Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2017 week one

June 7th, 2017

New Jason, Jeff Lemire, Hamish Steele, John Lennon (?!?) and more!

Secret Path (£23-99, Simon & Schuster) by Jeff Lemire, with songs by Gord Downie.

A tremendously powerful, album-sized book, silent save for the inclusion of Gord Downie’s lyrics from songs you can download using a unique code enclosed in a sealed insert, although such is Lemire’s exceptionally well wrought craft that you can hear the poor lad’s relentless chattering of teeth and his shivering rasps of exhausted breath, exhaled into the empty, freezing air.

And then it starts to rain.

Yes, then it starts to rain.

When he huddles at night alongside the long, rigidly straight and so exposed rail tracks, arms wrapped around his legs, there is no cover, and snot drips snorting from his nose.

There’s no cover, no company, no respite and very little hope save for his dwindling dreams of ever finding himself home.

To begin with these daydreams are more vivid and colourful, the starkest and coldest of blues and his black leather boots giving way to bear feet dangling idly above water and banks of soft, tufted green grass below an apricot-coloured sky. He pictures his family – mother, father, younger sister and baby sibling – welcoming him back from a bountiful fishing trip with beaming smiles and unbridled pride. Everything is as it should be.

Nothing has been that way for years.

If you’ve ever seen the Australian film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ directed by Phillip Noyce, based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara, you will have a very clear picture of the appalling story being told here. I’m afraid it was all too true, as is this. On the book’s back cover we are told:

“Chanie Wenjack (misnamed Charlie by his teachers) was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966. He was trying to walk home, along the railroad tracks, trying to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School.”

Several boys aged 7 to 12 attempted the same thing at my prep school, Packwood Haugh, such was its… environment… but always during much more clement nights, and with far fewer miles to travel.

“Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where his home was, nor know how to find it. But like so many kids from residential schools – more than anyone will be able to imagine – he tried.”

Why would he do that? You know, apart from the not inconsiderable wrench of not actually being at home, in the arms of his loving family where he belonged?

Throughout the graphic novel we are given glimpses of incidents our runaway would rather forget. Not just his initiation into institutional “care”, either, though those scenes are repugnant enough: boys being stripped of their individuality with mandatory, ugly, perfunctory and identical haircuts; then stripped of all their clothes, privacy and dignity. They huddle, humiliated, naked and vulnerable under the communal showers, clutching their privates as the priest watches on.

We are never shown his face, then or late at night as he patrols the dormitories, pausing by bedsides. His disembodied hand flexes, and then reaches out. But we quite clearly see the awful fear in the young boy’s eyes, presumably not a one-off occurrence but a fear to be feared throughout each long hour of every successive day and then its subsequent night.

Predatory Russian Roulette.

Lemire’s recent ROUGHNECK was phenomenal, a real return to contemporary-fiction ESSEX COUNTY excellence where he all but began, with colouring as equally restrained and resplendent as this. There’s a starry-night splash page which had me agog. Here too Lemire packs a punch as emotionally charged as they were physically rendered in ROUGHNECK.

Not only that, but he has made maximum use of the size and shape of the format which was originally to have included a 12” vinyl album, wisely replaced (given international shipping) with a free digital download instead.

It begins, post-prologue, with the last vestiges of autumn – the few lingering, dried-up, senescent leaves – blowing over the open, exposed and austere rail tracks, the skeletal trees ranged like spiked railings on either wide side.

But it is its following page which I cannot find online uncut or at the right size which impresses me most. It shows four horizontal tiers of the same, unrelentingly straight (and so, by inference, infinite) railroad with no end in sight, as the lost lad approaches us, his eyes closed, his haunted thoughts inevitably elsewhere.

The combination of the vertically stacked, diagonally driven vanishing points creates a thoroughly unnerving, disconcerting, recurrent vista on which the eye cannot possibly rest, so inducing what I can only describe as a an involuntary flickering of vision in which you cannot help but skip alternate horizontal panels back and forth, up and down.

I’ve never seen anything like it in comics. The effect is akin to a stroboscope.

For my money this is best absorbed without the lyrics every dozen or so pages, but it’s far better to have something included to skip rather than something missing.

Proceeds go to the Canadian National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) which promises to publicise yet-to-be-revealed atrocities such as those alluded to within, and then preserve them in the public conscience alongside the Catholic Church’s systematic but consistently covered-up sexual abuse of young boys by priests who were sworn to celibacy, which is now thankfully well within the proven public domain so you cannot sue me for saying so.

In the interests of balance: I’ve not known the Protestant Church’s clergymen to be any less hands-on, nor British public-school masters, in my day at least. God save us from closed, cloistered cults.

SLH

Buy Secret Path and read the Page 45 review here

On The Camino (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

“There’s a dead cat in the side of the road.
“A rainbow!
“I can see the sun, but where’s the rain?

Almost immediately:

“Ah! …”

The ups and downs and the truly unexpected: there’s nothing like a trek into parts unknown, and for the first time ever Norwegian-born Jason journeys into the realms of autobiographical comics, celebrating his 50th birthday by walking the Camino de Santiago.

I walked all 500 miles alongside Jason and relished every single second of his jaunty Spanish stroll, without having to endure his blisters or bed bugs. As much as I prayed for our pilgrim to reach his chosen destination, I wish he never had, for I didn’t want this ambulatory, countryside idyll to ever end.

I felt as if I had met each individual whom Jason encountered – as much as the adorably reticent and retiring Jason can bring himself to meet anyone. I dined alongside him, whether the meals be kitchen cook-ups which he had to cater and scavenge for himself, hostel-hosted group dinners, cheap Pilgrim’s Menu choices found around each town or the occasional, v. rare, solo self-indulgence on an à la carte menu!

Initially John finds it difficult to break the habits of a lifetime, preferring to walk in solitude anyway and make conversation in the evening, but until he grasps the easy way in – the routine of enquiring which nation each traveller is from and why they’ve chosen this special route, undertaken by many as a religious vocation – he can’t quite make that first move, and the first legs are full of actual silence or missed (and immediately mourned) opportunities to join in.

But as John wends his way, he gradually gets into his conversational stride and builds brief bonds with individuals whom he leaves behind in his pre-dawn departures or falls behind only to be reunited with them farther down the trail which is marked by handy yellow arrows which unfortunately don’t glow in the dark.

Top tip: take a torch for early morning starts, last late-night furlongs and extricating yourself from a hostel without disturbing anyone else. Packing in the dark becomes an art which John masters early on; choosing the right hostel, however, is one he never quite gets the knack of.

Oh yes, Jason’s real name is John. I think we’ll keep calling him Jason.

He finds plenty of time for imagining how conversations might unfold or events might play themselves out, before pulling back with “Nah! That didn’t happen”. I’ll leave those to surprise and make you chuckle.

He also finds time for self-reflection:

“Look at the view, you idiot! Try to be present for once in your life!”

Yes, nature’s eye-candy is one of the primary motivations for meandering around such spectacular countryside and the one thing I found odd is that, unlike Eleanor Davis’ recent YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, I didn’t experience quite the same sense of the changing environment. In one panel Jason exclaims simply “View!” but we’re looking at Jason instead!!! Funny!

The individuality and sanctity of some of the chapels he encounters is keenly evoked. Far from religious himself, Jason still appreciates the short church services with the passing of candles and exchange of hugs or their Gregorian chants, atmospherically interrupted by mobile phones. These services are sometimes part of a hostel’s lure and along some sections we discover selfless local devotees providing refreshments:

“It’s free. You’re a pilgrim.”

Such all-embracing, unquestioning generosity, also experienced in YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, is profoundly moving.

Jason, of course, has embarked on his endeavour not out of religious fervour but to celebrate his half-centenary, having only recently discovered nature. He’s beginning not to feel his age, exactly, but to acknowledge it with respect to others.

“I’m sunburned on my left ear. I say good-bye to all dignity and put a t-shirt under my hat.
“I meet Gorka and Minnie Driver again. We exchange experiences before they walk on.”

It’s not really Minnie Driver, but the similarity was noted on a previous evening.

“I can see myself through their eyes: an okay enough guy. But old enough to their dad, or uncle, let’s say.
“Or maybe they just didn’t want to walk next to someone wearing a t-shirt on his head.”

Ha! It may be Jason’s first foray into autobiography, but he’s retained his trademark bird and dog figures which seems perfectly natural, yet when each of the many statues popping up along the Camino is depicted similarly instead of as is, it brought a smile to my face. I don’t know why!

The big advantage, of course, in retaining the anthropomorphic aspect for Jason’s on / off acquaintances is that in his skilled hands one gleans a better sense of their demeanour and temperament, their essential character rather than a superficial likeness which serves no purpose in a comic like this at all.

As to Jason himself, there’s a tremendous panel in which he’s waiting outside the bathroom for a free shower after a 36km hike. Holding his wash bag in one hand, a towel draped over the other arm, he shows himself leaning back against the wall with an extraordinary sense of weight for such lean lines, and an expression which is quintessentially one of quiet composure, like a car idling in neutral.

Jason will be at The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2017 this October, so feel free to ask him how on earth he expresses so much so minimally, with what is the very opposite of exaggeration.

And it really is free if you catch him signing in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower at 2pm that Saturday, which I’ve not been authorised to announce yet.

I’m ever so naughty!

SLH

Buy On The Camino and read the Page 45 review here

Pantheon : The True Story of the Egyptian Deities (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele.

Oh dear gods, this is funny! I’m quite sure it shouldn’t be, but it is.

“Warning: PANTHEON contains incest, decapitation, suspicious salad, fighting hippos, lots of scorpions, and a golden willy.”

There’s something for everyone, then.

Always wise to read the back-cover blurb, and they’re not making it up. Believe it or not, the “suspicious salad” is the worst offender of the lot, tossed without any mind to Health & Safety; in fact, quite the opposite.

But believe it or not (reprise), Hamish Steele isn’t making this up, either. Although he’s mined the mythology for maximum mirth – lobbing in every anachronistic, artistic armament he can find – this is quite honestly how the Egyptian legends of creation and indeed procreation played themselves out without any heed to the niceties of familial decorum, marital boundaries, genetic wisdom or avuncular beneficence.

Prompted by the promise above I immediately searched the hand-dandy family tree of gods and goddesses arranged in such a way that they are linked as sibling, married to, child of, or even same guy. I wondered how many parallel lines I would find. The only way in which I was at all disappointed was in a narcissistic failure of the “same guy” to be married to himself. Otherwise…? All bets are off.

In particular Isis and Osiris really did keep it in the family, and their expressions in that timeline – one to-camera – are priceless.

The prologue’s punchline – the very act of creation – is equally iconoclastic, perfect in its pithiness, and its use of a very rude word sets the tone admirably for all that will follow; little of which is, in any shape-changing form, admirable.

Still, you can’t create an omelette without breaking eggs or cleaving heads and caving in the skulls of your followers, and the same goes for new worlds and new world orders, apparently. Transitionally the mortal Egyptians are to be presided over by a pantheon of four second-generation gods, Osiris being their first pharaoh married to his sister Isis, with their brother and sister, Set and Nephthys, equally entwined.

What one expects most from such tales of divine intervention and antiquity is solemnity, majesty, Dire Declarations in Capital Letters and Multisyllabic Words.

Instead you’ll be reminded, again and again, that Set is the most unbelievable cock.

Here’s Ra / Atum, sun-god supreme and the top-tabler in this celestial convention:

“Young Osiris.
“It is now up to you and your siblings to maintain the balance of Egypt during the transitional period between the Eras of God and Man. And one day you shall join us in Duat too.
“Now, don’t fuck it up.”

Young Set, to camera – immediately, gleefully and not for the last time:

“I’m gonna fuck it up.”

Set is the king of contradiction, his ambition for power limited by nothing whatsoever, certainly not Osiris’ oblivious gullibility. It doesn’t just end in tears; it begins in tears with Set dethroning Osiris almost immediately through blatant, see-through trickery and in spite of Isis’ repeated warnings.

Guys, please listen to your wives!

The problem, of course is that Isis is not only Osiris’ missus but his sister too, and no one listens to their sisters except sisters. Here are sisters Nephthys and Isis discussing their current conundrum:

“I’m sorry about my husband, Isis. I dunno what Set has against Osiris.”
“Maybe it’s to do with when Osiris kicked Set last week.”
“Maybe… Or maybe it’s because I’ve been sleeping with Osiris.”
“Eww, Nephy! He’s your brother!”
“So is Set!”
“He’s mine too!”

Meanwhile, as I said, Set’s seized power and Isis is deeply pissed off:

“That’s not your throne!”
“The pharaoh is gone and so his crown passes to his brother! Which is me!”
“You’d be a crap pharaoh!”
“I know! It’s hilarious! You can still be queen if you want, sis. You’re a solid eight.”

We’re nowhere near the suspicious salad yet, although it is fruit born of similarly inbred shenanigans which are so outrageous / extreme that I cannot possible write about them in public. So instead I’m going to roll out one of my favourite words: transgressive. If you’ve been enjoying the three MEGG & MOGG books, BOY’S CLUB or Joan Cornell’s MOX NOX and ZONZO, then I would humbly submit that this morass of family misfortune is right up your back alley.

I wonder if this is why Nobrow Publishing gave birth to its all-ages imprint Flying Eye? You certainly wouldn’t want this falling into the same tiny hands as HILDA.

Hamish Steele’s designs for these gods are exquisite (and perversely ever so attractive to children!), some of them sampling Matt Groenig’s penchant for wide-eyed, bulbous cartooning while others like uncle Set and nephew Horus lend themselves to equally expressive mischief with Horus’s head coming off like an innocent greetings-card blue tit in black; one which will certainly start singing more than the dawn chorus once Horus is on the receiving end of Set’s flamboyant flagrancy.

At which point I would just remind you that although this is a mesh of many mythologies from different localities, what’s here was there: Extraordinarily, Hamish is merely re-presenting these extant legends presented by and to the Egyptian populace in all seriousness (in fact, more than seriousness: with all the sacred weight which comes with the divinity they describe) in an irreverently off-hand and jocular fashion whose comedy lies in that very contrast, the startlingly sexual nature of what he’s disinterred, and the lightning-bolt timing and sometimes contemporary context with which he delivers it.

Additionally, some of the jokes are more subtle than others, Steele leaving this piece of minor genius until quite close to the end when Horus comes a cropper in a manner not so dissimilar to Anglo-Saxon King Harold, as made most comically famous by the late and indescribably great Stanley Holloway.

“Horus! Your eye!”
“What are you talking about? My eye is fine!”

Yup, looks fine to me.

“No! Your other eye!”
“My… My other eye?”

This ‘what other eye?’ joke is predicated upon the fact that Egyptian paintings universally presented all personages in profile when it came to their heads and that those thus characterised might be unaware that they even had a second, unseen eye.

That’s ever so deliciously meta.

Finally, thanks to Steele’s remarkable restraint in leaving this so long, it was only at this juncture – forgive me for being so slow! – that I realised I was reading what must surely be the first comic ever to be to be conducted throughout using  profile-only faces.

Except for the very next page.

You are hearing a round of rattling, full-throttle and unequivocal applause.

SLH

Buy Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities and read the Page 45 review here

I Killed Adolf Hitler h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

A luxurious new hardcover edition with a satisfyingly tactile debossed flag, released in time for the launch of Jason’s autobiographical perambulations ON THE CAMINO, this is far closer in tone and content to the likes of Jason’s LOW MOON, IF YOU STEAL and ATHOS IN AMERICA etc, all of which come highly recommended.

Calmly coloured by Hubert and told in a clean and relaxed, four-tiered, eight-panel grid, this ingenious, comedic dance is the last story you’d expect from a title like that, except that it does feature quite a lot of sudden deaths!

Set in a world where earning a License To Kill is as legal as a license to practice medicine, Jason clearly demonstrates why conspiracy to murder – to hire someone to kill someone else for you – is against the law here in the UK, Ireland and most American States. It’d be highly lucrative and the waiting list longer than the average builder’s. Everyone would be at it and for the most spurious reasons. But if you can hire someone to off your missus because you’re bored of your relationship, you’d better look out for tell-tale signs of ennui in your next lover’s eyes.

 

The star is one such hitman who – after a snappy succession of assignments, each with its own punchline – is paid to travel back in time and shoot Adolf Hitler.

He botches it.

Instead Adolf escapes in the same transtemporal globe and ends up back in the here and now. The delight of this, however, is that this isn’t really about Adolf at all, and wherever and whenever the various time-travellers end up, the majority of the action occurs in the present.

But how does everyone get here if the machine takes fifty years to power up after each two-way journey?

It’s actually a love story, told, deadpan, with the absurdist wit of Lewis Trondheim.

SLH

Buy I Killed Adolf Hitler and read the Page 45 review here

Lennon: The New York Years h/c (£17-99, IDW) by David Foenkinos, Eric Corbeyran & Horne.

“At first I found it really strange to live at Mimi’s. My mother never explained anything to me, I didn’t dare ask any questions.
“I must have thought that it was going to be for two or three days like before.”

His tiny suitcase remains on the bed, packed and ready to go, or perhaps never unpacked in the first place.

“I lived my whole childhood with a sensation of everything being temporary. I was always on deposit somewhere.”

That’s a fine piece of writing, and the art throughout is faultless, especially in the quiet moments. Horne is an exceedingly fine portrait artist; moreover, this softly shaded art, dappled with light, boasts a suppleness and deftness of touch which eludes so many engaging in such photo-realistic comics, inevitably in this case relying heavily on reference material. Too often the desperation to achieve likeness causes each rendition to become rigid and their flow as a sequence to become heavy and static, but the lines and light here are as pliant as you like.

Occasionally there’s the same image repeated a little too often but I can happily put that down to snap-shot recollection which is something that flickers through my own mind, and is essentially what Lennon is supposed to be engaged in: offloading to his therapist in a series of sessions, the first of which takes place just before the birth of his second son, Sean, to Yoko Ono, on John’s 35th birthday, October 9th 1975.

And therein lies my problem with this book and its central conceit: if Lennon were writing an extended, contemplative article for publication, or even as a personal exercise, it might work, but here he is far too lucid and fluent to be talking off-the-cuff to a counsellor who doesn’t get a word in edgeways. There’s no prompting, he just goes off on one – a very long one – in a measured, highly structured fashion, at first relating the self-confessed absence of any paternal feelings towards his first son, Julian, to his own abandonment as a child by his father and then his mother.

It’s very well expressed by both artist and writers – too well expressed by the writers – as the father then returns to use Lennon as a lure to regain his wife, with no thought whatsoever as to the further destabilising effect (after so many) on their poor son.

There are four terrifically well chosen and delineated panels on Horne’s part which depict the young lad waiting for his mother to return in Aunt Mimi’s entryway, dressed in school uniform and cap as if he were waiting outside the headmaster’s office – for hours.

The door doesn’t open.

Amongst the other things that irk me, however, is that that this isn’t a reflection on Lennon’s New York Years as its title professes. It may be a reflection from his New York Years with occasional allusions to them, but they’re far from the focus which instead sprawls over his years as a Beatle, yet with but a two-page footnote about ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, John casually, lazily asserting (but not necessarily erroneously, for sure!) that it was “the most revolutionary album of all time” without any explanation as to why – a subject about which you could easily fill a five-hour documentary.

I did nod thoughtfully to the notion that Lennon’s uptake of spectacles – after years of enduring blurred vision for the sake of vanity – was a direct result of a film he agreed to take a part in, that character being one who wore glasses.

But to return to the credibility of the conceit, when one sits down to write something (editing out all the false starts etc), one hopefully comes up with something a lot more coherent than most of us manage in conversation, with a wider vocabulary to boot. But not only is this too considered for verbal therapy sessions which usually involve some degree of faltering then coaxing, it’s also too well phrased and the language didn’t seem like Lennon’s, as spoken, at all.

The overall effect is to leave this feeling false, contrived and untrustworthy so I stopped trusting its accuracy let alone engaging in it as entertainment and, in the end, this falls through the cracks of being neither one thing nor the other.

Wish I could have found the Lennon-as-a-lad art online for you, though: it truly is tremendous. 

SLH

Buy Lennon: The New York Years h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh.

“Five A.M. is my nightmare.
“It shouldn’t even be a time.”

This is a truth, for which I apologise to all our loyal postmen and postwomen (in a trade rather than evolutionary sense) while truly appreciating all your pre-dawn delivery diligence. Too many of us take our Royal Mail maestros for granted, including myself until I typed both those sentences which have no bearing whatsoever on this comic.

It is a bright and beautiful thing. It is refreshingly free from clutter and it clatters on at a right old clop with all the attention span that you’d expect from a teenage narrator who won’t be distracted from her singular mission by anything other than abs. Mmmm…. abs.

Kate Bishop is focussed. Kate Bishop can see what few others see. What she sees with her hawk-eyed, instantaneous intuition-vision is presented by Romero and Bellaire in shutter-speed, potential purple targets which Thompson wittily designates as ‘Innocent Bystander’, a car’s ‘Poorly Covered Plate’, ‘Security Alarm’, ‘Smoke Detector’, ‘Glass Jaw’ and ‘More Hot Abs’.

In righting wrongs, master-archer Kate Bishop will take care of business meticulously, efficiently and without warning whilst wearing purple and counting abs.

I am not at all obsessed with abs.

Speaking of business, YOUNG AVENGERS’ Kate Bishop is setting up shop as a private detective in California around Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Where there are lots of… pecs. She has no license, she has dubious investigative skills, but what she does have on her side is a certain chutzpah and the ability to improvise swiftly.

Although living up to her previous appearances in Fraction’s and Aja’s HAWKEYE  would be an impossible act, this still kept me mightily amused to start to finish. That series remains the only superhero comic which Page 45 has ever allowed into our window, largely because it wasn’t really a superhero comic but – in its true, theatrical sense – a comedy of manners so contemporarily designed by Aja.

This is equally contemporary, dealing as it does with the scum who harass women online, for more of which I would refer you to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 3. The art by Romero and coloured by Bellaire is a mischievous dream which is ever so light on extraneous clutter and ever so sharp on sequential-art subtlety which is perfectly apposite for a clue-based drama. I cannot believe it would be intentional but in one panel I even got whiffs of Jack Kirby romance comics (ask me).

Here’s a good joke. Kate Bishop walks into a bank.

“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept… sass?”

We do indeed. This sort of sass is acceptable.

SLH

Buy Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

The Wicked + The Divine vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Providence vol 2 h/c (£19-99, Avatar) by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows

Spill Zone vol 1 h/c (£17-99, FirstSecond) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland

The Adventures Of John Blake: Mystery Of The Ghost Ship h/c (£14-99, David Fickling Books) by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Bone: Rose (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith

Fantasy Sports vol 3: The Green King h/c (£12-95, Nobrow) by Sam Bosma

Nothing Lasts Forever (£13-99, Image) by Sina Grace

Parker: The Outfit s/c (£17-99, IDW) by Richard Stark & Darwyn Cooke

StarDrop vol 2: A Place To Hang My Space Suit (£8-99, I Box Publishing) by Mark Oakley

Abe Sapien vol 9: Lost Lives And Other Stories (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Scott Allie & Michael Avon Oeming, Dave Stewart, various

Justice League Of America: The Road To Rebirth s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Steve Orlando, Jody Houser & various

Suicide Squad vol 2: Going Sane s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Rob Williams & Jim Lee, various

Mighty Thor vol 2: Lords Of Midgard (UK Edition) s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman, Rafa Garres, Frazer Irving

New Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection vol 5 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen, Jim Cheung, Joe Quesada, Mike McKone, Mike Mayhew, Marko Djurdjevic, Bryan Hitch

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 2: Side Pieces s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by various

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 3 (£9-99, Viz) by Yashuo Ohtagaki

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

Crossed + 100 vol 3 (£17-99, Avatar) by Simon Spurrier & Rafael Ortiz, Martin Tunica

News!

ITEM! First-ever all-comics issue of The New York Times Magazine is online for you to devour!

Comics creators include Kevin Huizenga (above), Tillie Walden, Sammy Harkham, Tom Gauld, Franceso Frankavilla and ASTERIOS POLYP’s David Mazzucchelli.

ITEM! Comics creator Jason (see two books above) will be attending LICAF 2017 in October

So that’s a bit of a rarity!

I may made an exclusive, unauthorised announcement about this in my ON THE CAMINO review above. By which I mean, I did!

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week five

May 31st, 2017

Paul Madonna, John Allison, Noah Van Sciver, Asaf Hanuka, Ben Passmore, Alex De Campi, Tony Parker, Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Jason reprints.

The Realist: Plug And Play h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Asaf Hanuka.

In which, following the success of THE REALIST and THE DIVINE, Asaf travels to receive awards in Japan.

There he experiences the tradition of bowing, business card presentation offered and received with both hands, the cleanliness of public toilets, and violence-free order even on the most crowded of pedestrian streets.

“I was wondering if all the cute characters were a reaction to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wish collective traumas were translated into something huggable in Israel.”

He also learns why formal photographs avoid showing fingers and buggers that up completely, thereby experiencing another Japanese tradition, that of the lowest point a man can reach: public embarrassment.

But for all this travel you may have already noticed that Hanuka’s thoughts rarely stray far from home and – given that his home is Tel Aviv in Israel – terrorism is at the forefront throughout, not just pervading his conscious but intruding physically into his life in the form of armed police, military manoeuvres and the sorts of threats which make you think twice: airborne missile strikes. At one point his family have to take refuge in an air raid shelter.

Typically during this atypical six-page instalment (the standard is a single-page splash or nine-panel grid), he manages to weave in a thread about “nothing”, the nature of which is on his son’s mind:

“What is nothing made of?”
“Well, it’s made of… umm… It’s made of nothing.”
“So it’s not really nothing, right?”
“What do you mean?” asks Asaf, struggling with a Rubik’s Cube.
“If it’s made of something, how can it be nothing?”

At which point his younger daughter, little more than a toddler, drops a TINTIN rocket on her toes.

Good old Dad does manage to come up with a wise and coherent answer eventually, but then his own dad calls to check that the family are okay following the explosion and flames we see through the window just a couple of blocks from their home, and the retaliatory strike we see through military-jet crosshairs on Gaza.

“It was nothing.”

The very first page, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ shows the artist at work, fretting about his contribution to the wide-ranging acts of solidarity in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, and the enormous responsibility of getting his own response right. So many discarded failures lie crumpled on the floor below as he sweats over a new page, staring directly down the length of his pen… and down the barrel of a gun.

It’s a phenomenal composition.

Elsewhere the gleaming floor of a Parisian airport reflects Hanuka’s preoccupations but again, however bad we have it here with what to most of us are unfathomable atrocities, try living in Israel. In fact, try living in Israel during the kitchen-knife stabbing-Intifada if you look like Asaf. He strives to shave more often, for a start.

“I can spot suspicious looks when people notice me on the street. I can’t blame them – if I’d seen myself I would probably be worried too.
“Everyone is afraid and everyone is a suspect. Arabs in particular, or those who look Middle-Eastern. Arab-Jews, like myself, and Arab-Muslims look exactly the same.”

He sinks up to his nose into a sea of blood, casting his eyes anxiously around.

“Fear, paranoia, hysteria, an angry mob, and misidentification. That’s all you need for someone innocent to be lynched in a central bus station in Israel these days.
“I’m a walking target, twice. As a Jew I’m a target for terrorists and as an Arab I’m a target for those who look for suspects to neutralise.”

Identity is an issue that permeates both books (and the masks and peeled faces are back), Hanukah constantly considering himself “stuck in the vacuum between camps” as he explains in ‘Costumes’ on the subject of Jews from Kurdistan and Iraq. Then, of course, there’s his marriage – mixed, between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi – which wouldn’t have been allowed had they been Religious Zionists or Orthodox Jews.

I promise, however, that there is much mischief too, with titles like ‘Emojinal’ and ‘The In-House Designer’, the latter being a catalogue of clothing purchases from Paris, New York and home, sweet home, personalised / ruined by the creative endeavours of his daughter.

Along with the thrilling compositions, there’s a glorious physicality to Hanukah’s forms, both impressively displayed in ‘Double Dad’ as his son squelches him into a photocopier and gaily replicates him multiple times, the sheaves of flat paper falling to the lime-green floor. These reproduce the back of Asaf’s shiny head and shoulders, but then his arms emerge, hands heaving against the paper as he pulls himself up and out into the three-dimensional world.

Shame about the copy that got crinkled in the blockage…

‘Secrets From The Kitchen’ offers an alternative recipe for pancakes that the one you might be used to, and is a far more relaxed culinary escapade than ‘Chill’ in which husband Hanukah is left to cope solo with the domestic routines including a fry-up when his wife’s back gives out.

“Come eat! The food is ready. Where’s the girl?”

Clue: “Hottt…”

And yes, just like last time, the family sits, skips and trips centre-stage with movement-cartooning worthy of the great Kyle Baker as the household ups sticks and drips its way to holiday heaven.

For more, including the origins of this series, please see our review of THE REALIST in which I talk about the ingenious ways in which the creator utilises the nine-panel grid, often making structural use either of the tiers or the columns in linking the various threads weaved into a single work of wonder.

I leave you instead with the end of an anecdote from boyhood during which, as an eight-year-old, the artist was chased on the way back from school by a wild horse, here a fearful black shadow. Running as fast as he could, he falls as the horse still catches up, and resigns himself to its hooves. 

“But instead of trampling me, the horse skipped over me and continued to gallop wildly to someplace else.
“When I got home I told my mother everything. She said I should try and draw what happened. That it would help me relax.
“I began to draw, slowly feeling that paralysing fear transform into inspiration.
“Now, whenever disaster approaches, I pull out my markers and draw calmly. I know by now the chances are, it’s on its way to someplace else.”

SLH

Buy The Realist: Plug And Play h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Fante Bukowski Two (£13-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Noah Van Sciver…

“The lettering, the title, the cover… this is the best zine. Good thing I printed twenty thousand of these puppies! That ought to be enough for now!”

