure, it’s just fine.”

Now, just to clear up any potential misunderstanding, this was not the scene in the Rigby household when I settled down to read this latest work from the publishers of medical-based comics Singing Dragon, following from the excellent works: PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE, WHEN ANXIETY ATTACKS, DAD’S NOT THERE ANY MORE, TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE, BLUE BOTTLE MYSTERY: AN ASPERGER ADVENTURE and TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT. Nor indeed, just in case the wife is reading, do I possess any Victorian erotica…

No, this is in fact a conversation that takes place between the creator, Elizabeth, and her husband Bob, who has been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Prior to that particular bombshell it seems like they used to enjoy a fair degree of cuddling and canoodling between the sheets, but clearly the stress of worrying over which medical pathway to proceed with and the effects of the testosterone-blocking tablets he commenced to help prevent tumour growth are having a decidedly negative effect on his ardour.

There are a number of wonderful things about this work that tickled me greatly, despite the inevitable emotional impact of the topic itself. The first being that this is indeed a comic where all the illustrations are scans of embroidery! For Elizabeth Shefrin is a textile artist and it once again goes to show that whilst the output of a sequential-art-based comic is the same ultimate end point, the means and techniques of illustration of getting there are virtually without limit. The only other comic that I could think of employing embroidery, albeit as an embellishment rather than the main approach, is Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT.

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Embroidered Cancer Comic

But what completely got me was the humour, and indeed the love. Throughout, there are some lovely visual gags such as when Bob grapples with the conundrum of radiotherapy or surgery. It’ll not surprise you to learn that depending on whether you consult a radiation oncologist or a surgeon, you’re going to get a different answer. The punchline, though, is when Bob decides to consult a shoemaker…

“I recommend a new pair of shoes.”

As Elizabeth comments, cheekily breaking the fourth wall in the next panel, lest we fear that Bob’s cracked mentally and decided to put his faith in some extreme form of alternative medicine… “Of course, that didn’t really happen.”

Phew.

So this then is a snapshot of their journey from unexpected diagnosis to where they are today. I found it very affecting and actually quite uplifting. Happily Bob is still with us. As he and Elizabeth both touch on in their separate afterwords, they have had some dark times, but keeping the communication flowing between each other has been paramount. This comic also forms part of the wider conversation about cancer that needs to happen with the public at large, which is obviously an element of the vital mission of Singing Dragon and bless them for that.

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I had almost made it through tear-free, when I read the concluding afterword from Dr. Peter Black, Bob’s surgeon at Vancouver Prostate Centre, about how there are a few different versions of the prostate cancer journey. How for many it’s not a particularly threatening disease, if caught early. But for others, treatment is started knowing that a cure is not possible.

That was unfortunately the case for my much loved and much missed father-in-law, Michael, who was diagnosed after his prostate cancer had already metastasised and spread to his bones. So anything which helps raise the awareness and therefore hopefully early detection and treatment of prostate cancer can only be a good thing. If this was in a doctor’s waiting room, I am quite sure it’s far more likely to be picked up and read cover to cover by a pensive man than yet another nondescript leaflet. The sad and poignant thing is I can perfectly picture Michael chuckling at the jokes in this work in my mind’s eye. But as Elizabeth quite correctly concludes her afterword… “It is so important that we laugh as well as cry.”

JR

Buy Embroidered Cancer Comic and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen & John Cassaday, Jae Lee, Trevor Hairsine.

“Ninety percent of the casualties of World War I were soldiers, fraulein. But half of the people who died in World War II were civilians.”
“Half?”
“Half of sixty-one million. I know what I’m fighting for. I don’t want to see World War III.”

No. I think we can all agree that a great many more than 50% of casualties during and since 9/11 have been civilian. My best guess? 95%.

For me the first third of this graphic novel is the best work of Cassady’s career so far. He put so much thought into the pacing and compositions which are far from melodramatic. They’re stark and even solemn at times, with a lot of eyes being looked into, unflinchingly.

The opening sequence is almost bereft of colour, hauntingly so, reflecting the ash everywhere after the Twin Towers had fallen. The first flash of primary cover from Dave Stewart is a shield and only a shield against which a knife shatters, held by a hand with murderous intent in a startling flash of anger, revenge-seeking and racist.

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NB: this is not that panel which I couldn’t find online – this is the next page!

Pre-ULTIMATES, this was the first time that Captain America’s mask was drawn with some substance, a leathery thickness, and his chain mail delineated as more than mere patterns but with a solid, pound-coin physicality, indicating their practical, protective functionality.

This appeared a decade and a half ago following the events of 9/11 and America’s reaction to it. It is full of that understandable grief but also informed by a resolute opposition to the well of anger which was so alarmingly prevalent at the time.

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It is not the flag-waving piece of patriotic neo-imperialism the cover might suggest, but a hard, heartfelt and unyieldingly diatribe against war and its terrible consequences.

In a peaceful town now strewn with land mines, in a pew in a church now laced with tripwires (one up against a child’s fallen teddy bear) the hostages held by terrorists are told why and a wife turns to her husband:

This is how you feed our baby? With bombs? You make bombs?”
No! Components – We make components.”

He says, holding his toddler’s hand.

Earlier:

“Land mines outlast wars – aren’t disarmed by treaties. Cluster bomblets fall without detonating – but explode at a touch. Any touch.”

Elsewhen, elsewhere, Nick Fury defends S.H.I.E.L.D.S.’s deployment of terrorist technology.

“They’re the edge that our enemies have, damn it – if we don’t have them too.”
“I know all about your edge. That’s where I’m from. I am military technology. But that’s not all I am.”

Captain America looks him straight in the eye.

 

As I said, this is quiet. I’ve seen this sort of thing bloated with grandstanding verbosity but Rieber’s self-control makes every word count and Cassady has grasped his intentions to perfection. I re-read ‘Enemy’ and ‘Warlords’ today for the sake of review with unequivocal admiration.

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After those tales Chuck Austen took hold of the reins with Trevor Hairsine then Jae Lee in the artistic saddles with Rieber popping round for tea whenever he could. I haven’t re-read ‘The Extremists’ or ‘Ice’ which bring this up to a chunky 16 issues, but I remember enjoying them. To a lesser greater, I concede, but what’s not to love about Harisine’s sturdy forms and crunchy textures and Jae Lee’s spiky, shadow-strewn neo-gothic art? It’s all brooding, angular and monumental, and his original Avengers – Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man and The Wasp – as coloured by the great Jose Villarrubia, dark-and-stormy-night-stylee, are utterly thrilling.

What I have done is found an old review from fifteen years ago for the second half, but it’s a complete change in tone – thoroughly flip – and contains the most MASSIVE SPOILERS. It did, however, make me laugh, so it’s entirely up to you whether you should stay or you should go now.

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Previously in CAPTAIN AMERICA:

World War II: Cap and his perky partner Bucky are battling the evil Baron Zemo, the bloke with the tea towel fixed to his face. Zemo launches a whopping great missile and Buck and Cappy spring on top and try to diffuse the puppy. Oh no! It’s about to explode! Jump, Bucky, jump!

Cap falls off but Bucky is blown to tiny teenage pieces, testosterone all over the place. And that’s it for World War II. The next thing Steve Rogers knows is it’s the 1960s and it’s all a bit chilly on the willy on account of having been thawed from a big block of ice found floating in the Arctic, tossed into the ocean by Prince Namor of Atlantis (postcode unknown).

So there you have it, the established story for the last 40 years. Turns out it’s not the truth, the whole truth nor anything like the truth, so help you God.

Say you were the US of A and – with your super-soldier goody-two-shoes keeping your heads above water – you were struggling against the Nazis and their allies, particularly those sneaky ones who redecorated Pearl Harbour without so much as a fabric or colour consultation. And say you finally managed to develop a great big bomb with Enola Gay written all over it, and you decided to drop it on Japan. Well, you don’t think the upstanding Captain would be very pleased about that. In fact, he’d almost certainly attempt to stop you, and nothing much has got in his way before so it’s time for the ultimate decommission.

Put the man on ice, so to speak.

And that’s what they did. It wasn’t some freak accident that saw the Captain spend the 50s in suspended animation. It was the government. The same one he’d been fighting for fearlessly, tirelessly before and ever since.

So upset is Mr. Steve “The Clean” Rogers that he contemplates casual sex. Good grief!

I don’t think this is canon any longer.

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SLH

Buy Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven.

This is a fiercely writtenCivil War cover seismic schism between friendships under pressure from a law long overdue, and ignited in a moment of reckless, pre-emptive presumption.

It’s nothing remotely like the film, imminent, but that is why the graphic novel’s tie-ins are being re-released – some of which we’ll cover, briefly – but it seems stupid do so without republishing an edited edition of the central series’ review.

The Super Hero Registration Act was brought forward after a bunch of attention-seeking, vigilante, not-so-super-powered children bit off more than they could chew whilst filming for a Reality TV show, causing the devastation of an entire neighbourhood in Stamford and the mass slaughter of its inhabitants. Of course action is demanded, and action is taken: all so-called superheroes are now legally obliged to register with the government, surrender their identities, and accept both instruction and instructions in order to minimise loss of life and the destruction of property whilst maximising a coherent fight against crime.

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For some, like Captain America, this is an issue of privacy and independence. Those arguments are compellingly made. For others, like Iron Man, it’s the only way to preserve their existence as well as the only responsible option under the circumstances. And on a second read through, those arguments are not just compelling but pretty irrefutable.

One reason why this works is that between the eruptions of consequent, catastrophic combat, Millar allows the sharing of perspectives in a spectrum of colours, whilst those eruptions themselves force the combatants’ hands. Before they know where they are, it’s completely out of control, and already enraged passions give way to blind self-justification, treachery and death.

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I don’t know if any other commentators have remarked on this, but the other main reason this works is the current political climate – in America and Great Britain at least. If we lived in countries where we actually admired, had faith in or remotely trusted our governments and their corporate sponsors to do the right thing with our personal information, our money and our armies, Captain America’s arguments would resonate with us not one jot. Look at reasonable people’s reactions to Columbine and this latest campus terror: restrict arms sales! If these acts of callous brutality had been committed by psychopaths with frightening abilities, you’d want this legislation too. You’d see it as the safest, most practical and progressive improvement in law enforcement which only a coordinated, professional strike team of superheroes could bring. But we don’t trust our governments precisely because they do send their soldiers into illegal wars, they do use them to conquer foreign oil fields, and they do hand over the reconstruction contracts to their business buddies. And they don’t half fuck up with their computer systems, dissemination of private information leading to identity theft.

That, I think, is why so many readers including myself instinctively sided with Captain America: not because Millar puts better arguments into his mouth, but because we feel an instinctive disgust and distrust for our current governments, most forms of control, and corporate figure-heads like Tony Stark. Although there’s plenty later on to justify our suspicions, including the unnatural cloning and technological enhancement of a missing Marvel character (that’s another of our worries: scientists playing God, in this case playing God with a God, and that turns out to be a wretched mistake indeed), and Hank Pym loftily declaring, “The public needs super-people they can count on,” whilst popping a pill down his gormless gullet.

Emotive moments include little lines like the Black Panther’s: “Word of advice, Reed. Call Susan.”

Civil War sc 3

Which brings us to McNiven who doesn’t blow those scenes with melodramatic expressions (he gets plenty of release throughout the course of this book, don’t you worry!). He’s softened up considerably since his NEW AVENGERS run: his body language and faces have improved enormously, whilst Morry Hollowell’s colouring keeps the pages warm and atmospheric.

It’s not perfect, and I would heartily recommend picking up CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA next so that the story moves on even further for you, but conversely I’d also recommend you shy away from most of the tie-in collections to this tome except (maybe – only maybe) for ROAD TO CIVIL WAR.

I’m not going to go to do an INHUMANS, an IDENTITY CRISIS, an ALIAS a SLEEPER, a GOTHAM CENTRAL, an ULTIMATES or a HAWKEYE on you, and claim that this is one of those very rare instances of a superhero book that those who normally distance themselves from this genre should overcome their prejudices to pick up. In spite of the politics, this doesn’t have quite that broad an appeal, I don’t think. On the other hand, it’s not too esoteric, either, and I think Millar was wise not to bother explaining who half these people are on the occasions when it didn’t really matter.

SLH

Buy Civil War and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Christos N. Gage, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, various.

A very mixed bag which unfortunately contains the only reprint of ‘The Confession’ by Bendis and Maleev, a poignant two-part reprise in which Iron Man addressed Captain America, and Captain America addresses Iron Man under very specific circumstances which I cannot impart for fear of spoiling the first half’s punchline or the end to CIVIL WAR itself.

All I will say is it was typical of Bendis’ instinct for unorthodox storytelling that they are presented in the order they are, and quite rightly so for hindsight is a very cruel mistress courting dramatic irony like she or he was the last lady or gent in town.

DAREDEVIL ’s Alex Maleev delivers it directly and you’ll note that although in the first half – the actual, honest, titular Confession – Stark takes off his helmet, in the second sequence Iron Man keeps his mask on throughout even though the two former friends are alone.

The effect is a stony silence, Captain America’s words effectively bouncing back off the intransigent, impassive metal as if unheard or at least unfelt.

Civil War Captain America Iron Man

I can’t say any more but, given that £18-99 is a steep price to pay for twenty pages, however well worded – King Pyrrhus is referenced with good reason – and however effectively and affectingly drawn, we really won’t mind if you just skip to the end of the volume whilst in the shop and read it from start to finish.

The Brubaker & Tim Perkins / Lee Weeks CAPTAIN AMERICA chapters which precede it, you can pick up in that title’s regular run of graphic novels: you won’t need this for that.

It’s another sci-spy instalment in which the undermining of Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers’ on/off lover, fellow SH.I.E.L.D. agent and unwitting instrument of [REDACTED] begins on the very first page, and it’s gripping stuff.

It’s a book in which the Superhero Registration Act is discussed passionately by those supposed to enforce the law, and stars its own supporting cast while the good Captain fights the good, bad and the ugly fight in the pages of the CIVIL WAR itself.

Most interesting for those following the fortunes of former S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury (SECRET WAR singular etc.), is the tactically brilliant way in which he inserts himself back into the main frame without emerging from hiding, except in very plain sight. And that’s not as cryptic as you might think, if you read it carefully. Gorgeous, shadowy art, like Sean Phillips bathed in milk.  Hell, I know what I mean.

The rest of this is utterly banal fluff in which Captain America and Iron Man meet mid-hostilities to spell out the bleeding obvious to stoopids, so ruining Mark Millar’s subtleties completely.

Reprints CAPTAIN AMERICA (2005) #22-24, WINTER SOLDIER: WINTER KILLS #1, IRON MAN (2005) #13-14, IRON MAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA: CASUALTIES OF WAR #1 and CIVIL WAR: THE CONFESSION #1.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Civil War: Wolverine s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Humberto Ramos.

And so the barrel-scraping begins: anodyne and ugly rubbish.

Follow the fortunes of Nitro if you want – it really wasn’t the point of CIVIL WAR – but nine years ago I wrote:

“Complete and utter pants.

“I cannot believe that the man responsible for the substantial mini-series HYPERION VS. NIGHTHAWK, currently playing its political self out, wrote this melodramatic piece of claptrap.

“Ramos’ awkward, posturing figure work doesn’t help, and between them they came out with the very worst example of superficial drivel I have had the misfortunate to endure since… well, Wednesday, actually.”

SLH

Buy Civil War: Wolverine s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder & Tony S. Daniel, various…

“Wait, are you a superhero too? How many costumed teens are running around Gotham these days?”
“Back away from my roommate or… Spoiler alert! You’re gonna gargle teeth!”
“They giving out costumes in cereal boxes now?”

The ‘joke’ being that it is Harper Row aka Bluebird being ‘rescued’ from Dick Grayson by Stephanie Brown aka the Spoiler. Also, as the original costumed pre-teen, what right does Dick have to criticise anyone, especially in the area of sartorial elegance, for running around rooftops in ludicrous garb. This story takes place during the current run of Scott Snyder’s BATMAN, whilst Bruce is taking an amnesia induced break from bashing heads and believes himself to be merely a philanthropic businessman, and Jim Gordon is standing in as the new state-sponsored, head-smashing caped detective over in DETECTIVE COMICS.

So when someone starts coming after all of the Batman’s considerable cadre of sidekicks, it’s up to the various Robins, past and present, to look into matters and take care of their own. What they uncover is a shadowy people trafficker code-named Mother who has some rather disturbing historical links to the Dark Knight himself. But with Bruce being, well quite literally just Bruce, they can’t turn to their former mentor, either with accusations, or for answers. And with secret agents, double agents and sleeper agents seemingly lurking everywhere, Dick and his chums seemingly can’t trust anyone… especially the newsagents. Because, as everyone knows, if you want to make sure of getting your regular standing order, particularly for a weekly title like this one, you need to find a comic shop you can trust. Oh, seem to have slipped in retailer rather than reviewer mode there…

Following on from the rather enjoyable weekly romp BATMAN ETERNAL that was also joint penned by Snyder and James Tynion IV, this self-contained story is clearly going to add another typically Snyder-esque layer of ret-conned complexity to the Bat-mythos. There are some lovely little flashbacks to Dick Grayson as the young Robin, joking and messing around in a manner Neil BATMAN: ODYSSEY Adams would heartily approve of, if not Bruce…

There’s a staggering array of Bat-characters, heroes and villains, in this first volume alone, matched only by the numbers of artists DC have employed: 18 pencillers, 6 colourists and err… 15 letterers, in producing this work. There are also 7 people credited with scripting duties! I understand it must be rather a push to get a weekly title out, but it does seem a trifle excessive to me. Anyway, it perhaps surprisingly doesn’t suffer remotely for keeping the entirety of the DC Bullpen in gainful employment. The story feels tighter than young Dick’s neon green tights riding up his bumcrack and the slew of art styles works rather well with the constant switching and shifting of characters and time periods. So far so good.