The literary legend – in his own boozy endless lunchtime, that is – returns to titillate us with his latest set of trials and tribulations in attempting to write the ‘Great American Novel’ and find stellar fame and Croesus-like wealth into the bargain. Moving on from the scene of his previous spectacular failure, as chronicled in FANTE BUKOWSKI, this time he’s mooching around that well known literary hotbed of Columbus, Ohio, where all the greats have seemingly spent time, or indeed, currently live!

Columbus, Ohio, being where a certain Noah Van Sciver happens to reside… I’ve been there oddly enough and let me tell you, not a lot happens… Still, it’s an amusing conceit, but one that’s promptly and brutally bettered in the rib-tickles department by said Noah Van Sciver, replete with the now sadly shaved off, sarcastically self-proclaimed 4th best moustache in comics, appearing in this volume as a larger-than-life and I’m sure, entirely more odious version of himself as the romantic makeweight for Fante’s former flame, Audrey. Who just so happens to be on that very self-same meteoric rise to stardom that Fante so desperately craves. Audrey, for some strange unknown reason, as she freely acknowledges to herself, despite Fante abandoning her in volume one, still harbours some fond affection for him.

Fante, meanwhile, is living in a cockroach-infested hotel with some delightful boutique features such as a profusion of voyeurs’ peepholes and a kleptomaniac junkie manager. The Ritz it is not. Still, it’s all grist to the metaphorical mill for a future Pulitzer Prize winner…  In fact, were it not for Fante’s steadfast, unshakeable belief that his own prodigious, innate talent will eventually be enough that the whole world will recognise his genius and thus provide him with his very own happy ending, he might consider giving it all up. Oh, and so long as his parents don’t cancel his credit card that they pay off each month… Hmm… now, I wonder what they’ll do when they see a streetwalker’s personal services on the next bill?

As before, there’s so much additional chortle-worthy nonsense packed in on every single page such as excerpts of Fante’s own poetry, of which there are several suitably dreadful examples scattered throughout. Mainly reflecting upon just how tortured his chosen life is, musing on the likes of facing the insurmountable existential crisis of running out of beer and having to brave the sarcastically dismissive cashier at the corner store.

Another little conceit I loved, was the occasional artistic nod to a comics’ creator or a classic panel. If you know your stuff you might spot as diverse references as Robert Crumb and the final page of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50! There are also some other choice real-world comics cameos, besides Noah himself, that only add to the fun. In fact one of which proves hilariously crucial to the farcical denouement.

If any creator ever wanted an example of how not to waste a single bit of space, they should look at this work. Even the inside cover has a brilliant little visual gag, which I won’t spoil, that completely initially fooled me. There was also supposed to be an additional visual gag on the rear cover, involving a fake label but hilariously it was mis-printed requiring Fantagraphics to then actually print a genuine additional ISBN label to stick over it!

Plus, as with volume one, there’s innumerate pearls of wisdom from the great and good dispensed like self-motivational medication for poor old Fante with disturbing frequency as page headers. Not that he’s paying the slightest bit of attention being entirely wrapped up in his epic travails… In fact, I’ll leave the last word to Fante. It’s about himself of course…

“How can the world have so little faith in me? It’s like nobody wants me to be the famous writer I’m meant to be…”

JR

Buy Fante Bukowski Two and read the Page 45 review here

Your Black Friend (£4-50, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It gets better.

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy Your Black Friend and read the Page 45 review here

On To The Next Dream h/c (£11-99, City Lights) by Paul Madonna.

“Back home I found my front door plastered with nine more eviction notices. Did my landlord think I couldn’t read?”

Illustrated prose from the creator of swoonaway, San Francisco art albums ALL OVER COFFEE and EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD, each containing predominantly sepia-tinted landscapes, some illustrated by short stories to form snap-shots, vignettes, which you could almost consider comics (I do).

And that’s a turn-up for the books: art illustrated by prose.

Here’s another: the gentrification of San Francisco with its attendant, sky-rocketing price-hikes in rent demands and property values – already so extortionate as to be exclusive when I visited a decade or so ago – has turned into such a runaway engine that it has steam-rolled over long-standing residents and resulted in thousands of no-fault evictions in order to gouge new, prospective occupants even more. Amongst them was San Francisco Chronicle’s highly successful and highly regarded Paul Madonna, ejected from his rented accommodation in the Mission District.

There’s a flat, open park in the Mission District I visited before breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning while staying in the Castro. This was ten years ago, remember, but even then I found the park populated by dozens of affluent ladies walking their dogs while picking their way between what I estimate to have been some two hundred homeless individuals waking up under blankets.

So that was a thing.

Paul Madonna’s reaction to this experience has been, well, to move, for one; but also to create this short, surreal and scathingly satirical farce that isn’t a million miles from early Evelyn Waugh, Madonna casting himself as the central naïf in its first-person narrative, buffeted by the cut-throat market forces in this already overheated closed system.

“It’s a bubble,” the woman said. “One small and ridiculous microcosm inside the already small and ridiculous bubble that is San Francisco.”

And he really is buffeted: bashed off the pavement into the path of cars flashing past at high speed, or bundled into others, and caught constantly off balance, disorientated by the ever-shifting dream-like sequences, in one of which there really is a bubble surrounding a much sought-after shoe-box of a flat.

Another residence on offer is an actual cardboard box in a corner.

“Asking price is one million,” I heard the real estate agent call out. She was standing on the kitchen table, strapped into a square-shouldered business suit, scanning the crowd with eyes like an airport x-ray machine.
“But of course it will go for hundreds of thousands more,” a man said, pushing me aside with a baby stroller.”
“Obviously,” said the agent. “A million is just how much it takes for me to treat you like you actually exist.”

Have you noticed there’s furniture everywhere?

A recurring couple rudely intrude into his nightmare, at first attempting to grab each new apartment themselves by anticipating which attributes its landlady or landlord might favour most in its tenants and so attending their impromptu, on-site auctions suitably disguised. And bungling it. Actually, this is ever so very Evelyn Waugh!

Our protagonist, this mock-Madonna, attempts to articulate how wronged he feels by these forces which, being forces, take no heed of success or repute, and reward only those making money by already having money – the parasitic landlords:

The guy smiled tightly. He put a hand to his heart.”I hear you,” he said. “You’re an artist –“
“And a writer,” I said. But for some reason he was still unable to hear that part.
“ – And you’re able to make a living in San Francisco? That’s amazing.”
“Right – “
“But – “ he pointed out with his thumb to his friend “ – her family has owned real estate here for generations.”
To which the woman responded by waving her hand through me as if I wasn’t there.

Each of the fifteen chapters plus prologue opens with a brand-new Madonna cityscape.

They are, of course, gorgeous.

I’ll leave you to discover where the cover comes in, with its bright white blemish, as if were a hole burned in celluloid.

The book opens with an invitation to imagine yourself on a passenger plane, on a long haul flight to somewhere you love dearly, only to be thrown out of your seat by the stewardess to make room for someone else. The nightmare scenario grows a great deal worse and proves the perfect metaphor for what follows.

But yes, Paul Madonna, long revered mostly for his drawing, most definitely earns his wings as a writer here. Exhibit E:

“Inside, the flat felt different. I was suddenly hyper-aware of all my things. Of how I would have to touch every object, then decide what to keep and what to toss. The thought was overwhelming. Because the truth was, I owned way too much. Ten years had turned my place into a stuff hotel; items checked in, but they didn’t check out.”

SLH

Buy On To The Next Dream h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road (£13-99, Oni) by John Allison.

“FLIP! Ole Knotty’s coming!”
“Get in there! Quick!”
“Oof, move up!”
“HEY!”
“Which one of you touched my bum?”
“SHUT UP MAN”
“I NEVER”

The bad boys have hidden in the science lab’s fume cupboard. There’s something very strange about that fume cupboard, and it will lead to a forked road – but a forked road to where?!?

Jonathan and I have both written extensively and in depth about all things John Allison (GIANT DAYS etc) so if you want a more detailed analysis of Allison’s comedy craft try BAD MACH 6 or the BOBBINS one-shot, Page 45’s biggest-selling comic of 2016.

It’s all very British and ever so brilliant and BAD MACHINERY itself is all-ages.

However, kids do grow up, and speaking of fumes one of my favourite albeit brief sequences this time involves Sonny’s bedroom.

“So, Mildred… did you get much out of him?”
“No.”
“Sorry. He’s a bit… you know.”
“That’s all right, Uncle Tom. I opened a window.”

Sonny lurches out, shoulders hulked high, in nothing but his boxers and vest, a blonde, teenage, monosyllabic Neanderthal, to spray deodorant under his armpits in the bathroom then return, equally unresponsive, to sit cross-legged, frowning at a screen.

“Just going to play video games in your pants, then, son? I’ll shut the door.”

In fact, not to disrespect the central mystery – which is ingenious and comes with quite the sly epilogue involving The Beetles (sic) – but most of my favourite sequences involve the three lads, Linton, Jack and Sonny, who sit most of this session out while they hit or “catch” puberty, experiencing its own mysteries in hilarious single-panel growth spurts, beautifully drawn, before coming out of their hormonal chrysalises as three different varieties of a classic subculture. In this, as in everything, Allison actually thinks to maintain their distinct individuality where other, lesser creators would have dressed them all up the same. And it all works so well: of course Linton, Jack and Sonny – specifically they – would emerge into young adulthood as modern iterations of that particular British subculture!

Now, you may think puberty an unsuitable topic for what has been so far an all-ages comic but a) I don’t think so (there was way too much misinformation in my day filling the void that is British reserve, reticence and outright embarrassment), but also b) the references are both fleeting and innocent, plus 3) the youngest most people start in on BAD MACHINERY is aged 12, and even if you begin aged 10, most kids will be 12 by the time they reach volume 7. See also a) and b) if they can’t really wait.

It’s very much like Jeff Smith’s BONE in that what starts off as a light-hearted comedy comic which children as young as 6 adore grows ever darker as it gets older, but its readers grow with it too.

As to the girls, Charlotte, Shauna and Mildred, of course they handle things better – with books and the like – but then they’ve got their mystery-orientated minds focussed elsewhere. Haven’t they?

“Mildred. I… are you all right?”
“I saw something strange yesterday evening. But I need to ask my dad about it.”
“What? Mildred, what?”
“Was it a daddy cow on top of a mummy cow in a field? Because you don’t need to ask your dad. I will lay it on the line for you.”
“No, Lottie.”
“S-R-S-L-Y. Strickly scientific.”

Again, see BAD MACH 6 for what I love about Lottie’s language (it amuses me to refer to this series as BAD MACH – it sounds like a blunt and so defunct razor, or a hypersonic speed completely out of control), but here we are treated to “Britane”, “Laaa!”, “MENTILE!” and “the BECHAMEL test”.

“Right, so if you make a film with two ladies in it, and all they do is talk about MEN… it fails the BECHAMEL test.”
“… the bechamel test!”
“Yeah. It means your film is bland and cheesy.”
“Lottie, you are ruddy treasure trove of culture.” *

Hmmm….!

Meanwhile there are as ever strange “doings” to discern, cogitate upon and pursue to their logical conclusions, like why a young boy has appeared at Griswalds Grammar School in Tackleford wearing a school cap and shorts when nobody wears shorts and even Shauna wears full-length trousers rather than a skirt.

Did you spot that she wears trousers? Details! John Allison’s characters are all individuals, and he is all about the details. Pay attention to Occam’s Razor early on too!

“Why is this case 80% CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING? We were so close to CAKE!”

* It’s the Bechdel test. As in comics’ Alison Bechdel of FUN HOME etc.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road and read the Page 45 review here

Moonshine vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso…

“Speaking from experience…
“A lot of experience…
“It ain’t easy to describe the feeling of waking up in the unknown.
“Being in a spot you have no idea how you got to.
“It’s disorienting, a hole in the memory.
“And while the most immediate bit is to get your legs under you, it’s what’s missing that’s overwhelming. The hole…
“Did I dig it myself?”

Like ‘Boardwalk Empire’ meets ‘An American Werewolf In London’.

Do I really need to add anything else?

It’s brought to you by the same team that produced the mesmeric, convoluted crime epic 100 BULLETS.

At this point if you’re not reaching for your wallets, what is wrong with you?!

Yes, Messrs. Azzarello and Risso return with a mash-up so exquisitely flavoured, I suspect they’ve been supping direct from the mash tub! It’s such a simple concept too. New York gangsters, desperate to get their hands on the good stuff get a line on some top-notch moonshine being distilled by a clan of Hillbillies out in the sticks up in the Appalachian mountains. One slight problem: werewolves… Yep. Well, actually, there’s a whole load of other problems too, but the werewolves are kind of the major one. In terms of staying alive, that is, unless you have a few moves, and I’m not talking of the dancefloor variety…

Azzarello sends the slick and entirely dispensable hoodlum Lou Pirlo, who certainly fancies himself as a John Travolta-style ladies man the way he struts his stuff and coiffeurs his hair, out into the wilds to cut a deal for the hooch on the orders of real life Mafia boss Joe Masseria, a man so feared his nickname was simply “The Boss”. Enough said. Unfortunately for Lou, who is under, shall we say, a certain degree of pressure from Joe to deliver the goods, the family Holt don’t want to sell. Not clan head old man Holt, anyway. The younger generation, with more of an eye for business, some of them might have different ideas…

And thus begins the double-crossing, triple-crossing and… hold on a minute… everyone knows crosses don’t work against werewolves, you need silver bullets! Unlike the very deliberately slow paced 100 BULLETS, however, this wastes no time whatsoever in pitching Lou right in at the metaphorical deep end of the whiskey jar, so before too long, as one of the more polite members of the Holt clan sweetly points out to him, “You’re drowning in blood.” Indeed, it becomes apparent rather quickly that Lou is going to struggle getting hold of enough hooch, well any at all, to keep Joe Masseria happy. Good job he’s such a reasonable boss to work for! That enforced abstinence, however, will soon prove to be the least of Lou’s issues.

Expect high proof liquor and an even higher body count. Between the sore heads and the decapitated ones, I expect this title to keep the sozzled horror factor higher than a Saturday night out in Yates’ Wine Lodge in the old Market Square…

JR

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

Mayday s/c (£13-99, Image) by Alex De Campi & Tony Parker…

“Jesus, man, put that away. You perforate my Commie and I will put you six feet under a preacher with my bare hands.
“Our game has two rules, cowboy. One, wives and kids are off limits. Two, we don’t shoot at each other’s operatives. Because once we let that devil out of the bottle, we’ll never get him back in.
“Where does a man who speaks no English go, in the middle of the night, with no clothes, a bag of state secrets, and a bottle of vodka?”
“Um… a really good party?
“Wherever he is, whoever has him, they won’t get far if they cracked open that vodka. No sirree Bob.
“It’s laced with my own special recipe. Sodium pentothal and L.S.D.
“Ol’ Pete Stomparelli is smarter than the average bear, yes he is.”

Hmm… what Pete Stomparelli, local FBI field agent, is, in fact, is a complete dickhead.

He is also a contender for my favourite comics villain of the year! Utterly loathsome and spectacularly incompetent in equal measure, yet so cocksure of his own overblown abilities, he’s the veritable dictionary definition of a loose cannon, indeed, that proverbial car hurtling around a blind bend on the wrong side of the road at high speed just waiting for that inevitable, multiple pile-up car crash to happen. It will, trust me.

Good Ol’ Pete Stomparelli has been entrusted by the C.I.A. with keeping a Russian, codename CKGROUPER, spying for the Americans in Hong Kong, safe and sound upon his hasty arrival in L.A. He’s attempting to stay out of the clutches of the Russian authorities who’ve decided to recall him to Moscow for a friendly little chat…

Just overnight, mind, that’s all Pete needs to do, until the C.I.A. operatives tasked with bringing Codename CKGROUPER in – along with his handy list of every Soviet undercover agent in the East  including those who’ve infiltrated the U.S. forces in Vietnam – get there as fast as they possibly can to take charge. Not least because they have precisely zero confidence in the Bureau.

It’s fortunate then that our man Pete is bang up to the task. Ah…

A dynamic duo of Russian agents have been dispatched to re-acquire the defector then whisk him – figuratively not literally, that would be all a bit ‘Ello ‘Ello – and his list, back to the Motherland. They are decidedly more competent than Pete and promptly extract him from the not-so-safe house with ease. But not so much more competent that they proceed directly to the K.G.B. Residenz in San Francisco, instead deciding to have a rather saucy party with some dirty hippies out in the desert first to see what American ‘freedom’ really feels like. It’s a bring-your-own-bottle sort of affair, so good job they brought along the special vodka that Pete kindly left…

From there it only gets hazier, indeed rather spaced out, as the situation spirals more and more out of control for everyone concerned. A tight-run operation along the lines of THE COLDEST WINTER this is not, and therein lies all the fun! Will the Ruskies somehow manage to get their man and / or the list to the ‘safety’ of the Residenz, or can Pete Stomparelli and his by now incandescent C.I.A. chums finally manage to do something right and head them off in time?

This is a great bit of fun writing from Alex GRINDHOUSE De Campi that minded me of the TV show ‘The Americans’ but set in the early seventies when the sixties dream had well and truly died and one certain Richard Milhous Nixon was settling into the White House, rather than the frosty Reagan years of the cold war proper. Actually, I think Nixon might well be Pete Stomparelli’s idol: he has more than a touch of the oily huckster about him.

Very fine lined art from Tony Parker, admirably kinetic in the action sequences, and neatly coloured by the mysteriously named Blond. I have no idea whether that’s Mr. or Mrs. Blond and whether they prefer their inks shaken but not stirred, but between them, they’ve created some very vibrant art here. The full-on psychedelic freak-out experience amongst the sand dunes is particularly spectacular, I must say. A final mention for the lettering, which is a little bit different from the norm and done by Alex herself as she usually does (there’s a gag in there somewhere about wanting to have the last word but I think the pun is over at this point…) and just adds that little extra unusual period feel twist to the whole badly aimed shooting match. On the various protagonists parts that is, not Alex, as once again, she’s right on the mark.

JR

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

New Editions / Old Reviews, Tweaked

The Left Bank Gang (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ezra Pound struggle to make ends meet in the Latin Quarter of 1920s Paris, and wonder if the comics game is really for them.

That’s right: comics. Jason has reinvented these 20th century literary figures as anthropomorphic comicbook creators doing pretty much all the same things they struggled with in reality, and which actual cartoonists today always seem to be troubled by: integrity, money, ideas, critics, the size of their manhood and money again.

In the Shakespeare And Company comic shop:

“Anything come in this week?”
“Not much there’s a new edition of ‘War And Peace’.”
“Oh? He’s a decent cartoonist but all his characters look alike. They all have the same face, and all those Russian names… I can never manage to keep track of who’s who.”

As Hemingway, the most downtrodden of the bunch, suggests a small heist to make ends meet, it all becomes slightly absurd in the way that only Jason can get away with, as we see the robbery from seven different perspectives.

Guest-stars Jean-Paul Sartre.

Beautifully written.

TR & SLH

Buy The Left Bank Gang and read the Page 45 review here

Why Are You Doing This? (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason –

“How many stories do you have to tell?
“Stories? What do you mean?”
“How many amusing or exciting anecdotes have you lived that you’d be able to relate during an evening with friends?”

Over the next few pages, Alex gets an anecdote or two to tell at dinner parties and the like. His best friend is murdered and the blame is pinned on him.

On the run from the police, he strays into Geraldine’s pet shop and, after searching his eyes to see if he did it or not, she takes him in. There is, as there usually is, a web of intrigue behind the murder and Alex does his best to stay on top of it. He and Geraldine grow close, he gets on with her daughter but he’s still a wanted man.

Jason’s simple storytelling and dog / bird-faced characters are used well here.

A stunning thriller and an ending that just floored me. 

MAS

Buy Why Are You Doing This? and read the Page 45 review here

We used to be a lot more succinct, didn’t we?

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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Secret Path (£23-99, Simon And Schuster) by Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire

Lazarus vol 5: Cull s/c (£13-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

On The Camino (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

I Killed Adolf Hitler (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

One More Year (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann

Boundless (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterley) by Jillian Tamaki

Lennon The New York Years h/c (£17-99, IDW) by David Foenkinos, Eric Corbeyran & Horne

Bitch Planet vol 2: President Bitch s/c (£13-99, Image) by Kelly Sue Deconnick & Valentine De Landro, Taki Soma, Kelly Fitzpatrick

Doom Patrol vol 1: Brick By Brick s/c (£14-99, DC) by Gerard Way & Nick Derington, Tom Fowler, Tamara Bonvillain

Hawkeye vol 1: Kate Bishop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Michael Walsh

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 4: Old Monsters s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Filipe Andrade, Andrea Sorrentino

Infamous Iron Man vol 1: Infamous s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Young Avengers The Childrens Crusade s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung

Deadpool The Duck s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Stuart Moore & Jacopo Camagni

Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps vol 2: Bottled Light s/c (£14-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Ethan Van Sciver, Rafa Sandoval, various

Harley Quinn vol 6: Black, White and Red All Over s/c (£14-99, DC) by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & John Timms, various

Fairy Tail vol 60 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

ITEM: ANNOUNCING for October 2017:

Bryan Talbot will be signing and sketching in Grandville: Force Majeure a month before publication in Page 45’s Georgian Room at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Yes, a whole month before publication!!!

    

All the details are there, on our updated LICAF Page including links to LICAF and Bryan’s own website.

Come to LICAF!

You won’t be able to buy the book for another month elsewhere!

ITEM! LIAR LIAR by Captain SKA reaches Number 1 in the Download Charts.

Hooray! Tune of the year – and certainly of the General Election.

Let’s hope it now reaches Number 10!

 – Stephen

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week four

May 24th, 2017

Terry Moore, Philippa Rice, Eleanor Davis, Hannah Berry, Devin Grayson, Sean Phillips, John Bolton, Koren Shadmi, David Kushner, Maggie Thrash!

We’ve two graphic novels celebrating the human imagination’s capacity for shared and sustained, interactive world building in games.

Livestock (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Hannah Berry.

Comes with free, signed, limited edition bookplate exclusive to Page 45!

Meet Clementine Darling, up for a fourth consecutive victory as Best Female Singer and Political Spokesperson. It’s a single award.

“Well done, Clementine!”
“Thank you, I’m literally beside myself!”

Hannah Berry is back with the work of her career, a blisteringly funny, fiercely inventive and scathing socio-political satire which doesn’t content itself with blasting the blithe disingenuousness of politicians and pop stars – both increasingly vapid and transparent in their self-serving mendacity – but focuses its ire instead on their equally unprincipled co-conspirators: their spin-doctors who here have seen fit to combine their calculating machinations in a coordinated affront on the public’s intelligence in order to benefit both parties and bury what little remains of the truth.

This is the core conceit and it works all too well: firstly, that the same PR agency could be as adept at manufacturing long-term, soap-opera strategies for celebutards as for political parties and their inept ministers; secondly that those self-same sleights of hand might be mutually beneficial.

“Do you know Devon Ayre?”
“From Das Booty?”
“No. Devon Ayre was with Daynjaryuz when they released Undress 2 Impress. He went out with Coral?”
“Right, right – that big break-up during the energy contract scandal!”
“Yes. Him. Please let Clementine know that she’s going out with him now.”

Clementine is sitting in the same limo, oblivious to her latest life choice, dutifully listening on headphones instead to a new song as instructed by PR guru Paul Rourke.

“I like it a lot!”
“What’s that, Clem?”
“I like the song a lot!”
“Oh good! That’s your next single, to be released next month. Ties in with the passing of the new Human Rights Act. Selina, Pen, if you could get this one to memorise the words ready to film the music video on Thursday thanks.”
*click*
“Guess what, Clementine! Do you know Devon Ayre?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Well, he’s going to be your new boyfriend.”

Clementine’s blank, cheery face flickers not one jot. Instead she slurps on a cartoon of pineapple juice. She wanted apples but was persuaded that pineapple was like apple. Happily so.

That *slurp* is far from accidental, reminding us of Clementine’s suggestibility, susceptibility, malleability, and Berry plays each episode of this deviously entwined distract-athon with just such deftly edited precision.

For that’s what this is: one huge, elaborately orchestrated distraction from any real news vital for an informed electorate, bumping it swiftly from the front-feed of ‘What’s Trending’ with vacuous, superficial headline-grabbing click-bait.

The ‘What’s Trending’ internet front page is reprised throughout, with all its corporate sponsorship, forming a constantly refreshed narrative of its own, charting the success of their meticulously scheduled shenanigans against the downward trend of any unfortunate, unforeseen hiccups which might blip briefly to the radar’s surface.

Clementine’s entire career as a pop-star – and “author” of best-selling autobiography – is but a means to that specific end so that she’s in the right place at the right time, whether it’s yet another vacuous Daytime TV husband-and-wife chat show masquerading as news and so satiating what little demand there is for it still, a spot on OMFGTV or an actual Newsnight interrogation where she can do the most damage possible.

Although let’s not forget that Clem’s trajectory is in itself highly lucrative, especially when it’s sent on a crash-collision course with that of her arch-rival Coral whom we first see on ‘What’s Trending’ with a new hairstyle / look in order to launch her new novel. Here’s Coral basking in public applause at that book launch, with a live Twitter-feed behind her:

“It’s always been my dream to write a book, and now after many days of harduous work I can finally cross it off my list!”

It’s a shame then that after so many – or at least several – days’ work, Coral should find her spotlight at risk of being stolen by Clem’s unexpected materialisation next to her own display of autobiographical best-selling success. No matter, time for a bit of improv.

“Because the thing is, some people are just not talented enough to write a book – anyone can write an autobiography, because they can just remember what they did and write about all that – and if they can’t remember things, they can pretend to be exciting by stealing other people’s ex-boyfriends…” 

That would be Devon Ayre, yes.

 

Do you realise the two ladies share the same publicist? Clem and Coral do: they’re just too dim to comprehend they’re being played against each other.

This is only Round One. The carefully choreographed bouts will become increasingly brutal.

The Twitter feed, by the way, is well worth scrutinising! It’s that sort of graphic novel: craftily constructed with multiple, layered threads, each precisely dovetailed, and so dense in detail if you care to look closely enough. There are dozens of crowd scenes among which you might recognise more than a few comics-related reprobates. Hannah Berry is quite the accomplished portrait artist!

I love that however beautiful each antagonist might be (and they are all antagonists – there’s more antagonism going down in here than at a similarly staged WWF tournament), they still all look toad-like, with big mouths and squat faces, as if they’ve drained an entire of pond full of Botox.

The colours are sickly rather than bright and primary – that would have been far too obvious – for this whole sordid affair is designed to make you feel slightly queasy, and we haven’t even approached the issue of the day which is the government’s back-door endorsement of human cloning… to the private sector.

And what is the primary goal of the private sector? Is it quality control, due diligence or commitment to ethical standards? It is not. The primary goal of every private sector company is to make money.

Now, where do you think the title LIVESTOCK comes in?

If lack of scrutiny gets your goat then this will have you chewing your own leather leash off.

LIVESTOCK could not be better timed given ex-‘reality’-TV star Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades successfully drowning his destruction of healthcare, women’s rights, civil rights and environmental sanity for the sake of big-business dollars as well as masking so many of his own private and public missteps. But let’s remember that this graphic novel was written many moons ago, Berry astutely observing the fabrications for what they were then, why they were being deployed by a complicit media, why they were so swiftly gobbled up by a public more likely to vote on Britain’s Been Brainwashed than during actual elections, and presciently predicting the path which would lead to this godawful excuse for a culpably cultivated future.

But if you think Trump’s bad, wait for beleaguered MP Duncan Frears and his beloved Border Collie during a doorstep interview that threatens to unveil a particularly pertinent truth and so unravel his career.

You cannot actually imagine.

Why don’t we play this review out with Clementine’s latest pop video? I’ve seen them do that on Newsnight. In it Clementine articulates the current geopolitical climate with grave concern for its most vulnerable victims and – in case you can’t quite discern the lyrics – the director has chosen to emphasise their eloquence by superimposing them artfully around the most prominent issues at hand.

Priorities are important.

Oh wait, here’s that exclusive signed Page 45 bookplate I mentioned.

Genius!

SLH

Buy Livestock and read the Page 45 review here

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton.

“The more I think about it, the less reality has to recommend it.”

Originally published in 2001, this comic was so clever, accurate, eloquent and way ahead of its time.

It speaks of gender identity, sexuality, the escapist lure of the internet, online addiction, and the dangers of substituting virtual priorities for real-life interaction to the point of culpable negligence.

By the by, it also predicted how many of us would arrive bleary-eyed and outrageously late for work following an obsessive all-night session thumb-thumping away on video games.

But here, vitally, Devin Grayson is dealing with the creative capacity of the human imagination and the immersive power of stories and words, for Megan’s obsession is with text-only live action role playing. It delves far deeper than you might anticipate and, as a graphic novel, it comes with its own illusions so mesmerising that they are water-tight.

 

For a start, although Sean Phillips’s soft, shiny, largely monochromatic, photo-realistic art with its subtle deployment of colour charts Megan’s real-life struggles outside of the online arena… every single richly hued, neon-bright, fantastical image created by John Bolton is a complete sleight-of-hand. It’s a sleight-of-hand that has become even more successful since the ascent of massively multiplayer online role playing games with their visual components because we are used to seeing these avatars interact with each other on the screens, but every single one of these images lies only in Megan’s head.

When, therefore, we come to the first key climax at the end of chapter one, Megan’s wide-eyed “Oh shit…” shock – graceful fingers hovering uncertainly over the keyboards – is a reaction not to the previous “on-screen” painting by Bolton or indeed the subsequent afterglow which we see before us, but to the text which has conjured that startling image in her mind.

I have no idea whether Sean Phillips even had access to that image: one should not presume; each artist is more likely to have been working independently, concurrently, from script alone. Regardless, that moment once more proves what an extraordinarily accomplished character actor Sean Phillips is, and if Phillips couldn’t see it, then that goes double.

Throughout the graphic novel Phillips nails those bleary eyes, as well as Megan’s mood-swings. These become increasingly dramatic as the emotional pressures ramp up both inside and outside her virtual existence, the former’s grip growing increasingly fierce and compelling while the latter is left to fall apart as reality begins to escape her grasp, Megan begins to make various levels of contact in out-of-character conditions and then loses the plot in so many more ways than one.

“I can no longer tell if there’s something wrong with the world or something wrong with me,” she concedes in a moment of rare lucidity before, “Or if that makes any difference.”

I don’t want to give too much away, but online Megan has assumed the guise of Sir Guillaume De La Coeur, a paladin who, Megan decides, is willingly in thrall to his adopted lord and mistress and who considers honour of paramount importance. In her mind, Sir Guillaume is a young, buff, blue-skinned beau who begins to fall in love with his master – a development which repels that master’s real-life, out-of-character counterpart – and in lust with his best friend Lieutenant McCraven, also male and played by his OOC counterpart with a charming Celtic twang. Now that is received far more readily.

But an outsider calling herself Rose Violette, not part of the guild, had taken such a shine to Sir Guillaume that, err, well, and he in return courted her back. The next two sentences, when you stop to analyse them properly, are the perfect example of why I consider this the work of Devin Grayson’s career to date.

“He is sincere. I made sure of it.”

Seriously.

“And it’s better than real. It’s her dream come true.”

Will Megan try to tread softly lest she tread upon those dreams? She will not.

When “Rose” becomes too clingy for Megan’s comfort, Meg finds herself becoming as angry as her Dad, and voices that anger bluntly, brutally and in equally chauvinistic terms.

This is what I meant about gender identity for all the while Grayson – through having Megan adopting a gender which isn’t her own – has encouraged you to wonder who else may not be who they seem away from the keyboard. And by “delves far deeper than you might anticipate”, you will not believe the car crashes which the subsequent, extended, out-of-character interactions (which are blithely deceptive on Megan’s part) begin to catalyse.

“I no longer think that it’s just a matter of people not caring who you really are.
“I think we don’t even know how to be who we really are.”

Well, quite.

So what initially drove Megan so fervently into this online community?

With her home life disintegrating in the wake of her mother’s departure, leaving her feckless father to wilfully ignore his other daughter’s unsuccessful attempts to find off the unwanted sexual advances of his own supposed best friend (a silence Meg is complicit in), she found herself ignored and all but invisible except when asked to buy toothpaste.

Moreover at work she was growing disillusioned not only with importance attached to the bland stats of customer satisfaction surveys, but to the disingenuous compromise of allowing a drug’s owner to fund a survey as to its efficacy.

By contrast to all this, as soon as she takes her first tentative steps into this virtual world, Megan is both noticed and embraced. Instead of being rebuked or rebuffed for her naivety, she is kindly and patiently educated during OCC asides, and she discovers a liberation in being who she wants to be while appreciating a structure she find easier to adhere to within this fictitious environment than dealing with the chaos without, which she is quick to abandon as beyond her control. Additionally, in place of dry statistics, Megan immediately starts relishing not just the fantasy but the creativity which is poured into such a sustained, shared narrative.

Grayson finds so much to commend in this remarkable communal endeavour: she is, after all, a wordsmith herself and her script is as immersive as the virtual, text-based experience she is conjuring.

Let us not forget that not everyone is as predisposed as Megan to abandon their sense of perspective.

The moment which I remembered most vividly from my first encounter with this work some sixteen years ago was when Megan – who had already begun subconsciously adopting the French language she employed in character – begins hysterically screaming “LOLOLOLOLOL!” as if having some sort of seizure.

That wouldn’t work in film, but printed, in this medium, it’s a triumph.

There’s plenty more where that came from, along with a great deal of terminology and shorthand, new then, but which remains with us today even more prevalently deployed in text-messaging and on social media.

Speaking of that which endures, I leave you with these pithy truths which I grant you aren’t quite so absolute in the age of the PS4 controller, but still:

“Live one’s life so that it’s worthy of respect and honour by all…
“And don’t eat anything at the keyboard that requires more than one hand.”

SLH

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

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore.

“Samantha?
“Are you okay?”

So you think you know what to expect from this comic.

It’s a burlesque starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who’s tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? And that’s a diminutive, comedy, green alien on the cover, so you’re in for those too?

Hmmm…

No, that’s okay, you’re not wrong: they’re all here, present and correct, along with Terry’s persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving, which is deadly and ever so slightly illegal.

But is that really all you’d expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO? The man who’s made a career out of juxtaposing comedy with hard-hitting trauma?  All it takes is a single, early, un-signposted panel to suggest that you’re in for a lot more than you first bargained for. This would fit comfortably on Page 45’s Mental Health Awareness counter: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

“What happened here?”
“Iraqi prison.”
“You were in the military?”
“Marines.”
“I was in the navy. Six years. Did you suffer any head injuries?”
“I guess. They hit me every day for ten months.”

Sam’s recurring headaches are excruciating, and when you finally witness the silent flashback, it will flatten you.

“Is that where you got these scars on the back of your scalp?”
“I suppose. They liked to work the backside so the front looked okay on camera. Y’know… for NATO.”
“Did you receive medical attention after captivity?”
“Nine weeks in the hospital, a year of rehab.”

It wasn’t enough.

“That’s a lot to go through alone.”
“I wasn’t alone. I was never alone.”

Now former Sergeant Samantha Locklear works virtually alone in a desert junkyard owned by ancient but far from frail Libby who is determined Sam should at least wear a hat and shades. It’s almost unbearably hot, but its isolation and practical purpose provides Sam with the stability she needs not to stay sane, but to survive.

Walking that tightrope alongside her is Mike the mountain gorilla, her constant companion who is more than just a figment of Sam’s imagination, but a coping mechanism, a projection she knows isn’t real. Mike, of course, is a straight male gorilla: infer from that what you will.

Samantha’s so skilled she can identify any car and its condition by the sound of its engine. Her ideal career would have been a racing car driver.

“People actually pay you to go to cities all round the world and drive fast. What could be better?”
“Lying in a hammock by the beach, beer on ice, fish on the grill… watching the girls play volleyball.”
“That was a rhetorical question.”

Yes, but you answered it anyway, Sam!

“They ask me to join in.”
“You done?”
“But I can’t, see?” ‘Cause I’m there with Scarlett Johnasson… and she gets jellyyyy…”
“Omigod, shut up.”
“And they start wrasslinnn…”

It’s all so subtly written.

So if Mike isn’t real, what about the UFO and the comedy green aliens who crash-land on the doorstep? Only Sam and Mike see those, late at night, fixing up their stereotypical flying-saucer’s engine, to be thanked by an almighty embrace, the alien’s antennae bending into the shape of a heart, his oil-stained hands planted firmly on Sam’s boxer-shorted buttocks. The stain’s still there in the morning, as plain as plain can be… unless Sam’s imagining that too?

On that, I will stay schtum, but there has to be some reason why Mr Walden is prepared to pay a ridiculous sum of money to purchase the land, then up the ante with intimidation. Nice visual reference to Hergé’s TINTIN: DESTINATION MOON.

I love that Libby, the direct, gum-flapping old-age pensioner is even less likely to “do” intimidation than Sam; that she understands Sam’s needs and treats her like a daughter. She won’t sell unless Sam’s ready to move on, and she isn’t. She has a family that worries about her, but she’s simply not ready.

I can hear Libby’s “Ooo dogey!” drawl distinctly in my head which, weirdly enough, I am positive is partly due to the cartooning.

As well as wearing a hat and shades, Libby’s also determined that Sam, to stave off dehydration, should drink more.

DRINK!” Drink or you’re going straight to bed with no supper!
“That’s what Momma used to say, she could really bring the pain.
“Now I drink a Martini every day at five…
“And toast to Momma.”

So yes, new shorter-form series which is far from predictable before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE – hooray! – starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.

Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, suitably matted and ill-conditioned when not, superb use of grey tones at night, and there’s an exquisite slow-motion scene in which a certain party’s launch through the air is virtually halted as Sam and Mike weigh up the situation calmly, unhurriedly, before Sam demonstrates quite ably why ex-Marines don’t need to carry firearms.

I think TANK GIRL fans would love this.

SLH

Buy Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life and read the Page 45 review here

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis.

“I like going further than we tell ourselves is possible.”

I used to love country bike rides: three or four miles down verdant Cheshire country roads to feast with a friend on sandwiches and sugary, fizzy pop like Dandelion & Burdock high up on the hill at Beeston Castle; three of four miles back again. Lovely!

Here Eleanor gets on the bike which her Dad’s just built for her and cycles across America from her parents’ house in Tucson, Arizona towards her own home… in Athens, Georgia. She’s drawn you a little map: it’s basically coast to bloody coast!

Between 15 and 50 miles she manages each day depending on the state of her knees and which way the wind’s blowing (against you is a ‘mare), and she doesn’t stop for 56 days. Extraordinary.

Also exceptional: this entire graphic memoire. I think that’s what the trendy people are calling autobiographical comics these days.

But it is! Davis has some remarkable encounters. Mostly they’re acts of spontaneous generosity we should all aspire to: an invitation to join a camping family eating a catfish they’d just caught; water from Mexico border patrols (they’re not always so kind: you’ll see what I mean when you meet the man in the canal); and on Day 21 she nearly gives in to what has become extreme pain in her knees by then, which catalyses intense grief and depression, but the bloke in the bike shop trained as a therapist, helps her through it, calls a doctor friend, recommends a sports masseuse then finds her a couple to stay with.

“Brian says you’re having vegetable soup for dinner!”

It’s all so thoroughly inspiring, as is Davis’ pencil art which conveys every ounce of gratitude as well as the pain, sweat, exhaustion but also elation at being surrounded on all sides by horizon or thrusting forward through “tunnels of green”.

Her body forms are beautiful: such enormous weight from such few lines as punters loom large over a billiard table or Eleanor herself sets up her tent at dusk then sits up inside, almost filling the bright, cosy space while outside the night and unknown are contrasted in a dense, graphite darkness which radiates, as might light. On both pages she makes superb use of the shape of her legs, knees and thighs in body-hugging black lycra, while the strength of her shoulders then the curve of her arms freed from a white singlet vest are thrillingly physical. That her head is drawn so much smaller only adds to the sense of scale.

“While you are setting up your tent anything can get you.
“Inside your tent you are safe.”

She stares out at us from inside that tent with her tiny head and an expression which seems to imply the qualifying addendum, “arguably”.

The trees in the wood put me in mind of those so elegantly delineated by Isabelle Arsenault in JANE, THE FOX & ME. In their own way those pages are as lush as the double-sided landscape cover extended through its French flaps, but then anyone who’s read Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY or LIBBY’S DAD knows that she is a master of many mediums and a vast array of disparate styles.

Apart from exceptional portraiture on Day 57’s ever so moving encounter, few other pages are as detailed as that but I sense that Davis drew this on the road – or at least on its various verges – in a series of diary entries. I could be entirely wrong. They all do the trick, though: at no point do you not sense that you are there alongside her as she crosses different terrains, spying a mountain ahead in the distance, moving towards it, “Now you’re climbing it” before “Now you’re over it” then leaving it far behind. Looking ever forward, “Now it’s gone”.

There are many dodgy moments like crossing an almightily high, exposed bridge with no room for manoeuvre should a bludgeoning jugger-bugger come thundering up behind her. Anything towards her at the same time…? Jeepers! Plus let us not forget that Davis is travelling alone (though often claims to be with her husband for intuitively understood safety’s sake) and although she does use more RV Parks and motels than she would have liked, sometimes an invitation to use a trailer or official camping ground otherwise deserted are wisely declined.

Occasionally Davis grows frustrated and angry at herself (I fail to see why, but then I fail to see why I sometimes do the same when I later consider the general state of play rationally), then once back on her bike repudiates herself:

“Eleanor, you would never use that language with someone else so please don’t use it on yourself.”

Excellent advice! It was pretty fruity.

“But by the afternoon I’m skimming through streams in hysterics.”

What I hope to convey here is that this is more than just a read and beautiful thing to behold: it is an experience. It is an experience we are so lucky to share without the considerable inconvenience of getting our collagen clapped out.

I leave you, however, with a sense of context candidly expressed early on which cannot help but inform your journey together, and it engenders an additional element of already excellent empathy as Eleanor pedals on.

““What made you decide to do this trip?” people ask.
“I say:
““My husband and I want a baby so I figure I either do this now or wait 20 years.
“Or
““My Dad built me this bike and I hate boxing and shipping bikes so I decided to just ride it home!”
“I don’t say:
““I was having trouble with wanting to be alive. But I feel good when I’m bicycling”.
“But that is also true.”

SLH

Buy You & A Bike & A Road and read the Page 45 review here

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi…

“But that’s against the rules, Gary.”
“Then the rules need to be changed.”

Ah, the heady days of youth, heading down to the local Games Workshop to pick up a selection of psychedelically coloured, improbably shaped dice. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably remember the fevered excitement when books like the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual actually came out. If you weren’t too busy playing Manic Miner, that is…

Still, at the time, before the Marvel and DC encyclopaedias came along, that monster mash of a tome, plus the core AD&D rulebooks themselves, the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, made for the ultimate rainy-day read, and, if you and your mates could agree who would put the not-inconsiderable effort in to be the Dungeon Master, actually do some role-playing.

I was more of a Golden Heroes fan myself, an RPG that perhaps not unsurprisingly allowed you to be superheroes. Or indeed villains if the fancy took you. But, like many, I did also succumb to the lure of the twenty-sided icosahedron and spent some time dungeoneering. Mainly at school where I couldn’t play computer games, it has to be said, but still, I was well aware of the name Gary Gygax, and appreciated his efforts in endeavouring to stimulate my teenage imagination almost as much as Sir Clive Sinclair…

Gygax’s childhood and own formative years certainly make for a fascinating read. He loved listening to his father’s made-up fantasy stories and his mother reading the likes of Tom Sawyer to him. As a schoolboy he much preferred venturing into the labyrinth of tunnels underneath an old nearby sanatorium and exploring the abandoned insane asylum near a spooky lake than actually attending lessons, including a few narrow escapes dodging oddball locals who used to hang out there for presumably more nefarious reasons. Consequently, no one was entirely surprised when he dropped out of high school. A series of dead-end jobs followed, before a chance discovery of war gaming completely turned his life around.

There are some fascinating nuggets in this work which I was unaware of, such as the origin of modern war gaming is attributed to one Herbert George Wells. Good old H.G. actually published a non-fiction book entitled Little Wars, which described how he and his friend commandeered his son’s toy soldiers and created a game of their own, taking turns to tactically move their troops on imaginary battlefields. Wells then drew up a set of detailed rules so his readers could play such games for themselves. Shortly after he moved to Chicago aged 18, Gygax chanced upon a copy of Wells’ book, and thus his life’s obsession began.

It wasn’t, however, until over a decade of ever more elaborate war gaming, with an ever-increasing circle of friends and acquaintances, including postally, that the inspiration for D&D struck, courtesy of a particular medieval war game and a life-long love of the likes of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian books. 

Trying out his new mash-up game, which he’d titled Chainmail, amongst his hardcore war gaming friends, the magical, fantastical elements were met with staunch resistance, even disgust. It wasn’t until Gygax met a young man called Dave Arneson another year later that things really took off.

Arneson then went away and added many of the true cornerstone concepts of D&D, such as the dungeons themselves, neatly constraining the environment for what is a virtually limitless, free-form improvisational game, plus the idea that the game never really ends, with players instead gaining experience, before undertaking the next challenge, and the next, and so on.

Gygax instantly saw the commercial potential of this variant version of Chainmail and immediately set about codifying his own large set of rules to cover as many eventualities as possible. Setting up a company called TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) to manufacture and distribute the game after little success touting it to the established game manufacturing companies, it promptly overran the imagination of the public and the subsequent sales went stratospheric. Arnseson, meanwhile, so instrumental in the creation of the game, was never asked to join the fledging company…

Gygax, frankly, during the rise and rise of TSR, comes across much like the master huckster himself, Stan Lee, with his obsession for minutiae, micro management of absolutely everything, plus a total inability to give Dave Arneson the credit, or cash, he so clearly deserved. Eventually, begrudgingly, when lawyers got involved, Gygax did the ‘decent’ thing, with Arneson getting the long overdue well earned credit as co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and a valuable 10% of royalties on sales.

Arneson, who like Gygax, features heavily as a talking head in this work, seemed pretty sanguine about it all, in retrospect at least. Though at the time, crafty moves like Gygax retitling Dungeons & Dragons as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, purely to claim Arneson was no longer entitled to his 10% royalty cheques, probably tested his temper, and sanity.

We then get the inevitable fall of the TSR empire, Gygax’s own tempestuous departure and his subsequent various endeavours, some more successful than others. Still, it’s an impressive legacy Gygax left, one which modern gaming, both online as well as offline, has heavily built on.

Still, despite enjoying it, I found this work a little bit perfunctory and dry in the narration, and I don’t think the grey-tone, art style helps in that respect, either. There’s pure Gygax gold I expected to be in there which sadly isn’t, such as his apparently successful personal wooing of no less a talent than Orson Welles to star in a planned D&D movie (can you imagine?!) which was shelved as the scale of the financial troubles at TSR became all too apparent.

Compared to Box Brown’s TETRIS, which is an utterly forensic, meticulously designed and brilliantly illustrated in-depth examination of that blockbuster classic plus the crazy characters and total chaos behind it, this feels, well, a touch by the numbers. Dare I say it, even lacking in imagination, which for a book based on the game that touted the very use of said quality and all about the man whom single-handedly (according to him heh heh) revolutionised gaming, is a bit disappointing.

JR

Buy Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D and read the Page 45 review here

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice.

What a lot of delightful, light-hearted, thought-provoking fun!

For by OUR SOPPY LOVE STORY, Philippa Rice emphatically means yours.

This one is for you to write down, drawn in and co-create!

I will explain in a second.

Rice has already chronicled much of her own, ongoing love affair with HILDA’s Luke Pearson in SOPPY itself, a collection of dreamy yet often irreverent cartoons and comics so astutely observing their behaviour together. I wrote:

“Rarely have I been so immediately, directly and profoundly touched by a work of such intimate art. There is a purity here both in the content and the lines and shapes which depict this autobiographical insight.”

We were so transfixed that we invited Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson to sign SOPPY together at Page 45 on Valentine’s Day 2015 and this proved so endearingly cute that we had to start culling kittens behind the counter in order to level the Karmic Balance. I’m not making this up: every five minutes I would pull a cat from its bag and then wring its neck. It’s an odd sort of crunch, I can tell you.

Then, heralded by the likes of George Takei, the graphic memoire went global! An entire second-print run selling out worldwide within a mere ten days! A third print run immediately went to press and it sold and it sold, and continues to sell like crazy to this very day. Had it been anodyne and quite as soppy as the title suggested that would never have happened. Its mischief is a mirth-making joy.

This too is a joy, and there are indeed a few scattered comics and cartoons contained within, but it also a very different beast.

Instead, it is a cheekily inquisitive and surprisingly substantial, gently guided journal for you yourselves to fill in, as your one true romance begins to blossom and bloom.

I hope you don’t have to buy too many copies.

Not only will it prove a testament in time to your unique, highly personal, enduring love for each other – by noting your traditions, aspirations, and average day in your lives together – but, far more importantly, it will crystallise thoughts and feelings right now which you never necessarily knew you had and help you to articulate them. It will catalyse communication!

I’m no expert, but I would have thought that was one of the primary joys in sharing your lives with each other: communication. Sometimes, however, we do need a little nudge.

Rice knows exactly which questions to ask, and which prompts to offer for you in order to pursue this potentially illuminating, heart-felt investigation for yourselves, whether they be about yourself, your girlfriend or boyf, your husband or wife, or indeed your illicit other.

“Would you rather:
“Never read a book again OR never eat a dessert again?”

Leave out an ‘S’ and it’s easier: the last desert I ate gave me very dry wind and indigestion. I was also slightly suspicious of how many reptiles I might have wolfed down. Reptiles are important.

Anyway, I infinitely prefer books to banoffee pie, so that one’s very simple.

“Be able to talk to animals OR be able to read minds (human minds)?”

Before you make any snap decisions, may I suggest that being able to access the innermost thoughts of serial sexual harasser Donald Trump or any similarly suspected reprobate whom you come across down in London’s Tube might prove personally and profoundly uncomfortable or at least very awkward?

However many games of poker you might win with the “gift” of telepathy you would lose your sanity to in round one to a new deep-seated paranoia on discovering that ambivalence is nigh-ubiquitous. And that your two-faced neighbours actually hate you with a passion.

Jonathan can already talk to animals, but I rarely answer back.

“Be invisible OR be the only person who’s not invisible?”

Facial expressions are ever so important, don’t you think?

“Eat a spider OR kiss a pig?”

What’s wrong with pigs? Chauvinists aside.

So that’s about you, but you’re also asked about your significant other! You’re even invited to pose your own questions.

Do you really know what you truly think of each other? It’s time to find out in comparative checklists wherein you can debate between you which one is the more ticklish, tidy, calm, silly, sophisticated, organised, clumsy, grumpy, sleepy, happy, dopey.

You’re asked about the passing of time and your favourite weather. I’m only happy when it rains.

But you’re also prompted to live in the present as well, which is ever so Buddhist in appreciating what you have and expressing what you are experiencing in this moment that will never come again.

Finally, you’re encouraged to plan ahead with critical decisions like this for your future, which may well inform what happens next in your relationship should things go slightly skew-whiff:

“If I become a zombie, please…
“1) Kill me
“2) Leave me alone
“3) Allow me to bite you
“4) Keep me contained somewhere safe
“5) Other”

You are all cordially invited to bite me.

SLH

Buy Our Soppy Love Story and read the Page 45 review here

New Edition / Old Review:

Honor Girl s/c (£7-99, Candlewick) by Maggie Thrash.

What a price! Quick, before they change their minds!

“What was I doing before? Was I just… floating along? Maybe I was better off that way. Because what’s ironic is that being in love doesn’t actually make you happy. It makes it impossible to be happy. You’re carrying this desire now. Maybe if you knew where it came from, you could put it back. But you don’t.”

Maggie is only fifteen and she’s just fallen in love for the first time. With a woman. With a summer camp counsellor.

Maggie’s stomach is churning and she hasn’t the first clue what to do about any of it. She can’t get Erin or her feelings towards her out of her head and she’s stuck there for the summer. What if any of any of her friends find out? What if any of the counsellors find out? What if Erin finds out? What on earth is she supposed to do with all this?

Oh, the space and the light!

I knew this was graphic memoir was going to be a pleasure to read as soon as I opened it and the colours flooded out. But, being set in a remote, American summer camp for girls, I had no idea it would tick so many recognition boxes.

I’d praise Thrash’s memory – her ability to put herself back in her head aged fifteen – but my own memory’s appalling yet I remember every little bit of falling in love for the first time when my nascent self-awareness was too new to comprehend or cope. It’s not something you forget.

Still, there were a lot of surprises and this may not come with the conclusion you expect.

Thrash goes to great pains to emphasise right from the beginning how traditional this particular summer camp was. Unchanged since 1922, “There were mandatory Civil War re-enactments every morning. It was literally the blues screaming “blue” and the greys screaming “grey” for twenty minutes.” Grim. There’s also flag-raising and flag-lowering at morning and night, and singing lots of lovely Christian songs to each other.

Being a good little girl, Maggie had a pillow with all her merit patches sewn on; being a somnambulist, she also had a Somnambu-leash which she was supposed to attach to her ankle every evening. I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to tell you she doesn’t – not every evening – and it’s worth bearing that in mind later on.

There were uniforms for uniformity (“I was used to environments where it was important for everyone to be the same”) and zero diversity bar one blonde Jewish girl so seemed to set each year’s fashion trends. Oh, and then there was the whole Honor Girl system.

“On the first night, we always serenaded the Honor Girl, a 16-year-old camper appointed the previous summer… Everyone would light a candle, and at the end of the song, we’d each touch our flame to hers. It was meant to be symbolic – the Honor Girl imbuing us with her perfect spirit.”

Are you getting a sense that this might be one of the least hospitable environments for anyone suddenly stumbling upon the notion that they might be gay? Add in a mass of insecure teenage peers and being trapped there with them morning, noon and indeed overnight… There were a couple of girls the previous year about whom rumours swirled and they were ostracised all season long.

As I say, I think this is going to surprise you, and it’s got 270 pages in which to do so.

I’ve seen this sort of stripped-down style done so badly, so blandly – most recently in a reasonably high profile Young Adult graphic novel I decided didn’t merit a review – but this is full of nuance and character and great body language. It’s amazing what you can do with a few simple lines as long as they’re placed just-so. The expressions often contradict what’s expressed like tells at a poker game. It falls under the umbrella of minimum fuss for maximum empathy, and the colours ensure it’s certainly no mope-fest.

There are great many giggles to boot. I loved the old camp commandant – sorry, director – popping out on the odd occasion to wave a canoe paddle furiously and bellow prohibitions before collapsing, pooped out on the deck.

The storytelling is crystal clear with plenty of variety – another of the problems I had with that YA graphic novel was it was as so repetitious, so deathly dull, like someone telling you a story with “And then he did this and then she did that and then he did this and we didn’t” – opening up at exactly the right moments with landscapes to let you linger and ponder like Maggie herself.

As the memoir kicks off and concludes she’s had two years to do precisely that.

SLH

Buy Honor Girl 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

The Realist: Plug And Play h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Asaf Hanuka

Your Black Friend (£4-50, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore

The Left Bank Gang (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

Why Are You Doing This? (£11-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason

The Selfish Dream (£5-00, Ichor) by Om Lekha & Blinky 4

The Practical Implications Of Immortality (£4-00, Throwaway Press) by Matthew Dooley

A Castle In England h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Jamie Rhodes & various including Isabel Greenberg

Everything Is Flammable h/c (£23-50, Uncivilised Books) by Gabrielle Bell

Garbage Night (£12-99, Nobrow) by Jen Lee

Hellblazer vol 16: The Wild Card s/c (£22-99, Vertigo) by Mike Carey & Marcelo Frusin, Steve Dillon, Lee Bermejo, Doug Alexander Gregory, Jock, Jimmy Palmiotti

How To Survive In The North (£12-99, Nobrow) by Luke Healy

Mayday s/c (£13-99, Image) by Alex De Campi & Tony Parker

Moonshine vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso

On To The Next Dream h/c (£11-99, City Lights) by Paul Madonna

Pantheon : The True Story of the Egyptian Deities (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele

Rick And Morty: Lil’ Poopy Superstar (UK Edition) (£14-99, Titan) by Sarah Graley & Marc Ellerby

Batman: New Gotham vol 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Shawn Martinbrough, various

Moon Knight vol 2: Reincarnations s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Garland, Francesco Francavilla, James Stokoe

Uncanny Inhumans vol 4: IVX s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & R. B. Silva, Kim Jacinto, Ario Anindito

The Unworthy Thor s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Olivier Coipel, Kim Jacinto

Dragonball Super vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou

My Hero Academia vol 8 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

One Piece vol 82 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

 News!

 ITEM! We are so lucky to have this so local!

 Liam Sharp comic art exhibition at the Derby Museum Art Gallery, June 23rd to 3rd September 2017

This is the sort of thing you’d normally have to travel to London for – or even America!

I’m not guaranteeing that this piece will be there, but it gives you a clear indication of the level of intricacy which has been Sharp’s hallmark throughout his extensive career.

The former Derby resident will be flying back from San Francisco to be there in person, so if you want to shake his enormous, Viking hand in person, please keep track of my Twitter updates, turn up on the appropriate day and I will personally introduce you to one of the friendliest creators in comics who I have ever been lucky enough to call one of my mates.

We once stayed up all night and all morning, with no sleep at all, sharing our favourite tunes, some of which were written and recorded by Liam himself. Oh yes, the man is also a musician!

Speaking of…

ITEM! Black Dog: The Dreams Of Paul Nash songs & music CD is out now!

Just 10 quid direct from Dave so the man can make all the money himself without giving Mamazon a cut. Hurrah!

Reminder: BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel is such a powerful, eloquent, involving, almost overwhelming experience that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, and it was one of my favourite graphic novel of the year.

We have the last 5 remaining copies worldwide of the original LICAF DUSTJACKETED EDITION OF BLACK DOG: THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH signed and sketched on by Dave McKean, which was itself distributed exclusively by Page 45.

ITEM! I cannot begin to tell you how important this is, and how accurately observed the ramifications are if artists aren’t credited.

Sarah McIntyre continues her campaign to prove that Pictures Mean Business in:

‘7 Ways You Can Support Illustrators’ for BookTrust

Illustrations all by Sarah McIntyre: obvious to you perhaps, but not to everyone and therein lies the point. Some scumbags even erase other artists’ signatures to suggest the work is their own.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week three

May 17th, 2017

Feauturing new Guy Delisle, Jeff Lemire, Giacomo Bevilacqua, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos. Everything reviewed by our Jonathan! It’s a first!

The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Giacomo Bevilacqua…

“A challenge to my inability to communicate, to my misanthropy, to my constant need for a challenge.
“… A challenge to respect the rules one places upon himself, whether he likes them or not.
“… A challenge to find love, the kind we often unknowingly brush against on the street, only to forget a moment later, overwhelmed by the river of our own thoughts, and the thoughts of a million passersby…
“That pure love that I have often found in the instance of a photograph…
“It is a challenge to the city of New York, the city of my birth, the city that sheltered and cared for me, both physically and mentally, throughout the years…
“… Sometimes successfully…
“… Sometimes not.”

Of course… it’s rather tricky to mend a broken heart and find love afresh if you’re not planning on speaking to anyone at all for sixty days…

Such is the scope of the emotionally self-sequestering challenge that Sam is taking on, at his own behest, and also his magazine’s editor Jorge. I think that probably reveals that Sam is a masochist and Jorge definitely has sadist tendencies, but it’s certainly an intriguing premise to explore both the fractured psychology of an individual and also the near-infinite fractal human interactions taking place within a city like New York on a continuous basis.