JR

Buy Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Uptight #5 (£7-50, Fantagraphics) by Jordan Crane

Eyelash Out (£3-00, Retrofit) by Ben Sea

Future Shock Zero (£12-00, Retrofit) by various

Ikebana (£4-00, Retrofit) by Yumi Sakugawa

Mowgli’s Mirror (£6-00, Retrofit) by Oliver Schrauwen

Ink For Beginners: A Comic Guide To Getting Tattooed (£3-00, Retrofit) by Kate Leth

The Unmentionables (£4-50, Retrofit) by Jack Teagle

Judge Dredd: America (£13-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography restocks (£16-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Chester Brown

Mystery Circus – Week One (£9-99) by Verity Hall

Nameless h/c (£18-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham

Phonogram vol 3: The Immaterial Girl (£10-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

The Beauty vol 1 s/c (£7-50, Image) by Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley

Pocket Full Of Coffee (£5-00) by Joe Decie

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse Omnibus s/c (£22-50, IDW) by Ben Templesmith

Batman vol 7: Endgame s/c (£12-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Batman vol 8: Superheavy h/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

Gotham Academy vol 2: Calamity s/c (£10-99, DC) by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen, Msassyk

Captain America And Falcon: Complete Christopher Priest Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Christopher Priest & various

Civil War: Fantastic Four s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by J. Michael Straczynski & Mike McKone, Paul Pope

Civil War: Front Line s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & various

Civil War: X-Men s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by David Hine, Fabien Nicieza, Peter David & various

Secret Wars (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic

Secret Wars h/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic

Superior Iron Man vol 2: Stark Contrast s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & Laura Braga, Yildiray Cinar, Felipe Watanabe

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor vol 1: Weapons Of Past Destruction (£10-99, Titan) by Cavan Scott & Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott

Birthday Wishes To A Magnificent Chap Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Birthday Wishes To A Truly Wonderful Lady (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Pack Of 4 Thank You Foiled Bees Notelets (£4-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

Pack Of 4 Thank You Foiled Ladybird Notelets (£4-00, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

You Did Good! Card (£2-50, Paper Pipit) by Jodie Paterson

News!

ITEM! It’s raining Trinder teapots!

Raining Laura Trinder Teapots

Laura Trinder AKA @xbirdyblue artist on Benjamin Read / Improper Books’ NIGHT POST – tweeted her glorious design the other day, I retweeted then my Tweetdeck Notifications column became a cascade of porcelain as others’ followed retweeted my retweet!

Laura Trinder’s original teapots design in all its refined, full-sized glory Pretty!

Porcelain Ivory Tower

ITEM! Speaking of Improper Books, the finale to PORCELAIN VOL 1 and PORCELAIN VOL 2 (Page 45’s biggest selling graphic novel of 2015) is called PORCELAIN IVORY and Chris Wildgoose is already working on its inks, above.

Jillian Tamaki Subway

ITEM! Jillian Tamaki’s Subway Poster now available as prints. Beautiful!

Foxfire

ITEM! Here’s a Tumblr of art to make your swoon, from the forthcoming Foxfire by Wratt.

Retrofit

ITEM! Retrofit Comics Kickstarter to print more comics – by Eleanor Davis, Leela Corman and co.!

This is SO worth supporting. Above is a batch of Retrofit Comics we got in today, online and linked to under Also Arrived.

Matt Madden’s DRAWN ONWARD, was a Retrofit title: the cleverest comic of last year and one of our Page 45 Comicbook Of The Months.

ITEM! Watch enchanting footage of FeltMistress adorning a barren winter suburb with wonder and colour!

All the characters in DESTINATION KENDAL were created by FeltMistress based on Jonathan Edward’s designs, then photographed by Sean Phillips, all in aid of annual Lakes International Comics Art Festival in Kendal. So funny, so beautiful! Guest-stars Sean Phillips himself! Poor Sean!

Colour Wheel

ITEM! Marissa Louise’s breathtakingly illustrated, extensive essay on colour and colouring comics for Women Write About Comics.

ITEM! Creators: Lerner Books calls for submissions of graphic novels in the middle-grade to Young Adult range. Clear submission guidelines included. I have no illustrative image, sorry!

ITEM! MUNNU’s Malik Sajad is Verve’s Storyteller of the Year!

Well deserved too – oh, how I adored Malik Sajad’s MUNNU, a thinly designed graphic memoir about growing up in Kashmir and another Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month in 2015. Lovers of Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS will adore it!

ITEM! Finally, the wonderful website of Rozenn Grosjean, creator of THE MYSTIC WOODS, reviewed by Page 45, above.

Cats

 

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Rozenn with all my heart for her original sketches in each and every copy of THE MYSTIC WOODS which she sent us from France (I don’t think it’s available anywhere else in the UK) and for sacrificing her last 28 copies of this English translation which will be on their way to us in a week if you see “out of stock” on our website. At the time of typing we still have half a dozen of our original batch left, but do order now please, whatever it says, because we sold half our original stock in a single day when I started tweeting, and once those 28 restocks are gone, they are gone until Rozenn reprints!

Thanks ever so much!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week two

March 9th, 2016

Features the first of Neil Gaiman, Mark Buckingham and D’Israeli MIRACLEMAN volumes, entirely accessible to newcomers.

Hubert (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Ben Gijsemans.

An exquisitely beautiful book with a refined palette restricted to pale creams and antler greys enriched with earthen warmth then printed on thick, calico-coloured paper.

When deep olive greens finally make an appearance they lie far from coincidentally inside and just outside Mr Hubert’s flat: the Swiss Cheese Plant rising from behind his armchair and the more delicate leafy foliage of his neighbour’s window box, opposite, below.

Suspended in space, in the middle of otherwise empty pages, that window forms the occasional focus of Mr Hubert’s attention through his own, while he paints portraits of women from photographs he has taken in a Brussels art gallery, then enlarged on his laptop.

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Mr Hubert is a great admirer of these classical paintings, visiting the museum almost every weekend to spend hours fixated on a single tableaux.

It’s there we begin, Gijsemans reproducing one’s experience of being absorbed in a painting – the eyes being drawn into then over different details before attempting to assess the whole – even as others’ curiosity is only momentarily piqued or pass by with a specific destination in mind. There are two pages each containing nine square panels encompassing exactly the same space from the same angle as its occupants come and go, including a mother and child.

“Come on, love, let’s get your coat.”
“Are we going home?”

Only reluctantly does Mr Hubert move on.

Hubert 1

 

Hubert 2

It’s a very quiet book, light on dialogue, partly because Mr Hubert is a solitary man who lives alone. In addition, he’s simply not very good at conversation. When attempted, it’s awfully awkward. When his lonely landlady living below invites him in for a drink he usually declines. Perhaps he might accept, just the once.

She likes art too, and has a large reproduction of Manet’s Olympia hanging above her mantelpiece. Nude and slightly confrontational, it could be considered a conversation starter. Or a conversation stopper.

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It’s so quiet that on some of Mr. Hubert’s many visits to the museum you can almost hear his footsteps echoing in the empty gallery as he approaches a specific exhibit. But between the calm solemnity of the Fine Art establishment and his equally silent sanctuary, the city itself must be negotiated and Gijsemans suddenly and abruptly throws in an overwhelming double-page spread of complete chaos and cacophony: a kaleidoscope of concrete and cranes – of cityscape impressions lurching at angles against each other without panel gutters to buffer them, as disorientating to our eyes as they are to Mr. Hubert’s…!

Then peace is restored once more.

The lines here are too delicate for any of these pages to be described as regimented, even when fixed with the same unyielding focus as when Mr Hubert is persuaded to give a bloke a lift back from Paris to Brussels. But they are very precise. There’s a formality to them reflective of the dialogue. It’s difficult to know what Mr. Hubert is thinking behind his glasses, behind his eyes. He often seems furtive, uncertain, nervous, perhaps disconcerted, especially when others are taking photographs in the galleries, or ask him to. I think he thinks he’s being watched by those two on admissions.

Hubert 4

The funniest pages are when Mr. Hubert draws his blinds so that he can no longer be distracted by the opposite window when painting. Or reading. Or watching TV. But he simply can’t settle.

Sometimes hiding something, obscuring it from view, can prove far more fixating than leaving it in plain sight.

As Baroque painters Guido Reni or Caravaggio knew very well.

SLH

Buy Hubert and read the Page 45 review here

Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham with D’Israeli.

Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s first of three MIRACLEMAN Ages, perfectly accessible to newcomers. If you’ve not encountered Alan Moore’s run on MIRACLEMAN, no matter. I’ve not read it in 25 years and, in any case, this is a completely different game, a completely different genre.

In fact, it’s a series of short stories in multiple genres with Mark Buckingham employing multiple styles using multiple media – often in the same chapter.

This is “What if Gods walked among us? What would our lives be like?”

This is not their story; this is ours. And it is ever so rich in ideas.

“It was the best of times.
“And what was miraculous was this: everybody knew it…
“For once in our history, the Golden Age was not separated from our hearts and minds by the incomprehensible gulfs of misty-eyed time. It was here. It was now. It was ours.
“God was in his Heaven…
“All was right with the world.”

Miracleman Golden Age 0

In a book spanning seven years we will meet individuals whose lives have been changed by the Age of Miracles and the catastrophe in London which preceded it.

It begins overlooking London and the gleaming, golden statue of Miracleman posed like Lord Nelson atop his column, before pulling ever upwards to take in the Thames and the unimaginably vast new Pyramid, Olympus, which we see rising above the clouds, above the atmosphere, far more visible from space than the Chinese Wall as the sun blazes behind our globe, then finally above them both, above us all… Miracleman gazing down upon us, this thoughts, his perspective, unknowable.

Miracleman Golden Age 1

In the first chapter we meet a man who lost everything in London except Hope. He lost his family in that atrocity but now he is making a pilgrimage along with three others, climbing Olympus to pray and petition. Imagine: making a pilgrimage not to some city made holy through associations with the past, but to petition God himself in the flesh.

At the foot of the steps, the base of this cathedral, Buckingham has created the most massive vaulted ceilings most minds’ eyes couldn’t even contemplate, coloured in gold by D’Israeli like so many more Baroque details to come which are embossed with the Miracleman logo. One is left in no doubt of the awe shared by these strangers. The colours become trippier under more modern, neon installations, a hint of the frazzling some minds will suffer as the atmosphere becomes rarer, one individual undergoing a complete Bill Sienkiewicz, expressionistic meltdown.

And what will they encounter at the top? What are their prayers? How will they be answered?

Miracleman Golden Age 2

The second tale is told during a post-coital cigarette, Jason’s first, to a lover under cover of the sheets. It’s of his own little miracle – an encounter and an escape to the seaside full of period British details.

The third also involves a love life, drawn with an apposite ‘80s poster chic reminiscent of comics’ Paul Smith, as a whisper from lonely John Gallaway is overheard by Miraclewoman high up in the sky during in an electrical thunderstorm. He has retired to a countryside windmill which forms part of a worldwide network powering the planet after becoming disillusioned by imperfections in his lovers. Typing those two sentences reminds me just how intricately Gaiman layered his ideas.

Miracleman Golden Age 3

Next up is the one episode which might require a bit of prior MIRACLEMAN knowledge, but there is a full-page recap at the front of the book. It’s a discussion between two school children – and arguments between others each drawn in a different kids’ cartoon style about the increasing probability of modern miracles – about the possible return of Kid Miracleman, the cause of the catastrophe in London, just as Jesus rose from the dead. I like the flipping of the sides there. The one thing that puzzles me still about the interlude is why the girl is drawn like Jaime Hernandez’s Hopey. I’m sure once someone points it out, it will seem ridiculously obvious. Is it the anti-establishment angle? Possibly, yes. I know why the whole is drawn as it is: for the sake of a punchline I don’t think you’ll see coming. I know I didn’t.

And so to my favourite, ‘Notes From The Underground’, the characters drawn in white pencil crayon (a chalk-like effect) against almost pitch-black subterranean scenes of photorealistic classical beauty reflecting Olympus above them. They’re lit by D’Israeli in dark purples and greens like a tropical nocturnal house in a zoo.

Down below Mors is resurrecting the dead into android bodies, like Andy Warhol who really is a scream. He’s actually Andy 6 because there are multiple, identical copies – of course there are! Andy is success-orientated, money-fixated, fey, jealous, bitchy and ever so slightly vacuous. It’s a perfect impression!

“I wish there was money down here, though. Without money, how do you know you’re doing well?”

It’s a recurrent joke which becomes cumulatively funnier. I won’t spoil it for you.

“We’ve started telling each other stories.
“I like stories. Stories make me happy.
“The trouble is, he wants me to talk, too, and I just like listening, and watching.
“I stayed away for a few days, but then the other Warhols started asking if we’d had a tiff. They’re rats.
“I don’t like myself very much.”

As I say, a perfect portrait as are Buckingham’s. That particular scene with its immaculate compositions made me howl.

Miracleman Golden Age 4

As you can probably tell by now, so much of this is about the human heart. Society may have changed – science or miracles too, but the human heart hasn’t and, as much as anything else, this is a book of contemplation.

Our next heart belongs to Rachel Cohn, a film director who wanted a child to melt a cold place inside her: someone who would adore her, need her and never leave her – at least not for long. Her partner’s certainly unfaithful. So she applied, like other childless women, for a donation of Miracleman’s seed. The result was beautiful baby Mist, who looks like a two-year-old toddler but doesn’t need her mother at all. She floats in the air, glowing, and can traverse the globe in a second. There’s far more going on in her head than it looks. She doesn’t say “Mommy” but “Mother”.

“Mother? How’s the new movie going?”
“It’s fine, hon.”
“That’s good. I saw the last one.”
“Did you like it?”
“Mm. It was okay. But metafictions have an intrinsic distancing effect I think you’re foolish to ignore: the ideas were strong, but if you don’t care about the people, then what does it matter?”

Out of the mouths of babes…

Miracleman Golden Age 5

There’s a children’s story within this story told at bedtime which contains an awful lot of “Good-bye”s.

All these individuals we will meet once again after a grainy, photo-referenced ‘Spy Story’ of signs, countersigns, double- and triple-crosses, and reality-eroding, raging paranoia.

Like the opening gambit, ‘Carnival’ is a pilgrimage, this time a public one where our by now familiar faces join tens if not hundreds of thousands celebrating the Age of Miracles in London after five days of mourning the modern holocaust. It’s a truly inclusive affair, a climax which concludes with a boon, an act of divine beneficence, the one gift so many of us dream about.

Next: The Silver Age.

After that: well, that one is all about Them.

SLH

Buy Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Katzine: The Eagle Issue (£5-50, self-published) by Katriona Chapman.

It’s become tradition to kick off any KATZINE review with a declaration of adoration when it comes to the covers and production values.

KATZINE #1
KATZINE #2
KATZINE #3
KATZINE #4

I did it over and over again – and why wouldn’t I? Because look!

(Okay, not so much with #4, but only because I failed to find time to write anything at all – I can assure you I read it with relish!)

These are no chapbooks – cheap affairs knocked out for maximum accessibility in t’olden days – but amongst the most luxurious mini-comics of all time with the most sensuous pencils printed on warm, fine-grained paper stock with even thicker card covers.

Speaking of covers, wait until you open this one up for the Eagle-fish interface endpapers! Such balletic grace and beauty!

Truly this is the EAGLE ISSUE, Chapman wisely now eschewing enumeration in favour of theme or content on account of readers believing they needed to buy the lot and read in a specific order. You do need to buy the lot – obviously – but you don’t. Each autobiographical outing is completely self-contained with episodes from any era of Chapman’s adventurous life.

Don’t mistake introversion for agoraphobia or indeed self-absorption. Katriona has travelled widely both in Britain and abroad and has much to impart to those eager to listen and learn, rendered in a way which perfectly captures the spirit of place. You might as well be travelling with her.

Regular features return this issue – ‘Local Business’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Love’ along with a botanical page – but there’s also a break for Katriona to explain to the uninitiated from personal experience what being shy does and does not involve. Like Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, this is done solely to promote greater understanding of the misunderstood, and extroverts would be well advised to take a moment out of their convivial lives to take note of the Energy Bucket. These are no melodramatic, egomaniacal, attention-seeking vapidities or woe-is-me wailings, but considered reflections on life.

The most thrilling feature this issue involves the titular eagle in which Chapman displays a masterful comprehension of both story building and narrative cohesion in comics. It’s a thrilling four-page encounter on an uninhabited island whose own rugged contours form the adventure’s background, rising then falling over the twin, double-page spreads as Chapman herself explores upwards to her spell-binding sighting in the sky before returning to her more sedentary mother below to witness the puffins they came for in the first place. The inset panels too reflect the semi-symmetrical nature of the narrative – the puffins first sighted far off then tantalisingly close.

All of which bodes wonderfully well for the extended graphic memoir which Chapman is now embarking upon and whose progress she intends to catalogue throughout future KATZINEs in her ‘Graphic Novel Diary’. And if you think that bodes well, you should read her astute self-analysis in this issue’s first instalment, about the considerable and rigorous editorial decisions necessary for moulding a gripping story out of potentially endless and so lifeless clay. Hint: you don’t just slap everything you experience out on the page because then you’re left with tales told by idiots, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Conversely, for thought-provoking, philosophical brilliance which has been so cleverly crafted – and rigorously arranged / edited, please see Eddie Campbell’s ALEC OMNIBUS.