Like an endless game of bagatelle with eight million unpredictable balls, with pointy elbows, pinging around on the most insanely complex ever evolving three-dimensional board imaginable. How could you possibly hope to find the one person able to repair you emotionally in such an environment?

Our story begins with an unknown person narrating Sam’s epic undertaking to us, and also providing us with some personal background on our protagonist. Thus we gradually begin to understand the apparent reasons for his peculiar experiment as he strolls through the city of his birth, all the while carefully composing and taking photographs. I had presumed the narrator would turn out to be a possible future soulmate looking back sagely. In fact, it turns out to be someone completely different and entirely unexpected. And yet it makes perfect sense, in retrospect.

Giamcomo Bevilacqua treats us to a visual feast with shots of skyscrapers, Central Park and people, lots of people, from every conceivable aperture and angle. His art style, particularly of architecture, reminds me of Paul ALL OVER COFFEE / EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD Madonna, though a touch tighter. Plus this work is all in vibrant colour that perfectly captures the feel of a gloriously bright autumn day, even down to striations of wispy cloud being gently pulled across the sky, accompanied by the vapour trail from a departing aeroplane. The only thing that’s black and white are Sam’s photographs. As a creature of habit, he’s only ever printed his photographs sans colour, preferring to use the same print shop whenever he’s in the neighbourhood.

So, what happens to shatter Sam’s pseudo-serenity and deflect our tale into an altogether different direction? Well, it’s the unexpected presence of a red-haired girl in many of his most recent batch of photographs. She’s definitely there, in full glorious technicolour, which is a conundrum in and of itself given the photos obviously aren’t. But the real puzzle perhaps, is that Sam is entirely certain she wasn’t there when he took the pictures. Not once. After all, as someone who carefully composes every picture he takes, he knows exactly what, and who, is in the scene he wants to convey. And the girl was most assuredly not, when he took the pictures, in any of them…

Thus begins Sam’s real journey of introspection, finally getting below the protective surface layers he’d so carefully built up, as the mysterious red-haired girl begins to appear in front of him in the real world, seemingly at every turn. Sam’s reaction is always to turn away, to run, to flee. But what precisely is he really running from? And where will he end up? And who will be there? Some connections, however tenuously established, it seems, just can’t be broken…

What a wonderfully moving, poignant and beautiful work this is. As we, and Sam, finally gain a true understanding of what’s going on inside his head, plus out there in New York city, it seems all those millions and millions of endless human collisions can produce some quite startling and unexpected results.

JR

Buy The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Hostage h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Guy Delisle…

“Nothing happened last night.
“Nobody came to get me out of here.
“Maybe they’ll come tonight?
“In the meantime, I’ll be spending another day attached to this radiator.”

Guy PYONG YANG / SHENZHEN / BURMA / JERUSALEM Delisle returns, but this time with someone else’s story. Actually, I kind of feel his travelogues are often really the locals’ stories of the places he visits, he’s just the conduit for expounding their unique flavour of cultural craziness, but here he is ‘merely’ the messenger.

If you ever wanted to know just how boring, frustrating and soul destroying getting kidnapped and chained to a selection of ironmongery for a period of several months is, then this is the book for you! Now, you might think a book where practically nothing happens would be rather dull, but in fact the exact opposite is true. Guy Delisle brings to vivid life the entire spectrum of emotions Christophe André was put through repeatedly during his confinement.

Desperate for any shred of information that might indicate even the teensy-weeniest step of progress towards regaining his liberty, Christophe instead focuses on making certain he always knows precisely what date it is, wondering whether his sister would postpone her wedding or not (she didn’t, instead leaving an empty chair and plate in his honour at the reception) and, being a military history buff, re-enacting famous battles from around the globe in his head.

He did also conduct some rather amusing ongoing character assessments of his small gang of captors, including casting one very adroitly as Thénardier, the crooked innkeeper from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables! Plus continually be on the look-out for escape opportunities, of course… When those very slim possibilities of flight did occasionally arise, Christophe is totally torn between the ridiculous risks involved in making a break for it from an unknown location, with no knowledge of the local language whatsoever, versus sitting tight and simply waiting for what will surely be his inevitable negotiated release… After all, it’s not like he’s being treated badly during his incarceration, despite his total isolation. It’s a nigh-on impossible conundrum, I think, that one.

Guy captures all the sanity-sapping subtleties of Christophe’s plight to perfection, completely conveying the utter, unbearable mind-shattering loneliness of being locked away with absolutely no one to communicate with, all the whilst tormenting yourself wondering precisely what is being done to rescue you, and why on earth it is taking so long. He’s employed his trademark minimal colour palette once again, but his figures and facial features are more realistic than his autobiographical works, purely I suspect because that particular style is deployed for maximum comedic effect whereas he clearly wants to damp that down here.

Not to say that there isn’t humour in this work, there is, because obviously, it’s an entirely absurd situation, and human beings can find things to laugh at in even the most adverse of circumstances, especially given that we know Christophe did make it home safe and sound. In that respect this work reminds me of THE PHOTOGRAPHER by Didier Lefèvre & Emmanuel Guibert, where the main protagonist manages to get himself kidnapped in remote Afghanistan and has myriad tight scrapes and escapades before finally getting back to Kabul.

JR

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

Roughneck h/c (£20-00, Gallery 13 Comics) by Jeff Lemire…

“I was never really a hockey player… I was just a thug. At least now I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.”

The doyen of downbeat is back with a frosty contemporary fiction feast of self-destruction and misery. Straight out in graphic novel form, unlike his equally excellent new ongoing mildly mysterious monthly series ROYAL CITY, this is Jeff firmly smack bang against-the-boards back in ESSEX COUNTY territory. Even to the extent of having a former professional ice skating central protagonist, hence the body check…

I’m starting to think Jeff is a frustrated plumber. By which I actually mean an ice hockey player who likes to go get the puck out of trouble, working in the dirty areas of the rink. Because that’s exactly how he writes. He drops his characters in a whole world of pain, leaving them slipping, sliding and scrapping on the metaphorical thin ice for their lives, the Zamboni bearing down on them for good measure… then writes a way out for them, even if they don’t exactly all make it out intact. But then, getting run over by a Zamboni will do that to you.*

Here, in the frostbitten, half-forgotten arse end of Canada that is the small (ice-)burg of Pimitamon, known locally as The Pit, we find Derek Ouelette, temporarily assuaging his ever present despair with an equally ever handy bottle of beer and / or shot of the hard stuff. Plagued by headaches from his days as an enforcer out on the rink in the NHL, before the red mist took his career in a spectacularly brutal, gruesome loss of temper, he’s now barely making ends meet as a short order cook back in his home town, whilst sleeping on a cot in the janitor’s office at the local ice rink.

He’s still willing to fight all-comers, though, being one stubborn Cement Head who’s clearly not learnt his lesson yet, but this time his opponents seem entirely to be those idiotic enough to taunt someone whose former profession was repeatedly battering people in the face for fun. They might think they have a chance against someone who’s slightly the worse for wear and seemingly over the hill, but given Derek used to give people a good beatdown whilst dancing around on ice skates, I hardly think a few beers is going to prove too much of an impediment to his balance or indeed fisticuffs technique. It doesn’t.

So, it seems like Derek is on an endless cycle of drink, beat, repeat which is only going to end up with him getting sent to prison, killing someone or possibly even both. So what will make him change his ways? Not even repeated ‘final’ warnings from his old school friend, and police officer, Ray, can make him hang up his metaphorical gloves. Enter stage left Beth, his long lost sister, who ran away from home as a teenager, down to the bright lights of the proverbial big city Toronto, ending up drug-addled and sleeping rough for a few years, before allegedly getting clean and her shit together. So if that’s the case, how come she’s turned up back in The Pit, penniless, with a black eye?

Well, she hasn’t got her shit together, obviously, she isn’t clean either, but she is pregnant…  and the fruitcake future father with the free-flying fists is in hot pursuit… Guess it’s at times like this that having an equally psychopathic brother to turn to could come in handy. Except… remember what I said about Derek being on the probable path to killing somebody and winding up in jail…? Still, it’s difficult to imagine him suddenly turning into the type of guy who he’d once of described in hockey parlance as having ‘eggs in their pockets’…

As much as I love Jeff’s writing, no matter who is illustrating, it is always wonderful to see Jeff wield the pencils and paints himself too. He’s gone for a typically subdued palette here, just black lines and shading with light watercolour blues, reflecting the chilly northern landscape and stunted, alcohol and oxycontin-anaesthetised emotional vibe, similar to ESSEX COUNTY and THE UNDERWATER WELDER. Where we have full colour panels here, as with his TRILLIUM and SWEET TOOTH, it is always either in flashback to scenes of the kids’ (in-)tense family life growing up with an abusive Cannuck knucklehead father and their put-upon Native mother, or Derek’s glory days out on the ice. And hallucinations…

It’s a device that well serves to further impress upon us the oppressive situation and circumstances of Derek and Beth’s lives. Then, there is an exquisite use of a single additional colour on two other pages which, well, I have perhaps said enough already, so I shall leave you to discover those masterstrokes for yourselves. In summary, another contemporary classic from Jeff.

* No Zambonis were hurt in the writing of this graphic novel; however several Hosers do get a good thwacking from the Cement Head.

JR

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

Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos…

“Okay… I asked you a question: where’s our daughter? Where’s the baby?”
“Get out of here, Luke. I’m on a case.”
“I don’t give anything close to a shit.”
“Just leave. This… this isn’t the time. You were following me.”
““Not the time”?! Where’s my BABY?”
“Stop this macho shit. It doesn’t scare me.”

Jessica Jones has well and truly finished her extended maternity leave and is back in the investigative saddle, going undercover, playing double agent, and generally getting herself neck-deep into all sorts of preposterous trouble trying to find out who Alison Greene is working for.  Alison Greene being the bean-counting, low level accountant Captain Marvel gave the full shakedown to, thanks to some equally shaky precognitive intel from the Inhuman Ulysses, during CIVIL WAR II. Ms. Greene was seemingly completely innocent, much to Captain Marvel’s extreme embarrassment. Now it turns out, unsurprisingly, she has an axe she’d like to grind on Captain Marvel’s head and is trying to recruit Jessica Jones into her merry scheme.

 

Meanwhile, Jessica’s also been hired by Mrs. Brownlee to investigate why her husband claims to no longer be her husband any more, but someone else entirely. Given our superhero chums propensities for flitting from dimension to dimension and traversing back and forth to other worlds when the mood strikes them, a la SECRET WARS, she’s desperately hoping for some sort of explanation that might mean he’s not had a complete psychotic break. With Jessica’s connection to the capes and tights world, Mrs. Brownlee’s basically hoping she might entertain her insane sounding theory…

“So we’re clear… You’d rather pay me to find out if your husband is from another earth than have him checked into a…”
“I’ll pay whatever.”

It’s seemingly a nothing, nonsense case, right…?

There’s much that’s utterly brilliant in the opener of this new run of everyone’s favourite female Marvel fuck up. (I nearly left out the female, but come on, all equality and feminism aside, Clint Barton is clearly even more of a fuck up than Jessica Jones, hands down, no contest!) In fact I think there is only one thing wrong with it. Meh, maybe two if I am being picky.

Firstly, it’s just great to see Alias Investigations back. As fun as Jess’ appearances in POWER MAN AND IRON FIST are, as the alpha-wife, hen-pecking poor put-upon Luke into submission, this is the version of Jones we want. Then, the dialogue, which is absolutely Bendis at his best, with every page a pure pleasure of witty to-and-fro. The only other thing he’s writing at the moment that’s anywhere near as good as this is INFAMOUS IRON DOOM featuring the trials and tribulations of a certain Victor Von Doom trying his hand a little superheroing. Then, there’s that ‘nothing, nonsense case’, which is almost certainly going to turn out to be anything but, given the sting in the tale at the end of this volume. Fabulous stuff.

So what doesn’t work for me then? Well, I find it kind of hard to believe that Alison Greene thinks Jessica would betray her friends, particularly her best friend, Carol Danvers. It’s a real stretch, frankly. By the end of this volume I understood precisely why Bendis did it, and I shall say no more for fear of spoilers, but… it still feels forced.

Then, my real bugbear: Jessica takes Dani, Luke’s and her baby, and leaves the marital home, without any word of explanation to Luke, as part of her going underground cover story. Yes, you can say she felt she couldn’t tell anyone at all, including her husband, the father of her child, what was going on, blah blah blah, but the reality of it is, would she really put her husband and the father of her child through that, with no word of warning whatsoever, just out of the blue? I think not.

I understand Bendis clearly feels Jess works best as a character as the isolated outsider, rather than the happy contented wife, presumably also explaining the double meaning in the volume’s subtitle ‘Uncaged’, which is quite clever, actually, I will give him that. This set up immediately achieves that isolation, stirring up a whole cement mixer load of dramatic tension between our leading dramatis personae as a bonus, but again, it felt rather forced.

It’s almost as though Marvel, having seen the success of the Jessica Jones TV show – plus the forthcoming Defenders series featuring the character – has said, “Bendis, bring her back in the comics, just like before, exactly like before, nothing must change, just like Stan said, make it happen”. “It’s only a comic, Jonathan!” I hear you cry. But when Bendis has made his name writing realistic characters (and dialogue), I expect perfection.

Still, that sting in the tale I’m talking about, makes it all worthwhile and carries the story over the rocky plotholed (sic) ground. Plus I’m still reading the monthly single issues, so I’m clearly hooked and will shut up moaning now! And this title is a trillion times better than most of the utter shite Marvel is churning out at the moment. I really will shut up now.

Previous ALIAS collaborators Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth return on line art and colours, respectively, which is also a definite huge plus as the change in art ruined the PULSE material for me. Again, this welcome return of said dynamic drawing duo is presumably trying to make it feel like it is business as usual, but they are the definitive Jessica Jones art team so why not.

Also, at the risk of seeming like I actually condone variants, which I really don’t, I was pleased to see they had included all the cover art, as chapter breaks too, rather than tucked away unnoticed at the back. When you’ve got the likes of David Mack, Alex Maleev, David Aja doing some brilliant covers, they do deserve as many eyeballs as possible rolling over them. There are also some totally duff covers from other people, mind, but they just make you appreciate the genius of the likes of the Mack even more.

JR

Buy Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Bad Machinery vol 7: The Case Of The Forked Road (£13-99, Oni) by John Allison

Motor Girl vol 1: Real Life (£14-50, Abstract Studios) by Terry Moore

Fante Bukowski Two (£13-99, Fantagraphics Books) by Noah Van Sciver

Our Soppy Love Story (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Philippa Rice

Outburst h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Peter Coudyzer

Rise Of The Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax & The Creation Of D&D (£14-99, Nation Books) by David Kushner & Koren Shadmi

User h/c (£26-99, Image) by Devin Grayson & Sean Phillips, John Bolton

You & A Bike & A Road (£10-99, Koyama Press) by Eleanor Davis

Archie vol 1 (£17-99, Archie) by Mark Waid & Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish

Flash vol 2: Speed Of Darkness s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Joshua Williamson & David Gianfelice, various

Deadpool: Bad Blood h/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Rob Liefeld, various

Spider-Man / Spider-Gwen: Sitting In Tree s/c (£13-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Latour & Sara Pichelli, Robbi Rodriguez

Boruto – Naruto Next Generations vol 1 (£6-99, Viz) by Masashi Kishimoto & Mikio Ikemoto, Ukyo Kodachi

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition vol 12 (£14-99, Yen) by Natsuki Takaya

News!

ONE WEEK UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE TO ORDER!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 23rd, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week two

May 10th, 2017

The Wicked + The Divine enamel pins ordering instructions in News below!

The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity (£11-99, Abrams) by Grant Snider.

‘Good Morning’:

“The sound of rain
“On rooftop and windowpane
“Is the universe applauding
“Your decision to remain in bed.”

Even rainclouds have silver linings.

There’ll be more weather warnings in the form of metaphorical meteorological conditions as Grant Snider forecasts which elements are most conducive to creativity in the ever-unpredictable ongoing trawl for ideas through stormy seas.

Gale force winds would necessitate lowering your search-sails, I’d have thought, and battening down your hatches until you reach more clement climes, but Snider is never so obvious and the final panel there, with its absolute excess, had me howling.

You’ll find ‘Brainstorm’ under ‘Perspiration’, one of ten categories the cartoonist has chosen to explore creativity under, each taken from his first page called ‘Genius Is…’

1% Inspiration
29% Perspiration
5% Improvisation
8% Aspiration
7% Contemplation
15% Exploration
13% Daily Frustration
11% Imitation
10.9% Desperation
0.1% Pure Elation

You’ll get there in the end!

Ideas come in all sorts of curious shapes and surprises. It’s worth fishing about for them, because they won’t simply appear out of nowhere if you don’t go looking for them.

       

There’s a lot of witty wordplay – though not necessarily as physical as that – throughout this collection of success and failure, hurdles and highlights, extreme pain before gain.

‘Types of Motivation’ will be instantly recognisable to anyone regularly dealing with deadlines with all their attendant pressures and pick-me-ups, and I’m astonished that Snider managed to find six different words ending in “-ernal” which worked so well together, each annotated with an illuminating internal monologue with variations of the end-goal to “finish”!

There’s also a certain degree of poetry as when Grant explores the ramifications of asking different sorts and sizes of questions, concluding with a flourish:

“When you come across an unusual question
“There’s not much to do
“But to stick with the question
“And see where it takes you.”

Lovely lilt, don’t you think?

Not all the strips are o’er-brimming with optimism – disaster can often loom large – but there’s usually and usefully some similar sort of consolation.

Sometimes the pay-off can be outstanding reward rather than mere consolation. In ‘Theories of Disappointment’ Snider provides two contrasting pages in order to catalyse you into reconsidering your entire outlook on life. On the left he presents a conservative, pre-emptive approach to avoiding disappointment by setting your sights low or eliminating them completely. But inaction gets you nowhere and it couldn’t end much more bleakly. On the right, however, the risk taker’s option reaps much larger rewards, ending on a note of abandon and consequent euphoria.

Grant’s here to invigorate or re-invigorate you, for example with a mental Spring Clean or fresh perspectives. ‘Imitation’ is bursting with novel ways of looking at traditional forms, colours and even art movements.

‘Draw Like You’ve Never Been Taught’ comes with that one unexpected beat extra, each time, for maximum mirth.

He has secrets to impart (“pay attention” is pretty good advice!) and encouragement aplenty to brighten your day and cheer you on that uphill, shale-strewn road to artistic success.

Openness to opportunity will prove key, but opportunity doesn’t half knock at inopportune moments. Still, dive in! Hanging about will only give you arm ache.

This should please fans of Tom Gauld’s short comics and cartoons like YOU’RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK enormously.

SLH

Buy The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity and read the Page 45 review here

Strange Fruit h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by J.G. Jones, Mark Waid & J. G. Jones.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

‘Strange Fruit’ – Lewis Allan, Maurice Pearl, Dwayne P Wiggins
Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

That jaunty little lynching song has to contain some of the finest lyrics ever composed. The extraordinary control and restraint are part of why it works so well, along with its plantation and harvesting connotations.

This sumptuously painted graphic novel, on the other hand, has to contain the finest – in fact, possibly the only decent ever – use of the confederate flag which is regularly hauled out as a public, repugnant, celebratory display of racism. Its reclamation through repurposing had me grinning from ear to ear with vicariously vengeful glee. It could not have been better placed, but I know you’re a delicate crowd so I will save everyone’s blushes.

Although I have just found the interior art and it is so exceptionally beautiful that I cannot resist. I hope it intrigues.

 

 

In the spirit of similarly saving steaming hot welts of shame I should warn you that this graphic novel also portrays the horrific levels of overt, verbal and brutal, physical racism which the use of that song’s title suggests. I’m not going to be typing those words myself because in a review that would constitute an unnecessary normalisation of them, but I disagree vehemently with anyone decrying their replication in this comic for we are in Chatterlee, Mississippi, April 1927 and that was the hateful language so casually bandied about around there back then, and we shouldn’t bleach history of its most disgusting elements lest we forget how fetid they were.

Brilliantly, script-writer Mark Waid juxtaposes that absence of any racial goodwill with the higher priority of the day, that of good manners by not swearing in front of women. Cussing meant taking a fictitious God’s name in vain by the way (I don’t think He’d have minded much); it did not extend to ethnic slurs about actual living, breathing, individual human beings.

Right, I think it’s worth reprinting Mark Waid’s brief post-script here to set the scene:

“The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was no fiction. It was, at the time, the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States. Uncharacteristically heavy rains up and down the Mississippi transformed the river into a raging buzzsaw up to 80 feet wide that cascaded over riverbanks and levees, flooding an area the size of Connecticut.

“In most communities, the levees, man-made, were all that held that river back. They were built and maintained almost exclusively by African American plantation workers who received little or no pay while their white superiors hoarded provisions and allowed little rest for their labourers.

“Ultimately, nearly 250 flood-related deaths were reported, and over half-million men, women and children were displaced by the floods.

“You can guess what colour the vast majority of them were.”

“Reported”: you wait until the two final pages. They will make you seethe.

But everything in the promise of that post-script is delivered here: the desperate fight to save Chatterlee from the floods, the reliance on harangued, conscripted, black slave-labour to do so; and the baiting of that so desperately relied-upon black, slave labour by the Ku Klux Klan, driving the work force away.

By “baiting” I mean hounding at the point of pistols and shot-guns.

Only one soul here treats her workforce with any consideration and Sarah Lantry’s surprisingly cooperative plantation is the one that’s going to be drowned if an old spillway is reopened to divert the alarmingly swelling waters from swamping the town.

Although I notice the contextually exemplary widow Sarah Lantry doesn’t carry her own umbrella.

Little details like that, un-signposted, make for a much meatier book than you might expect, and it’s certainly the work of artist and originator J. G. Jones’ comicbook career. If you already loved him from WANTED, you will weep in adoration at the glory within.

For a start, he’s a superb portrait painter, especially of Mr Fonder McCoy, the initially dismissed and resented, bespectacled engineer sent from Washington, with his intelligent eyes and double chin.

The first few pages are meticulously painted with ridiculous attention to denim detail and ever so lambent they are too, but even they are completely outclassed by the thrilling compositions of the first chapter’s final nine pages and their raw, physical beauty.

On top of the impeccable, muscular neo-classical physique, the weight of a hefty tree trunk, the folds in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan and a purple stormy sky crackling with lightning, there are two perspectives of phenomenal power shot from below then a double-page spread split into radial panels worthy of Neal Adams (except these actually work better – *cough*) to present a monumental sense of movement.

I don’t believe I have ever seen it done quite like this: a first panel whose figure is super-imposed upon its successors without in any way contradicting the explosive, sequential-art narration of what happens next.

What you might infer from the above is a distinct change of pace and perhaps even genre, for this wasn’t what I was expecting when I first read it.

I was expecting straight historical fiction – and for the most part, it is – but what I’m trying to imply is that there’s more than one reason why fans of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ KINGDOM COME will love this.

My first clue was the comet streaking across the sky.

SLH

Buy Strange Fruit h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Little Mermaid (£12-99, Papercutz) by Hans Christian Andersen & Metaphrog.

Before the anodyne days demanding a feel-good-factor Hollywood ending, children’s fairy tales were scary tales through and through, and we should all rejoice that the likes of Metaphrog are rekindling that fire and brimstone both here and in THE RED SHOES.

Yes, it’s dire warnings for all in THE LITTLE MERMAID as an underwater world of visually evoked wonder, prospects aplenty and the innocent fondling of sensual marble statues gives grass-greener way to dreams of the impossible and – when made possible by a witch’s brew about which the side-effects, possible pitfalls and other potential repercussions are made perfectly clear (death, that sort of thing) – all this wonder and innocence and all those prospects of bobbing along quite contentedly on the bottom of the beautiful briny (shimmering, shiny) sea turns to dry-land, abject misery.

Yes misery, children, misery!

 

Be careful what you wish for, look before you leap, and don’t get ideas above your station or at the very least your regular tideline.

Also: life is cruel and unfair, plus stilettos are a bitch.

Don’t you just love those proscriptive, prohibitive, cautionary, finger-wagging tut-tuts of woe? No, nor did William Blake:

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings”.

 – ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’.

The thing is, though, that’s not really what this is; plus: she gives up her sub-aquatic wings for something that emphatically isn’t her own, and you don’t exactly choose who you fall in love with.

LOVE IS LOVE, a most wonderful thing. Shame it seems to involve so much self-sacrifice.

The titular Little Mermaid falls in love with a human prince first spied dancing on a galleon with women wearing split dresses down the sides, revealing their lovely long legs. He looks just like her treasured marble statue. The ship is struck by lightning and sinks.

She swims.

Oh, how she swims! She saves her dear prince from drowning by propping him all night long in the raging, storm-tossed sea until at dawn they reach land. He is unconscious all through this episode; she is exhausted. And when three girls approach she retires to hide behind a rock. The prince has no idea who has saved him, but he knows whom he first spies upon waking.

The Little Mermaid cannot let this lie, for she is completely and utterly in lust.

Sorry, it’s probably love. Love, lust, infatuation: who can tell except in retrospect?

This review is getting away from me.

So she makes a deal not with the devil but with a sea-witch and not all witches are evil. Most of those I know are lovelies! Hello! *hugs*

No, that’s just children’s fairy tales.

This witch is as kind as you like in giving the Little Mermaid an opportunity to seek what she most desires and is open and honest about what might go wrong. Well, she does demand payment: the Little Mermaid’s voice.

The one cautionary element which I would pick up on in this gorgeous graphic novel – and endorse 100 percent – is that you never agree to give up your voice.

Do you see that Page 45 accepts no advertising on its website? I am grateful to all (especially to co-workers and customers) but I will be beholden to no one. It’s a trust thing, you see. Recommendations, personal relationships and socio-political stances are all about trust, and I will never give up my voice.

The Little Mermaid gives up her voice.

I don’t know who does what at Metaphrog – Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers are as one – and I kind of like that. No, I really, really like that, for comics is a composite visual and (but not necessarily) verbal medium and both elements in comics are narrative. I know them both vaguely but have never thought to ask who does what because I don’t care: between them they are exceptional storytellers.

There is a tenderness and femininity here where it counts; a sensual aspect too. A luring, exotic nature to the form and colours which to my mind are Indian when those count most, putting you in the metaphorical feet / flippers / shoes of the smitten protagonist: you experience first-hand her dazzled attraction to this world of new wonders, however exotic the one she forsakes. And at fifteen you just want it all, don’t you?

I like that when the ship goes down (as do the lights) then so do the words.

Also highly recommended for tears before bedtime then long into that cold and dark night: Neil Gaiman & Lorenzo Mattotti’s restoration of the “grim” into The Brothers Grimm HANSEL & GRETEL and (speaking of Los Bros Darkity-Darkoss) Shaun Tan’s THE SINGING BONES album of exquisitely sculpted then thoughtfully photographed beauty.

SLH

Buy The Little Mermaid and read the Page 45 review here

My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Pantheon) by Gengoroh Tagame.

A very gentle graphic novel full of quiet conversations and even quieter contemplations with such a huge amount of space that I devoured the entire 300 pages in a couple of hours, and I am a very slow reader.

It’s certainly no car crash or culture clash – this isn’t a book of conflict – but certainly eyes are opened and I learned stuff too. I did know that there is a tattoo ban in public swimming pools because my mate Ryz visited and she is covered in tats (tattoos are associated with organised crime), but I didn’t know that the Japanese don’t hug. Although young Kana does becomes delightedly addicted to this novelty.

Young Kana is delighted by most things and inquisitive about everything, so when burly and bearded Mike Flanagan from Canada arrives on her Dad’s doorstep she is stunned then uncontainably excited to learn that a) Mike was her Dad’s recently deceased brother’s husband b) in some countries outside of Japan men can marry and c) that her Dad even had a brother. But what she has now is a hugely exotic new uncle: a great big bear of a man with chest hair and everything! And he gives hugs!

He probably shouldn’t have hugged her Dad, though.

Immediately she invites Mike to stay which puts her Dad in an awkward position because… well, Kana’s Dad, Yaichi, feels pretty awkward about it all, and he begins to realise that he has a lot of thinking to do, and not a little soul-searching ahead of him about his twin brother, why they became so distanced (after an early, closely knit childhood), and his attitude towards sexuality.

I’d like to emphasise right now that Yaichi isn’t homophobic: he’s a thoroughly decent bloke and devoted single father, but there is a lot that this sensitive man has avoided until now and initially he catches himself having double standards that he’s ashamed of. For example, he’s used to wandering around the house in nothing but his boxers after bathing, but feels the need to cover up now that there’s a gay guy in the house. Especially since his brother Ryoji and he were pretty much identical twins! But then, he’d probably have thought to cover himself up with any strange man new in the house… I always have.

Basically he massively over-thinks things, realises he’s massively over-thinking things, and then becomes embarrassed about that. I think it’s all thoroughly forgivable, don’t you?

In the meantime Kana is a whirlwind of enthusiasm – it’s Mike this, Mike that, Mike the other – and asks the bluntest of questions as kids do, even though she’s not quite aware of what she’s asking. Funny!

It’s his daughter’s wide-eyed, unwavering adoration that bonds Yaichi to Mike in these vital early stages and gradually Yaichi begins to come around to the idea of showing Mike round all the local haunts where he and Ryoji used to hang out. Opening up about Ryoji might take a little longer, but Mike’s a very, very patient guy…

As I say, this isn’t a culture clash – Mike is well versed in Japanese culture because he was married to a Japanese guy and he doesn’t go round wearing the pink triangle you see on the front – but where things grow slightly askew is after Kana, desperate to introduce Mike to her friends, learns from a friend’s mother the term “negative influence”. And her father, having become completely comfortable, with his new brother-in-law, is horrified at the prospect of his daughter being taught prejudice.

There’s so much more in these three hundred pages for you discover yourselves, including a deeply affecting silent scene which has nothing to do with Yaichi or his brother, plus on top of that there’s Kana’s Mum’s place in the family to unfold.

I like that Kana’s drawn in the perceived ‘classic’ style of sugar-buzz manga (see YOTSUBA! for equally unbridled curiosity) which suits her personality perfectly, whereas the men are slightly closer to Taniguchi, if on steroids. The parks where the boys played have that same Taniguchi serenity too.

The sentences are much shorter than mine – markedly so – and this helps keep things free from melodrama, mawkishness, and didactic proselytizing.

Beware the visual thinking device, however! Tagame likes to present instinctive reactions at the top of a page – sometimes a couple of panels – and only if you look closely will you notice them joined by thought-bubbles to the subsequent scene below, which is the one that actually, thankfully, occurs.

Now I know what the Japanese sound effect for a snore is.

Concluding volume to come.

SLH

Buy My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Rise Of The Black Flame (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell…

“Hear us, Great Darkness, whose skin burns with the brilliance of a million black fires of dissolution.
“You are the origin of all things, and devourer of all things.
“Your perfect song can be heard in the void, but also in the hum deep within all living things in this breathing world.
“Though having form, you are formless. Though you are without beginning, so are you without end.
“Your time comes again, Great Darkness.
“This life will end so that yours may begin again.”

Oooo, when is sidebar not sidebar? When it’s this blinking good, that’s when! Fans of BPRD will be very familiar with the titular character who has cropped up as the main baddie in that most epic of series three times now, albeit in slightly different incarnations, plus made the odd guest appearance elsewhere such as in SLEDGEHAMMER 44 and LOBSTER JOHNSON.

What has not been explored up until now is his genesis. We know the original human host of the Flame, up to and including WW2, was one Raimund Diestel, often accompanied by his mysterious wife Kamala, before maniacal Landis Pope assumed the rather charred mantel in the modern day BPRD era.

This, then, explores just how the German naval deserter underwent his dramatic transmogrification to the supernatural psychopath, albeit one with impeccable manners, and that, perhaps, it was always his inescapable destiny. A path that indeed began many years previously with simple misstep as a small boy visiting a Berlin museum…

What a fantastic piece of horror writing this is. You never quite know with some of the Mignola-verse mini-series just how vital to the main story arcs they are, or indeed precisely how good they will be. The ABE SAPIEN material for example, is pretty essential reading, if you want to understand precisely what is going on in BPRD. But WITCHFINDER, LOBSTER JOHNSON etc., as fun as they are, can be a bit hit and miss for me and are not remotely essential. This mini provides much insight into the true nature of the Black Flame.

With that said, it also stands alone perfectly, you don’t need to know anything about BPRD to be mesmerised by this gripping tale about two British Empire policemen stationed in Rangoon, Burma, heading into the steamy jungles of the sub-continent to investigate the disappearance of young girls. Not that anyone in authority was paying attention until it was two young English girls that were taken, of course…

As our redoubtable comrades head deeper and deeper into a shadowy world inhabited by cultish magicians and freakish monsters, you start to feel their trusty service revolvers might prove somewhat inadequate protection against such sorcerous adversaries. Fortunately for them, along the way they’ll encounter a former colleague of Sir Edward WITCHFINDER Grey, a Miss Sarah Jewell, who’ll prove far more valuable to their survival prospects than any bullet ever could.

But, as we know, the phoenix-like rise of the Black Flame is inevitable. Therefore the only question that remains is whether the young girls can be saved…?

Absolutely brilliant writing from Mignola and – with long-term collaborator and firm favourite of mine, Christopher Mitten on the pencils (finally making his Mignola-verse debut!), plus of course, Dave Stewart on colours – this is nigh-on perfect. Unless you’re an ill-prepared policeman about to embark on an expedition to the very heart of darkness, that is…

JR

Buy Rise Of The Black Flame and read the Page 45 review here

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse…

“And then they were gone.
“Just like magic.
“I was completely alone.
“Or I thought I was.
“That was the first time in my life I understood the true nature of fear.
“I understood that fear isn’t an enemy, but a friend.
“Fear clears the mind and slows down the passage of time.
“It makes you act that split-second faster.
“It gives you an edge.
“Then I SAW it…”

I was rather hoping they would collate and collect all this material one day. So a quick hurrah for that! Back in early 1988 a new character appeared for the first time and took the galaxy’s self-styled greatest comic in an altogether darker direction. Over the years, when 2000 AD has done horror, aside from the obvious recurring villainy of the Dark Judges forever imperilling the Big Meg ad nauseam which is starting to get seriously old now, I think it’s been done rather well, and by and large stands the test of time. Arthur Ranson’s MAZEWORLD (currently out of print) trilogy being an obvious early example of 2000 AD horror, through to more modern takes on the genre such as the extremely creepy CRADLEGRAVE set on a sink council estate.

I did chuckle at the bold legend atop the front cover which states “Before Harry Potter There Was Luke Kirby!” Indeed there was, and the first Luke Kirby material also predated the premier comics boy wizard, which is hands-down Neil Gaiman’s Timothy Hunter in the BOOKS OF MAGIC, by a few years. This material, in essence a collection of short stories published sporadically over nearly eight years, is not anywhere near BOOKS OF MAGIC level, despite how good it is. That work, for me at least, is on a level of its own.

What this material neatly blends is the peculiarly atmospheric flavour of classic British horror flicks such as American Werewolf In London, The Wickerman, plus practically anything from the Hammer Studios, with the twist that our main hero is a nine-year-old mage of immense potential learning on the incredibly hazardous job. Today’s Health and Safety Nazis would have a field day with young Luke’s lack of risk assessment and shunning of protective equipment before plunging headlong into his next perilous escapade. Still, this is set in the early ‘60s where the concept of health and safety was probably limited to finally realising it wasn’t a good idea to send a nine-year-old down a mine…  To the tenth, count ‘em, tenth, circle of hell, though, no problem guvnor, right this way.

Read as a whole, where you can see the weekly joins, particularly with the early stories compared to the later ones (something 2000 AD improved considerably on over the years to the extent that the likes of CRADLEGRAVE is simply one seamless narrative very smoothly spliced from the weekly chunks), it has all the charm, and mild inadvertent amusement, plus a dash of pure stoopid, engendered by said period flicks.

With all that said, this is genuine brooding horror with child abductions, werewolves, vampires, devils, demons and random exsanguinations lurking around every corner. Luke Kirby, though, has the magical chops to take on all-comers, once he’s got a bit of practice in. Girls, though, they’re an entirely more terrifying prospect…

Penned entirely by Alan McKenzie (who also scribed the excellently spooky Brigand Doom around that time, about an undead highwayman cavorting around in a dystopian future, though I have still to forgive him the woeful Supersurf 13 featuring a certain Marlon Shakespeare esquire), with very different turns on art from 2000 AD stalwarts John Ridgeway, Steve Parkhouse, Graham Higgins, I finished this wishing, as with a fair few other characters (including Brigand Doom which ‘concluded’ on a cliff-hanger to say the least), that there will one day be new Luke Kirby in the pages of the self-proclaimed galaxy’s greatest comic. It just feels like there is so much more they could do with the character.

But, perhaps that is also part of the charm of 2000 AD. They relentlessly find talented up-and-coming writers and artists, create new characters, churn out some great stories, then move on and keep on innovating. Aside from Dredd, obviously. There must always be Dredd. There really must. But you don’t get to 40 years old producing the same old shit week in, week out. Unless you have the marketing budget of Warner Brothers or Disney, that is…

JR

Buy Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby and read the Page 45 review here

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos, Jim Cheung, David Mack, Chris Bachalo.

For which you will need Bendis & Yu’s SECRET INVASION, which is where Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS has been heading since its very beginning. I’m not kidding: as will be revealed here, a very long game has been played by both the creator and so the characters. This is it come to fruition, then almost immediately moved firmly on.

That cat can’t help leaping right out of the bag now, clawing and scratching away, so if you want to read the best-ever AVENGERS series outside of ULTIMATES Season One and Season Two, with knock-out comedy dialogue, but you don’t what the surprises spoiled for you here, please click on NEW AVENGERS VOL 1 for that review instead, and walk away now!

I wrote: “NOW!”

I’ve heard from one quarter at least that all SECRET INVASION was to them was one massive fight. Actually it was several, but point taken. The thing is, it isn’t self-contained. Not only was it the climax to several hundred pages of sneaking about, whispering, mutual suspicion and second-guessing about the shape-shifting Skrulls’ infiltration of planet Earth, but the flesh of it – the emotional core – lies here.

Its flashback revelations are stunningly clever with gorgeous art from Jimmy Cheung for the episodes revisiting the Illuminati’s covert counter-strike against the shape-shifting Skrulls all those years ago (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3) and you finally learn exactly what the Skrulls have done since with all that genetic lost property.

Then, appropriately enough, its ALIAS’ Michael Gaydos who provides exceptional acting for the argument between lovers Luke Cage and Jessica Jones – first on the telephone and then face to face in front of Avengers Tower, home of the opposing MIGHTY AVENGERS who want this underground team locked up – about the custody of their baby after its recent near-murder.

Luke insists that Jessica has sold out, citing principles, honour and standing up for what’s right; Jessica’s sole contention is that as parents they must put the child’s safety first. Its truth and simplicity seem incontrovertible, even to a non-parent like me. Furthermore, Jessica maintains that, under their virtually unique circumstances, Avengers Tower is the only place where their baby is safe.

But S.H.I.E.L.D. has been played. Hydra has been played. The Avengers have been played. All by a single Skrull disguised as one of their own. Who, where, when and how? You’ve seen it all before, just not from this perspective.

Learn precisely how the Skrulls gained the inspired element they’d need to escape detection so long as they remain in human form and for what psychological reasons they carefully selected which individual super-humans to replace with their own infiltrating agents many moons ago! Watch it dawn on the Skrull Empress that her personal sacrifice and long-term strategy lay in tatters when several years ago The Scarlet Witch turned the world upside down during HOUSE OF M! Wince as The Scarlet Witch subsequently hands them their invasion on a “No More Mutants” platter!

Then weep as Jessica Jones’ words about the safety of her baby come back to haunt her.

The second half of this whopping repackage deals with the fall-out to SECRET INVASION whose repercussions are substantial: the last person in the Marvel Universe you’d want to be given the keys to the door has been given the keys to the door.

Clint Barton, the only current long-term member of the Avengers (as Hawkeye then Goliath now Ronin) is horrified to discover [REDACTED] marketing himself and his fellow convicted criminals to the public on television as the new official team. There’s a great scene in which they try to figure out who each shady figure is underneath their new masks, and once again Hawkeye is not best pleased to find himself represented by [REDACTED].

And you know our HAWKEYE, right? “Act in haste, repent at leisure” were words specifically written about him. Every idea he has is a bad idea.

What follows is a game of super-powered chess as each side tries to out-manoeuvre the other with several layers of misdirection, bluff and countermeasures, resulting for now in a stalemate with one notable exception.

My only qualm amongst so much excellence lies in the ‘Dark Reign’ chapter masterfully illustrated by Alex Maleev in which Bendis’ dialogue for Emma Frost sounds lazily like his own Jessica Jones rather than Grant Morrison’s, Joss Whedon’s and Warren Ellis’ louche, sybaritic Emma Frost well established by the trio of writers in NEW X-MEN then ASTONISHING X-MEN.

Still, every other element here will give you a great big grin.

SLH

Buy New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 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 information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’.

Hostage h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Guy Delisle

The Sound Of The World By Heart h/c (£22-99, Magnetic Press) by Giacomo Bevilacqua

Casanova vol 5: Acedia vol 2 (£13-99, Image) by Matt Fraction, Michael Chabon & Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba

Batman: Detective Comics vol 2: Victim Syndicate s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett & various

Amazing Spider-Man vol 5: Worldwide s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Humberto Ramos & Guiseppe Camuncoli, Francisco Herrera

Jessica Jones vol 1: Uncaged s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

News!

    

ITEM! Hello! Would you like some lovely merchandise designed by the equally adorable Jamie McKelvie? If so, you really, really, really need to pre-order by May 21st, please to avoid that dreaded tears / bedtime interface we would all rather avoid.

Why? Because that’s when Page 45 has to place its own pre-orders, and re-orders of comics merchandise are rarely available. Ta!

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: SKULL
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE ENAMEL PIN: KLLK

Also, while you’re here:

All THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels reviewed by Page 45, spoiler-free.

Which, by book four, isn’t easy!

FAQ: THE WICKED + THE DIVINE VOL 5: IMPERIAL PHASE S/C is due 7th June, and you could pre-order that too is you’re of a mind to, but that isn’t even an inch as important because we constantly re-order. You just might like to have it shipped to your door ASAP!

Thnx!

ITEM! Reminder:

PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2017 week one

May 3rd, 2017

I should probably mention THE PAGE 45 2,500-GRAPHIC NOVEL 50% SALE!

And I probably will (with photos) in our News underneath.

The Nameless City vol 2: The Stone Heart (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire.

Halfway through this extraordinary graphic novel – and so the trilogy – there is a moment so shocking that I had to re-read it three times to ensure it had actually happened.

It actually happened.

Take nothing, and no one, for granted.

“What’s your name?”
“Names are for people. I’m just street vermin.”
“No one is street vermin. Under Dao law, all the people of the city are equal.”
“You’re very stupid if you think that’s true.”

Quite. Saying everyone’s equal does not make it necessarily so. The American Declaration of Independence loftily stated:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But by “men” it meant “white men” and certainly not women. Slaveholders signed as readily as anyone.

No one is treated equally in America, Britain, or anywhere else. The hierarchy remains absolute.

 

As with all Faith Erin Hicks books, this is a tale about friendships. So much time is taken to explore their nuances if new, or their history in the case of old acquaintances.

The above was eight years ago, with young Erzi – Prince of the Dao Empire and heir to the Nameless City’s throne – riding alongside his father in a petal-strewn procession. I don’t think you will find either of them “equal” under Dao law to the ragged, green-eyed street urchin he’s just rescued from a beating by one of his soldiers. This was the even younger Mura: angry and defiant after being tossed out of The Stone Heart by its resident monks for trying to steal something they had long locked away.

She is the same Mura who now acts as Erzi’s bodyguard after last volume’s attempt on his life and that of his father, the General of All Blades. She is now stern and taciturn, ever so watchful with those piercing green eyes, and on each sleepless night she haunts the palace’s library.

In THE NAMELESS CITY VOL 1 we learned that – sprawled out at the base of a vast mountain range, and surrounded on all sides by enemies with eyes set on conquest – The Nameless City straddles the River of Lives at the bottom of an unnatural gorge.

The Northern People who first built the city also carved that improbable passage through those enormous mountains, but no one knows how for their language is lost. However, in joining the river to the sea they ensured that this city, through which all commerce now passes, controls the flow of wealth. It is a city of a thousand names for everyone envies its strategic position and it has been conquered and re-conquered, named and re-named except by its native inhabitants to whom it is Nameless.

One of those inhabitants is Rat, a young athlete able to run across rooftops at blinding speed, which is how she first met Kaidu or Kai. Kai only arrived in the city four months ago to begin training as a rather reluctant warrior. It was the first time he’d met his father Andren, also a general, who now has a plan to form a unifying Council giving everyone a say – not just the Dao – in the city’s future. Obviously the monks are keen, as is Rat who was brought up by them after the death of her parents. But the Dao have many enemies including the Yisun from whom they took the city, and they’re refusing to come to the table. The pressure is on and time is running out.

Right, I think that’s all the context you need, but for more hop back to THE NAMELESS CITY VOL 1.

As I say, like FRIENDS WITH BOYS, this is at its heart a book about friendships, and it has so much heart! Dozens of pages are devoted to sharing and caring enough to listen. You will, for example, finally find out what happened to Rat’s parents after Kai finds a small statuette of them which Rat normally hides away. Hicks is a master of these natural conversational triggers, and the way confidences then impact on consequent behaviour.

She’s also exceptionally gifted when it comes to exploring the joy, and sometimes initial difficulties, in being introduced to new friends for the first time. When Rat introduces Kai to Hannya and Iniko who are older, Hannya is open and solicitous towards Kai, encouraging him when he shows an interest in Iniko’s string instrument and teasing Iniko about his own dubious prowess. Kai in return is delightfully self-deprecating, but Iniko remains wary, protective, defensive and even slightly resentful towards this son of a Dao general.

It’s beautifully played by Hicks and colourist Jordie Bellaire who knows exactly how to flush a face in myriad different ways to denote tentativeness, bashfulness, awkwardness, embarrassment, shame, disdain and fury all in the same exchange after Kai finishes strumming.

“What’s the song about? I’ve never heard it before.”
“Oh, um… It’s about a battle between the Yisun and the Dao. Uh, we beat them pretty badly.”
“Pft. Even Dao music is about conquering. Everything is about violence. What they conquered, who they killed – “

Rat interrupts him.

“Iniko, stop it.”
“I’m just saying –“
“And I said STOP IT.”

I don’t have that page for you, sorry!

As to the music itself, evoking harmony and melody, it swirls around the page in purple and pink in a way that put me in mind of Hope Larson, as did the first page following the prologue with Rat underwater before she bursts to the surface in an open air swimming pool reminiscent of Roman baths. The midday, summer-sunshine light is remarkable – with hot skin against cool blue and pale, cream-coloured stone – as is the sense of space the two artists create between them both there and throughout with wide gates, broad corridors and evening, rooftop views of a glowing city below.

Kai and Rat’s new and unlikely friendship – between the conquering and the conquered – points to new hope for a far brighter future if Kai’s father can fulfil his plan for a united council. Unfortunately unity will prove in short supply in the most extraordinary quarters, and there was something which Rat let slip out without thinking, which she probably shouldn’t have.

“Sometimes I forget the monks have secrets they want to protect.”

SLH

Buy The Nameless City vol 2: The Stone Heart and read the Page 45 review here

Big Mushy Happy Lump (£9-99, Andersen) by Sarah Andersen.

Do you want to feel happier about your own life?

About your hang-ups, neuroses and self-confidence issues?

Sarah Anderson is here to make that happen, and hilariously so!

Perhaps you don’t have any hang-ups, neuroses or self-confidence issues: laugh at Sarah’s instead! She’s positively inviting you to do so in a warm and welcoming way, from inside the most recent big woolly sweater she’s stolen.

Highly recommended to readers of Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, anyone who’s already read Andersen’s ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH will know that she is mischievous, open and honest; and honesty is vital for this sort of comedy for without it you wouldn’t connect and so be ticking all those recognition boxes.

I, for example, read this very first page in bed when I had written not one weekly review so far and desperately needed to crack on. I didn’t get up until I finished the book.

To be fair, that’s not so much my fault but Sarah’s. Her comedy is comics’ equivalent of Jaffa Cakes or Maltesers. I saw a bag of Maltesers the other day which boasted that it was resealable: I laughed so f***ing hard.

You also need consistency and conviction. Cumulative jokes are funny when they’re variations on a theme and if you pander to what’s popular you will lose your signature identity. Although there is the most excellent extended sequence involving Andersen’s conversion from aversion to cats through the necessity of containing her mouse infestation, which grew so bad that she’d find half a dozen of them hanging off the latest sweater she’d stolen… while she was wearing it.

One of those variations on a theme involves hurt feelings. When someone hurts Sarah’s feelings she shrugs them off; when someone hurts her friend’s feelings she rides through the wall in a tank.

Although you remember I mentioned that matter of honesty? Exuberantly, flamboyantly, wearing a fur coat and shades:

“I’M A TOUGH B****!!! I DON’T CARE WHAT PEOPLE SAY!! I’LL DO WHATEVER I WA –“

Reality Rabbit, the tiny white bunny of truth, sympathetically steps in:

“Somebody hurt your feelings, didn’t they?”

Silent panel, close-up, shades lifted: it’s quite the beat.

Then, quietly, hands clasped around knees in a panel shared with Reality Rabbit but with ever so much grey space around them:

“Maybe.”

Click on images to enlarge! You should be able to do that with most of our art.

There are so many different devices deployed in the punchlines.

There’s the ellipsis in ‘There Are Two Types Of People’, Anderson edging, slowly, gingerly into cold water followed by another girl throwing herself eagerly in: the joke lies in what you know happens next.

Then there’s the paralysis on discovering the shocking cost of cute clothing. The camera pans back. A new gulf appears between the article in question and its previously smitten but now horrified, freeze-framed, bog-eyed potential customer widening, white-faced in the void.

What else will you find within? A whole load more clothes (seasonally adjusted), the squeeze of time when even on a Sunday you are worrying about Monday; finances, fears, learning and lyrics; tattoos and traumas, plus the brilliance of bottling up emotions so that neither you nor your friends have to face them. That’s always a good idea, isn’t it, because that glass is never going to shatter then leave sharp shards in your gelatinous brain fluids or mental make-up?

Emotional rollercoaster rides! Just because it’s obvious, that doesn’t make it any less than 100% true.

Then there’s the cruelty of memory which wilfully chooses to fixate on mistakes. It’s another extended sequence involving self-perception and over-thinking things which I for one am far from immune to. Jumping to conclusions? Andersen pole-vaults to them! You have to put some real effort into that.

So much of this comedy is visual that I could not possibly do Andersen justice in words.

I adore her when she dips into the difference between the sexes, during puberty especially or hanging out in a bar. Time and again she taps into truths then articulates them with verbal and visual, pithy wit and dexterity.

My favourite truth above all in this outing is ‘How I Spend Money’.

I have gleefully shown so many customers this page over the course of the week and each one of them howled. They giggled, guffawed; they cackled and cried real tears at the counter in recognition.

After which I successfully rinsed them for every penny they had.

SLH

Buy Big Mushy Happy Lump and read the Page 45 review here

Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Paolo Bacilieri…

I am not, I must confess, a fan of crosswords, but my dad is, hugely so, so that’s one Christmas present sorted then! For this is, in part, a fascinating history of the original fiendish word puzzle from its inception in pre-World War One New York. The other part is a fictional story, itself a protracted puzzle whose ‘solution’ is only revealed right at the climax.

The two are seamlessly melded together through the conceit that our ‘hero’, the oddly titled Zeno Porno, (being a character from a previous work by Bacilieri who is a Disney comic book writer and also apparently a former secret agent of the CIA, though nothing is made of that latter point in this work) bumps into a long-time hero of his in Milan, the equally implausibly named Professor Pippo Quester (based on Umberto Eco), who just so happens to be writing a book on the history of crossword puzzles.

 

 

What follows is a both an insightful and fascinating historical analysis of the rise of the definitive fiendish word game, in all its various subtly different international flavours, and a gripping yarn that becomes a thrilling piece of suspense with a conclusion I certainly didn’t guess. Pretty much like any crossword clue…

JR

Buy Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords and read the Page 45 review here

Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sara Kenney & John Watkiss.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“True for bacteria and people.”

If you thought LOW’s futuristic premise based on scientific certainty was pretty crushing, welcome to another far, far closer to the bleak hour at hand.

All too topical, this medical and medication-based conspiracy thriller addresses bacterial immunity to antibiotics – which is already reaching dangerous levels – and speculates on its repercussions for a society in a political climate currently lurching horrifyingly far to the right.

It’s 2036, and the Conservatives have been eclipsed by the ultranationalist red-on-white Lionheart Party which is currently in power. I imagine they once had no members of Parliament whatsoever, but were given equal airtime by a feckless, controversy-cultivating and so complicit media. That’s wild speculation of my part, obviously. It couldn’t happen here.

In 2016 700,000 individuals died from antibiotic-resistant infections. By 2036 that annual figure has risen to 9 million. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and most STDs have become untreatable. The condition is critical: you could now die of an infected paper cut.

This is far from a sensationalist prospect, I promise you.

“Alexander Fleming’s messy lab led to the serendipitous discovery of penicillin. The very first class of antibiotic,” we are told in a lecture by microbiologist Dr. Martha Scott. It saved hundreds of thousands of lives during WWII and “became the bedrock of modern medicine, curing once deadly diseases and infections”.

That is all true, and so is this:

“By 2010, antibiotic use was rife in farming as well as medicine. And no new classes had been found since 1987. Some poor countries even sold them like sweets since it was cheaper than seeing a doctor. And so the resistance grew.”

Bacteria adapt and evolve a great deal faster than we do: they multiply faster than we do.

“For decades, big pharma failed to invest in new antibiotics – not profitable. And governments didn’t devote enough resources until it was too late. Hospitals have become breeding grounds for these deadly infections, and enforced home isolation is now the only option for the seriously ill.”

Complacency is one of the things modern humans do best.

Featuring the finest (and unfortunately final) art of John Watkiss’ career, printed on paper stock which make his deep and rich blacks glow alongside James Devlin’s colours, this is a nightmare scenario so grippingly executed not because of its death toll (that is not what this is about) but because Kenney has concentrated on its ramifications for individuals under a regime which has decided – as a result of the limited resources and their efficaciousness – to ration the remaining antibiotics.

For a start, you will not receive treatment of any kind if you do not qualify for it under the stringent Productivity Contribution Index.

If you are deemed and dismissed as a waste of space by The Powers That Be – by being disabled and/or obese, for example – then you can probably fuck off and quite literally die.

The scenario has been so well thought through.

There are of course riots, for what else can one do when you are otherwise powerless and outright rejected by intransigent authorities? We begin with a bombing at a London mayoral election debate which injures both candidates and in attendance by accident is Dr. Martha Scott’s sister, Rosa. Like her mother, Dr. Martha Scott is a microbiologist involved in education and active research; but, like her father, Dr Rosa Scott is a frontline surgeon. She works for the NHS. Under the Hippocratic Oath she has sworn to uphold certain ethical standards. She does not believe in the rationing, by governmental command, of antibiotics: these decisions she believes should be made by doctors. She believes all patients in need should be treated equally regardless of the PCI and that she must certainly do them no harm through her actions or inaction.

Yet faced with two political candidates in need she chooses to help the one whose policies are in accord with her own, and hesitates to help the other. There are… dramatic repercussions.

Two weeks earlier Dr Rosa Scott operated on a patient whose life was immediately at risk but who didn’t qualify under the PCI and, threatened with disciplinary action, she quit the NHS. Instead she opened her own long-planned private surgery in the basement of her house. Unlike her father in the private medical sector, she is determined to operate on patients in need regardless of their financial resources. She is Surgeon X: underground and illegal. But she’s going to find that those initially most in need are those closest to home.

And that’s where the heart of this series lies: so close to home.

Far away from home was Rosa and Martha Scott’s mother six weeks earlier, last seen on a refugee boat off the coast of Burma, injected with a paralysing drug then drowned in the sea. She was on the brink of discovering a new class of antibiotics but someone evidently didn’t like what she’d found.

I know what you’re thinking: this is packed!

And it is. I haven’t even hinted at Rosa and Martha’s half-brother Lewis, a schizophrenic desperately in need of maintaining his medication but who ditches it in order to feel liberated by its side-effects and suffocating restraint. If Sara Kenney hasn’t had personal experience of a loved one in this condition then I would be stunned, for every element is perfectly played from Lewis’ deluded decision that this time he will be fine (when he wasn’t in the past) to the resultant suspicion and distrust of those once again closest to home and the wider, deep-rooted paranoia regarding authority and a conspiracy to constrain. The mind-set and language are both spot-on. I know: I’ve been there with two mates.

But what is brilliant is that it dove-tails into this scenario so well.

Also exceptional: the poetry when it’s practised, the history lessons and the extrapolation of a credible future from where we are today (surgeons still only 15% female – long live the patriarchy, eh? – see Y – THE LAST MAN), with lovely little satirical side-swipes at Twitter (“Chatterblast”) and cabbies who can’t keep their predictable, opinionated gobs shut even when they’re self-driven / automated:

“Welcome to London cabs. Would you like to know the predicted weather for this afternoon?”
“No.”
“Would you like to discuss politics or a topic of your choosing?”
“No!”
“Okay. How about King Charles’ views on architecture, the environment or complementary medicine?”
“Noooooo!”
“University College London – Cruciform Building. We’ve arrived at your destination. Have a nice day – and please don’t slam the door…!”
*SLAM*

My only complaint is that because this series is so rich in skulduggery that it does at times suffer from excessively expository dialogue. In this instance I can live with that: other than being released as an original graphic novel I’m not sure how it could have been avoided. It’s just that we don’t naturally remind each other in conversation of events that have dramatically impacted on our shared lives in the form of little memorandums or post-it notes.

I loved the bits out in orbit, the sunsets in Scotland, the flashbacks to Rosa’s mistake working in the war-torn Libyan field, and the entire examination of how highly we regard surgeons when they are – like us all – individual, flawed human beings who cannot get everything right their first time. Institutional failings are unforgiveable but individual mistakes are inevitably made.

So tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and most STDs have become untreatable and the condition is critical: you could die of an infected paper cut.

But what if an old-school epidemic reached our shores…? One with “prior”, as they say.

It gets worse.

SLH

Buy Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c (£44-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

I love that the deluxe hardcovers’ covers focus, close-up, on young Hazel’s development.

She is, after all, SAGA’s narrator, filling the series with foreshadowing, the wisdom of experience, and the insight of hindsight. What don’t know yet is how long she has had to acquire her worldview, for we have no idea at what age Hazel is telling her story.

It’s essentially a comedy about love – of relationships, parents and children – and a discourse on the atrocities of war in which no one is safe. That its setting is science fantasy gives Vaughan and Staples the opportunity to fill it with the wonders of diversity, which they’ve both taken full advantage of, as well as its attendant bigotry. Hazel is having to hide her biological nature, for she’s a miraculous child born of two distinctive species which are at war. One has wings, the other has horns; Hazel has both.

 

 

Not only have they been at war for as long as anyone can remember, but for so very long that no one has so far recalled a moment when they were once at peace. Hazel’s not the only one within who has decided to hide a truth, but she is the only one privy to that secret.

It’s a deliciously inclusive series, is what I’m saying, and prospective newcomers are heartily encouraged to read my overview of SAGA DELUXE EDITION VOL 1 H/C even if you end up buying one of the seven softcovers so far. That contains the first; this contains 4 to 6 so please click on those SAGA covers if you want to read those reviews because conjoining them – as I did for Brubaker, Epting and Breitweiser’s VELVET h/c or Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser’s THE FADE OUT – is far more work than you’d imagine, involving a great deal of cutting and splicing, and the occasional bloody finger.