Cheers!

SLH

Buy Katzine: The Eagle Issue and read the Page 45 review here

Thief Of Thieves vol 5: Take Me (£10-99, Image) by Andy Diggle & Shawn Martinbrough.

In which a friend in prison proves quite the motivational factor.

“So what are you in for?”
“Ambition, I guess.”

The first four volumes of THIEF OF THIEVES were a complex series of sly slights of hand, right from the word go, and deliciously so.

Readers were as fooled by writers Spencer, Asmus and Diggle as the FBI agents and less salubrious citizens were by con-man and master thief Conrad Paulson’s long-game manipulations under his infamous guise of Redmond. They never managed to successfully link the two, indeed Paulson’s successfully sued the government twice for false accusations and harassment.

This… this is a much more streamlined scenario, and the surprise is very refreshing.

Conrad has finally done what his ex always wanted and retired, unscathed.

His son Augustus has finally done what his Dad always wanted and stopped attempting to emulate him when he was frankly never any good at it. And do you know what? Wouldn’t it be lame if every predator proves to be an intransigent, spotty leopard?

Everyone can finally breathe out… except for Celia, Paulson’s partner in crime, who’s in far greater need of hard cash than Conrad. With Conrad no longer using it, she adopts his former identify of Redmond, and promptly gets herself arrested and charged not just with her own crime but with all of Redmond’s too.

How in hell are they going to get out that one?

No less clever than ever, I promise you!

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For much longer, more analytical reviews, please see former THIEF OF THIEVES.

SLH

Buy Thief Of Thieves vol 5: Take Me and read the Page 45 review here

The Talion Maker Part 2 (£3-50, self-published) by Neal Curtis…

“… I would also like to thank anyone who has or is trying to make a comic. It is very difficult and I have the utmost respect for you.”

So writing a comic is hard? But what about reviewing them, Neal??!! I’ll let him off actually, because he’s very kindly also thanked Page 45 for our support and encouragement. Plus, he’s just published an academic work entitled Sovereignty and Superheroes, so I do know he has also earned his writing about comics chops.

Stephen reviewed THE TALION MAKER PART 1 (there will be three in total), but just to add I found that opener one of the most engrossing and best written comics I had read for a long time, the seamless continual blending of the threads of the story with tangential transitions so subtle you frequently didn’t realise they’d happened until a panel or two later, when it suddenly occurred that you’d been steered off in a slightly different, albeit highly pertinent, direction.

Thus there was a real sense to me in part one of building a picture. Or rather presenting you with the pieces of a jigsaw one by one, minus the box, and encouraging you to try and assemble it. So what we did we learn by the end of that first part? I think we possibly do need a quick recap before I talk about this second part.

So… New Media Lecturer Daniel has managed to get himself ousted from his University by dint of punching the Dean in the face. The Dean deserved it, indisputably, for his shameless, craven lack of support of Daniel when one of his students sent some Bob Dylan lyrics to Downing Street as an Iraq War protest.

One student risibly arrested under new draconian Anti-Terrorism Legislation later – plus an ill-advised interview given by Daniel which was, shall we say, provocatively edited by a right-wing tabloid journalist with an agenda rather than an interest in promoting the truth – and, well, Daniel’s recourse to some fist-in-the-face stress relief was probably morally justified if not entirely sensible. Pretty sure we’ve all felt like belting a boss at some point, though. Good on you, Daniel, that’s what I and probably 99% of the population would say. Unless you’re an employee of Page 45 obviously, whose bosses are perfect and beyond reproach…

Matters were also tragically compounded further when Daniel lost his girlfriend Hannah, murdered in a neo-Nazi arson attack on an independent bookshop. The Minister for Immigration immediately took to the airwaves to tell everyone Hannah had terrorist links whereas actually she was a much-loved human rights lawyer. You would think by now that the public would recognise the relentless spin soundbites and sneaky reputation-trashing that goes on day in day out, but the politicians know that the vast majority of people subconsciously yearn to trust their leaders so, so much, that they can get away with murder. Quite literally. So what’s a daily dose of a few barefaced lies on practically every topic you care to mention on top for good measure too?

But now, with a eulogy to give, and the wounds of his loss still so raw in his mind and his soul, Daniel is a man pondering how best to obtain some further… summary justice. For let me remind you, the definition of talion is “a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and degree to the injury.” Or, shall we say… an eye for an eye…

It seems that Daniel might now be becoming increasingly set on a course of action that is, to him at least, morally justifiable according to his own innate, grief-stricken sense of justice, though what he’s possibly intending is certainly not legal in the courts of British law.

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Ah… once again Neal ably demonstrates you do not have to be a great illustrator to make great comics. I have shown part one, and sold it, to several people who have come in to Page 45 asking about making comics, as an example of how great writing can overcome more mediocre illustration.

I guess a few more years of several hours drawing practice a day and I have no doubt Neal’s illustrative abilities will match his conceptual and storytelling ones! I’m teasing, I know he’s a busy man. Plus I don’t want a punch in the face from an irate Lecturer in New Media. Who would? I’ve heard they’re a fearsome bunch with as solid a sense of social justice as you wouldn’t want to feel connecting with your chin…

What Neal does have, mind you, is exceptional abilities in the area of panel and page composition. There are a number of delightful devices and conceits used here, as in part one, which greatly add to the storytelling. From a certain something lurking under the bed in corner of the very first panel which I fear speaks volumes about Daniel’s splintered state of mind, to the overlaid-panel-within-multiple-bordering-panels presentation of the poem about refugees than Daniel finally settles on for his funereal reading, they all embellish a story that already has considerable depths to it.

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Indeed, having just re-read the final few pages I’ve just taken a rather more ominous additional meaning from the final stark panel which sits boldly on its own on the final page. There’s a subtext I’ve possibly been trying to avoid which I now suspect is rising rapidly to the surface. Maybe… And that’s one of the delights of this yarn: it’ll certainly make you think. Daniel, I fear, well, I am pretty sure Daniel has been thinking about it all far too much…

You might conclude I haven’t actually told you too much of the plot for part two. That’s true, I’d prefer you to continue to try and construct the jigsaw for yourself as Neal pseudo-randomly doles the pieces out, shifting backwards and forwards temporally. Suffice to say, this second part does feel like a necessary bridging work. Or perhaps the analogy of walking across a see-saw might be more appropriate. For once you’ve crossed that midway point, the plank is coming down whether you like it or not with increasing rapidity in a manner that is not under your control. I suspect this might well be the case for Daniel.

But as to what the completed picture will look like when the final pieces are placed down, that I genuinely just don’t know. Which in and of itself is an intriguing pleasure, and the sign of a great plot. For that resolution we will have to wait patiently for the third and concluding act…

JR

Buy The Talion Maker Part 2and read the Page 45 review here

Things I Think About Sometimes (£3-00) by Stanley Miller…

Stanley WIZARDS N STUFF Miller returns, another year older and still as delightfully anarchic as ever. He’s a teenager now, our Stanley, thirteen years young, and I can only imagine what the future has in store for him if he persists with comics. I dearly hope so, I can easily see him blossoming into an Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen type of cove, with a very distinct voice and much to say. For the moment, though, he seems for all the world like the natural successor to David Shrigley!

Stanley and Shrigley have something in common actually in that both of them have managed to reduce me to tears of utter, uncontrollable, howling laughter in public with a single illustration. The page of Stanley’s in question is contained within this work, which, if it really is a typical example of things he thinks about sometimes, is proof that Stanley should be locked in a room… with a pad and pencil, and made to draw a lot more comics!

This time around Stanley has decided to opt for the running gag of playfully mangling every single James Bond film title in chronological order complete with a farcically, self-referential illustration hammering home the joke.

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The opening pair of “Dr. Toe” and “From Russia With Gloves” started a smile twitching at the corner of my lips and by the time we’d eased out of the Sean Connery epoch with “Diamonds Are For Trevor” and got to the Roger Moore era proper, there was one belter of a malapropism title-wise in particular I don’t wish to spoil, and I suddenly found myself in absolute hysterics.

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I’m dearly hoping Stanley’s next project will be a piece of sequential-art-based storytelling. I’m absolutely convinced he’s got what it takes to do something as superb as it would undoubtedly be surreal. If you make it, Stanley, and it’s as this good as this, I promise you we’ll sell it. With that said, please keep doing this gag material as well because I think it’s brilliant stuff and frankly who doesn’t need to nearly wet themselves with laughter every once in a while? In fact I’d like to see this material prescribed to people for stress relief, if perhaps however not for incontinence issues…

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Also, as before, Stanley has very kindly added some additional, and different, colours to each cover, ensuring every copy is completely unique. He’s clearly thought about this, our Stanley…

JR

Buy Things I Think About Sometimes and read the Page 45 review here

Black Canary vol 1: Kicking And Screaming s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher & Amy Chu, Pia Guerra.

“From the moment the lights went up, the Wizard’s Wand show in Detroit was a performance to remember. Paloma Terrific debuted her new custom gear in the rig. D.D. was finally playing to the crowd. Lord Byron sat perfectly in the pocket playing to the crowd. And silent wunderkind Ditto pulled sounds out of her semi-acoustic so otherworldly that Leon Theremin would’ve been dumbstruck.”

– From some music magazine or other.

Artist Annie Wu a great many of you will already know from the deliciously drawn HAWKEYE VOL 3, given which you will be far from surprised that this is not your average superhero comic.

It’s not even your average superheroine comic because although Black Canary still sports fishnet stockings, this isn’t about the long legs, thigh shots and deep, forward-thrusting cleavage otherwise known as “tits’n’ass” comics which are a total disgrace to the medium.

Here the fishnets are torn in punk and post-punk fashion and that’s a studded leather jacket on top of the bodice which reveals nothing at all except a new wave fashion sense as our trouble magnet, now lead singer of the rock band Black Canary, lets it rip into the mic.

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Wu’s lines are all whoosh-whoosh on the page, hair flying everywhere or lolloping over the forehead when the cast is feeling more sedate. It keeps the story sweeping along beautifully and the story right now seems to centre on Black Canary’s mute guitarist Ditto, for although it looked as though D.D. was attracting all the violence spilling onto their set so cutting the gigs short and ruining their reputation, she was merely defending their territory.

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Really they were after the silent and secretive Ditto – she of the ethereal strings – and their assailants were merely the vanguard. What’s coming next (and I do mean what, not who) I can only compare to the Umbral in UMBRAL. Lee Loughbridge’s colours do something clever there: they take over everything on the page – all the linework and shadow which would ordinarily be black – except for the creatures themselves. The effect is to render the inky ones alien, otherworldly and the centre of your eyes’ attention. They’ve got the bands too. Thank goodness D.D. used to be in the Justice League. For five seconds.

So what’s her story, then?

SLH

Buy Black Canary vol 1: Kicking And Screaming s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Superman Unchained s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Synder & Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, various…

Of the first issue, I wrote…

Easy to see why DC have let Scott Snyder loose on Big Blue as his extremely popular, and more importantly excellent, run on BATMAN continues unabated. Whether he can replicate that success on what is a rather more… one-dimensional character (and indeed supporting characters – I really am tired of seeing Lois Lane written as highly strung and career-obsessed, Perry as the gruff editor with a heart of gold, and not forgetting comedy relief and donut delivery boy Jimmy Olsen) remains to be seen, but we’re off to a good start here, even if Lois is full-on multi-tasking mode, Perry yelling at all and sundry to meet deadlines and Jimmy off on a donut run…

Okay, secondary characters aside, I did really enjoy this. It’s an interesting enough set-up with multiple satellites falling from the sky, possibly at the behest of Lex Luthor, currently en route to a super-max prison facility, though he does find time to make a brief show-stealing cameo, showing he has nerves of steel, if not the skin to match. And of course, only Superman can catch them all and save the day, except it seems one additional satellite was stopped from falling… But if Superman didn’t do it, nor following his initial investigations any member of the Justice League or other heroes, then who did? Our glimpsed answer, privy only to us fourth-wall breakers (if not Source Wall – sorry crap DC in-joke), shows that Snyder has already got a potential belter of story arc up his sleeve. Promising…

What of the art then? Well, I must say, since Jim Lee’s relatively recent return to DC and subsequent current run on JUSTICE LEAGUE, written by Geoff Johns, I have been reminded just how good his art can be, when he’s actually illustrating something I’m bothered about reading – like ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN – which always helps. Also, this issue features a crazy fold-out page right inside the front cover which gets things off with a bang. It doesn’t entirely work in that once you’ve folded it out, you realise it’s a double page spread on reverse sides of the huge page. I have to admit I did grab a second copy just so I could see what it looked like together in all its glory and who knows, maybe that’s what DC are intending, for everyone to buy two copies, precisely for that reason. Can’t quite imagine how on earth it’s going to work in the trade either, they probably want people to buy two copies of the trade knowing them, but anyway, it’s a nice touch.

[Editor’s note: we haven’t checked!]

JR

Buy Superman Unchained s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Mystic Woods (Signed & Sketched In) (£7-99, self-published) by Rozenn Grosjean

Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles (£10-99, Dover Publications Inc.) by Jeff Nicholson

Tokyo Ghost vol 1: Atomic Garden (£7-50, Image) by Rick Remender & Sean Murphy

Mercury Heat vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Omar Francia, Nahuel Lopez

Crossed + 100 vol 2 (£14-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Fernando Heinz, Rafa Ortiz

Eagle Strike: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Point Blanc: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Skeleton Key: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Stormbreaker: An Alex Rider Graphic Novel (£11-99, Walker Books) by Anthony Horowitz, Antony Johnston & Kanako Damerum, Yuzuru Takasaki

Angel & Faith Season 10 vol 4: More Than Kin (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Victor Gischler & Will Conrad, Cliff Richards

Batman And Robin Eternal vol 1 s/c (£22-50, DC) by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder & Tony S. Daniel, various

Batman Beyond vol 1: Brave New Worlds s/c (£10-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Bernard Chang

Batman: Contagion s/c (£25-99, DC) by Alan Grant, Doug Moench & Kelley Jones, Vince Giarrano

Justice League vol 6: Injustice League s/c (£14-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, Jason Fabok

Captain America: Fallen Son s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeph Loeb & John Cassady, John Romita Jr., David Finch, Ed McGuinness, Leinil Francis Yu

Captain America: Marvel Knights vol 1 s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen & John Cassaday, Jae Lee, Trevor Hairsine

Civil War: Black Panther s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & Various, Michael Turner

Civil War: Captain America / Iron Man s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Christos N. Gage, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, various

Civil War: Wolverine s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Marc Guggenheim & Humberto Ramos

Thors: Battleworld s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka

X-Men ’92 vol 0: Warzones! s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers & Scott Koblish

The Flowers Of Evil vol 9 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 10 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 11 (£8-50, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

News!

ITEM! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: Jamie McKelvie is back! Gasp at the blistering recap and teaser!

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Bearing in mind that in reviews of second, and third volumes I will not spoil ANY of volume one – there are carefully worded, designed to intrigue newcomers…

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOLS 1 to 3 reviewed by Page 45!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #18, the first issue after VOL 3 – please pre-order!

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THE WICKED + THE DIVINE deluxe h/c reprinting first two s/cs with extras – please pre-order!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE Pantheon t-shirts – just a few left now, tiny sizes depleted! Bet you wish you’d pre-ordered!

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ITEM! Craig Thompson is signing and speaking at Orbital Comics in London on March 23rd!

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It’s free if you buy a copy of Craig Thompson’s SPACE DUMPLINS (which seems only fair!) reviewed there by our Joanthan. If you’re not going to the signing, by all means purchase from us (We Ship Worldwide!) by if you are, buy from Orbital so you get to see the talk for free!

Also reviewed by us:

Craig Thompson’s HABIBI
Craig Thompson’s BLANKETS (Out of print at the moment)
Craig Thompson’s GOOD-BYE, CHUNKY RICE
Craig Thompson’s CARNET DE VOYAGE (succinctly!)

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ITEM! Extensive interview with Mark Millar on his new series with Stuart Immonen, EMPRESS.

You can pre-order EMPRESS #1 here or just pop it onto your Standing Order.

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ITEM! ‘Transmetropolitan: the 90s comic that’s bang up-to-date on Donald Trump’ by Damien Walter

I reviewed every single volume of Warren Ellis & Darick Roberston’s TRANSMETROPOLITAN, all permanently in stock, lacerating in its indictment of American and British politics as well as voter apathy / abstinence. Attitude on a stick.

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ITEM! Broken Frontier interviewed Ben Gijsemans, the creator of HUBERT, reviewed by Page 45 above.

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ITEM! Tickets on sale for world-premiere of multimedia performance of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH, initiated by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, 28th May 2016 in Kendal Town Hall, Cumbria

It will then tour France before returning to The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, October 14th to 16th.

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ITEM! Dark Horse to release mass market edition of Dave McKean’s BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH original graphic novel of October 5th 2016, 10 days before it is launched, along with a multimedia performance at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Lots and lots of interior art at the bottom of that article!

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ITEM! Legendary 2000AD and LAST AMERICA artist Mick McMahon is the first UK comicbook creator to be announced for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016.

The announcements are going to come thick and fast now! I’m sitting on a secret and it’s killing me!

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ITEM! Creators! Publishers! Retailers! Ragamuffins! Applications are now open for exhibiting upstairs and downstairs in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 on Saturday October 15th and Sunday October 16th.

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Entry for the public to the Clock Tower is ABSOLUTELY free, making such an attractive proposition that in 2014 we took more money than any other weekend back at Page 45 – even Christmas – and then in 2015 we beat that record by 10%… with just 1% of the range of our stock!

So obviously Page 45 will be back in 2016 as ever in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower!

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Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 – that’s last year!

Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 – massive review with tonnes of photos!

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival #LICAF @comicartfest

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– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews March 2016 week one

March 2nd, 2016

Featuring Kazu Kibuishi, Meredith Gran, Kevin Huizenga, Michael DeForge, Grant Morrison & Philip Bond, Ben Haggarty & Adam Brockbank, Sheila Alvarado, Stephane Levallois, Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV & Riley Rossmo, Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen. News underneath!

Big Kids h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge…

“I got drunk in the afternoon, fell asleep.
“I felt the change when I woke up.
“The first thing I noticed was the television set.
“It looked different, but the same. It was identical, but not at all like it was before.
“It still had the same buttons.
“I recognised the channel, the show playing.
“I recognised the actors – again different, but the same.
“Even the way the light shone against objects in the room had changed.”

Yes, because he’s turned into a tree…

Now, the thing is, this is all perfectly normal for a Michael DeForge yarn. We never find out the main character’s name, a young teenage boy grappling with his sexual identity and being abused on a daily basis, physically and emotionally, by his so-called friends, but handily his family’s lodger April is helpfully able to explain it all to him. And us…

“You’re a tree, now. It happens to most people when they reach a certain age. You’re aren’t hallucinating. You’re seeing the world through tree eyes.”
“So what I was seeing before wasn’t real?”
“It’s not that you weren’t able to see before, or that your sight was faulty. You’re just about to see more now.”
“How come no one told me this was coming?”
“Some people don’t tree until later in life. Some turn into twigs and stay twigs until they die. We don’t like bringing up tree-ness in front of twigs. Twigs don’t know they’re twigs. They don’t know they’re missing out.”

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I have occasionally pondered the idea that Michael (LOSE #7 / DRESSING / FIRST YEAR HEALTHY) DeForge is a reincarnate Rinzai Zen master who just likes messing with our heads, attempting to induce kenshō in those curious enough to pick up his books through the supranatural, mind-shattering power of his comic kōan. I also like to think he is the William Blake of 21st century comics, forever destined to be viewed as an idiosyncratic lunatic by those unable to perceive the philosophical nature of his works. He is, I believe, a genius. Open this book, open your mind. Turn a page, tune in, let your ego drop out. Maybe don’t transmute into a plant-based life form, though…

JR

Buy Big Kids h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ganges vol 5 (£5-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga…

“Mom, how old is the Earth?”
“It’s like, 4.5 billion years.”
“Yeah right, ha ha… that’s what they’ll try and teach him in public school.”

What you can’t see from the above exchange between Kevin, his wife Wendy’s cousin Angela and her son having dinner together after the funeral of Wendy’s Great Aunt Shelly is the huge kick under the table Kevin receives from Wendy, when he answers the young kid’s question without thinking! I should probably add that Shelly’s family are Baptists living in Florida and smack bang in the heartlands of America’s Bible Belt. Creationism is rife down there and offense can be taken very easily.

Meanwhile, not thinking, and indeed, not doing, are two things Wendy accuses Kevin of rather a lot. Quite rightly so, by his own admission, but it’s to the extent that not only can he now usually see an admonishment of yet another transgression coming, but he’s developed a whole range of deflective techniques to avoid said lectures on the twin topics of his thoughtlessness and procrastination. This time, though, Wendy’s needed to put the boot in sharpish before he can sink his own foot any deeper into troubled temporal waters. It’s not even the first time she’s had to do it today, either, having already dispensed another covert leg sweep during the eulogy itself as Kevin zoned out to a happier place of pondering the big question you might find yourself asking at any funeral… of what they were having for lunch…

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As ever, Kevin does a marvellous turn in self-deprecating humour and once again the amusing auto-biographical material provides a neat lead-in to this issue’s topic on which he’d like to enlighten us, the evolution of our planet, and the timescales thereof. Or as he much more prosaically describes it… “Time Travelling: Deep Time.”

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I love how Kevin really let’s his talents for composition run wild in these sections. He always starts us off gently with a few simple devices, gradually increasing in educative and artistic complexity, as he explains how Scottish “Gentleman Scientist” James Hutton, who we could arguably call the first geologist, decided in the 1700s (pre-Charles Darwin mind) that the Earth simply had to be considerably older than the perceived scientific wisdom of the time of a mere five to six thousand years.

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Kevin then walks us through Hutton’s theories and thought experiments to show us how he hypothesised the formation of the planet, plus also illustrating the geological processes actually involved, culminating in a truly impressive double page spread. His ability to get what he’s visualising out of his head and onto the page is exceptional.

[Editor’s note: each issue of GANGES can be read independently of the others.]

JR

Buy Ganges vol 5 and read the Page 45 review here

Amulet vol 7: Firelight (£9-99, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi.

“I have never travelled there to help someone remember.
“These memories are the kind you want to forget.”

These memories are also the kind which others want buried, forgotten.

They have been wiped from the minds of individuals and hidden deep underwater in The Cortex, a space ship the size of a city. It’s there that Emily must travel next, in the company of one other Stonekeeper and an old enemy whom she has little reason to trust, except that he warned Emily so long ago about her Stone and its Voice and she singularly failed to listen.

But trust has to be earned, and it has to be reciprocated in order to mean anything worthwhile. I’m afraid in one instance here, it may prove everyone’s undoing…

I don’t think we’ve been underwater in AMULET before, have we? What creatures do you imagine lurk in its vast, inky depths? What does a Tenta-Drive look like? The Cortex itself, shimmering in the dark, will take your breath away!

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AMULET is our best-selling all-ages fantasy renowned for its majestic landscapes; its Hayao Miyazaki flourishes like the library in the lake surrounded by pale, mist-shrouded mountains last volume, its ancient structure built on the back of a gigantic stone sculpture of the Elf nation’s very first leader, holding it aloft like Atlas.

Here there’s a vast mountain range whose massive, craggy, snow-ridged peaks rise high above the clouds, and I love the dry-brush effect of the yellow-green grass on their sweeping plains and the perilous path which Navin and company must negotiate in their next step to be reunited with his sister Emily and the rest of the resistance.

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AMULET began with family and here it comes back to the fore.

There’s the flying restaurant where Suzy makes a point of treating her staff like family and ensures the patrons feel like they are dining at home. There’s the Elf King, his son Trellis and Trellis’ Uncle Virgil: Uncle Virgil taught knowledge, history and the importance of asking questions; Trellis’ father dismissed all those in favour of training in tactics and military exercises as well as blind obedience.

Specifically AMULET began with the death of Emily and Navin’s Dad in a car accident back on Earth, after which their Mum took them to live at their great grandfather’s empty and abandoned house in the countryside. Swept through a portal into the world of Alledia, they’ve made many allies but also enemies and become embroiled in a war between humans and elves, the real reason behind which will finally be revealed. Along the way Emily found herself in possession of a Stone which granted her telekinetic powers. Or did she become possessed by it? We’ve since met other Stonekeepers, some kindly, some less in control than others. Crucially none of them were ever trained to become Stonekeepers but selected instead.

Then the Stone started speaking to Emily, and less and less has she liked what it said.

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“Vigo… do you think all Stonekeepers are cursed? Maybe that’s why we were chosen.
“Not because we were the most powerful… but because we were the most vulnerable.”

As AMULET VOL 7 opens Emily awakens from a heart-wrenching dream of her Dad to find that her Stone seems particularly interested in their new destination: a supply station which was attacked but not ransacked and is now flooded with echoes, with memories. Which is where, I believe, we came in.

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“Be careful who you trust, Chief.
“Not everyone you believe is an ally has your best interests at heart.”

Trust, trust, it’s all about trust and while the above is most certainly true – leading readers to watch old allies and newcomers anxiously! – what’s very refreshing about this series is how many supposed enemies have proved themselves capable of reconsideration, gratitude and honour. Throughout AMULET Kibuishi has made it equally clear that you cannot judge individuals by their race or nation, and the majority by the actions of the minority at the top. Humans versus Dark Elves: it may seem clear-cut on the surface but everything is a matter of perspective, and humans, as we know, are capable of many atrocities and much injustice. So many here have become moulded by their past.

Much of which Kibuishi has carefully laid down long ago is finally coming together – so much more than expected. It’s not over yet but, given the scale of the revelations and reactions – the most shocking in the series so far – we’re certainly getting close!

SLH

Buy Amulet vol 7: Firelight and read the Page 45 review here

Mezolith vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Ben Haggarty & Adam Brockbank.

Set in the unspoiled wilds on the eastern shores of Stone Age Britain 10,000 years ago, this is a book of beauty that will make your eyes glow and heart sing as a boy called Poika takes his first tentative steps towards becoming a man.

It’s an unforgiving life where wounds are deep, infection rife, the winters harsh and tribal territories fiercely enforced; but it’s also one rich in folklore, and although the lad’s courage far outstrips the experience his elders will need to teach him – about hunting, survival and the balance of things – his affinity for nature, tenacity and curiosity will undoubtedly prove the making of him.

It’s the oral tradition of passing down stories from one generation to the next which lies at the heart of the book. Since knowledge came so often at a terrible cost and survival depended upon it, preserving as much as possible in the form of fables was essential.

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All the legends involve suffering and mortality to some degree or another. Personal histories are embroidered upon, giving them a fantastical, mythical status, but don’t be deceived: whatever her true origins, Korppi Velho – the medicine woman clothed in raven’s wings who is of the Kansa tribe but lives apart like a hermit – is as capable as her revered reputation, perhaps preternaturally so.

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It’s an all-ages book, and since Brockbank’s film credits range from Harry Potter to Maleficent you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the luminous artwork here is a joy, whether it’s of the five ebony-eyed sisters with their snow-white swan feathers draped over their silk-smooth, cream-coloured bodies, the expertly choreographed hunt for fresh meat which goes awry or simply the woodland climbs in the heat of the day.

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The light plays on the rocks and grass wherever it can penetrate the pines, the shadows are clean and crisp, the wildlife is a wonder, and the boy grows visibly physically, during the course of the book.

SLH

Buy Mezolith vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kill Your Boyfriend / Vimanarama The Deluxe Edition h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Philip Bond.

Another repacking, and not bad value for money, either.

KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND first:

BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM!
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
“Got a bit carried away there.”
BLAM!
“Shit. No more vodka.”

“I didn’t really think he’d do it. He’d killed him with no remorse, no pity, no regard for the sanctity of life. He’d gunned down my whole future.
“I think I’m in love.”

Fourth printing of Morrison’s ode to anarchy originally published in 1995, as a charming man sweeps up a bored British schoolgirl from the suburban straightjacket of settling for second-best: Mums who search their teenage children’s drawers, three-wheeled cars for the disabled (“Even the fucking car’s an invalid. They ought to give people a bit of dignity.”), boyfriends who leave you with little more than a peck on a cheek, and suffocating in a vacuum of nothing better to do than watch Top Of The fucking Pops when one minute with an Uzi in Mr. Mandible’s Geography class would solve most of your psychological problems for the next three years.

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Way ahead of its time and without an inhibition in the world, this “Get it out of your system” made TANK GIRL look like JACKIE or BUNTY. I could have pulled a quote from every single page. That this is its fourth production speaks volumes about its popularity, an appeal shared by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s equally antagonistic and refreshingly outspoken GIRL which, criminally, has not been reprinted once.

Bond with D’Israeli on inks is a magnificent combo, a pair who should be reunited this very instant – and until I say otherwise – to give us more British eyes, hair and teeth which we can all fall in love with. They keep the urban urbane then slowly but surely introduce a Chelsea-Girl glamour after the eyes start lighting up with new life.

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Time to trash a tea room in search of consumables and pull out a gun for a bun:

“Look, we’re starving and we want some of your cakes.
“If you don’t give us free cakes, we’ll kill you.”

Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

SLH

VIMANARAMA

A title more misspelled than any other – oh, come on, you type VINAMARAMA too! Here’s our Tom who, since leaving us, has become a chef. Tom was very fond of cake too.

Sofia: “That tiny little sort of popping noise you just heard was the sound of me going completely insane.”
Ali: “Mine was sort of a ‘ping’.”

Poor Ali is at a crux in his young life. His father has arranged for him to be married to an accountant’s daughter from Southampton. If she’s ugly (or stupid or boring), Ali will take it as existential proof that God does indeed hate him, and hang himself. But before he can get too Emo, the floor at his father’s shop caves in, burying his brother Omar under a mountain of Turkish Delight and creating an opening to an ancient city which has lain dormant under what we now know as Bradford for six thousand years.

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Ali’s baby nephew, Imran, decides to learn to walk and goes off exploring the buried city, accidentally releasing an army of 8-foot-tall demons bent on unleashing hell on earth. Now the only one who can stop them is… No, not Ali, but Prince Ben Rama and the Ultra-Hadeen. Unfortunately for Ali, Ben Rama gains his power from love – and he loves Ali’s betrothed, Sofia, who’s actually everything he could want in a girl. Now the world’s going to end, the girl of Ali’s dreams has been pulled by an 8-foot Demi-God, and everyone’s going to die before he’s even had a chance to really live.

I’ve never seen Bond’s art look better than it does here. Nobody draws slightly despondent young adults quite like him. And, yeah, this isn’t WE3 but if you ignore all the weird fantasy and boil this story down, it’s all about family. And how at 18 years of age they may seem like nothing but a hindrance, when in fact they really are your only hope.

TR

Buy Kill Your Boyfriend / Vimanarama The Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Octopus Pie vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran.

“Based on experience? The things you get excited about fastest are the things that get boring the fastest. Anything that ever meant a damn took a while.”

I wouldn’t call that a universal truth, but when I thought about the two times I have genuinely fallen in love (as opposed to mere infatuation; who can even tell at the time?) I found this to be right on the mark. I’m kind of hoping that, given whom the conversation’s between, there’s a degree of dramatic irony there which Gran has planned from the beginning and things will develop against the current odds.

It was also my experience with OCTOPUS PIE which took me a little while to warm to before falling in love, but then this is a 250-page collection of its first two years and everyone and everything needs time to develop. I’m a big believer in “publish and be damned” when it comes to creativity: get yourself going, get yourself out there; don’t wait until you consider yourself fully formed before letting rip because you risk never pleasing yourself enough to go public. One of the joys of STRANGERS IN PARADISE is seeing the skills of its beloved creator Terry Moore develop on the page in front of you.

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OCTOPUS PIE was originally published on the internet in daily single-page bursts which quickly coalesced into longer storylines focussing on health food shops, bike theft, romances, childhood rivalry, nerds-versus-stoners rivalry, selling fares at Renaissance Fayres and urban development in Brooklyn. Right from the start it is topical for its time, raising serious issues like security versus freedom albeit in ludicrous ways. This is, after all, a comedy.

“Perhaps someday I’ll wear a costume that inhibits my shame.”
“How ‘bout a Wall Street business suit?”
“Blam! Topical.”

It stars Eve Ning who works as a clerk at Olly’s Organix (“empty calories for empty people”) and a flatmate foisted upon her called Hanna who bakes cakes for a living while stoned. She can’t seem to do it straight. Eve has no problem which all the doobage wafting sweetly through the air, yet balks when she discovers that young Will – whom she’s on the verge of dating after such a long non-courtship – is Hanna’s dealer. There’s nothing shady about the lad; he’s into rock-climbing.

A fellow enthusiast: “I’ve been doing this for years! Makes you feel closet to Heaven!”
Ning, looking below her: “Agreed.”

Perhaps my favourite sequence involved the ludicrously detailed, military-level pre-planning strategy session for a laser-tag contest to settle the nerds-versus-stoners dispute, then its life-or-death execution. I once scored minus 180 at Laser Quest.

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But some of the comedy is much gentler, more universal and oh so wittily expressed:

“Let me guess: lured here against your better judgement for a weekend’s pay?”
“Man, is the story of my life that obvious?”
“Not obvious, just widely read.”

On the surface Gran comes from the Matt Groenig school of cartooning, with big balls for eyes which are squished to denote various levels of knowingness, suspicion and cunning. There’s a certain degree of melodrama, yes, but that’s part of the energy and the silliness. The fashions, meanwhile, remind one of SECONDS / SCOTT PILGRIM / LOST AT SEA‘s Bryan Lee O’Malley (Will in particular) who is the most enormous fan, describing it as “unafraid to be ridiculous, wildly experimental, deeply personal. It’s sort of like a SCOTT PILGRIM that *I* can enjoy because it isn’t by me.”

Look a little closer and many of the characters are rendered in their own, distinct signature style: Hannah’s all lank and spiky with a beak-like mouth! Same goes for the woman Will meets at the fayre – could not be more differently delineated.

Then, just when you think you know all there is to know about Gran’s repertoire, she hits you with an ice-skating scene of pure balletic grace, the contours of Eve’s shoulders, waist and skirt’s hem flowing just-so. Typically, Eve dances the entire manoeuvre, from start to finish, as grumpy as ever.

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Lastly for now (there’s plenty more to come) I’d never even considered the sexist hypocrisy of women being scorned for going topless in public when men go bare-chested all the time. Of course the restriction would be unconstitutional, and I was delighted to learn that “Eventually, in 1992, the court ruled that prohibiting exposure of breasts served no governmental purpose – nor did our “public sensibilities” justify a discriminatory law.”

OCTOPUS PIE: learn as you laugh.

SLH

Buy Octopus Pie vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

 

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

“The way my mother sometimes spoke of Pasco, one might imagine an Andean paradise instead of the poor and violent mining town it really was. Lima frightened her. She felt safe in exactly two places: our house and the Azcarates house.”