 

 

You know, if Fiona Staples hadn’t nailed the image above with those incredible eyes accentuated by the occasionally worn glasses, then that sentence would hang limp. As it stands, it shines. I remember the first few pages of SAGA  when she did the same for Marko: the love in his eyes when Hazel is born!

Not included in this volume, obviously:

The deluxe hardcovers come with extras, this time in the form of brand-new guest art from Jen Bartel, Bengal, Cliff Chiang, Pia Guerra, Faith Erin Hicks, Karl Kerschl, Jason Latour, Marcos Martin, Todd McFarlane, Sean Murphy, Steve Skroce and Chip Zdarsky.

Each of these pieces is accompanied by an introduction by Brian, then a Q&A in the same spirit as the periodical’s annual readership survey, while the extras themselves are introduced by a page of musings and an illustration by Pia Guerra which reminds me to warn you that there is in each volume One Of Those Moments which will leave you exceptionally relieved that you never leant this book to your grandma or grandpa. One of those here involves a dragon in an act which you will never, ever forget.

SLH

Buy Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Simply Samuel h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi…

A few years ago there was a wordless Nobrow work I absolutely loved called ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN by Jose Domingo. It was utterly surreal, brilliantly bonkers and totally hilarious featuring the horrifically relentless worst day ever in the life of the titular protagonist. This is definitely the closest anything has come to that since, with its weird, trippy sequences featuring the main character. Also, artistically, it has a number of similarities to that work too.

It also visually very strongly reminded me of Marc Bell’s SHRIMPY AND PAUL, plus I could see, believe it or not, elements of Chris Ware in there with some of the crazy little design elements that are thrown in and Tommi’s frequent use of straight lines and perfectly formed half circles. Also, at times, believe me, this is as odd as Jim FRAN Woodring, in fact even Hans FOLLY Rickheit.

 

I shouldn’t have been totally surprised, given this came from the crazed mind that produced THE BOOK OF HOPE. But whereas that is a strangely soothing and whimsically philosophical musing on the passage of time as seen through the lens of the autumn years of a perennial underachiever, this is just an all-out assault on one’s sanity with a number of reality distorting and flipping devices deployed at regular intervals throughout. He’s clearly a very versatile writer, our Tommi.

 

I finished this absolutely none the wiser as to what the hell it was all about, but I did feel like I had certainly had an extremely interesting and enjoyable experience.

JR

Buy Simply Samuel h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Drugs & Wires #3 (£4-99) by Io Black & Crylocliare…

“The, um, the idea, Miss H…, uh, Ma’am, was to make the software more approachable to the American public. Using some of today’s most beloved young sitcom stars, we created a pitch, that’s a little more, uh, light-hearted, more funny…”
“Funny? FUNNY? Bleeding Christ almighty, we had more laugh lines at my second husband’s funeral. What else have you got?”
“Um.”
“Let’s cut to the chase. When we bailed your operation out two years ago, you said you were making VR bigger than big. Building a virtual future, with virtual gaming, virtual vacations, virtual concerts, virtual fucking. Something for everybody. So we kept our hands off, even after you blew three release dates and every last cent of your development budget twice over. Didn’t even blink when you paid some washed-up New Wave act a quarter million for a piddling three-second start up noise…”
“…Error noise, Ma’am. Specifically for when the user…”
“The point is that we’ve put a lot of time, money and patience into this little project of yours. Now we’re in the show me phase and all you’ve shown me so far is this.”
“All due respect, Ma’am, but Dreamspace ’95 is the best VR creation tool on the market today. The problem is not with the software.”
“Of course it isn’t! That’s why you chucklefucks are being outsold by ‘Freddie Ferret’s Fun With Fractions!’ at every retailer on the East Coast.”
“Maybe if our Director Of Sales would…”
“I’m done talking. Get this fixed or start blowing the cobwebs off your resumes. It’s that simple.”

Haha, I do like a good tirade. I did initially mis-read the last part and think the choice insult in question was chuckleferrets, which only tickled me further. This mirth-moist third instalment of DRUGS & WIRES only serves to further deepen the mystery regarding precisely who is trying to wipe out the fringe headwear community, and indeed now messing around with VR providers. There’s a curious game afoot, and neither I, nor those at the pointy end of the virtual probings, have a clue about what’s really going on.

This title, neatly blending speculative fiction and relentless humour fits perfectly into the sci-farce sub-genre. I have no idea if that’s a genuine term, mind you, but if not, it should be! Anyone who has ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy would appreciate the digital daftness of this mash up of cyberpunk and clown school. Main character Dan is such a hapless car crash of an individual he fits perfectly into that Arthur Dent–esque idiot on the loose role.

JR

Buy Drugs & Wires #3 and read the Page 45 review here

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Jim Cheung, Giuseppe Camuncoli, R.B. Silva, Javier Garron…

“Great! So Doc Ock’s back now?! Perfect! I guess Jackal’s just cloning everybody, is that it?! Couldn’t he clone somebody cool, like, I dunno, Prince? No! Let’s go for Tubby McPsycho here!”
“Your taunts ring hollow, Spider-Man. I know you well enough to see that, in your heart, you know the truth. I am no mere clone, simulacrum, or hologram. It is I, the one true Otto Octavius. The man who cheated death itself!”

Errr… I think Peter got the ‘back-from-the-death’ badge (along with half the Marvel Universe, mind you) long before you, Otto. But still, it is good to see Tubby McPsycho back in all his monologuing, ranting glory. Though he’ll be working on that physique with a most extreme weight-loss plan before the end of this latest Spider-epic…

Ah, it feels good to finally enjoy the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man again. The first three volumes of the current ‘millionaire playboy’ so-called ‘Worldwide’ run have been spectacularly average so it’s really nice to see Slott back on better form.

 

Casting my mind back over Slott’s now extremely lengthy run, the thought does occur that the highlights have definitely been the events: SPIDER ISLAND, SPIDER-VERSE and now this. I did also enjoy the entirety of the SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN run when Otto was on the loose in Peter’s body, which again, was something a bit different. It has to be hard to keep writing the same title and character for so long, and inevitably there will be downs as well as ups in the quality, I suppose. Long-term Slott collaborator Christos Gage also provides the bulk of the excellent pencils throughout.

Anyway, here Peter is pretty much correct: the Jackal is indeed cloning and thus resurrecting everyone who has ever died with the likes of Captain Stacey and Gwen Stacey returning from the great beyond. For long time Spider-fans, the reappearance of that particular duo will provide a little tug on the old heartstrings. Then there’s a plethora of villains, such as the Rose, the Rhino, Mysterio, various Goblins, Enforcers, the Stiltman, Miles Warren… hold on a minute, Miles Warren was the Jackal… So if it’s not him behind the Jackal mask, who is it?

It all makes perfect sense, as much as anything can in the Marvel Universe when you get the big reveal, but when this new Jackal offers Peter a Faustian pact to bring back [REDACTED] by twirling the test tubes with all the power and none of the responsibility… it’s a reincarnation too far for Peter and tips him over the edge. Then the punching starts, obviously! At the end, when the disintegrated clone dust has settled, it’s who’s left standing, in what condition, in whose body… that’s as fascinating as anything and will hopefully set up a few more decent storylines over the next couple of years.

JR

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) 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.

Crickets #6 (£6-99, American Comics) by Sammy Harkham

Elves vol 1 (£10-99, Insight Editions) by Jean-Luc Istin & Kyko Duarte

Honor Girl (£7-99, Candlewick) by Maggie Thrash

The Last American (£15-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner, Alan Grant & Mick McMahon

The Little Mermaid (£12-99, Papercut) by Metaphrog

Magical Twins Deluxe h/c (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess

Rise Of Black The Flame (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell

The Shape Of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration Of Creativity (£11-99, Abrams) by Grant Snider

Slaine: The Brutania Chronicles Book Three: Psychopomp h/c (£15-99, Rebellion) by Pat Mills & Simon Davis

Strange Fruit h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Mark Waid & J. G. Jones

Summer Magic: The Complete Journal Of Luke Kirby (£19-99, Rebellion) by Alan McKenzie & John Ridgway, Steve Parkhouse

Valerian: The Complete Collection vol 1 h/c (£24-99, Cinebook) by Pierre Christian & Jean-Claude Mezieres

Wonder Woman vol 2: Year One s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Champions vol 1: Change The World s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Mark Waid & Humberto Ramos

New Avengers by Bendis Complete Collection vol 4 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Billy Tan, Michael Gaydos, Jim Cheung, David Mack, Chris Bachalo

My Brother’s Husband vol 1 h/c (£22-99, Pantheon) by Gengoroh Tagame

News!

ITEM! PAGE 45’s 50% SALE!

PAGE  45 KICKED OFF A 50% SALE OF 2,500 GRAPHIC NOVELS LAST FRIDAY NIGHT.

It’s probably going to be closer to 1,500 by the time you see this, but what a lot of grinning faces we’ve seen!

What I love so much about it is that the books you are buying are brilliant. They’re not rubbish, or else why would we have reviewed so many of them?

No, we’re simply doing this because it’s only Phase One of Page 45’s Evolution this year – a means to a most emphatic, architectural end – and because it has been proven that having too much to choose from destroys sales.

There have been surveys on this sort of stuff about jam! Jam!

ALL of these were in the sale as of Friday night!

But please don’t think this mean we believe we’re selling jam or we’re going to cut back on diversity. Oooooh no!

Just bulk.

Comics is a visual medium, particularly for kids who don’t browse by spine, and this will allow us to present more of the very best quality comics face-on.

You can always order in whatever you want by asking at the counter, regardless of whether we stock it on our shelves.

It’s basically the same thing as Page 45’s Comicbook Of The Month, which we were begged for when a customer called Simon Ghent simply could not handle so many reviews of great graphic novels every month, and wanted to buy what we told him to!

Hello, by the way: we love giving shop-floor recommendations tailored to your tastes. Just ask at the counter!

THANK you! xxx

ITEM! The Inking Woman Exhbition at The Cartoon Museum until 23rd July 2017

Wish I’d been there on opening night!

ITEM! Did you enjoy Gareth Brookes’ A THOUSAND COLOURED CASTLES?

Ink #8 is out with an article by Gareth Brookes on “Expressing perceived reality through the language of comics”

You can follow INK on Twitter @Ink_Mag_UK

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week four

April 26th, 2017

Comics from Simon Spurrier & Jonas Goonface plus Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow as well as graphic novels from the likes of Lynda Barry! I know she’s not British, but she should so be made a Dame!

One! Hundred! Demons! h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry.

“I didn’t mention the fact that the acid was two years old and had spent two winters wrapped in tin foil behind a brick in a garage, abandoned during my Jesus-freak period which was at least six personalities ago.”

Haha! Dear, dear Lynda Barry! That her drug-taking days were already pretty much over aged fourteen tells you everything you need to know about her precociously experimental nature which remains to this day in full throttle. That she is willing and able to turn self-denigration into a pithy, comedic side-salad tells you everything about her open and honest generosity of spirit, especially when the reasons behind such early instability were far from funny. She alludes to it earlier with an equally adept turn of phrase:

“When your inner life is a place you have to stay out of, having an identity is impossible. Remembering not to remember fractures you.”

If her more recent WHAT IT IS, PICTURE THIS and SYLLABUS: NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL PROFESSOR are all about catalysing creativity (you won’t find anything more inspirational on our shelves) then this earlier autobiographical work from 2002, finally reprinted, was all about jogging memory, which she highly recommends with specific instructions in the back for this Asian-style artistic experiment.

Those titular demons aren’t always awful, but they are all the moments which haunt you, stay with you, and had such a profound effect on you that they shaped you.

Smell, for example, is as potent as music in being able to thrust you back through time in an instant, and in ‘Common Scents’ Barry concentrates on the singular smells of specific houses in her neighbourhood. Of course, the one house you can’t smell in childhood is your own: it’s the one you grew up in so it forms your own personal baseline of normality and Barry’s was full of aftershave, perfume, dog, hair spray, fried garlic and onions and 9,000 cigarettes.

I adore Lynda’s grandmother, a cigarette and lighter poised ready on almost every page, and her language and lilt carried over from the Philippines which I won’t attempt to transcribe for fear of fluffing the capital letters etc.

Lynda’s mother, on the other hand, I adore not one jot. Her cigarettes are constantly clenched between gritted teeth as she castigates the creativity out of her daughter time and time again.

“Nako! My stationary! Idiot! What are you doing?”
“Making a picture for my teacher.”
“Estupido! You’re wasting it!”

Thank goodness for her school teacher, Mrs. Lesene, who cultivated it instead. That’s another of those things – one the happier instances – that can stick in your mind: the salvation of the right teacher at exactly the right time who can turn your whole life around for years to come.

Instead her mother addresses her like a dog, and Barry does make the connection with the way she initially handled her dog as an adult and child.

“The dog I had when I was a kid was a shelter dog too. I don’t think I would have made it through those years without him. I wish I could say I was always as loving to him as he was to me. I regret so many things.”

Art shown is from earlier format. Please click to enlarge.

That’s ever so sad, as are the pages on which she attempts to fathom the differences between her grandmother and her mother who “didn’t seem to like me much [emphasis on ‘like’, mine], but she meant more to me than anyone.” Instead “Mom used to scream that she couldn’t wait until I had children so I would know what Hell was like.”

“You wait! You’ll see! You’ll be sorry you ever had kids! Children are a punishment!”

So that’s going to be a fairly formative experience.

What else is on offer here? Head lice and her worst boyfriend. Dancing when young without a care in the world! The paralysis if ever you suspect you’re not any good (see WHAT IT IS for Barry’s 30-year paralysis when it came to her own art).  Childhood games in the street: the hierarchies and disputes but also the sheer fun! Losing your earliest comfort blanket or toy by leaving it behind accidentally!

Dropping your best friend on purpose:

“She was an extremely kind and funny person. We were always together. She was two years younger than me but it never mattered until I turned 13.
“Once I turned 13 and started junior high and realized how weird and lame I really was, there was no way I could have an 11-year-old best friend.
“I never talked to Ev about it. I never explained what was going on. I just avoided her and hoped she would forget about me. I did this 31 years ago but my stomach still knots up when I think about it.”

It’s a very personal book, its intimacy with its audience enhanced by the strikingly large size of the script on top of each panel compared with the dialogue below. I don’t know how this works exactly, but I imagined it smaller and something was lost: it felt more mundane, more perfunctory, more like I was being told a story and less like it was being shared with me.

Apart from the grandmother whose every appearance I relished, my other favourite sequences of exquisite cartooning were Lynda’s gawky and gangly self-portraits, all teeth and frankly weird red hair, and the dancing! During dancing the forms undulate rhythmically and you get a real sense of the physical pleasure involved. As to Lynda demonstrating the hula with her knees bent, her hips thrust up and out “like a crazy heifer, as well as one shoulder with her arms thrown to the other side, it is a scream.

Each chapter of this new edition (some of the art here will be from the old edition) is introduced with a double-page landscape, “Today’s Demon(s):” framed to the right, with its inspirations or catalysts to the left, and sometimes commentary or apposite illustrations, which could come in any form from hand-crocheted dolls’ dresses and flowery, frilly and lacey things for ‘Girliness’ to a hand-made cuddly toy inscribed with ‘Where are you?” for the ‘Magic Lanterns’ of lost toys and other treasured items. There’s a particularly poignant photograph of Lynda and Ev when once together.

 

It’s all so fluent, Barry’s ability to turn a phrase or reverse a perspective with insight or hindsight remarkable throughout.

From ‘Lost Worlds’ about those childhood street sports during which young Lynda would break off to wave at aeroplanes as if the pilot and passengers could see her so far below:

“This was long before I grew up and found out you can’t see very much from an airplane window. Big things, yes, but the little things are lost.”

The panel shows a mournful, adult Lynda Barry, very much alone and looking out of the tiny passenger portal at night. We then flip back to her young hyperactive self surrounded by all her friends, caught up in the energy and excitement of game.

“The city is there and so are the streets, but at a certain distance people disappear. Whole neighbourhoods of children just vanish.”

It happens at a distance; it happens over time.

But, with a little applied meditation, it can all come flooding back.

SLH

Buy One! Hundred! Demons! h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Godshaper #1 (£3-25, BOOM Studios) by Simon Spurrier & Jonas Goonface.

One of the things I love most about Simon Spurrier’s creator-owned work is that on top of all the lateral thinking that he pours into its premise, he doesn’t let it lie there: there’s also the language which is far from flippant but instead – like Rob Davis’ THE MOTHERLESS OVEN and THE CAN OPENER’S DAUGHTER – comes with carefully thought-out connotations.

Here Jonas Goonface too goes that extra mile with lithe illustrations reflecting physical prowess and creative endeavour, leaving you much to infer from what they silently depict down the bar (none of which is clumsily and unnecessarily sign-posted by Spurrier) while adding, here and there, subtly highlighted details like this visual rebuttal to an idiot all too fond of the sound of his own ignorant voice:

“Man’s gotta be a martyr to fashion these days, wants to get anywhere.
“Sometimes I wonder if you poor schmoos got it easier, huh? No god, no money, no style
“You know the first thing about fashion, Shaper?”

The staid, self-regarding, disregarding, pot-bellied, barrage-balloon of a man has failed to do more than glance at the man – from behind – who is currently restyling his god with some considerable artistic skill and who is the very epitome of understated dapper in gloves, rolled sleeves, braces over a well-starched shirt, a quiff fashioned topiary-like from dense hair above chic, shaved sides and – to the fore so that the reader’s eye cannot miss it on the bottom of the left-hand panel – a single and small diamond ear stud.

Now that is attention to detail.

God is in the detail and the detail has most certainly been injected into this title’s gods.

This is a world in which everyone has a god of their own, and every god has a person.

It just so happens that they treat their gods like employees or slaves, and their gods are the equivalent of personal bank accounts and/or role-playing console game characters, both of which we love to upgrade as much and as often as we can.

All transactions are conducted via these gods: the series’ sole currency lies in these powerful upgrades. What do we worship more than money and power? They’re basically the same thing, right?

There are, however, some singular individuals born without gods.

They are regarded as “nogodies”.

In this society – as in ours – they are treated as outcasts: the poor. For without a god they can neither acquire nor accrue money. They can never own a home for they have no money (and certainly no access to a mortgage without that bank account), so they are itinerants forever shunned but desperately needed for labour – for their unique ability to refashion everyone else’s gods. They are called Shapers.

We’ve only seen one Shaper so far, called Ennay. He’s black, and the way he’s treated by our first customer – told to exit via the back door lest he be seen, for example – says it all.

He is, however, a bit of a hit on the cantik scene, which is akin to rockabilly and played unplugged, without a god.

“No holy harmonies here. No superpower pop. No gods as guitars. We don’t get aaawwwwf on that godly groove.
“We got a new manifesto. We’re here to repair the square.
“What we play, we play with our mouths and our hands and our hearts.
“This is cantik.
“It cannot be stopped.”

Ennay throws himself into the music and the colours and the crowd go wild.

“Underground, unrefined, unlegal.
“A movement, a manner, a counter-culture crime.
“One seriously unholy racket.”

After which the spotlights go down, leaving a fluid double-page spread bathed in blue and purple neon as Ennay works the floor between tables, taking his credit and receiving his dues. He’s definitely an equal opportunities kind of a guy.

It’s a spectacular piece of fluid figure work and colouring, tracing Ennay’s movements and his admirers in a serpentine path of purple and pink between the rest of the onlookers in indigo, while their cartoon-animal, ghostly gods are lit in bright blue, their outlines an ethereal white.

Which brings us to Ennay’s second secret: he does have a god called Buddy. It’s just not his.

“Weird. Can’t see its believer.”

Gods aren’t supposed to exist without believers. Without believers they’re supposed to fade away (see SANDMAN / AMERICAN GODS). So what on earth is up with Buddy?

Once the subplot involving war and “riff-raff rations” kicks in, the relationship between gods and their owners is explored a little further and grows far darker than you’ll be anticipating, but I’ll have to leave that for the collected edition’s review. Let’s just say that we all know the pain when our bank account’s drained but what if our bank account was a sentient god / ghost / animal?

SLH

Buy Godshaper #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater, Tula Lotay.

“BRIGGS! You got a visitor. Fifteen minutes, Jim.”
“So what the fuck happened to yesterday?”
“I got busy.”
“I needed you here yesterday. We have a schedule for a reason, Grace. It’s like this: you come visit me and I give you orders. Now, if that’s suddenly becoming difficult for you to understand, well…  forgive me if I’m not sympathetic to you and your frivolous life. What the fuck do you do all day, anyway?”
“Jim, please…”
“Shut up. I run this family. Me, not you. I know it. You know it. Our boys know it. And everyone else we know knows it. And if you are ever late coming here again…”
“STOP IT! This is the last time I’m coming here. I’m telling you this face to face as a courtesy. We’re over. I’m taking over control of the family.”
“Yeah, right. Over my dead body you are. What the hell’s gotten into you?”
“I know about your negotiations with the Albany County D.A.’s office. How’s that for starters? I put a thousand dollars in your commissary account. Consider it severance pay. I suggest you make it last. Don’t underestimate me on this. I’m no sellout. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to protect our land and our history. I’ve been a Briggs since I was seventeen years old. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

And that, as they say, is where we come in. It’ll not surprise you to learn that incarcerated antigovernment secessionist and local white power hoodlum Jim Briggs is not best impressed with his wife Grace’s attempt at a de facto coup. Quite how their three sons, all very different characters, each with their own agendas and differing degrees of filial piety (plus the rest of the rank and file shock troops running protection rackets and goodness knows what else throughout the county) will react, remains to be seen.

It’s an absolute certainty Jim isn’t going to just sit back in his prison cell and take it, though, that is for sure. But being stuck inside serving a full life term for an assassination attempt on the President of the United States might make his control on the clan more than a little shaky, especially given Grace’s inside knowledge of his recent attempts to cut a deal with the authorities, potentially for lucrative fracking and real estate rights to their hundred square miles of rural wilderness. And presumably some reduction of Jim’s sentence…

Sell out indeed, or perhaps buy out might be more appropriate depending on your point of view. If it’s one facing certain death behind bars gradually decaying in a tiny cell, well, it can give even a hardcore anti-establishment man a different perspective on the benefits of the grand old political system and the peoples’ representatives’ fondness for a spot of chicanery.

Brian MASSIVE / DEMO / DMZ / LOCAL / STARVE / NORTHLANDERS / BLACK ROAD / NEW YORK FOUR Wood (he’s written a lot of great comics!!)  has come up with another belter of a premise for us here, fleshing out the rest of the opening pages by giving us the lowdown on Mama Briggs and her brood, as seen through the eyes of the pair of romantically involved FBI agents on undercover surveillance duties, who are just as intrigued as everyone else by the power grab and how raucously it’ll play out.

We don’t have long to wait on that score as Wood fires off the first round of gunfire and high explosives that I’m sure will become an ever-present  punctuation on this title. As far as warning shots go, it’s a pretty full-on scorcher right through the bows, never mind across them, incendiary one for Grace, but given she was expecting it, she doesn’t seem the slightest bit phased. I dare say she’d almost have felt disrespected if it hadn’t been forthcoming… The question now, is precisely how does she respond?

I wasn’t aware of artist Mick Chater before, but it’s damn fine minimal artwork, I have to say, very similar to Butch ARCHANGEL Guice. This is certainly going to appeal massively to fans of SOUTHERN BASTARDS and SCALPED, plus the Justified and Sons Of Anarchy television shows. In fact, Briggs Land is apparently already in development for an AMC TV show, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

JR

Buy Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign #1 (£3-25, Dark Horse) by Geof Darrow.

“You got Dick Jeezuz on all Christian, all American, all white, alright Radio K.R.O.S.S. – what’s your question, brother?”
“Dick Jeezus… big believer. Listen to you every day. What kinda gun do you think Jesus carries?”
“Well, bless you, son. To answer your question, the Son of God don’t carry no gun. He is a gun. Next caller!”

I think it’s fair to say that Geof (one ‘f’) Darrow is not a big fan of organised religion incorporated.

Nor of so many modern priorities and propensities such as driving while using a mobile phone which, I would remind you, is illegal in this country.

His books are full of such careless cretins and this is no exception: an endless convoy of cars and commercial lorries hogging the desert highway, either oblivious to our battered and blood-soaked hero or throwing cigarette butts at him as they speed noisily by, ejecting a seemingly limitless stream of expletives (at their children) as well as beer cans and fast-food trash.

You don’t have to have read anything previously, but FYI this picks up almost immediately after SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET during which Darrow nimbly and fluidly fashioned variation after variation of meat-cleaving mutilation in what I can only describe as the ultimate chainsaw massacre before the juice runs dry and our Cowboy quick-foots it across his quarry instead, deftly dispatching the beetle-bearing shamblers on the stepping-stone hoof.

It was utterly relentless and all the funnier for it. Think Jackie Chan played by a chubby but equally acrobatic Beat Takeshi.

This instalment has a bigger bite to it with satire splattered all over the background details including car number plates, car stickers, graffiti, advertising slogans, cigarette-smoking spiders, prosthetically ‘enhanced’ dogs, assorted other unhealthy animals and a great many guns. It’s not a nice neighbourhood, is what I’m trying to say.

Also, it is extraordinary what modern mobile phone apps you can now download.

The Shaolin Cowboy is much the worse for wear, but is doggedly pursued by vultures, a glowing green warden from Hell and those in service to King Crab (it is a crab) using their new I’m-Hung 7 cell phones to track him via satellite and drones.

Umm, read the SHAOLIN COWBOY: SHEMP BUFFET review, probably.

SLH

Buy The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wild Animals Of The South h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun.

South-bound sequel to WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH: you could tell that those animals were all from the North because it tended to be snowing, ice featured fairly prominently in their habitat, and several were to be found walking whippets.

Here the animals are 80% wealthier and 90% healthier, far less likely to visit the NHS Drop-in Centre, in no small part thanks to having a proper doctor’s surgery in every suburb. Generally there’s also a great deal more sunshine, although be warned that you can stray too far south and so finish back oop North (see Eastbourne / Antarctica).

Absolute class through and through, this deliriously seductive all-ages art book has bugger all to do with comics but I am so far past caring because beauty.Recommended to fans of Brrémaud & Bertolucci’s LOVE: TIGER and LOVE: FOX etc, the paper stock is thick and matt and the hardcover itself roams free from the fetters of any unsightly insta-rip dust jacket, thus making it ideal for school libraries.

 

As a kid I own that my idea of nature-book heaven would have been one illustrated by KINGDOM COME‘s Alex Ross, but as a big kid now this more stylised approach with elements of Jonathan Edwards lights my fire far, far more. The forms are bigger and bolder for their blocked-out beauty and I strongly suspect that any family acquiring this educational excellence will discover their young ones equipping themselves with paper, pencil and paint in no time in order to emulate its awe.

Featured creatures come with a paragraph which is far from predictable, eschewing cold stats in favour of something more akin to storytelling, bringing each animal’s individuality alive. We did the snow leopard last time, so here’s its warmer cousin:

“Leopards are great climbers. They withdraw with their prey – which can weigh up to twice as much as they do – high up into the trees to be safe from enemies like lions and hyenas.”

I hate climbing trees – vertigo, general lack of bravery etc. – so it’d probably be safe from me too.

“This solitary creature doesn’t even enjoy the company of its own kin. When it crosses paths with other leopards there is often a display of threatening behaviour that can lead to bloody fights.”

Please insert your own personally biased regional smear here. Also: that was my Mr. Bob-san all over. He once successfully took on a fox which took off pretty sharpish.

Admittedly Mr. Bob-san was a cheetah.

My point is that there’s not too much info and it’s all instantly memorable even if you have the attention span of a five-year-old that’s just washed down a dozen packets of Tang-Fastics with five fizzy litres of teeth-melting pop-u-like.

Did you know, for example, that hippopotamuses aren’t especially good swimmers even though we see them doing that all the time with Sir Richard Attenborough, whereas the African Elephant is a very strong swimmer? I’ve only ever seen them wading. Perhaps the canal at the bottom of my garden’s not deep enough.

The scientific name for a giraffe is giraffa camelopardalis and must always be typed in italic (I don’t know why). The second half “comes from the Greek words for ‘camel’ and ‘leopard’ because it looks like a mix between the two!” And it does a bit!

If you ignore the giraffe’s most significant feature.

Its neck only has seven vertebrae, by the way, just like ours. That doesn’t seem right, does it?

Anyway, this is all so ridiculously exotic and lush (and positively dazzling / electrified in the case of the Indian peafowl) with the emphasis on shape, although I could not imagine anything fluffier than the beard of the blue wildebeest here, and as to the intense-eyed, nocturnal jaguar I cannot imagine an animal tasting more like blackcurrant Spangles.

Perhaps I’ll take a photograph of that page for when I tweet this. I’m afraid I can’t find that image online.

SLH

Buy Wild Animals Of The South h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Empire #0 (£4-25, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna.

Written by the co-creator of THE FIX etc., this is far from stupid.

Steve Rogers is Captain America, a super-soldier created to help beat back the Nazis.

Since then he’s fought fascist organisations of every ilk including Hydra.

Blonde and blue-eyed, he’s basically the one individual you can rely on to stand up and be counted for what he believes is right, and what he believed during CIVIL WAR was that his own government could not be trusted to command superheroes as a military asset.

In the wake of CIVIL WAR II Steve Rogers was appointed Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., a military organisation barely an arm’s length from that government.

Were a full State of Emergency to be declared by that government then, under the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act, Rogers would become supreme commander of all the U.S. military. As the most trusted man amongst the superhero community he already has their almost undivided attention, their allegiance at his command, and respect as the world’s greatest strategist.