Lima frightened me a little too actually. Aside from the Plaza Mayor main square and a not particularly pretty Cathedral it’s an unremittingly dreary, rubbish-infested shit hole of a city. Apologies to any residents of Lima reading this review, but I suspect you’ll be in completely concurrence if so. I had been warned it was a muggers’ paradise and the few times I ventured out of my hotel before getting out of town and heading up into the Andes I did feel a continuous sense of unease that I was being watched as a predator might size up his prey.

Plus the peculiar micro-climate due to the Humboldt Current means Lima is by far the cloudiest, mistiest, foggiest city in South America, which only adds to the depressing feel. The second you get a reasonable distance up the highway to the north of the country into the desert plains the blazing sun comes out and it did feels like a different altogether more welcoming world entirely. Until you get to Cuzco, that is, and have to have eyes in the back of your head once more for the infamous strangle muggers apparently lying in wait down every side street for unsuspecting gringo tourists! Yes, I much preferred Bolivia to Peru, I must say.

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Anyway… the prospect of reading a story set in such a dispiriting locale was perversely part of the appeal in having a look at this work centred around the neophyte journalist Oscar. Having discovered that his recently deceased father, a philandering petty criminal, had another family has left Oscar deeply questioning his own identity. In trying to understand how much of his personality has been shaped by his father and his wayward lifestyle, Oscar finds himself becoming increasingly estranged from his mother, perhaps not least because she seems be developing an almost sisterly bond with the other woman. Oscar’s own feelings that his father perhaps regarded the other woman and their children together as his real family is starting to push him into an emotionally unstable state.

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His editor, meanwhile, is pushing him no less hard for a news story. Short of ideas, and time, he decides to explore the world of Lima’s street clowns, whose bleak, begging lifestyle was apparently the inspiration behind Smokey Robinson’s 1967 Motown classic “Tears Of A Clown”… That, obviously, is a complete and utter fabrication, worthy of the sort of nonsense Oscar’s father would spin to him to justify his house-breaking sprees, illicit activities which Oscar was eventually forced to be complicit with and indeed participate in. But, it is perhaps more than a little ironic that the destitute denizens of one of the most soul-breaking cities in the world feel the need to dress up as circus performers to try and blag enough money from commuters just to make it through another day. Well, that and play pan pipes made of empty plastic bottles lashed together to unsuspecting, and conveniently trapped in situ, bus travellers which, trust me, after the eighteenth time you’ve heard El Condor Pasa so mangled is enough to make you want to dispense some summary plastic recycling advice…

Anyway, feeling like a man adrift from what was the bedrock of his life, Oscar concludes the best way to understand the tears of a clown is to become one, if only for a week. (No pan pipes thankfully…) To his surprise, the anonymity of the greasepaint, wig and costume provide just the remove, and perspective, both figuratively and literally, on his family and own emotional state, to finally begin to come to terms with it all.

This is wonderfully written material, if rather on the dark side obviously. The art style matches the tone of the piece perfectly, though I found myself appreciating it rather than enjoying it. There is so much black ink and so many heavy lines I found it a little oppressive, but I suspect that is entirely the point, and as I say, entirely appropriate. I had a little look at the artist’s other works online, and I couldn’t find anything else like this, it is all incredibly vibrant and colourful, so I can only conclude this is a very deliberate use of style. She’s clearly extremely talented to be able to so radically adjust her techniques to the story.

JR

Buy City Of Clowns and read the Page 45 review here

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

This hauntingly illustrated silent work left me slightly bewildered. I enjoyed it, I think, absorbing it rather than reading it. I think that might be the best way of expressing it. It’s clearly allegorical but I must profess myself unable to decipher the hidden meaning or meanings.

A lone being in a diving suit straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is relentlessly dragging a huge wooden ark through a near-featureless desert. Nothing dents their relentless progress towards… well, what?

In the meantime, to keep us entertained, there is a dramatic plane crash, a zeppelin patrolling the dazzling skies, mysterious lighthouses arising from receding sands containing caged Siren-like seductresses clad in burkas, plus battling bands of Bedouins and beautifully livered soldiers. Oh, and a boy holding a scorpion in each hand! The ark, though, forges on regardless…

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It may even be there are several allegories being made here. My best guesses are: man versus nature, the futility of war, the greed of man ensuring self-destruction etc. All the usual tropes perhaps, and yet this work does have an enigmatic and endearing quality which kept me enraptured right until the end. Partly because I wanted some answers. Who is the figure in the diving suit, what was on the Ark, where was it going? But maybe THE ARK is all about the journey, not the destination, as they say…

… and the art, which is as beautiful as you would expect from a Humanoids publication.

JR

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

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

“That’s me. Nothing but the truth from the lips of your old pal John.”

Surely there isn’t anyone left in the entirety of the DC Universe(s – however many there are now…) who’d fall for that one?!! John Constantine is apparently still in the DCU as this is on the DC imprint rather than Vertigo, but I am extremely happy to report this has far more in common with the original Vertigo HELLBLAZER than the recent semi-execrable New 52 CONSTANTINE. It’s back to what John does best: verbally jousting with demons and staying one step ahead of the hordes of hell rather than all that posturing and faffing about with the tights and capes brigade.

John is thus once more the debonair, debauched, trench-coated purveyor of prestidigitation who’ll proffer one hand in friendship whilst simultaneously stabbing you in the back with the other. All the whilst charismatically reassuring you that nothing is amiss until the sickening moment you realise he’s completely shafted you, often either at the expense of your life, or soul, or indeed even both!

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Here he’s involved in a scheme to try and save the ghosts of his past that frequently haunt his waking moments, always reminding him of his myriad moral trespasses against them, as something has begun murdering the dead themselves. Along the way he’ll re-encounter an old adversary and various other characters that will be familiar to long-term Constantine devotees.

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I like what writers Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV are doing with John, I must say. They’ve certainly captured his scathingly sarcastic wit and louche personality perfectly, plus whereas it was certainly alluded to a couple of times in HELLBLAZER that he might have had an eye for the chaps as well the ladies, here we’re left in no doubt as he pursues a rather hunky barista who seems as equally enamoured with him for whatever reason. Yep, expect one coffee-dispensing casualty before you can say “I’ll have a half-whole milk, one quarter semi-skimmed, one quarter non-fat, split quad shots – one and a half shots decaf, two and a half shots caffeinated – no foam latte, with a touch of vanilla syrup and three short sprinkles of cinnamon.”

I do so absolutely hate it when Stephen asks me to make that for him… Every bloody morning, what a diva! Nothing but the truth from the lips of your old reviewer Jonathan…

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My one small caveat is I do feel this is ever so slightly HELLBLAZER-lite, with not quite the same seriousness of the original, though Riley Rossmo’s art might possibly be a factor in my thinking there. It is excellent art, mind you, I am certainly not knocking the talents of Mr. Rossmo and the supporting pencillers, it’s perfectly suitable for this character and title, but the style just doesn’t quite have the gravitas of say, a Sean Phillips, that I feel should go hand in hand with Constantine. With that said, there were arcs towards the end of HELLBLAZER itself that I felt suffered from the same problem but far, far worse, where the cartoonish style of the art totally diluted the intensity of the writing for me, eroding my suspension of disbelief. Which is never a good thing where magic tricks are involved, let’s be frank.

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JR

Buy Constantine: The Hellblazer vol 1: Going Down s/c and read the Page 45 review here

All New Captain America vol 1: Hydra Ascendant s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen.

“That’s the problem with having people you care for, isn’t it? Love is such a liability.”

As frazzling, dazzling and fast-paced as this is, it’s essentially a book about family, just like Remender’s subaquatic sci-fi, LOW. If the theme of LOW is maintaining hope in the wake of overwhelming adversity, the lesson here is about not only looking out for your own family’s future but for others’ as well, even down to the specific threat faced which I will not be spoiling for you.

We’ll get to all that in a second, but in the meantime: Stuart Immonen.

Immonen is one of those rare comic artists like Mark Buckingham and Bryan Talbot who is a true chameleon, able to adapt his style to suit his subject, and quite radically so. Rarer still, he operates both within and without the superhero subgenre.

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In RUSSIAN OLIVE TO RED KING written by his wife Kathryn, Stuart used colour not only to convey light and temperature but also sound. When attending Kurt Busiek’s SECRET IDENTITY scenario of what might happen in the real world if a Superman was discovered by the C.I.A., he produced exquisite, photo-realistic landscapes and forms which even when floating conveyed a physical weight.

Illustrating Warren Ellis’ bombastic, mischievous, pugilistic pageantry of the absurd in NEXTWAVE Immonen reduced the sort of neo-classical, visceral thrill you’ll relish here to comedic cartoons. And on Bendis’ original run on ALL NEW X-MEN Stuart proved he could separate the lither forms of teenagers from their older antagonists.

Here the all-but-opening double-page spread is an immaculate composition of speed, perspective, foreshortening, shadow and light. Its G-Force is utterly thrilling.

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With Steve Rogers now semi-retired, aged closer to what he would be without the aid of his anti-agapic Supersoldier Serum, the mantle of Captain America has not been passed to Steve’s adopted son Ian but to his long-standing friend and former partner in crime-fighting, Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon.

“Really makes you wonder why I wasn’t the one he picked.”
“Cronyism beats nepotism, I guess.”

At an early age Sam lost his father, a minister revered throughout Harlem, when the preacher was gunned down while trying to calm down a fight. Soon after his mother too died, leaving Sam to raise his sister alone. His younger sister’s since had two beautiful children, whereas Sam’s been too busy helping others – both as a social worker and a superhero – to start a family of his own. Now that opportunity make be taken away from him for good, not by standing in for Steve Rogers but by what happens here.

Neo-Nazi Baron Zemo, son of the original, has acquired a young man whose blood has very specific properties and which will be dispersed throughout the globe in multiple locations using diverse methods of deployment. Many of them are highly inventive. To make our new Captain’s desperate attempt to stop this disaster from detonating all over the planet, Zemo has surrounded himself with some of Steve Rogers’ most formidable foes, now made even more effective by Remender’s ability to instil them with real wit and intelligence. The repartee from the first familiar super-villain who has always been the one-dimensional, stereotypical brunt of a certain degree of xenophobia here gives as good as he gets in America’s direction, and it’s not off the mark.

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There is no let up. Everything happens so fast that Sam’s interior monologue is but a series of snap-shot impressions: he’s given no opportunity for analysis or consideration – no evaluation of what he’s been presented with by enemy and ally alike. So don’t take everyone at face value like Sam.

Finally, a sermon of sorts from Sam’s mother before she passed away, after her husband was gone, and Sam is left wondering what would have happened if only his Dad had kept his mouth shut and not intervened:

“Sam, if we only looked out for our own families, if every person only worried about and cared for themselves… what kind of a word would this be?

“If we stop trying to help other people, we give up everything. And sometimes this has a price.”

I completely agree.

Wait, did she mean the price came with stop trying, or trying?

Sometimes I’m afraid that it’s both.

SLH

Buy All New Captain America vol 1: Hydra Ascendant s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Complete Spider-Verse s/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, others & various.

From the last incarnation of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the central storyline is very pretty, but then you’d expect nothing less of Olivier Coipel who did such a masterful work of rendering Norse eyebrows in THOR and so much more, so maybe pop the artist into our search engine and see for yourself!

In it a feuding family called Inheritors have set their gluttonous eyes on every incarnation of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Earth past, present and future along with its alternate Earths past, present and future. They actually want to eat them and eww.

But, boy, there are a lot of Spider-People! If you wanted to unlock all these costumes whilst playing a videogame then you would be here for approximately 7 billion hours of button-bashing with calloused thumbs like nobody’s business. There’s Spider-Man, Spider-Ham, Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, Spider-Gwen, Spider-*** and even a punk iteration that… oh I’ve just bored myself.

The problem is that what starts off as a customarily witty Dan Slot script with both a sly sleight of hand then an ever so naughty side-bar castigating you for fixating on Peter’s bottom (which the artist has ensured that you will – it is naked and only just beneath the sheets!) turns into an interminable series of side-bar boxes explaining who everyone is and whence they web-weave.

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This may be for you the thrill of a lifetime. “Clip ’em and collect ’em all,” as Marvel once exhorted of the postage stamps printed within their very own comics. And readers did! They did clip ’em and collect ’em, thereby reducing the second-hand sales value of their 1970s’ Marvel Comics from $220,372 a pop to three dimes and a cent.

I have no idea about American currency at all.

If it sounds like your bag then you can perhaps consider the slimmer SPIDER-VERSE UK edition the Christian Dior of comics and cheap at just £14-99! This version will set you back oh so much more for a considerably higher, more comprehensive page count encompassing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2014) #7-15, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #32-33, SPIDER-VERSE (2015) #1-2, SPIDER-VERSE TEAM-UP #1-3, SCARLET SPIDERS #1-3, SPIDER-WOMAN (2014) #1-4, SPIDER-MAN 2099 (2014) #5-8 and material from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2014.

I guess that makes it more of a Gucci suitcase for Spider-spotters.

I don’t know, my Fashion-Sense tingles at the mere sight of me in the mirror.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Complete Spider-Verse s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Hubert (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Ben Gijsemans

In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way – A Graphic Novel (£19-99, Gallic) by Marcel Proust, Arthur Goldhammer & Stephane Heuet

Katzine: The Eagle Issue (£5-50) by Katriona Chapman

The Talion Maker Part 2 (£3-50, self-published) by Neal Curtis

Things I Think About Sometimes (£3-00, self-published) by Stanley Miller

Miracleman Book 4: The Golden Age vol 1 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Neil Gaiman & Mark Buckingham

Sky Doll: Decade 00 > 10 h/c (£25-99, Titan) by Alessandro Barbucci & Barbara Canepa

Thief Of Thieves: Take Me (£10-99, Image) by Andy Diggle & Shawn Martinbrough

Black Canary vol 1: Kicking And Screaming s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brendan Fletcher & Amy Chu, Pia Guerra

DC Comics: Bombshells vol 1: Enlisted s/c (£12-99, DC) by Marguerite Bennett & Marguerite Sauvage, various

Harley Quinn And Power Girl s/c (£10-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Stephane Roux, others

Injustice Gods Among Us: Year One Complete Collection s/c (£18-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & various

Superman Unchained s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Synder & Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, various

Civil War: New Avengers s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Howard Chaykin, Leinil Yu, Oliver Coipel, Pasqual Ferry, Jim Cheung

Assassination Classroom vol 7 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

The Flowers Of Evil vol 6 (£7-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 7 (£7-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

The Flowers Of Evil vol 8 (£7-99, Vertical) by Shuzo Oshimi

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko

Kiss Him, Not Me! vol 3 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Junko

The Seven Deadly Sins vol 6 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Nakaba Suzuki

News!

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ITEM! Extensive, in-depth interview with Emma Rios & Hwei Lim about their collaborative process on their glorious, oh so lambent MIRROR comic.

Page 45 reviews MIRROR #1 by Emma Rios & Hwei Lim, with interior art, still in stock at the time of typing! Please scroll down!

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ITEM! Lynda Barry’s new interactive art exhibition.

You have no idea how fervently I worship Lynda Barry! Perhaps the most inspirational comicbook creator of all time, her gorgeous graphic novels actively and practically encourage you to create too!What It Is 2

Please pop Lynda into our search engine, beginning with WHAT IT IS which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month way back when it was first published. I think that may be the best review I’ve ever written, which I put down entirely to Lynda’s own exuberant excellence.

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ITEM! What a beautiful book shop: Libreria! Lots of photos there. I think it’s this one, pictured.

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ITEM! Speaking of brilliant book shops, Nottingham’s Five Leaves – fiercely independent and run by Ross of the much lamented Mushroom Bookshop – is up for this year’s Booksellers Award. Finges crossed for the win!

ITEM! SANDMAN’s Neil Gaiman to release The View From The Cheap Seats non-fiction prose collection.

ITEM! “I want more comics!”

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Understood! Read this for free: BOUNDLESS by Jillian Tamaki, co-creator with her cousin Mariko of THIS ONE SUMMER.

ITEM! Coming this November: ALEISTER & ADOLF by Douglas Rushkoff & Michael Oeming. That’s Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler, yes.

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ITEM! If you see this painting by Bill Sienkiewicz (STRAY TOASTERS, SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS, DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS etc) for sale anywhere – on ebay, other websites, in a shop or at a convention – it is STOLEN. It was ripped from a package heading to a private collector in France. Please report it immediately via Bill Sienkiewicz’s glorious website. Bill is also on Twitter as @sinKEVitch. If you’re the thief, please send it back to Bill, and you’ll make one of comics’ greatest artists very happy indeed.

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Update: @SalAbbinanti, Bill’s art dealer, is offering a $5,000 reward for its return. You can contact him via his website: http://www.samabbinanti.com

That was the news.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week four

February 24th, 2016

Includes Jacky Fleming’s The Trouble With Women!

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

   

“They were two broken-down writers, running on desperation and booze….
“And they’d written their story wrong.”

That’s Charlie and Gil through and through. But it’s not a film script for Victory Street Pictures that they’ve co-written wrong – it’s their lives, now spiralling out of control and careening head-on into traffic.

Prime period crime from the creators of CRIMINAL and FATALE, set in the city of secrets and lies, this is third and final volume of THE FADE OUT. Just look at those three covers arranged together, just as they are in our window drawing in completely new crowds to comics! It doesn’t get much more mainstream than this. The design is impeccable, the logos drowning in blood, cold water then absinthe-green.

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I reviewed the first two volumes of THE FADE OUT extensively, covering the spectacular light and non-local colour, and the fantasy of Hollywoodland: the writing and the acting and the myth-spinning slights of hand. They’re lying professionally before they’ve begun to be truly mendacious, but at Victory Street Pictures they’re all of them at it, even screenwriter Charlie.

It’s Los Angeles, 1948.