During CIVIL WAR II FALLOUT he made a speech signalling that America and the world in general could not afford for superheroes to continue turning on each other as they have done relentlessly (see AVENGERS VS X-MEN etc). During CIVIL WAR II FALLOUT he also warned Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel that she had become increasingly fascistic and dictatorial, using an extreme form of profiling involving predications of the future then acting pre-emptively before any crime was actually committed during CIVIL WAR II and, moreover, that her obsession with a Planetary Defence Shield was dangerously counter-productive. She warned Steve that an unstoppable alien invasion force in the form of the Chitauri was on its way so the need for that Planetary Defence Shield was paramount.

Now: every one of those elements comes to pass, but I won’t be spelling it all out. You’ll just have to read those paragraphs again.

The Chitauri have arrived. Without the Planetary Defence Shield they will be unstoppable even by the likes of Carol Danvers up in space. And the Planetary Defence Shield is down.

Manhattan, home to 95% of the world’s superheroes, is assaulted by a hoard of supervillains incensed at their prior incarceration by S.H.I.E.L.D. in a covert, illegal, mind-wiping, body-altering experiment. So that’s where the super-powered ground troops are all focussed.

Hydra has invaded Sokovia, seizing launch codes for seven supposedly decommissioned nuclear warheads now aimed at Europe.

The U.S. government declares a full State of Emergency and Steve Rogers proves himself to indeed be the world’s greatest strategist, for he has lined all of his ducks up in a row.

The only slight snag is that the nature of those ducks for Steve Rogers is not just an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Blonde and blue-eyed, Steve Rogers is – and always has been – an agent of Hydra.

This is his game-plan come to fruition.

And Carol Danvers is going to rue which side she’s on… of that Planetary Defence Shield.

SLH

Buy Secret Empire #0 and read the Page 45 review here

New Editions / Old Reviews

The Filth s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Chris Weston.

All thirteen issues in one value-for-money volume of full-colour mentalism.

This might be the story of cat-loving, porn-perusing, lonely old Greg Feely living in a flat with criminal ‘70s furnishing. Or it could be that of Ned Slade, for whom Greg is just a parapersonality when he’s not maintaining Status Q as the top operative in the extradimensional clean-up squad known as The Hand.

Regardless, this is THE FILTH, a book bulging with sex, sensory overloads, warped worlds, infectious ideas, fourth walls, monomania, Nazi dolphins, a full-mouthed Communist Chimp, an agent with an accent all but incomprehensible for those not reared in south-west Scotland, and some slightly bewildered policemen.

There was a two-page review in a COMICS JOURNAL published just before I originally which this review which I considered plagiarising to make myself look halfway intelligent (I never read other reviews before I write my own to avoid precisely this risk of contamination). Fortunately I didn’t understand it.

I can, however, promise you a far more focussed book than the INVISIBLES epic, and some astonishingly detailed, bulbous and sordid art from Mr. Chris Weston who constantly impresses with his ability to bring Grant’s mind-fucking concepts to life. He deserves an Eisner just for keeping up.

Lastly, if you honestly need an added incentive: giant, flying spermatozoa!

SLH

Buy The Filth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette.

“Slave queen of a nation of slaves. Your children will live and they will die by the fist of man.”
“That’s better. Tell me. Tell them. It’s all play, remember?”
“Tell them all what you are. Say it. Tell us all what Hercules has made you.”

“Hercules… Hercules has made me patient!
“Hercules has taught me life is a privilege.
“And no more.
“NO MORE!”

So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…

Grant Morrison returns to DC with an evocative, indeed provocative, reworking of the origins of Wonder Woman. Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy and Geoff Johns’ BATMAN: EARTH ONE (two books so far, presumably a third at some point), this won’t in some ways feel like a radical departure from the mainstream DCU version (whatever that actually means as we careen towards yet another reboot, sorry, REBIRTH) unlike TEEN TITANS: EARTH VOL 1 which was quite the reshaping.

On the other hand, this is quite unlike any other WONDER WOMAN you’ll have ever read.

No, this is more Morrison paying to tribute to the true feminist roots, as he perceives it, of the character, and also her original creator, William Moulton Marston, making maximum use of the additional creative freedom that the non-continuity EARTH ONE series provides. Whilst also having some fun and games deconstructing and retooling other familiar supporting characters like Steve Trevor, here portrayed as African American, and Beth ‘Etta’ Candy who is restored to all her buxom Golden Age ultra-confident sorority girl glory.

Considering that this is undoubtedly an all-action story, it is wonderful to see so much emphasis put on the Woman rather than the Wonder. Also, despite the presence of Hercules, Morrison has very deliberately stepped away from the overarching Greek mythology influences that defined Brian Azzarello’s excellent New 52 run which started with WONDER WOMAN VOL 1: BLOOD S/C.

You probably need to know a bit about Martson to understand Morrison’s approach here. He was a psychologist (and lawyer) who lived with two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne. He wrote a lot about dominant-submissive relationships and posited the theory that “there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.”

It’s probably thus no surprise to find that Martson believed that women should run the world, and was a great champion of the early feminists. It’s pretty obvious therefore to also make the connection with a pair of bracelets that can repel any attack and a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. After the sword-wielding New 52 version, I liked this return to the more traditional version of the Warrior Princess.

Grant also can’t resist throwing in a bit of kink bondage for good measure, but it’s done in a way that made me laugh uproariously rather than feeling it was salacious, which it isn’t remotely, but again, it’s clearly another nod to Martson. Suffice to say Steve Trevor’s eyebrows disappear somewhere off the top of his head, and when Beth is explaining the, shall we say, cultural misunderstanding, to Diana whilst they’re propping up the bar afterwards, it provides a superb double punchline that had me wiping a tear of mirth away.

So there was much I really enjoyed about this retelling. The plot is extremely well thought through including a rather naughty bit of parental misdirection which well and truly comes home to roost. This version of Steve Trevor’s motivations for betraying his country to protect Diana and Paradise Island, being based not just on infatuation but also very understandable personal ideals rooted in experienced prejudices, is I think the most depth I’ve seen given the character.

And Beth, my oh my, what a woman. Of all the various incarnations Diana’s bestie has had over the years, I think this brassy, bolshie blonde really does take the biscuit. Well, she probably takes the whole packet given half the chance judging by her girdle size, but she’s no shrinking violet that’s for sure. She’s certainly not going to let any stroppy, statuesque stunner whose been sent to bring Diana back for trial get the best of her!

“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”

“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”

Yanick Paquette is the perfect artistic foil for Morrison here too. His Amazons are joyous creations, and his exotically detailed Paradise Island truly does look like heaven on earth. There are some lovely page composition devices, including the recurring theme of golden rope as a panel separator, which greatly minded me of J.H. Williams III work on the pages of PROMETHEA. I’ll have to confess historically I’ve not been the biggest Wonder Woman fan (though certainly I’ll be having a look at the Greg Rucka / Liam Sharp WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH reboot), but more tales like this could definitely win me over.

JR

Buy Wonder Woman: Earth One 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.

Fun: Spies, Puzzle Solvers And A Century Of Crosswords (£15-99, SelfMadeHero) by Paolo Bacilieri

Big Mushy Happy Lump (£9-99, Andersen) by Sarah Andersen

Drugs & Wires #3 (£4-99, self-published) by Io Black & Cryoclaire

Kid Savage (£13-99, Image) by Joe Kelly & Ilya

The Nameless City vol 2 (£10-99, FirstSecond) by Faith Erin Hicks

Saga Deluxe Edition vol 2 h/c (£44-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Squarriors vol 1: Spring s/c (£16-99, Devil’s Due) by Ash Maczko & Ashley Witter

Surgeon X vol 1: The Path Of Most Resistance s/c (£13-99, Image) by Sara Kenney & John Watkiss

The Flash by Mark Waid vol 2 s/c (£31-99, DC) by Mark Waid, Gerard Jones & Greg Larocque, various

Green Lanterns vol 2: Phantom Lantern s/c (Rebirth) (£17-99, DC) by Sam Humphries & various

Justice League vol 2: Outbreak s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Neil Edwards, Jesus Merino, Matthew Clark, Tom Derenick

Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide: The Clone Conspiracy (UK Edition) s/c (£16-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage & Jim Cheung, Giuseppe Camuncoli, R.B. Silva, Javier Garron

Attack On Titan vol 21 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Avatar, The Last Airbender vol 15: North And South Part 3 (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Gene Luen Yang & Gurihiru

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week three

April 19th, 2017

A Thousand Coloured Castles h/c (£17-99, Myraid) by Gareth Brookes.

“This really is unacceptable.
“They’ve barely gritted this road.”

Will wonders never cease? They won’t, not once, nor will Fred.

It’s the neighbour’s garden which gets his goat the most.

“Unbelievable.”
“It’s just intolerable.”
“Absolutely typical.”
“Totally outrageous.”

I’d be surprised if something wasn’t beyond the pale.

A very British book full of singularly English gripes and recognisably regional obsessions, Raymond Briggs devotees will find much to adore. For Gareth Brookes has resurrected that era in the form of an elderly suburban couple in an equally insular environment: the husband in the front-room and back garden; the wife in the front-room and kitchen.

Fred is set in his ways, forever moaning about anything modern or fancy while oblivious to the wonders of nature while Myriam is quietly experiencing wonders galore, spectacle after unexpected spectacle, spawning in the street, bursting from bookcases or sprouting from electricity pylons: tendrils of green, floral growth blooming with a multitude of pink-and-white, yellow-stamen flowers; rifle-bearing soldiers with Elizabethan ruffled collars, step-ladders rising upside down from their khaki helmets; a procession of small girls dancing in bright blue blouses and red motorcycle helmets, climbing up stairs to float through the ceiling.

It’s a far cry from custard, budgies and boiled eggs. Fred loves boiled eggs. After he’s eaten one, it amuses him no end to up-end its empty shell in the egg cup and pretend that he hasn’t even started it.  Oh, he never gets tired of that!

“Myriam, what on earth is this?”
“It’s curry.”
“Curry? Have you gone stark raving mad?”
“I thought it would be nice.”
“Nice? Myriam, we’ve never eaten curry. We don’t eat curry.”

Of course the proscriptive old duffer doesn’t eat curry, but I do love the dictatorial “we”.

On the other hand, Myriam didn’t think it would be nice; she merely picked up the wrong tin in the supermarket by mistake. Her eyesight is failing, you see: a big, blurred blotch at the centre of her sight. Can this and her wild, hallucinatory private life be connected?

Immediately striking is Gareth’s seemingly, almost wilfully perverse deployment of the bluntest of art instruments: that of wax crayon. But it’s a brave move which pays off, for it’s perfect for conveying imperfect, grainy vision, hallucinatory experiences and it adds to the sense of era. It’s a contemporary era, obviously, but Fred and Miriam live in their own, long gone by.

For Miriam’s nocturnal sorties, into the back garden with the aid of a torch, the spectral blue gutters between panels add an eerie, ethereal quality, apt for the proceedings when she is witness to her neighbour out in the unkempt garden which infuriates Fred so incessantly. There are an awful lot of small white crosses in the rough. And now that neighbour is digging another hole. Or, you know, Myriam’s imagining things.

I should mention that all faces are blank: again, it’s all part of Miriam’s inability to see properly or straight, and it’s as disquieting and unbalancing as having imperfect vision or an ear infection.

But Miriam’s true isolation will begin when her family begin to suspect she’s gone barmy and she’s ganged up on both by Fred and their daughter Claire, worried that her mother will have to go into a home. Not worried because “Poor Mum”, but because nursing homes are expensive so bang goes her inheritance.

Which is nice.

Coming back to the comedy before I really hit you where it hurts, Fred’s absent-minded sing-songs while clipping the hedge or mowing the lawn are hilarious. He never gets anything quite right: he even comes a cropper when dunking biscuits into tea (more Britishness for you there). Here he mis-croons to the Brotherhood of Man, another perfectly judged ‘period’ reference:

“Kissing for you, keep all my kissings for you,
“Ba ba baby, ba blah.
“I think I felt a drop of rain.”

He’s no longer the solicitous optimist he once was in his youth, dreaming of starting a vegetable garden and planting a cherry tree in order to treat Myriam to fresh cherries in bed. This reverie is catalysed by a box of photos, one of which shows the couple side by side in deckchairs out in the wide world, on a cliff top looking out over the sea and indeed their future life together.

It doesn’t last long.

“I think I felt a drop of rain.
“Oh well, nice day down the drain.”

Fred’s constant “down the drain” refrain is funny to begin with, but decreasingly so, for Brookes’ initially quaint and quirky tail comes with many a sharp edge to it. With real empathy and understanding Brookes evokes the bewilderment, frailty and potential helplessness of being lost or alone in old age, with prospects diminishing rapidly.

It reminds me of Paul Scott’s prose masterpiece ‘Staying On’ (which featured an elderly couple similarly at odds but trying to get by), never more so than in this halting moment, mid-book:

“I’m losing my mind…
“And now I’m losing my sight.
“Who will look after Fred?
“Who will look after me?”

Notice she worries about Fred first.

“Myriam, what are you doing? Come inside now, it’s getting dark.”

The late-evening shadows loom large on the lawn, Fred’s speech balloons capturing his wife in a pincher movement, while Myriam, isolated in her own tiny panel, is left staring into an unknowable future, surrounded by a chasm of black.

“I know.”

SLH

Buy A Thousand Coloured Castles h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos.

Well, this will bring a smile to your umm… oh.

Playful, refreshing and chock full of ideas, rarely has a graphic novel surprised and delighted me so consistently throughout.

Conversationally narrated by our faceless friend – and she is very much our friend – its lightness of touch belies the wealth of what it so deftly addresses, leaving you plenty of headspace to ruminate on your own.

“Let me start with the principal that I am perfect and have a perfect life.”

That’s always good place to start. Appreciate what you’ve got, etc.

“I mean, almost perfect.”

Ah.

“I think I’m quite a normal girl: I like having beers with friends, dancing, you know, but also chilling out at home with a good glass of wine… Exactly like any other girl would describe herself on ‘Getaroom’.”

It’s just that she doesn’t have a face.

She’s not ostracised or anything, although dogs don’t react well and kids, “They don’t have a sensible middle ground, you know?” They’ll either stare and stare or immediately burst into tears. Some babies really do not like beards. Or baldness. Or, evidently, facelessness.

No, Face, as we shall call her (because that’s what her friends do) just hasn’t had much luck with the ladies. She’s feeling a bit lonely, so a friend suggests a thoroughly modern way to meet her match: on a dating app. And that’s where her troubles begin. They just won’t be the troubles you’ll expect.

Wherever you think this will go, it will go somewhere else, so I’m going to keep my summary succinct by leaving it almost there. Almost there, because one of the key elements of dating apps is the mandatory profile picture, and that’s Face seemingly screwed at the very first hurdle. She doesn’t have a profile. She literally does not have a profile – it’s a smooth curve – so she decides to buy some make-up. She’s going to have to really concentrate on the contouring…

Everything about this is inventive: even the lettering won’t conform to the norm. There will even be a startling but ever so clever, universally recognisable Batman reference. Universally recognisable: a bit key, that.

Conforming to the norm is partly what this is about in so many ways, whether it’s society’s expectations, one’s looks, one’s search for a romantic partner or one’s dynamic within a relationship.

There’s so much to consider here from identity and self-perception to symbiosis, gravitation and assimilation. There will be a certain degree of alignment, as is so often the case, but – I cannot repeat this enough – in far from predictable ways! There are also the rules of attraction to consider. Read this again after the graphic novel: oh yes, you’ll see!

Self-castigation will rear its ever so common head; the way we can end up making constant comparisons with the lives of others: their careers, relationships, creative successes, beauty, athleticism, entertainment value and gardening expertise.

We left Face beginning to explore the all-important issue of make-up, didn’t we? Some people firmly and even fervently believe that make-up is superficial, artificial, that in short it’s a sin. Its cost certainly can be.

“I had a look at the pictures of my female contacts on the social network and wow… I was shocked to find out that 75% were using makeup in every single picture, even in ones at the swimming pool at the gym or in bed!!”

But to some of those of us less gifted genetically in the facial department, it’s a playing-field leveller. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t use a little artistry to give myself a leg-up – and get my leg over, to be honest. You bet I wore it in bed! Will our Face do the same? Dilemma!

Told largely in black, white and tone but with some thrilling splashes of colour, on top of all the lateral thinking it’s the timing that impressed me the most with some excellent comedy beats, for example, after the turn of a page.

“I carried on with my life.
“I decided to stop messing around and have a break from the hideous mission of finding a partner. It was about time.
“Furthermore, it couldn’t be that difficult to be on my own and enjoy things like I used to before, right. My job, reading, going to the cinema, you know.”

Good on you, girl! Being single isn’t the end of the world. You don’t need to be in a relationship to feel validated. Enjoy your free rein and reign!

“Just to clarify: I got depressed.”

SLH

Buy Face and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Yet another immediately arresting cover: your eyes cannot help but meet Mara’s as she looks on from an angle at everyone around her, at everything happening around her, in her absence.

With her friends partnering up, she’s been left behind, posting alone on Livejournal, comments: 0.

Livejournal was a thing back then – an unfathomable thing, to be sure, living your whole life online in public – as was MySpace. Campbell captures the naive illusion of privacy to perfection there as well as implying its potential pitfalls should word get around, just as she does the intimacy of Cleo’s genuinely private, hand-doodled diary entries. It’s psychologically spot-on: the questioning, the doubts and self-doubts, and the way in which, in a letter to yourself, you can meanderingly think your worries through on the page in the hope of a better future, or as a means of self-justification.

It’s all so completely credible that this series’ comparatively low profile is a crime.

A much thicker book than previously, this third volume of ruminative WET MOON – featuring often strained friendships between young and so understandably insecure, individualistic punky girls experimenting with their hair, faces, bodies and each other in a southern college campus – grows kinder in places, in others even more ominous with a missing cat, stalking and daydreams of extreme, psychotic violence.

Also, one terrible, totally unexpected betrayal that will have you screaming: “Noooooooo!”

This time round I re-write that with hindsight (especially the “daydreams of extreme, psychotic violence”) for the original editions of WET MOON have already reached volume six and if you think you can wait another three or four months for the next re-issue after this, well, I admire your seemingly limitless self-control. If you can’t (and you can’t) then we have the equally delicious earlier editions of volumes 4, 5 and 6 still in stock. Only the covers are different.

So yes, Trilby, with her Tank Girl quiff, certainly grows kinder during the course of this volume, although to begin with she’s in familiarly unfaithful form, dissing her best friend Cleo to her new boyfriend Martin as a far from ideal best friend, thereby proving herself to be a far from ideal best friend.

But then the now-adorable Cleo – who wouldn’t just not hurt a fly, she would pamper it – wasn’t always such a considerate soul during High School. There’s a flashback followed by further recollections and self-recriminations which makes that abundantly clear. But then I did type “psychologically spot-on”: some of us were monsters when young.

Amongst other truths of youth: bonding over bands and tattoos, embarrassment over enthusiasms you sequester even from your friends; the sharing of secrets, the betrayal of secrets; and not quite knowing if you’re going out with someone or not. Hoping desperately that you are, but not wanting to fuck things up with presumption or the first move, this is tentative to a T:

“So… um, am I really your girl?”
“What?”
“Like… You said… You said I was your girl.”
“I did? When?”
“When… Um, when I met your band…? You said, like… you introduced me as your girl…?”
“Oh… yeah. I dunno…”
“Well, I…”
“You wanna be?”
“What…?”
“Do you wanna be my girl?”

You’ll have to wait for the turn of a page.

“Oh… Um, I… I dunno… maybe… yes?”
“Good enough for me. Heh.”

The ecstasy and adoration in Cleo Lovedrop’s bright eyes!

And that’s another reason why I consider it a crime that the profile of WET MOON isn’t bigger. Long before THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, SAGA et al, Campbell’s WET MOON was all-inclusive. Sexuality, the diversity of skin colour and body forms… it’s all here without either judgement, proselytising or indeed any indication that those were anything but the norm, thereby evaporating the very idea of the norm.

Here Campbell’s art evolves once more. Trilby’s collar bones are so skinny that you can pinch them and physically feel them between your fingers, and the freckles right down her back are sublime.

Campbell experiments in flashback by leaving out certain tones, delivering more delicate lines throughout in spite of extreme tendonitis, and giving Cleo absolutely enormous, smitten eyes like pools of liquid love.

There’s a scene in which Cleo and Audrey finally confide in each other in bed, in the dark, late at night. Instead of Cleo’s eyes bouncing with reflected light which isn’t there, they are instead great big orbs of open, trusting grey.

Exceptional!

SLH

Buy Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are corrupt police officers.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are hilariously inept.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are in debt to the wrong guy.

Detectives Roy Garney and Mac Brundo are in way over their heads.

Previously in THE FIX VOL 1… Look, it’s an extensive review and you’d be far better served reading that.

I’ll just reiterate that Spencer and Lieber present you with a series of expectations – not least of which is that no one could be more inappropriate than Mac and Roy – then confound them, royally, at every comedic corner over and over again.

It’s actually everyone’s blithe, deadpan openness and honesty about their awfulness that’s funniest.

Off camera Los Angeles’ Mayor Kincaid could not be less statesmanlike. Even on camera he’s being outrageous behind the podium. Learn which celebrity items of interest sell best on e-bay, especially if they’re dead! Then wish you hadn’t. Discover how cookery-mad local crime lord Josh achieves his centre during yoga. Hey, everyone had a different equilibrium, right?

Police partners Roy and Mac have been separated by this point: Roy’s dealing with the death of the celebutard he was hired to bodyguard; Mac’s been assigned to airport customs duty and a drug-sniffing beagle called Pretzels but charged by Josh with letting certain traffickers through.

 

Unfortunately Pretzels is less inept and more devoted to his job than Mac.

“Uh, Detective Brundo, it’s Anne…
“We got a young male, acting suspicious and Middle Eastern in the customs line.”

SLH

Buy The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Thunder Brother Special (£4-50) by Paul Rainey…

“I bet I would look well suspicious with all these new clothes if Soap Division hadn’t set up that fake part-time job in a supermarket for me.”
“Sally, I need to talk to you.”
“I’m sorry… do I know you…?”
“I know you. I need you to liaise with Soap Division for me urgently.”
“Thing is, I have to be back for my tea by five or I’ll be in trouble for being late.”

“Okay… meet me in the cafe by the lake tomorrow morning at eleven… or your parents will learn all about how it really is that their daughter can afford to pay for all that shopping.”

Perhaps you have always secretly believed that soap opera characters were real…? Okay, you probably haven’t, but then that means this unlikeliest of premises will plough a fictional furrow less err… ploughed. Then firmly trampled all over.

Yes, Paul Rainey returns with another peculiarly British farcical romp following on from his superb time-twisting nerd-nonsense THERE’S NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT and his wickedly satirical skewering strips in his POPE FRANCIS GOES TO THE DENTIST and TALES TO DIMINISH. Actually, this very much feels an extended version of one of his crackpot strips, which is great because they usually leave me wanting more!

Soap Division is the covert organisation that records the ‘real’ lives of all the myriad TV characters for your guilty viewing pleasure. In addition, they fulfil the vital role of ensuring the soap worlds are never sullied by the unsuspecting viewers themselves. Obviously it’s a nigh on impossible task, one that teenager Sally now finds herself utterly mired in as apprentice to the chief Soap Division security officer himself, the implausibly named Thunder Brother. It’s completely madness, clearly, but let’s face it, all soaps are totally insane condensed parodies of real life, so this neatly squares the lunacy factor and in doing so makes it infinitely more enjoyable than an episode of Emmerdale could ever be..!

JR

Buy Thunder Brother Special and read the Page 45 review here

 

Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu…

“How many men are left on the face of this planet? A mere handful of what once was. Beasts who do nothing but butcher each other… Soon humanity will be too scarce to even propagate itself…”
“I think I can guess the next part…”
“Shut up…”

Adapted from a story by acclaimed French science fiction author, Éliane Taïeb, writing under one of her two pseudonyms (the other being Gilles Thomas), this dystopian road trip is a bloody tale of dogged determination, perseverance against seemingly insurmountable odds and the unslakeable thirst for reviews… I mean revenge! Sorry, it all sounded like the weekly slog to get the Page 45 reviews written for a moment there…

As a young woman on the relatively idyllic isle of Porquerolles, Helene’s life is irrevocably shattered when marauding raiders slaughter her parents and kidnap her younger sister. From that moment on, her only concern is to find and rescue her sibling, whom she believes has been taken to the ruined city of Paris. As a woman travelling the overgrown, crumbling highways of France alone, there is horrific danger lurking everywhere. Eventually she finds some trustworthy travelling companions willing to accompany her on her odyssey for mysterious reasons of their own. As Paris looms on the horizon, the personal peril factor only escalates ever more dramatically for Helene. Ooh la la…

An enjoyable Humanoids speculative fiction romp that has enough post-apocalyptic elements of the likes of Mad Max to make it entertaining without remotely hitting the levels of storytelling sophistication of, say, LAZARUS. I thought the main characters were very well realised though and the reveal regarding the great catastrophe, apparently involving a motif common to many of Verlanger’s works, was a nice touch.

The art from Zhang Xiaoya may be familiar to fans of the CRUSADES, also published by Humanoids a few years ago. It’s a touch more rugged on the linework than some Humanoids’ art, but it aptly suits this particular story.

JR

Buy Savage Highway h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison, Mathieu Lauffray. & Mathieu Lauffray.

“I don’t understand any of this shit, but that’s nothing new.”

Possibly inspired by the extraordinary 1995 south-east Turkey Göebekli Tepe archaeological find of elaborately carved monuments erected around 9,500 BC which dwarf Stonehenge’s and predate them by some 7,000 years (and were built by hunter-gatherers – the stats are quite stunning), this visually impressive but unhinged graphic novel begins high up in the Himalayas in 2006 with Professor Jack Stanton of Miskatonic University and Professor Alexander Kandel discovering something they shouldn’t.

The Sanctuary is 2,600 high, carved from granite over 16,000 feet above sea level, “at an altitude where you can barely breathe without an oxygen mask”. Vast, demonic statues surround a sphere.

Professor Kandel’s desperate, dying words are a fervent wish the world never know!

Four months later and the surviving Professor Stanton has not only gone and written an entire book on it (typing with astonishing alacrity – even Methedrine has its limits) provocatively titled ‘Ante Genesem’, but is publicising it along with his exhibition on national television, claiming that this discovery could change life as we know it. Not our historical perspective, but the entire world.

And it does, in a way which I won’t give away, but everything quickly goes tits-up after an ocean liner crashes into Manhattan, mounting its shores to thrust its way through several sky scrapers. Fleeing by car, Jack goes splat through a bridge and into a primeval world of gigantic trees sporting skulls the size of two-storey buildings whose hollow eye sockets have been poked through with spears.

Some of this world’s denizens are deeply unpleasant. Also, Jack finds himself with a bleeding tattoo.

That’s not some sort of low-key British swear, it’s a glowing tattoo what bleeds.

A lot of Biblical splish-splosh (and one year) later and I think he’s back in Manhattan which has risen thousands of feet from the sea, only to find himself further pursued by a blood-red bat-demon and a floating airship filled with crusaders who consider him a prophet. Which, as I like to say (possibly overly often), is where we came in.

“I don’t understand any of this shit, but that’s nothing new.”

Now, there is a key element in the plot that allows for all kinds of fantastical doings, but what I don’t understand is how Jack – who is a professor – seeks to rationalise any of this palaver more than a couple of panels after the initial GTA Insane Jump from the Manhattan bridge into florageddon. Nor can I comprehend how he appears to have an unlimited supply of unbent cigarettes at his command and an unblemished A5 photo in his smaller-than-A5 back pocket.

Not only that, but from a Professor:

“The Sanctuary far surpassed, in both horror and scale, our most deeply-buried fears. It has been there for thousands of years. Perhaps millions, even.”

Thousands or millions – do make your mind up – that’s quite a leap in scale.

It’s a very long journey. It’s a very long book. I didn’t come close to finishing it.

Bored!

Weak narrative tension full of credibility-eroding gaffs which put me in mind of SIBERIA 56 about which I was even more lacerating. Because we have to be honest, you know, or you won’t trust us when we big-up what we love.

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Briggs Land vol 1: State Of Grace s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Mack Chater, Tula Lotay

Ganges vol 6 (£6-99, Fantagraphics) by Kevin Huizenga

Hellboy: Into The Silent Sea h/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola & Gary Gianni

One Hundred Demons h/c (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry

Revival vol 8: Stay Just A Little Bit Longer (£13-99, Image) by Tim Seeley & Mike Norton

Simply Samuel h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Tommi Musturi

The Filth s/c (£17-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & Chris Weston

The Hunt s/c (£13-99, Image) by Colin Lorimer

The Secret Of Black Rock h/c (£11-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton

Wild Animals Of The South h/c (£20-00, Flying Eye Books) by Dieter Braun

Witchfinder vol 4: City Of The Dead (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Ben Stenbeck, Julian Totino Tedesco

All-Star Batman vol 1: My Own Worst Enemy h/c (Rebirth) (£22-99, DC) by Scott Snyder & John Romita

Batman vol 10: Epilogue s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes & Greg Capullo, various

Superman Action Comics vol 2: Welcome To The Planet s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens & Patrick Zircher, various

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette

Black Panther vol 3: A Nation Under Our Feet s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Sprouse

Captain America: Sam Wilson vol 4: #takebacktheshield s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Paul Renaud, Angel Unzueta

Ghost Rider By Daniel Way: The Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Richard Corben

Scarlet Witch vol 3: Final Hex s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by James Robinson & various

Assassination Classroom vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Fairy Tail vol 58 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Tokyo Ghoul vol 12 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week two

April 12th, 2017

Collecting Sticks h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie.

First 50 copies come with the wittiest of free, signed bookplates designed by Joe Decie exclusively for Page 45!

Three things you should know about Joe Decie: he’s extremely decisive, fiercely practical, and always learns his lesson.

Glastonbury Festival 2003, 6:00am in the rain:
“I never want to go camping again.”

Cornwall 2012, 6:00am after a sleepless night of nocturnal, outdoor ablutions:
“I never want to go camping again.”

Back home in Hove, they’ve decided to go camping again.