Charlie woke up in a bungalow in Studio City built to keep stars close to the set. The night before is an alcohol-induced mystery to him, but there was a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminded him of a smile, the smile led to a face, and that face belonged to the woman lying dead on the living room floor. It was Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie’s been working on, strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie began to remove all trace of his and anyone else’s presence. But that’s nothing compared to the cover-up the studio embarked on: they made out it was suicide and it’s made Charlie sick to the stomach. As for Gil – Charlie’s old friend, mentor and covert co-writer – he’s still very angry indeed.

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After attacking the mystery from separate angles behind each others’ backs, they now believe they’re close to piecing together what happened from Valeria’s past involvement as a child actress with one of the studio’s co-founders, and their alcohol-addled obsession is going to lead to some extreme, hasty and ill-thought-out action.

Studio spin-mistress Dottie tries to save Charlie from digging his own literal or career grave, but he simply won’t listen. In his tunnel vision he can only see one light, even if he doesn’t know what that light looks like. Briefly he found a respite, a calm sea alongside Valeria’s replacement, Maya Silver, but now….

“Jesus, Charlie… Do you even see me at all?”

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And he doesn’t. Shirt covered in blood, he’s not even looking at the woman who’s risked all to give him sanctuary. Her pain, her disappointment and her worry is exquisitely delineated in a single expression by Phillips. It’s no coincidence that for the entire book Charlie’s been looking through cracked glasses which Phillips has turned into yet another of his fortes.

There’s some similarly subtle work when Gil’s wife, Melba, glances back at Charlie with equal anxiety after he’d been discharged from hospital after the war, bits of him missing inside.

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The couple take him in, and it’s in this recollection that so much about the two writers’ relationship is explained.

Phillips’ eye for period detail is exceptional, whether it’s the way skirts hang or fly at an angle during a dance, the home furnishings or a buffet banquet. It’s perhaps there that Breitweiser’s decision to avoid local colour shines best, refusing to let your eye settle but dazzling you instead. I can’t imagine how dull and lifeless the spread of food would have looked had it been lit literally instead.

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As to Brubaker, I challenge anyone to see what’s coming. None of us did here but we all agree that it was perfect. Certainly Charlie doesn’t. He hasn’t been able to for ages. As I said, there have been bits of him missing, both as a man and as a writer, ever since he saw combat, and this is the brilliance of Brubaker, tying the two together:

“In that moment, he saw why things always went wrong for him now.
“He understood his problem.
“It was that he’d lost the ability to imagine what happened next.”

For far, far more on the craft, please see previous reviews of THE FADE OUT which is now complete.

SLH

Buy The Fade Out vol 3 and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Darwin’s friend and colleague George Romanes said although women were the losers intellectually, having five ounces less brain, they were better at soft furnishings and disappointment.

“Which was fortunate.”

I howled with laughter throughout this book whose deadpan delivery is enhanced with immaculate timing, the two paragraphs above separated by the beat of an illustration. In this case it’s a woman weeping with frustration at male hegemony throughout history, men’s crushing refusal to acknowledge any female accomplishment whatsoever and their inarguably superior capacity for patronising dismissiveness.

Or maybe it was just that time of the month.

It’s essentially a ridicule of the ridiculous, a very real history of male oppression, insanity and hypocrisy, cooking anything up to keep women in the kitchen and stitch the more privileged into leading a life of needlework bliss.

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There are also bits which are made up. Which is scandalous. I suspect that the author’s a woman.

But most of this is entirely true. Quite often men are left to be damned by their own words, actions or both. There’s nothing quite as admirable as practising what you preach:

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Restless Genius of the Enlightenment and keen flasher, said girls needed to be thwarted from an early age, so that their natural role in pleasing men would come more naturally to them. He put his own children in an orphanage to thwart them.”

You can tell that Rousseau is a genius by his genius hair. This was something women lacked, observed great philosopher Schopenhauer, which “proved them incapable of any truly great or original achievement in art, or in anything at all”. It’s this intense level of cause-and-effect scientific study which has also proved men’s infinitely more meticulous minds.

In a genius stroke to dissuade advancement by follicular folly, “Women with genius hair risked being put in asylums, as it was seen as a sign of mental instability” – which seems reasonable and consistent. Caveat coiffure.

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Women’s innate physical disadvantages when vying for artistic accomplishment are well documented, so we shouldn’t expect much of them anyway.

“Women found lifting a pen very tiring as it caused chlorosis which disrupted blood flow and in some case led to uterine prolapse.
“Or was that the corsets?”

It was probably the corsets.

“Even if corsets did prevent breathing, women collapsed without them, so not wearing one wasn’t an option.”

Many are the recurring jokes, each successively funnier than the last, and there’s little more mirth-making in any comedy routine (like Eddie Izzard’s) than a gag in its own right which is then left well alone only to be brought back as a punchline much later on and completely out of the blue.

It’s better still when that punchline is left un-signposted, in this instance by making it entirely visual. No, I can’t tell you which one or it wouldn’t come out of the blue.

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I’m not sure whether Fleming used a pen or a brush to fashion these Victorian images which have a tremendous physicality to them, keenly demonstrating the restrictions women faced when attempting anything as unladylike as sport, but lifting either implement for this length of time must have left the poor dear exhausted. Maybe she now has man-hands and is therefore a step closer to becoming clever or a coalminer.

According to FLUFFY and PLEASE GOD FIND ME A HUSBAND’s Simone Lia:

“Fleming is a genius but with normal hair.”

Which explains quite a lot. I’m afraid I have to agree.

SLH

Buy The Trouble With Women h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Winner of the British Comics Award 2012 in the best Young Readers category as judged by Leeds schoolchildren, this is its first time in softcover.

Oh, the sheer wonder of it all! That’s what you need to light up the eyes and fire up the minds of young readers: wonder, surprise and a protagonist o’er-brimming with an insatiable curiosity. Plucky young Hilda’s is infectious!

Living out in the wilds in a craggy valley surrounded by mountains, Hilda and her mother have recently and quite unexpectedly come under siege from the Hidden People. They’ve never spotted one and have no idea where they live, but this is their sixth little letter this week! And, oh dear, it’s yet another demand for mother and daughter to up sticks and leave the valley for good! But when Hilda posts a note of her own asking them to leave her alone, their home is bombarded by stones, their books seem to rip themselves to shreds and it’s almost too much for Mum. Hilda, however, is undaunted. She’s determined to discover who these tiny terrorists are, why they’re so suddenly up in arms and see if she can’t set things straight. Of course, there’s also the question of the vast silhouette that has loomed into view. Bigger than the nearest mountain, its eerie black body blocks out the stars, its white eyes silently scanning the horizon as if in search of something…

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From the creator of SOME PEOPLE, EVERYTHING WE MISS, and the previous and subsequent HILDA books, this a breath-takingly beautiful book, its midnight blues as rich in colour as the daylight scenes. There’s more than a dash of Jordan Crane’s THE CLOUDS ABOVE to the floating Woofs migrating across the sky like fluffy, wide-eyed, long-tailed tadpoles, while the giant is pure Tom Gauld.

But there’s one monumental page on which the Midnight Giant fills the frame from head to toe, bent on one knee whose composition – you may laugh – instantly reminded me of Bryan Hitch’s Giant Man during his first growth spurt in ULTIMATES VOLUME ONE! The pink glow on the horizon is a golden touch.

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There are some great gags that seem to spring spontaneously from the cartooning, while others are stored up for later with exquisite timing (you’ll love the infestation of nittens!), plus a tea joke that’s still making me smile three years later. Hilda herself is a model of inquisitiveness, resolve and resourcefulness, the plight of the Midnight Giant is truly touching, and adults will groan with recognition at the real reason behind the Hidden People’s sudden animosity. Above all, though, it’s the wonder of it all which will fill many a subsequent dream, so highly recommended to people of all sizes: no height restrictions at all.

SLH

Buy Hilda And The Midnight Giant s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

A wit-ridden, language-loving psycho-hero series of continual metamorphosis, this whopping 424-page collection contains both CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE and THE PAINTING WHICH ATE PARIS.

“What do normal people have in their lives?”
“What?”
“What do normal people have?”
“You’re asking the wrong person.”
“I’ve tried to be like them, I really have. But what happens when you just can’t be strong anymore? What happens if you’re weak? My painting’s ruined. Everything’s gone wrong.”

Not yet, it hasn’t.

“Come in out of the rain.”

Welcome to the half-lives of the Doom Patrol who, under Grant Morrison, each pull themselves back from the brink of insanity in order to deal with madness. Meet the consistently bewildered Cliff, a poor soul trapped in a metal body whose physical senses pale in comparison what he was used to, leaving him lingering in a virtual isolation tank where he can only remember what it felt like to touch! Greet Crazy Jane whose disassociation following childhood abuse has left her splintered into 64 unique personalities, each with their own metahuman talent! And frown in perplexity as Rebis reminds you that she/he/it is no longer Larry but a composite being made from black female Dr. Eleanor Poole, white male Larry Trainor and a negative flying spirit that glows green-on-black! Led by the driven but callous paraplegic Professor Caulder, they are the Doom Patrol, and their heads will soon be hurting every bit as much as yours.

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The series is packed full of sharp observations like the urban catechism of subway stations which you grow to know by heart and recite as you pass them by. And if you think that because this is relatively early Grant Morrison that you’re going to be let off the hook, then think again; for here be memetic theory and metatexts, and the wonderful Scissormen – black and scarlet empty people bearing very large blades, reducing human beings to blank stencils in the air and the English language to a series of cryptic crosswords:

“Defeating breadfruit in adumbrate.”
“The leaching will be novelistic for effacement! Curdle your pilgrimage! Curdle your pilgrimage!”

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You could try to translate them but that would be like attempting to decipher what Liz Fraser’s singing on the early Cocteau Twins’ tracks: pointless. Liz Fraser used her voice like a mellifluous musical instrument rather than worry us with real words.

It’s like a water park ride where once you start you cannot get off and, scream as you might, you just have to lie back and enjoy the rapids’ ride. Case in point: the painting that ate Paris:

The Brotherhood of Dada is on a quest for total global absurdity. So they steal a painting described as “hungry” and then let it lose. It quickly swallows France’s capital. Cliff, Crazy Jane and Rebis find themselves in an infinitely recursive world of paintings within paintings and Paris itself is transformed into enough art movements to satisfy even Sister Wendy.

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So many ideas and so much fun, from Mr. Nobody (barely glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, railing like Rick Mayall as an aesthete) to the Hiroshima Shadows, Weeping Blades and a plague of bodiless mouths, while the Pale Police will tempt you into spending hours trying to decipher the anagrams which are their only means of communication. And this time you can! Plus Cliff takes a trip into the fractured mind of Crazy Jane and Morrison introduces The Quizz, a girl with a fear of dirt but in possession of every superpower you haven’t thought of. Yes, the only way to strip her abilities is to think them up fast. “Flight” won’t bring her to ground until you’ve conjured up “levitation”, nor to ground-level unless you remember “height multiplication”, “stretching”, “spinning of spider webs” and “density reduction”.

Why not pair off and role-play the game yourselves? I did:

“In five seconds I will burn you alive.”
“Err, flame throwing, heat generation, nuclear fission, napalm breath –”
“Time out, and I’m afraid you missed the transmogrification of others.”
“I can’t even spell it!”

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Richard Case’s contribution is hugely underrated. Bringing ideas like this to life is no mean feat. His flat, black Mr. Nobody with free-floating eyes isn’t all there – in any sense of the expression! Same goes for the Pale Police: hollow constructs of white ribbons with Joker-like grinning mouths in their chests, a thumbprint of their intended victim drawn on their helmets from the memory of its maze.

In other character designs there’s what I would call an opulence. Moreover, Case’s recursive occlusions are immaculate, his Crazy Jane can be terrifying, and if the Doom Patrol look a little like toy dolls being tossed about by children in tantrums, to a very great extent they are.

SLH

Buy Doom Patrol Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo Trilogy (Slipcase Edition) (£26-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

Oh, of course it’s a LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN book. They’re just not in it.

This beautiful edition collects all three hardcovers, is three pounds less expensive and comes with a slipcase for free! Yippee!

Here we go, then: first one from me, the second two from Jonathan.

NEMO: HEART OF ICE

“You don’t seem much interested in the plunder, Miss Janni…”
“We’ve enough plunder… I wanted a challenge. Even father wearied of pillaging eventually.”
“Aye, true enough. Sorry if I’ve aggravated you, Captain.”
“Oh, we’ll be home in a week. I’ll be fine. It’s just this coat. It’s so big and heavy sometimes.”

Fifteen years after LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY 1910 Captain Nemo’s daughter Janni is feeling weighed down by the burden of her old man’s legacy – his fame and his accomplishments – and is desperate to step out from under his shadow. Unfortunately he cast it far and wide but, if the truth be told, it is Janni herself who brings it with her, perpetually comparing her progress with his, every step of the way.

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Now she has set her sights set on An Adventure: an expedition to the remotest wastes of Antarctica. Unfortunately her crew have recently earned the ire of the African Queen and Prince Consort of Kor by whipping away their valuables under the watch of a certain newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane and a heavily armed, technologically enhanced party has been dispatched in pursuit. Also: just because somewhere is remote, it does not mean it’s uninhabited.

Weird and wondrous – and quite terrifying in places – I just wish we could have spent longer in the likes of Metapatagonia where the anthropomorphs speak French backwards.

Each of Kevin O’Neill’s full-page splashes knock the frozen ball out of the snow-swept park, and Ben Dimagmaliw’s colours are richer than ever, positively luminous.

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What our literary super-crew encounter will be strange and awe-full but I will spill none of it, except to say that when time itself goes awry you are in for a storytelling treat. On the other hand it’s only fair to remind you that these LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN escapades are all collages culled from extant fiction, so… what other works took place in the freezing wastes of the South Pole, eh?

SLH

NEMO: ROSES OF BERLIN

“We must have been hurting Germany’s supply lines for them to go to all this trouble ensnaring us. Do you think we’re any nearer the city’s underworld?”
“Depends. What do you suppose “Staatbordell” means?”

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Jocular japes and steampunk shenanigans aplenty in this second Nemo Jr. adventure following on from the Lovecraftian-flavoured NEMO: HEART OF ICE. As before, there are numerous literary and cinematic references to be found, from the striking nod to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the rather more obscure which I will leave you to find for yourselves, for that is part of the joy of any new LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN material these days.

Janni Nemo, fearsome fighter and devoted mother has been drawn into a deadly trap, her daughter – presumed captured and spirited off to Berlin by the Nazis – being the lure. But what, or more precisely who, she finds waiting for her in Berlin, is a far more deadly enemy than whole legions of leather-clad stormtroopers. For it is someone with revenge on their mind, and for whom time is no obstacle at all…

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Not sure how accessible a jumping on point this is for new readers, or indeed whether it hits the heights of the original material, but it is great fun and probably closer in both respects than the LOEG: CENTURY trilogy. I think it probably is as good as the original material actually; I just personally miss the team dynamic.

What is certain is that you simply couldn’t have any League material without Kevin O’ Neill on art: the two are simply and sumptuously synonymous for me. Even the four pages before the main story are absolutely glorious, featuring respectively: an all-guns-blazing German battleship, Nemo embracing her lover against the backdrop of a porthole letting a blood-red sky bleed through, a Nazi propaganda poster portraying Nemo as a trident wielding Kraken, and a submerged Nautilus launching a salvo of torpedoes. Not often I’m mesmerised by the art before I even start the story but Kevin managed it here!

JR

RIVER OF GHOSTS

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo Trilogy (Slipcase Edition and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Currently: single
Looking for: dates, friends, sparring
Interests: violence (inventive)
Chronically new in town.
Computer in brain.
Superhumanly flexible.
Looking for other uses.
Have headbutted an alien.
Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is likely yes.
But with punching.”

It’s an unusual online dating profile, filed only under “M” but the masked mug shot might give it away.

“Wait wait. Midnighter? It doesn’t stand for, like, Mitch? All this stuff here is, in fact, not a joke?”

It’s a bit late now: you’re having dinner.

I’d type “from the pages of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s STORMWATCH and THE AUTHORITY…” (the latter highly recommended; the former is Ellis just getting going) except, of course, this isn’t precisely that same psychopath for although Apollo appears to have escaped The Midnighter, The Midnighter hasn’t escaped the relaunch rewrite which was DC’s New 52. I’ve no idea what’s happened since but The Midnighter is now single, on his first date with Jason who seems to be taking it all in his stride. But let’s see what happens when high-tech terrorists teleport into town and put paid to their pudding.

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It’s very attractively drawn with almost insane levels of detail, European-style colouring / modelling, and some thrilling perspectives looking up or down into a disused, industrial….. I’m not sure what it is actually.

There are multiple, miniature inset panels revealing concurrent action – moves and counter-moves – or, when The Midnighter gets into his pugilistic stride, precisely what the local Accident & Emergency will be dealing with in the form of x-ray snapshots of breaking bones. Often they are arranged artfully around the page as The Midnighter’s computer-brain observes and analyses everything around him at lightning speed.

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When it finally stops working – when he realises it’s being jammed – the same panels become a jumble of green.

Aco’s art also comes with a fine line which makes The Midnighter look positively dapper in his waistcoat and tie. Oh yes, he’s in civvies. You never used to see that much, did you? You’re going to be seeing a lot more of it. And him.

So if the sight of a man unbuttoning another man’s jeans is the sort of thing that will make you feel so uncomfortable that you’ll need to walk into a public bar and order a double bourbon in order to feel fully masculine again, I probably wouldn’t buy this comic – because hard liquor is bad for you.

Much was made of Mark Millar’s JUPITER’S CIRCLE VOL 1, not least by me, and its unapologetic post-coital cigarette but this is even less flinching with hands all over the place. Hurrah!

You could argue (and, oh, so many will have online!) that there’s nothing to distinguish this from any other DC superhero title (whereas you know what you’re in for with Millar) and your delicate nine-year-old shouldn’t be subjected to sexuality. And I would agree so long as you would agree that a woman unbuttoning a man’s flies or vice-versa was equally below the belt. On the other hand it has long been established that superheroes have ceased to be the province of nine-year-olds but of college students instead and the fifty-year-olds who used to read superhero series as nine-year-olds and simply never stopped.

Plus, look at that cover! If you’re perfectly content to buy your children a comic with that level of overt violence, then you have already abandoned your parental role as a right-minded moral guardian and have no right to complain about a little consensual fumbling, same-sex or otherwise.

So here’s a suggestion: how about you stop buying your susceptible ones corporate superhero soap operas stuffed full of advertising and designed to addict them to their brand for life? Why not treat them to Page 45’s Young Adult and Young Reader graphic novels catering to every conceivable early teens and pre-teen tastes instead!

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Anyway, there are two parallel subplots which Steve Orlando orchestrates perfectly side-by-side: The Midnighter’s love life which until now had only ever involved Apollo, and his quest to recover a startlingly diverse array of ridiculously high-tech weaponry stolen from the God Garden along with his past. The Midnighter has no memory whatsoever of his past prior to becoming weaponised himself, or that anyone else held that information. Isn’t the Gardener a lovely for keeping that all to herself?

The Midnighter, you see, has been augmented to win any fight, playing it out a hundred times hours in advance and then replaying those scenarios in a split second as they occur. That included his domestic rows with Apollo. Now he’s trying not to do that, to experiment instead and, with his ability to open windows anywhere in the world, he certainly has the capacity to impress a loved one. Or distress them, coming home covered in blood. As to less loved ones – armies armed to the teeth with hate-guided missiles (sic) – I wouldn’t get too blasé, either.

“You’re not surrounding me.
“I’m arranging you”.

SLH

Buy Midnighter vol 1: Out and read the Page 45 review here

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

Genuinely bleak and nasty, this isn’t the upcoming sequel to CIVIL WAR, but another of those satellite series to Marvel’s recent SECRET WARS. But, unlike the few others I’ve dipped into, it didn’t reference that series at all and can be read entirely separately as “What if the original had ended differently?”

I rate the original CIVIL WAR by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven very highly. It had something genuinely interesting to say about privacy and power, and it speaks volumes about our distrust of recent governments – with how lackadaisical they are with our private information, the surveillance they glean it with, and what they are most likely to do with superior military might – that everyone I know instinctively sided with Captain America’s refusal to register with the American authorities and submit to their potential deployment (even though he’s a former soldier used to obeying the chain of command) rather than Iron Man who recognised that those with superpowers are potentially lethal loose cannons, as witnessed when a bunch of relatively inexperienced, attention-seeking teens took on a bunch of supervillains they were woefully ill-equipped to handle, resulting in the death of six hundred souls. It’s interesting because many of those same individuals who sided with Captain America, like almost everyone else in Britain, are adamantly in favour of American gun control which is what Iron Man was effectively advocating.

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In case you’re intrigued enough to take a punt on the collected edition, I won’t tell you how it ended except that it was abrupt, unexpected and yet entirely in keeping with character.

In this alternative scenario – by the writer of DEATH OF WOLVERINE and the artist on Mark Millar’s NEMESIS – hostilities between the two sides of superheroes didn’t cease. They escalated. They escalated because things went horrifically wrong in Iron Man’s prison hidden in a pocket dimension while the two factions were locked in battle.

The Black Panther hacks into its security systems, which sets off a fail-safe self-destruct sequence – something he attributes to Iron Man instead. I am choosing my words carefully, yes. Iron Man is informed by Commander Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. that the Black Panther set off the self-destruct sequence deliberately under direct orders from Captain America. I am still choosing my words very carefully. Both sides are incredulous about the other’s callousness. Then the bomb goes off. The bomb goes off just as Cloak is teleporting as many as possible from both warring parties, en masse, back to New York City. Some make it out, some don’t. What does make it out, is the blast.

The bomb-blast destroys New York and takes fifteen million people with it.

Whose side are you on now?

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I ask that because in spite of my original analysis and the ante that’s now been upped I still instinctively sided with Captain America, and what follows, six years on, only goes on to entrench that alignment… because both scenarios are very carefully written.

Six years on and — haha, no! You wouldn’t thank me. You’ll want to read this comic for yourselves.

I’m a big fan of Yu who is solid, sure and exciting, and studies expressions well. They change only incrementally between panels as our own do between seconds unless something does actually take us by surprise. If every character reacts to everything and every word with melodrama as happens woefully often in superhero comics (and the sugar-buzz mainline of manga) then how do you discern the mellow from the genuinely dramatic? Inked by Gerry Alanguilan and coloured by Sunny Gho, there is a light, bright modelling going on.

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But by “carefully written” I mean who do you think is backing whom? Which of Marvel Comics’ most cherished couples finds itself on opposing sides of the argument, in different camps which are not speaking to each other and so cannot meet in an America which has quite literally, geographically and geologically been divided in two? Can you spell “chasm”? There is one, right in the heart of the desert.

Peace talks are proposed and, against all odds, a single woman persuades Captain America and Iron Man to meet in a building in the middle of the bridge which straddles that cavern.

Even before it goes horribly wrong it is patently obvious that they are both so set in their ways, so locked in their mindsets, so trapped in their past and so bitter about what they believe the other has done that recriminations are all they can offer each other.

Then it goes horribly wrong, and there is no hope to speak of.

Remember: I chose my words carefully. Whomever you suspect, do not make the mistake the protagonists did. It all makes sense in the end.

SLH

Buy Civil War: Warzones! s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill one-shot (£3-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Mark Bagley.

I had zero intention of reviewing this and little more inclination to read it. But do you know what? It surprised me.

I loved Nick Spencer’s THIEF OF THIEVES, his MORNING GLORIES is complex and clever, Dominique is a worryingly big fan of his BEDLAM, plus his work at Marvel has been funny. But the last thing anyone wanted or needed so early into Marvel’s fresh, post-SECRET WARS relaunch was a crossover to which this is the kick-off catalyst.

It will envelope nearly a dozen different Marvel titles – ranging from its multiple AVENGERS series to the usual non-entity why-do-these-even-exist – written and drawn by completely different individuals, so the quality here is no indication of what is to come. To be clear: this is not an endorsement of the policy nor an encouragement for you to splash out ridiculous sums of cash on a corporate crossover when superhero fans could instead be buying the enormously entertaining DOCTOR STRANGE or even UNCANNY or THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, both of which essentially feature powers without capes.

But this is, nonetheless, an interesting premise whose initial execution sets the stage for a great deal of dramatic irony.

Now, if I were reviewing the collection on completion, no one would criticise me for laying its prologue bare, and this is essentially its prologue. But you may consider what follows SPOILERS rather than “Oooh, that’s intriguing!” so it is entirely up to you. What I won’t do is ruin its beginning or end which together constitute the heart of the potential dramatic irony and a great deal of self-recrimination when the Avengers begin to be dragged into this.

Are we ready? SPOILERS.

Pleasant Hill is a leafy little town where everyone is idyllically happy and civic-minded. There are restrictions, to be sure: curfews etc, but everyone is exceedingly kind and almost excessively courteous, especially to strangers. Stray upon it by accident and you may not want to leave. Which would be fortunate, since you can’t.

You can’t because it’s a construct, a sham. It’s a prison for supervillains created by S.H.I.E.L.D. which has grown bored shitless of incarcerating super-powered sociopaths only for them to break out and cause billions of dollars of collateral damage (and, incidentally, the loss of lives) to satisfy their psychopathy. If psychopathy is ever satisfied: I don’t think those two words mix, really, do they?

The whole enterprise is understandably way off the books because it involves a complete abandonment of human rights. S.H.I.E.L.D. is using fragments of the reality-altering Cosmic Cube to rewrite the felons’ entire identities. They’re not just brainwashing them, they are refashioning them into new individuals physically and mentally.

Now, let us be clear: I’m all for it. I don’t believe in the real-life death penalty because I don’t have faith in the British or American or almost every other justice system because they have been proved over and over again to be racist and target-driven rather than justice-driven: innocent individuals are locked up every day by those who know they’re not guilty. In the la-la land of superheroes wherein the villains run riot, however, I’m with Maria ‘Pleasant’ Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. – fuck ‘em.

The problem lies in my previous paragraph, because S.H.I.E.L.D. has just done precisely that: they have incarcerated a hero who got too close to their truth. What I will not spoil for you is who has become trapped there and who they’ve been turned into on the very last page. Clever.

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Avengers Standoff Welcome To Pleasant Hill 2

I don’t know if it’s Scott Hanna’s inks or a departure for ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN’s Mark Bagley, but the art here is slightly more grounded in reality, ironically enough.

According to Marvel HQ you should be able to pick and choose which titles you read without losing the plot: which you read will give you different perspectives on what goes down. I don’t actually care. I’m not an apologist for these sorts of shenanigans, I’d rather read the latest comic by Sarah Burgess or Dan Berry. I’m just saying, “Hey, I thought this was going to be utter bobbins and it turns out it isn’t”.

SLH

Buy Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Amulet vol 7: Firelight (£9-99, Scholastic) by Kazu Kibuishi

Big Kids h/c (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michael DeForge

Ganges vol 5 (£5-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga

Kill Your Boyfriend / Vinamarama The Deluxe Edition h/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Philip Bond

Mezolith vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Ben Haggarty & Adam Brockbank

Octopus Pie vol 1 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Star Wars: Chewbacca (£12-99, Marvel) by Gerry Duggan & Phil Noto

Sunstone vol 4 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Stejpan Sejic

Batman: Arkham Knight vol 2 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Viktor Bogdanovic, various

Deathstroke vol 2: Godkiller s/c (£10-99, DC) by James Bonny & Tony S. Daniel

All New Captain America vol 1: Hydra Ascendant s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Stuart Immonen

Amazing Spider-Man: Complete Spider-Verse s/c (£37-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, others & various

Siege: Battleworld s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Filipe Andrade, various

Assassination Classroom vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Fairy Tail Blue Mistral vol 2 (£8-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima & Rui Watanabe

Fukufuku Kitten Tales vol 1 (£8-50, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

One Piece vol 77 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Tokyo Ghoul vol 5 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Crossed vol 15 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Mike Wolfer

Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time (£18-99, Titan) by Scott Tipton, David Tipton & Simon Fraser, Roger Langridge, Gary Erskine, Kev Hopgood, others

News!

5000 km Per Second cover

ITEM! Did you enjoy all the weather in THE RIVER?

I predict without hesitation that 5000 KM PER SECOND will be equally huge here!

Pre-orders using that product page greatly appreciated – WE SHIP WORLDWIDE! – or just ask for it to be added to your Page 45 Standing Order!

Thank you!

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5000 km Per Second 2

ITEM! CEREBUS’ Gerhard draws Harry Potter. But you snooze, you lose: only available until 11:59 PM-PST Sunday, February 28th.

Gerhard Harry Potter print

Yes, of course we stock Dave Sim & Gerhard’s CEREBUS: one of the greatest comicbook creations of all time, and I’ve reviewed every volume / iteration. The artwork is currently being re-shot so some volumes have slipped out of print, but their reprints will be well worth the wait.1 Lakes Fest Clock Tower

ITEM! Creators! Publishers! Retailers! Ragamuffins! Applications are now open for exhibiting upstairs and downstairs in Kendal’s Clock Tower at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016 on Saturday October 15th and Sunday October 16th.

Artists Alley Kendal

Entry for the public to the Clock Tower is ABSOLUTELY free, making such an attractive proposition that in 2014 we took more money than any other weekend back at Page 45 – even Christmas – and then in 2015 we beat that record by 10%… with just 1% of the range of our stock!

So obviously Page 45 will be back in 2016 as ever in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower!

Books best photo

Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015 – that’s last year!

Page 45 at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 – massive review with tonnes of photos!

Page 45 is a proud Patron of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival #LICAF @comicartfest

Page 45 sign right

– Stephen

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week three

February 17th, 2016

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

Don’t forget the New Books and News underneath!

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

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

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

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

None of the office’s occupants are young.

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

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

But proprietor Mr Cluthers isn’t listening.

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

With what machinery, Mr Cluthers? With what machinery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy The Envelope Manufacturer and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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Lepage

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

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Kaneko

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

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Koike

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

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Eddie Campbell

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

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

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Vives

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

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Boulet

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

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Matsumoto

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

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Pope

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

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Terada

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

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Cassady

JR

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

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

How refreshing: a book of brotherly love!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I feel so alone.”

Deryn thinks about that.

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

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

“Go to bed, dufus!”

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

Brothers Story part one

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JR

Buy Nod Away and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

“It just isn’t fair…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Comic Shop Hell.

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Evan Dorkin

 

Eltingville Club blog only

Jack Kirby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JR

Buy Gardens Of Glass and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

Previously in UNCANNY SEASON ONE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Uncanny Season Two and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News!

SpiderMan Deadpool cover

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

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

Daredevil End Of Days blog

 

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

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

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

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

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

Young Avengers blog

Thank yoooooooooooo!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week two

February 10th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until the rain hammers down in volume three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Beverly and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

I’m not sure that last bit’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There follow the final sentences of the first chapter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Mirror #1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

Previously in THE WICKED + THE DIVINE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

At which point I roared with laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

The Ultimates vol 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get the hell away from my girlfriend.”

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

Crickets #5 (£4-99) by Sammy Harkham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comix Creatrix Page 45 Twitter

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

Comix Creatrix poster

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

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

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Page 45 Window Centre

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

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

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

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3 reviewed above!

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

See what they did there?

Gaymer Night

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

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

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

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

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

New word: thereverafter.

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2016 week one

February 3rd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of it is.

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are!

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

SLH

Buy Sweaterweather and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

One of my favourite five monthly comics.

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

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

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

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

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

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Previously in LAZARUS:

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

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

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

Lazarus vol 4 2

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

And now… for the shooty bits.

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

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

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

“Family Above All.”

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cry Havoc 3

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

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

Lupine.

They’re here to track her down.

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less John le Carré, more John Le Mesurier.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

You are most certainly are!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

Please do! Or at least a hug!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News!

On hold for next week!

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

Cheers,

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week four

January 27th, 2016

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

Extensive illustrated news underneath.

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

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

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

Tamsin turns round.

“AAAH! TALKING BLACKBIRD!”

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

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

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

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

And oh, will you look at that logo!

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

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

PARENTAL GUIDANCE
EXPLICIT CONTENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact!

SLH

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

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

Dilate your mind!

WHAT IT IS:

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

WHY WE CARE:

Well, Woodring, obviously.

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

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WHY IT WORKS SO WELL FOR WOODRING:

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

It also makes it a comic.*

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

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

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

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

But it turned out he was.

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

“But it turned out she could.”

Others believed she would run out of wool.

“But it turned out she didn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two may not be unconnected.

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

SLH

Buy Extra Yarn and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nnewts-2

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

“Hold on tight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

And of course they all lived happily ever after…

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

Devolution-1

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

Devolution-2

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

Devolution-0

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

[You’re fired. – ed.]

Devolution-3

JR

Buy Devolution #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News!

Black Dog

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

Rolling Blackouts cover

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

Daniel Danger

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

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

Becky Cloonan

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

Age Of Bronze 1

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

Injection vol 1 2

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

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

Wicked And Divine vol 2 festival

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

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

wicked and divine pantheon tshirt

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

the-divine-3

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

Page 45 reviews THE DIVINE by Tomer Hanuka & Asaf Hanuka

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

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

I Love This Part 2

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

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

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week three

January 24th, 2016

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

“I don’t actually care if you die.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t actually care if you die.”

And I think you lie.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Filmish and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEREBUS VOL 1.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haunting.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

Buy Starve vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art shown is from issue 1.

SLH

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

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

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

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

 

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

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News!

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

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

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

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

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2016 week two

January 13th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not always easy, is it?

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

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

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

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

But Star is Fox’s only friend.

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

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

So.

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t sleep for weeks.”

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

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

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

This was quite cute:

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

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

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

 

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

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

SLH

Buy Deep Dark Fears and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

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

It’s a war between the Houses of The Trust, The Minutemen they used to employ as keepers of the peace, and anyone Agent Graves believes he can use in his very long game of goading, guile and perfect positioning, even from the very beginning. They needed the Minutemen because each family judged the others’ honesty by their own. It’s not the sort of institution you’d then want to dissolve, is it?

“Medici has been whispering for years that the Minutemen were an obsolete institution.
“I prefer they think of us as rogue.”

Exactly my point.

The crisp lines and ink-pool silhouettes boast an elegance to match the eloquence of Azzarello’s pen. Risso’s shadows are even stronger than Miller’s in SIN CITY whilst Mulvihill has, throughout this series, balanced them with a warmth of colouring which, combined, makes for one of the most palpable atmospheres in comics. There are moments of explosive, balletic violence – more here perhaps than in any other book so far, for key characters are about to bite the desert dust – but they erupt from pages that are predominantly ominous and charged, as the dialogue dances between schemes and schemers who can look each other in the eye, lie through their teeth and grin while they’re doing so. Or, who knows? Maybe they’re telling the truth, or a truth, because the players are constantly taking the last speaker’s words and twisting them in their own personal direction.

Here are the remains of those Minutemen again:

“The deal The Trust struck with the rest of the world… Well, the world’s a lot smaller now.”
“And The Trust is a lot bigger. We live by the original contract. If we don’t… what are we?”
“About to break it.”

Azzarello’s characters do, of course, all possess more vocalised wit than humanly credible, with wordplay and power play galore, but that’s what makes this so hardboiled. It’s such a pleasure to see words dance in this deadly game of verbal fencing.

Everything about this series is serpentine – both coiled and deadly – so there’s no predicting where the layers of manipulation will lead, when the head will strike, or where it will strike. And sometimes the first strike is the decoy.

If you enjoyed our three Comicbook Of The Month choices, CRIMINAL, STRAY BULLETS and SILVERFISH, I recommend you now launch yourself into 100 BULLETS in the knowledge that it gets better and better and its reprints are almost complete. One more book to go!

SLH

Buy 100 Bullets book 4 and read the Page 45 review here

Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Ricardo Delgado.

Aaargh!

Just when you thought it was safe to creep back into the Cretaceous shallows that lurk down the bottom of your tree-lined cul de sac if only you had the courage to leap over your neighbour’s fence and jump into their garden pond… *

AGE OF REPTILES is back!

The impeccably choreographed AGE OF REPTILES OMNIBUS of do-or-die dinosaur survivalism is a best-seller here. Who on earth doesn’t love dinosaurs?

These are all silent series for the dinosaurs are resolutely not anthropomorphised as they are in many recent family-friendly animations, but ferocious and vicious and if not malicious then at least more than capable of defending their territory whether they be predators or prey.

Size matters. Size splatters. And there is much to be said for safety in numbers.

All of which you will witness in this new graphic novel where there’s a lot less light and a lot more looming.

Gone on the whole are the arid plains and open, cerulean skies for very ancient Egypt wasn’t the desert you’re accustomed to but boasted many more trees (enormous), much more water and plenty of bloody big fish. There are two forewards on hand by outside experts to provide the geological and paleontological details, after which you’re left to fend for yourselves in a world which is teeming with life and indeed so much death that the pages in places become a blood-bath of angry red.

It stars a land-loving but equally subaquatic Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus. Imagine a crocodile but with longer legs and consequently greater agility but an equally considered, time-biding approach to getting what it wants most – food – while avoiding what it wants least: a crippling injury followed by death.

Our snaggle-toothed protagonist bears many scars suggesting that these are lessons learned through painful experience, but learned they most assuredly are.

Much of the first instalment is conveyed in slow and stealthy horizontal panels which are given a quick flick of movement in triangular fashion, whilst most of the epic this time comes in the form of the mighty weight of the vast herbivores rising up in numbers to bear down on our lone-roaming ronin.

Ronin…?

Yes. Far from a pack hunter, this is a sole survivor.

Please see the first of Delgado’s four impassioned essays in the back in which he talks enlighteningly not about archaeology but about controversially coloured Westerns and the far from black and white films of Akira Kurosawa which inspired them.

* Your neighbour’s pond is indeed a trans-temporal gateway. You may claim that your neighbour has no pond – and so may they – but they do!

SLH

Buy Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians and read the Page 45 review here

Aquila: Blood Of The Iceni (£18-99, Rebellion) by Gordon Rennie & Leigh Gallagher, Patrick Goddard…

“Raze Londinium. Burn it to the ground and piss on its ashes, as the Romans once did to Carthage. They will rebuild it, and send a legion… and then another one. And another one if need be… to punish and destroy you.”
“Is that why you’ve served the people who enslaved you and put you to the cross? Because you see no alternative to defying their power?”
“I have served them because killing is my stock in trade, and service in the legions of Rome is the quickest and easiest way to ply that trade.”

Originally published in three chunks over twenty-four 2000AD progs in 2012 and ’13, this is a bloody nasty bit of magic-infused, period mayhem set in the first century AD. For our main character, slave-turned-gladiator Aquila, it all starts over a century before that, though, with his part in the Spartacus-led revolt. Obviously we all know how that turned out, and Aquila was one of the six thousand rebels crucified right along the 132 miles of straight road between the cities of Capua and Rome. In his hour of need, however, upon the cross, he prayed to all the gods he knew for a swift demise. But whilst his prayers were answered, it wasn’t quite the salvation he expected that he received. Instead an inescapable immortal life of servitude awaited him, to Ammit the Devourer, to wreak destruction and death in his name.

After nearly 130 years of dispatching souls for the Devourer he’s unsurprisingly had enough of the bloodletting. So when he hears rumour that he might not be the only cursed immortal, invulnerable havoc-causer wandering around the battlefields of Europe, but that this one has slipped the mystical chains of his godly master, he decides to try and track him down. A certain Emperor of Rome, though, with a penchant for pyromania and stringed instruments, has designs of his own about not growing old gracefully and takes more than a passing interest in our long-lived chum…

Along the way even a certain Peter the Apostle makes an appearance, cropping up on the hit list of Nero and Aquila both! Oh and Queen Boudica who, quite understandably in my opening pull quote, is somewhat perplexed as to why Aquila would fight on behalf of those who nailed him to two planks of wood. She’s got a point, I feel. But when a man’s got to kill, a man’s got to kill. Particularly when there’ll be a certain demonical deity wanting to have a swift word if he starts coming over all soft and cuddly…

Ah, I did enjoy this mix of historical carnage and supernatural slaughter. Always nice to see something a bit different in the galaxy’s most zarjaz comic. I think Gordon Rennie has created a character here that will be reprised for several more story arcs yet. I mean yes, it’s arguably a variation on the Slaine-esque theme but when they totally done that particular character to death, what better to do than come up with an immortal alternative?! One for the followers of tartan-clad Mr. McRoth then certainly, but possibly also Miller’s 300 and Gillen’s THREE, I think. There’s sufficient historical content to elevate this well above a mere slashathon.

Suitably gritty art from Leigh Gallagher and Patrick Goddard which minded me of Darick THE BOYS Robinson in places. In fact this is exactly the sort of thing I could imagine Garth Ennis penning so if you’re a fan of his this might well be worth a look too.

JR

Buy Aquila: Blood Of The Iceni and read the Page 45 review here

Darth Vader vol 2: Shadows And Secrets (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larocca…

“You guys are not team players.”
“GRRROOOWWWL.”
“Yeah, the wookie’s right, you better not have crossed us, Aphra.”
“Statement: you can’t hide from the bounty hunters.”
“Strictly speaking you can hide, it just tends to be ineffective. Running is statistically better, but only fractionally.”
“Comic murderous pedantry aside, the droid’s right. You all know I’ve got a fairly lax attitude to property rights, but do you think I’d cross four of the deadliest bounty hunters in the galaxy?”
“I think you’d think about it.”

Everyone in the galaxy seemingly has an opinion about the new Star Wars film. Most seem to run quite contrary to mine in that they wholeheartedly enjoyed it. My first, and still remaining thought, upon exciting the cinema was, why on Endor couldn’t they get a comic writer to do the script? Disappointed I was…

I mean, Gillen’s DARTH VADER has everything, absolutely everything I would want from a new STAR WARS yarn. An intricate, intriguing, interesting plot with more twists and turns than a womp rat scurrying for cover. Hilarious witty dialogue (right up there with Bendis in his pomp, I feel) that can raise a chuckle or make you shiver in trepidation in equal measure, from note-perfectly observed old characters but also delightful new creations alike.

His utterly selfish corsair Aphra and her psychopathic droid duo of Triple Zero and Beetee are simply brilliant, darkly reflecting Luke, C3PO and R2D2 in such an ironically twisted manner, I would dearly hope someone at Disney was paying sufficient enough attention to think, “You know what, let’s pinch them for a Darth Vader film.” Because no doubt surely there will be one at some point if they’re even making a young Han Solo flick… In fact, while Disney are at it, can they also get Kieron to write it, please?

JR

Buy Darth Vader vol 2: Shadows And Secrets and read the Page 45 review here

Jessica Jones: Pulse – The Complete Collection s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley, Brent Anderson, Michael Lark, Michael Gaydos, Olivier Coipel.

JESSICA JONES: ALIAS volumes one to four constitute the finest comic series Marvel has ever published. It is the story of a brilliant woman trapped in a self-perpetuating spiral of self-loathing and self-destruction with a beginning, middle and oh so satisfying end.

Essentially a detective series with some of the deftest dialogue in any comics genre, it’s packed with anti-establishment attitude and thoroughly cathartic. It has very little to do with costumed fisticuffs and I commend it to almost all of you heartily, no matter what else you’re currently reading. Each book has been reviewed and praised to the heavens with zero spoilers.

Although there are several chapters here with ALIAS artist Michael Gaydos back on board which reprise the heart and spirit of the old title here – specifically when Jessica is introduced by Carol Danvers to Sue Storm and they do lunch (so, so good!) – this is not that, and I do believe the grotesquely twee, airbrushed cover says it all.

SPOILERS!

With one wince-worthy exception written over a decade ago I try to avoid spoilers. Even if I’m reviewing the fourth volume of a series, it’s essentially a sales pitch to new readers for the first book (if, you know, I love it) with some new angle to keep those already on board guessing.

Here I’m out of options so please, please read the whole of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS before you read this review.

SPOILERS!

I’m not even kidding you. Go away!

The first third of this has an identity crisis. It’s not sure if it’s a Spider-book or not. Jessica didn’t appear on a single one of its covers and with Gaydos unavailable Bendis brought in Mark Bagely, his artistic partner on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. I love what Bagley did there. He was perfect for what was a teenage-centric book, but here he makes formerly nuanced and ragged adult characters look like toy dolls.

Many writers are either inspired by their co-creators or write specifically for them. I know Bendis does, but here his trade-mark witty staccato banter, caught in the conflicting sensibilities, becomes a juddered mess of awkward exposition. I can hear it being typed, which is a no-no.

SPOILERS!

Seriously, just because I haven’t spoiled anything yet, I’m about to with the very next sentence not just for this book but for the whole of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS.

Now that Jessica is pregnant her priority is medical insurance. Self-employment as a private detective won’t provide that so she accepts a gig from J. Jonah Jameson as a columnist for the Daily Bugle, making reporter Ben Urich her partner and co-star along with boyfriend Luke Cage, the prospective father of her child. But just as she does so a fellow female reporter ends up dead in the water, having followed up one lead too many that takes her to Osborn Enterprises, home to the Green Goblin. Yeah.

The second sequence is a vast improvement, thanks partly to GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark and ASTRO CITY’s Brent Anderson. The art is much more grounded, the characters very much a part of their environment which is about to become very uncomfortable. A superb evocation of frustration, fear and bewilderment, I’d recommend you read this in advance of Bendis and Dell’Otto’s SECRET WAR (singular, not plural – and it ties in directly) so that, being equally out of the loop, you can empathise with Jessica’s traumatised isolation and helplessness.

For here, in a split second, she finds a woman at her window, her apartment torn apart and her boyfriend blown into a coma. Because of Luke’s unbreakable skin surgeons find it impossible to operate. Then the terrorists strike again – this time at the hospital. The Emergency entrance becomes the emergency… and Luke Cage goes missing.

What do the terrorists want? Why are they doing this? What does it have to do with Luke’s past involvement with Nick Fury, and why will nobody – not even her employers at The Bugle nor her ex-boyfriend at S.H.I.E.L.D. – help her? It’s complete and utter carnage and – I would remind you – Jessica is pregnant. Everything about this book is about the baby.

The final instalment brings back Gaydos and everything feels right with the world again.

If Andi Watson’s LITTLE STAR was all about being a Dad, this is the closest thing in comics I can think of to being a pregnant Mum of the verge of giving birth. In a world where Dr. Strange is going to deliver your baby, sure, but the lunch with Sue Richards offering Jessica insight as to what to expect from motherhood was right on the money and written from experience.

Look this space, dappled light and shadow! I’d eat anywhere drawn by Michael Gaydos.

“Well, I’ll give you the good news… The good news is that once you’re a mom, all this energy you spend on yourself, all that self-involvement…”
“I have self-involvement?”
“The second your baby’s born… it’s all gone. It’s this huge weight – [to waiter:] thank you – this huge weight that you didn’t even know was there… and it’s lifted right off you. It’s such a relief. And that energy you used to put on yourself… now it’s all directed right at her. It’s all on her now. All of you is on her. The bad news is that it’s a horror movie that never ends. Just terrifying. Caring for a child. Just terrifying. I know you don’t want to hear this, but it is – it’s terrifying.”
“Great.”
“Because you can’t control so much of it. They fall down and split their lip — ugh. The boo-boos. They’re fine in five minutes. Me? I have to lie down for the rest of the afternoon. Oh my god! And — and you have to let them fall down. You have to. It’s life. It’s learning. It’ll kill you, but you have to.”
“Your kids have… powers.”
“Had. Yes.”
“Are you scared?”
“Oh my children? No.”
“Of what then…”
“Screwing them up?”
“Yeah.”
“Of course! But not because they have powers or because we’re superheroes… it’s because… Listen, you are talking to someone who has read every baby book written on this planet, and a few from other ones… no joke. And all I learned is this: There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only love and — and guidance and kissing the boo-boos. And you can do everything right… and they still might grow up to put on a big frog costume and jump around the city.”

Quite. If you wrap kids in cotton wool, you end up with the eponymous star of PERCY GLOOM.

The final chapters run with the first exploration in detail of “What if a woman with superpowers gave birth? What would that really involve?” and it’s done with careful consideration. Then Luke does something markedly un-Luke-like and it’s brilliant.

Bye-bye!

SLH

Buy Jessica Jones: Pulse – The Complete Collection s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

A Girl On The Shore (£13-99, Random House / Vertical) by Inio Asano

Cerebus vol 3: Church & State I (Remastered Edition) (£25-99, Aadvark Vanaheim Inc.) by Dave Sim

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo Trilogy (Slipcase Edition) (£26-99, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Lone Wolf And Cub Omnibus vol 11 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima

Shutter vol 3: Quo Vadis (£10-99, Image) by Joe Keatinge & Leila Del Duca

Southern Cross vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Becky Cloonan & Andy Belanger

Starve vol 1 (£7-50, Image) by Brian Wood & Danijel Zezelj

War Stories vol 3 (£18-99, Avatar) by Garth Ennis & Matt Martin, Keith Burns, Tomas Aira

Hellblazer vol 12: How To Play With Fire (£14-99, DC) by Paul Jenkins, Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece, John Higgins

Death Of Wolverine s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Steve McNiven

Batman: Arkham Knight vol 1 (£10-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & various

Flash vol 6: Out Of Time s/c (£12-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth

Flash vol 7: Savage World h/c (£16-99, DC) by Robert Venditti, Van Jensen & Brett Booth

Guardians Team-up vol 2: Unlikely Story s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by various

Star Wars vol 2: Showdown On The Smugglers Moon (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor vol 2: Fractures (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Titan) by Robbie Morrison & Brian Williamson, Mariano Laclaustra

Dragon Ball 3-in-1 Edition vols 31-33 (£9-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama

Youth Is Wasted (£10-99, Adhouse Books) by Noah Van Sciver

Baltimore vol 6: The Cult Of The Red King h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Peter Bergting

Judge Dredd: Dark Justice h/c (£14-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Greg Staples

Batman: Detective Comics vol 6: Icarus s/c (£12-99, DC) by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

Red Hood And The Outlaws vol 7: Last Call s/c (£10-99, DC) by Scott Lobdell & Geraldo Borges, various

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 3 (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Mike Mayhew

Avengers: Time Runs Out vol 4 (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Stefano Caselli, Kev Walker, Mike Deodato, Dalibor Talajic

Darth Vader vol 2: Shadows And Secrets (£14-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca

Tokyo Ghoul vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Souleater Not! Vol 4 (£9-99, Yen) by Atsushi Ohkubo

News!

 Yippee! Philippa Rice’s SOPPY ‘s back in print! Dear Jodie!

ITEM! For fans of Allie Brosh HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, I give you Sarah Burgess’ beautifully observed, empathy-filled and organically structured single-page comic on a pattern / cycle of behaviour you may find very familiar!

ITEM! THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s stellar Kieron Gillen on writing comics from story idea to finished script.

ITEM! Announced: Colleen Doran to adapt Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge to comics – Colleen’s own comments.

ITEM! Broken Frontier’s Comic Awards 2015. Who gone won the day?

ITEM! BOXERS & SAINTS’ Gene Luen Yang, the Library Of Congress’ National Ambassador For Young People’s Literature picks five graphic novels, each of which is stocked by Page 45. Please pop ‘em in our search engine!

ITEM! Article on10 comics which the Comibook Legal Defence Fund was forced to defend from censorship in America, so-called Land of the Free.

ITEM! Damien Walter on the women-hating, thumb-sucking menchildren in comics and games fandom. Let us counter this phenomenon with the wit-ridden wonder that is OffWorld games journalism.

ITEM! This a graphic novel, not an art book! It comes with a ltd ed signed bookplate and it looks pretty complex! THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE by Sonny Liew coming soon. Paul Gravett interviews Sonny Liew himself and previews the graphic novel.

ITEM! Lastly, did you see the comics car-crash that was Angoulême this week?

Grand Prix d’Angoulême 2016 lifetime achievement award shortlist featured 30 nominees, all of ‘em blokes, then Franck Bondoux responded to criticism with “Unfortunately there are few women in the history of comics.”

Which is rubbish, obviously. I can’t recall how many tweets I expended, listing female comic creators off the top of my head, but ugh!!!

The Angoulême car-crash continued….

…threatening to become a multiple pile-up…

ITEM! Typically PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH’s Sarah McIntyre responded to Angoulême with a huge, constructive, empowering resource encouraging more people – women and men – to make comics.

Well done, Sarah!

 – Stephen

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