This time it will be the entire Decie household – Joe, Steph and their young son, Sam – but they’re going to do it differently because not enough water has gone under the bridge for Steph. Too much of it went over the tarpaulin sheets. No, this time they are going to go “glamping”: glamorous camping sequestered in the woods, with real beds in a wooden shack with a wooden shed adjacent for those necessary nocturnal ablutions. It may or may not have a lock.

“Sounds expensive.”
“Oh it is… It costs more than a hotel.”
“Ah well maybe we should have a think.”
“I’ve booked it.”

Right, so it’s Steph who’s decisive.

 

Sam, meanwhile, has inherited his Dad’s DNA when it comes to preparation and practicality. Charged with packing his own town-bound suitcase for a stint in the countryside, top of the list is sticks. Lots of sticks. In the countryside, you will need sticks.

It’s time to come clean: Joe Decie is the most impractical man alive. You’ll discover this later when he’s building a fire, but they’ve got to get there first and you should see him navigating. Not for Joe, the dictatorial directions of an AA Route Planner. Oh, he’ll print it out, but when lost in its precision at a critical juncture, why not resort to the hard-science roll of D-20 die? It’s better than asking the locals: that would be publicly admitting private incompetence.

But never say Joe doesn’t come fully prepared with precisely the right equipment: he’s brought along graph paper and a very specific edition of a D&D rule book called ‘Lost In The Countryside’. They’ll be there by next Tuesday, latest.

 

Welcome to the uniquely mischievous, autobiographical world of Joe Decie, creator of previous Page 45 best-sellers POCKET FULL OF COFFEE, I BLAME GRANDMA, THE LISTENING AGENT, THERE’S NO BATH IN THIS BATHROOM and most recently DOGS DISCO which was packed so full of joyous sleights of hand that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month. When I heralded that last one as “the return of the pint-sized prankster”, Joe immediately fired back to his followers on Twitter, “I’m really quite tall, you know”.

He’d fit comfortably into your pocket.

Verisimilitude is Joe Decie’s forte.

His pen and ink-wash passion is for portraits which are so instantly recognisable from panel to panel as such individual, living, breathing human beings that you are conned into what becomes a joyfully shared connivance that everything you see on the page actually occurs.

Normally I wouldn’t dream of pulling back the proverbial curtain like this, for so often what is seen cannot be unseen and what is learned cannot be unlearned. But Decie’s ever so wicked stream of seemingly limitless conjuring tricks is so seamless, so involving, that however many times I have been fooled before by the first three panels of a four-panel, confessional, family-orientated gag strip, I still accept every word of what he writes in the next one as absolute truth, because there is so much of it in there.

Who knew that Coney Island was so close to Kendal?

I promise, however, that you will still read this ridiculous, extended family dysfunction as straight-up fact, then smile in hilarious hindsight, so here is another thing: I’ve met Joe Decie on several occasions and it still all seems just as plausible. He is a buffoon, a mischievous imp with constantly twinkling eyes.  It doesn’t hurt, however, that he hits every single nail of behavioural observation on its universally recognisable head. From The Dance of the Wasp Attack to treating reality like it’s the virtual reality of a console game and the side effects of social media.

 

My closest comparison would be Eddie Campbell’s equally impractical ALEC. Make what you will of the fact that I’ve previously declared that particular book the greatest body of work in comics.

Just as when Eddie Campbell begins a family in ALEC, his kids start providing so much of the material, so attention-span-lacking Sam’s obsession with sticks and Star Wars and his wonderfully wonky worldview – jettisoned liberally and seemingly apropos nothing – are mined for maximum mirth.

“Do you believe in the olden days?” is a gem in its own right.

But the confident follow-up that “In the ‘80s they used spears” tells you everything you need to know about a youngster’s sense of scale. Anyway, it’s time for bed.

“Daddy doesn’t like Jango Fett but I do.”
“Sam, you need to start thinking about things other than Star Wars.”
“Hmm?”
“There’s more to life than Star Wars.”
“Yes. So tomorrow I will play Star Wars and make a blaster out of…”
“There are other things you can enjoy.”
“Elephants?”
“Yes, elephants.”

On the following page Steph brings a bottle of wine outside to Joe: “That boy. He’s a one.”

Joe: “I know. Jango Fett! Honestly.”

As a result of the discipline involved in previously producing so many one-page punchline comics – often preceded by multiple other winks and parenthetical asides – COLLECTING STICKS has more comedy beats than almost any other graphic novel in existence. I’m not even sure about the “almost” but John Allison’s work, much of which was similarly created for daily, on-line dissemination in page-sized bites, is probably the closest contender. In addition, this longer form allows Decie to vary the beats and reprise jokes throughout, and he’s littered this book with cumulative comedy like his penchant for cluttering up any and every spare space with foraged bits and bobs (the more broken the better) and his constant, incurable worrying:

“You should give it a try. Stop reading this for a bit, and have a go, have a worry.”

Four pages of lunch-orientated ‘live action’ later:

“Oh, how was your worrying? Did you manage to make a mountain out of a mole hill? Amazing, eh?”

This conversational commentary – either on his own funny foibles or directly engaging the reader – forms a secondary, parallel narrative dancing about outside of the panels, never once tripping over or intruding too far. It’s like a DVD extra, except that those audio commentaries eclipse the dialogue, interrupting your ability to hear what is said and so follow the thread, whereas here they are in complementary harmony in the wonderful world of comics.

Oh yes, it’s all part of the rich and intricate language unique to this medium of comics, and although others might garble their words or jabber on way too long, Joe Decie is effortlessly fluent.

Everything here is so well judged, from when to let a line linger on its own merits to the balance of light and dark on a twin set of pages. And they are all exquisitely beautiful pages which will compel you if not to go glamping then to at least seek out your nearest beach, stream or woodland in order to follow its trails and forage for vintage goods like discarded candy-bar wrappers which might make you a mint in the future on e-bay.

As my book of the year – yes, my book of the year – this is going to take some beating.

So I’d snap up those signed bookplates ASAP.

SLH

Buy Collecting Sticks Page 45 Signed Bookplate Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd-Stanton.

I love a good quest, and this is a most excellent quest involving Thor, Odin and Fenrir, the enormous, sable-coated wolf sired by the trickster god, Loki. It is ever so black and bad tempered!

Rich in the warmest of colours and with a superb sense of scale, HILDA fans are going to lap this up; ZELDA fans too because young Arthur is essentially an Icelandic Zelda, addicted to exploration and a certain degree of pilfering, forever adding artefacts to his arsenal of treasured possessions.

This includes the Hand of Time, an actual hand (a bit creepy!) which Arthur once discovered high up in an ancient tower, sat on an ancient stone column at the top of some ancient stone steps and bathed from behind in moonlight cascading though a window in the shape of a stopped clock. I imagine Arthur must have successfully interpreted this clue before whipping it away, for the Hand of Time has the power to freeze anyone who touches it – which is a neat piece of self-defence, when you think about it.

It’s probably best to use gloves.

Arthur’s also adept at making friends in high places, like the mighty red rooster Wind Weaver, nested towards the top of even more ancient, tall, craggy cliffs. Such was Arthur’s fortitude and determination that he managed to climb that nigh-vertical escarpment and return to Wind Weaver her missing egg, against all odds unbroken.

He also once rescued a cat from a tree.

Arthur is going to need to summon all his courage and command his quickest of wits, however, in this daring quest to restore fire to his otherwise frozen town after its gigantic brazier is knocked down and extinguished by Fenrir. I told you it had a bad temper.

To be honest, the townsfolk aren’t that much better, especially the adults. They scowled at Arthur and his adventures, his trophies and trinkets and the little goblin folk who followed him in rootin’, tootin’ celebration after he mediated an end to their war with the fairies. But, battered by Fenrir’s assault, the citizens are sure going to need our young Arthur now, for the only way to restore fire to the town’s brazier is to curry the favour of Thor, and the only way to curry Thor’s favour is to help him defeat the five-hundred-foot Fenrir.

For this meticulous Arthur will need three things: to capture a cat’s footfall, to snip off the roots of a mountain, and remember old lessons learned.

The Asgardians have tried to vanquish the beast by themselves, but Fenrir nearly squished Frejja, barely missed breaking Baldr between its teeth and successfully bit poor Tyr’s arm off. Can frail Arthur triumph where the mighty gods have failed?

In every all-ages / young-readers’ great graphic novel there must be certain things present including wit, rules and exploration for eyes.

Oh, you tut at the term “rules” but I didn’t write that they couldn’t be broken! What I mean is that a child will see through any gaps in narrative logic just as easily as an adult would, and might even be far less forgiving. They are ever so astute! This is a beauty, so casually foreshadowing whatever will follow so that its pay-off is perfect and caught me completely by surprise. But it’s all there! All of it!

The wit lies both in the background details, the denouement above, and in the keep-them-guessing intrigue which is scattered throughout. How can Arthur possibly capture a cat’s footfall? It’s insane! And a mountain doesn’t have any roots: that had me stumped.

As to the eye-candy, there are maps – yes, maps! – and so many pages which reward real inspection, from old-duffer Brownstone’s armchair introduction contrasted with his hours-later adieu (look at what’s happened to those bookshelves behind him in the intervening time!) to the mapped-out meandering’s of Arthur’s double-page sea-voyage. There tiny fingers will love to trace the serpentine path of our diminutive hero’s trials and tribulations past pirate ships and old beardy Neptune, through the coils of undulating sea monsters and battling a giant squid which is ever so intent on wrestling Arthur’s oars from him.

Then there’s beardy Brownstone’s initial, proud appearance inside his family vault of exotic heirlooms bathed in a spotlight. Young eyes are immediately invited to scan every shadow-strewn corner for curiosities: there are chests and chalices, a deep-sea diving suit, skulls and statues, a one-eyed owl, things floating in jars, swords, stones, and swords in stones. Oh wait – I think the second one is stuck in a giant eyeball!

There are swords stuck everywhere in Valhalla’s hall. Can you find them all?

I mentioned Todd-Stanton’s sense of scale – vital for making a quest like this seem as daunting as possible – and it’s everywhere from the fearsome Fenrir who towers over the brazier, and the brazier itself, so vast that it looms large in comparison to the rest of the town when seen from afar. On that very same shot, so high in the sky, you’ll spy that ancient tower which housed The Hand of Time and, on the mountainside opposite, Wind Weaver perched on her nest. Furthermore, Arthur may be small when standing beside adults and smaller still in Thor’s imposing presence, but compared to the goblin folk he’s a giant.

Finally we come to the gods’ hall library and it is as vast as vast can be. Poor Arthur most read every dusty tome in his research for find the roots of a mountain. You can see him scampering up ladders, balancing books on his head, receiving a nasty surprise, but if you look really, really carefully…

I love it. I love this to bits.

SLH

Buy Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop…

“Eagle slowly rose toward Columbia. Collins and Aldrin coordinated the approach whilst Armstrong piloted Eagle.
“They came back together at about the same altitude where they had separated, in a stable orbit 60 miles above the moon’s surface.
“Collins and Armstrong had just pulled off a flight manoeuvre that no one in history had ever done before.
“NASA Mission Control read them congratulations from leaders all over the world, but the only thing Collins cared about was seeing Armstrong and Aldrin getting back into Columbia.
“There would be time for congratulations and reflections later.”

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Two names you will have almost certainly heard of. But can you name the third man in the Apollo 11 crew? Who orbited round and round the moon all by his lonesome, another first in itself, completely out of contact from the rest of humanity for long swathes of time whilst the dynamic duo forever placed their footprints in history on July 20, 1969. Probably not. Well, this is Michael Collins’ story and an insight into his unique perspective on the Apollo 11 mission.

Firstly, he never regarded himself as history’s nearly man, despite admitting he ‘didn’t have the best seat’ in the Apollo 11 module. Possibly partly because he wasn’t even initially on the rotation for Apollo 11, but he ended up getting a seat due to getting bumped from an earlier launch, as he required neck surgery to correct an injury sustained during Gemini 10’s splashdown. (A mission during which he also made history by becoming the first person to spacewalk to another orbiting vehicle.) I have no idea which astronaut he in turn effectively replaced from the intended rotation for Apollo 11, but they probably have more to feel aggrieved about!

Still, given the 1967 disaster that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White in a fire during a launch test of the Apollo capsule, Collins, like most astronauts, was well aware of the inherent risks of their chosen profession. Which almost certainly factored into his surprising, if circumspect, decision to not return to space after piloting Apollo 11 safely back to terra firma. Well a splashdown in the ocean, but you get my point. Even given that he would have been assured of a lead seat on a subsequent moon mission meaning he would have finally got his chance to walk on the lunar surface.

He simply decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children and have a normal life again. Given the subsequent dramatic events of the Apollo 13 mission, I’m sure both he and his family felt he’d made the right decision! After briefly dabbling in politics he settled into his new dream job as Director Of The Smithsonian Air And Space Museum. Where a certain capsule occupied pride of place in the museum’s collection, right inside the front door!

The facts are very nicely presented, if a touch perfunctorily, in this small landscape hardcover edition. The cover art, all black interstellar background punctuated with splashes of white stars and purple shading of a suited-up astronaut, with a bit of explicative overlaid narration, is exactly what you’ll get throughout. It’s a really clean, simple style entirely appropriate for this historical / biographical snapshot. Where you get a bit a technical explanation it’s often presented as white on a purple background which gives it the feel of old-school technical drawings.

This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of someone who has experienced an entirely different perspective on our planet that very few others have. As he surmises below, perhaps a little naively though entirely well intentioned, it’s a vista that inevitably and irrevocably widens one’s philosophical and political outlook…

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its sub-divisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogenous treatment. The Earth must become as it appears; blue and white, not Capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue or white, not envious or envied.”

JR

Buy The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage, Art Baltazar…

“Well?! Whadya think?”
“I dunno. How come I’m not in it?”
“Oh, don’t you worry, dude… I come to your rescue in the second issue.”

Haha, that is so wonderfully meta. Probably my favourite strip from this collection, both artistically and in terms of the story, sees Finn and Billy (BIIILLLLYYY!!!) teaming up to rescue Princess Bubblegum from the Lich. The reveal is that it is in fact the first issue of the very homemade Savage Sword Of Finn! Not sure that Jake’s particularly impressed, mind! Also, when we finally catch a glimpse of one of Finn’s own crayoned panels, it certainly isn’t up to the real Greg Smallwood’s standards who actually created this particular strip!

This is a most mathematical selection of shorts from a truly wide spread of talent in terms of artistic sensibilities. Actually, Finn’s upping-the-base-ante comment “Hexadecimal!” in one strip did make me chuckle. But then given practically everyone in the world is an ADVENTURE TIME fan, and one million years dungeon for you if you’re not, I’m sure they didn’t have any problems getting people to work on this gig. Thus we have the likes of Tony SOCK MONKEY Millionaire, Box TETRIS Brown, Art SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES Baltazar and Marguerite DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS Sauvage giving us their take on Ooo’s finest.

Art by Baltazar

 

Art by Marguerite Sauvage

I’ll have to come clean at this point, though, I actually started this anthology with only mild enthusiasm, just because I much prefer the long-form original Adventure Time graphic novels, or OGNs in comics parlance, like PIXEL PRINCESSES, MASKED MAYHEM, FOUR CASTLES, PLAYING WITH FIRE, BRAIN ROBBERS, BITTER SWEETS and GRAYBLES SCHMAYBLES over the ongoing title and thus I foolishly thought this would be an inferior offering. Instead, it’s like getting a whopping 16, count ‘em, 16 graybles!!  The parsimonious Cuber only ever gives us five at a time, so this was a real treat!

The tales mainly feature Finn & Jake, BMO, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline but there are of course many an appearance from the likes of Lumpy Space Princess and Ice King. Still waiting for Lemongrab to squeeze in his acerbic moment of glory in the comics but maybe he’ll get his own OGN at some point!

Words by Kelly Thompson, art by Savanna Ganucheau

Art by Greg Smallwood

Some of the yarns are as totally daft as a clapped-out toilet brush, others very sweet and moving, just like the show can be. A very well rounded selection, my compliments to the editors. It probably won’t win any new Adventure Time fans, but with the sad news of the impending end of the show, hopefully the comics will keep on flowing for some time to come.

JR

Buy Adventure Time Comics and read the Page 45 review here

Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston…

“It’s not too late to stop. Simply close this magazine. Seal it in plastic and never open it again!”
“No? Still here? Very well… There is no turning back now. Welcome then…”

Jeff! Why did I doubt you?! This is the best opening salvo to a superhero series I have read in a very long time. At least two Marvel non-reboots and a DC existential Crisis… I guess perhaps I was just a touch underwhelmed by PLUTONA which never really seemed to find its feet and I foolishly expected this to be more of the same. I’m currently enjoying his OLD MAN LOGAN and finding his MOON KNIGHT brilliantly baffling for Marvel, but this is on an entirely different level.

Basically because he’s entirely freed from their corporate constraints to get really out there with the capes and tights genre in terms of his typical cast of emotionally tortured characters á la ESSEX COUNTY, DESCENDER and his new monthly ROYAL CITY. It therefore has far more in comparison with the likes of Kurt Busiek’s ASTRO CITY with Jeff’s own prodigious talent for writing imperfectly formed people whisked into the mix. I note Charles Soule has commented in a pull quote on the rear cover that this “… feels like a superhero story through an X-Files lens: it’s strange and melancholy and real.” I think that’s an excellent, very accurate summation.

Here Jeff’s constructed a team of dysfunctional superheroes and villains stuck out in the literal, metaphorical and possibly metaphysical boondocks on a tiny farm on the outskirts of a remote, rural American small town. Well, town is pushing it, frankly. It’s little more than a farming community. And when I say stuck, I really mean stuck, STRANGEHAVEN-style. Our gang of bickering chums have been desperately trying to leave for the last ten years without success, mysteriously confined to their utterly dull locale, forced to live entirely in their secret identities. Well, those of them that can pass for human, that is; the others are forced to spend their days cooped out of sight in the barn…

So who are they and how did they land there from their hallowed home of Spiral City? Well, each one of them is a pastiche of / homage to a classic character, or composites thereof. Golden Gail, now pension age, but forever young as a nine-year-old girl having to go to school to keep up appearances is a nod to Mary Batson of the Shazam family. Markkon Markken the Barbalien, Warlord from Mars, firmly in the closet and masquerading as a human police detective will be instantly recognisable as the classic original J’onn J’onzz, Martian Manhunter. Puny Abraham Slam, transformed into a Super Soldier by allied scientists, well I bet you can guess… And so it goes roguishly, lovingly on.

How they got to the back of beyond, and then some, was as a result of yet another selfless act of daring-do, facing down the near omnipotent Anti-God (think Darkseid, basically!) in a climatic showdown in the very heart of Spiral City. During which they – and several villains who, realising the seriousness of the situation, also pitched in to help – were presumed to have been totally obliterated. Including their leader, Joseph Weber, the titular Black Hammer… However, there are those in Spiral City who steadfastly believe the supes are merely missing and haven’t given up hope of their eventual triumphant return. Not all of our gang of exiles share their confidence, mind you, which isn’t perhaps surprising after a decade of despair.

Thus for most of them, it’s like being trapped in a living hell, though some like Abraham Slam, playing the grandfatherly role of the head of household, are even beginning to find some degree of happiness within the confines of their current existence. What is a total puzzle, mind, is the whereabouts of Black Hammer himself, who is neither with his colleagues nor in Spiral City. Now given he is clearly meant to be a homage to Thor, and thinking very specifically about one of mighty Mjölnir’s powers, let’s just say I have a theory about precisely where he, and they, might be…

Barnsley’s finest, Dean BODIES / NORTHLANDERS / LUCIFER Ormston, is apparently someone Jeff has wanted to work with for a while since seeing his stint on BOOKS OF MAGICK: LIFE DURING WARTIME (really would like that to be recollected). His fine, flicky lines, which in my sliding scale of artists seems to sit somewhere just between Faryl THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple and Guy BPRD Davis, are perfect for this unsettling tale. As ever, colourist Dave Stewart, then applies his own vibrant brand of spectral genius to finish the pages off to perfection. I’m tempted to go as far as to say, if you only read one superhero title currently, make it this one.

JR

Buy Black Hammer vol 1: Secret Origins s/c and read the Page 45 review here

We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.

The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.

Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. Talk about Fake News! We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so there’s convenient, eh?

Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one.

 

During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs are blown off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…

“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”

Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.

She’s all alone in the Canadian, snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper, but she’s about to have company, not necessarily any of it good.

I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable. But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit within their environment.

What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.

Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… It brings the horror all home, hopefully.

 

So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.

What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, and will come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.

SLH

Buy We Stand On Guard s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others.

Previously: CIVIL WAR. Wow, that was succinct.

Now that the team of Avengers which Iron Man used to finance have gone underground, hiding from the law that’s made them illegal (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3 for their constant harassment by Stark), he’s building his own team afresh, overtly to fight the good fight but also to undercut any claim to the name that the others might have, thereby undermining their legitimacy.

It’s exactly what Andrew von Eldritch did with the 1986 ‘Sisterhood’ LP, snatching the name from under the noses of his ex-bandmates before legally reclaiming the Sisters Of Mercy moniker for himself.

Unfortunately within five seconds of assembling the new team from its more conservative veterans, Iron Man has his firewalls breached by A.I. enemy Ultron, and is transformed into a metallic facsimile of The Wasp (it’s all in their somewhat Oedipal history) which then proceeds to weaponise the weather, detonate an EMP and distract the individually effective but collectively unaccustomed-to-each-other Avengers into confronting it head-on.

Ares, God of War and the very essence of male pride / presumption, needs little such goading, but in the end it is he who nudges things in a more production direction which – thanks to the Wasp’s ex-husband and Ultron-creator Hank Pym – involves a Commodore Sixty-Four.

Yes, this was Bendis’ version of old-school AVENGERS, which is to say it was about the wider dysfunctional family that has grown over the years, but with a modern sensibility and dry, caustic wit.

He even brought back the thought bubbles which are cleverly employed for dramatic and often comedic purposes to contradict what individuals’ internal editors actually let out of their mouths.

Frank Cho’s art is sleek and sexy, particularly his seamlessly jointed Iron Man armours (there will be many), but not so sexy as to be overly objectifying. Evidently as this point he still listened to editors.

It took him forever, however, to draw so by the time ‘Venom Bomb’ came along the book was running so far behind its sister title, NEW AVENGERS that the SECRET INVASION was rapidly approaching, its sub-plot boiling over, and I’m going to be careful what I adapt or redact from previous reviews for what follows.

‘Venom Bomb’ was drawn by Mark Bagely.

What is a Venom Bomb, I hear you ask? It’s a biological weapon that turns everyone into raging Symbiotes. It went off by mistake, but it came from Latveria.

Iron Man: “You are a horror.”
Dr. Doom: “A lot more people hate you than hate me.”

Not far from the truth at the time for, post-CIVIL WAR, Tony Stark had become commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. aka S.I.N.K.I.N.G.S.H.I.P. and the futurist had become damned as an untrustworthy reactionary.

In some ways Bagley’s style seemed too plastic for this title, but there were some very clever tricks when Iron Man and Doom start time travelling. It’s a tradition they share when on the same page. Just as you might meet a particular friend and decide that it has to be tapas because that’s what you do together, every time Tony and Victor von D find themselves in the same panel it inevitably ends on Doom’s Time Platform.

In this instance they end up in Manhattan during a period when Marvel comics were coloured with Ben-Day dots and advertised their other titles at the bottom of each page with sentences like “What’s it like to be a living vampire? Find out in the pages of FEAR – because only Morbius knows”. Each of these pages, then, is coloured in Ben-Day dots (a trick Kaare Andrews went on to incorporate in the raging RENATO JONES), features similar slogans and a nod to Bob Layton’s Iron Man inking over John Romita Jr. circa those original time-travelling travails (to Camelot!).

Also, the exposition in Doom’s thought bubbles neatly takes the piss out traditional exposition in the word balloons, whereby a villain reveals all and so gives their adversaries the upper hand.

The second half of this all-in-one-edition consists of short stories taking place during, after or even before SECRET INVASION (for extra, painful dramatic irony). They were drawn by the likes of Maleev, Cheung and John Romita Jr. before Marvel ran out of adequate artists and printed pap instead.

There was, however, an elegy in an epilogue which by far the finest chapter in this half, as a funeral is held for one of the original Avengers who fell during SECRET INVASION.

Regrets, recriminations and for one bad man an uncharacteristically quiet satisfaction that he finally has everyone exactly where he’s long wanted them: under his heel or his thumb.

SLH

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

X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Len Wein with Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford & Dave Cockrum, John Byrne with Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga.

Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Sunfire and Warpath join Cyclops as a new team of mutants is coerced by Professor X into rescuing the other original members of the X-Men who left on a school outing without proper adult supervision and ended up in a terrible accident on an island. Well, in an island.

It was hungry.

Actually the original X-Men are adults by this point, as are ex-X-villain Banshee, Sunfire (who promptly flounces out with a pout of Japanese nationalistic pride), and of course Wolverine who was already pushing 100, though looking remarkably spry on it. Alas, in those 100 years he had yet to learn any social skills whatsofuckingever.

Of the originals only Cyclops remains, wailing about responsibility of wearing spectacles, though Jean will be back pretty pronto and regret it almost immediately.

This 500-page, full-colour whopper reprints GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1, X-MEN #94 to #110, IRON FIST #14-15, MARVEL TEAM-UP #53, 69-70, ANNUAL #1 with Wolverine only appearing on six of those eighteen X-MEN covers.

That’s an extraordinary observation from a current perspective, but back then it was Cockrum on covers, as well as most of the insides, and Cockrum was all about Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler who here discovers that he has the ability to blend into shadows. Cockrum wasn’t remotely interested in Wolverine, a character so new to readers that they knew nothing of his back-story, let alone that there was a century of it to come.

As far as Logan’s concerned these are the first friends he’s ever had, and he doesn’t even like them very much. He certainly doesn’t know how to react to friendship. He’s curt, very defensive and quick to rise to any bait. But Wolverine’s sometimes right on the money as witnessed when he reaches out, quite uncharacteristically, by announcing his intention to join Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Moira McTaggart on a countryside picnic so that he can hunt. Here’s Storm:

“You would take the lives of innocent animals — not for survival but merely for sport?!”
“Even if I would, broad, what flamin’ business is it of yours?! I said huntin’, honeybunch — I said nothin’ about killin’. It takes no skill t’kill. What takes skill is sneakin’ up close enough to a skittish doe t’touch her…”
“Wolverine, I am sorry. I… misjudged you.”
“I could care less, ‘Roro. You’ve all been misjudgin’ me since the day I joined this turkey outfit!”

This is issue #109, the first truly accomplished issue which will settle in to become the classic run on UNCANNY X-MEN when Logan’s past first comes back to haunt him in the form of James Hudson and Alpha Flight. But the issues leading up to that are still vitally important in terms of sub-plot and context, kicking off with the death of Jean Grey in the space-shuttle crash, her rise from the river as the nigh-omnipotent Phoenix, and the first signs of Logan’s burning desire for her.

Also revealed is Storm’s past as a petty thief in Cairo following the death of her parents in such a manner as to catalyse a profound claustrophobia. Plus there’s this new team’s first confrontation with Magneto on Muir Island, and a hint of the Proteus story to follow in a couple of dozen issues’ times. Finally, Professor X is haunted by dreams that will lead to Lilandra’s first appearance (along with the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard) and the first, worrying hint that Jean Grey is not in control of her new powers nor comprehends the true extent of them as she becomes transfigured into a creature of pure, burning energy and knits together an entire neutron galaxy.

Scott Summers immediately spots the problem but Claremont and Byrne cleverly contrive to keep the couple apart often enough and long enough over the next several months so that there’s little time for them to talk, and it will be Jason Wyngarde who gets there first.

Oh dear.

Cockrum’s art was sturdier the more space he was afforded: his splash pages and double-page spreads had real weight, balance and eye-popping power as did most of his covers including the one above, which, I have only just realised thanks to Jonathan, features Xavier standing in the form of a cross. How is he standing? Oh come, I’ve given far too much away already.

Whereas Claremont’s figures tended to become toy dolls when cramped, Byrne, on the other hand, could make the most of the tiniest of panels. He had the ability to draw in miniature and there’s more of his art here than you might think as – for the first time – Marvel editorial has elected to fill in the mutants’ appearances in other titles.

It doesn’t actually benefit the story, but completists will thrill at all the missing links.

SLH

Buy X-Men: Epic Collection – Second Genesis 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.

Thunder Brother Special (£4-50, ) by Paul Rainey

Wet Moon vol 3: Further Realms of Fright (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

World Of Tanks vol 1: Roll Out s/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra & P.J. Holden

Savage Highway h/c (£22-99, Humanoids) by Mathieu Masmondet, Julia Verlanger & Zhang Xiaoyu

The Book Of Chaos h/c (£35-99, Humanoids) by Xavier Dorison & Mathieu Lauffray

Collecting Sticks (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Joe Decie

Face (£9-99, Fanfare / Ponent Mon) by Rosario Villajos

The Fix vol 2: Laws, Paws & Flaws s/c (£13-99, Image) by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

Aliens: Life And Death s/c (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Dan Abnett & Moritat

Rick And Morty vol 4 (£17-99, Oni) by Kyle Starks, Marc Ellerby, CJ Cannon

Scooby Doo Team-Up vol 3 s/c (£11-99, DC) by Sholly Fisch & Dario Brizuela

Steven Universe And The Crystal Gems s/c (£11-99, Titan) by Josceline Fenton & Chrystin Garland

Batman vol 2: I Am Suicide s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Mikel Janin, Mitch Gerads, Hugo Petrus

Batman: Legacy vol 1 s/c (£22-99, DC) by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant & various

Captain America: Steve Rogers vol 2: The Trial Of Maria Hill s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Jesus Saiz

Toppu GP vol 1 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Kosuke Fujishima

Attack On Titan Adventure – Year 850: Last Stand At Wall Rose (£9-99, Kodansha) by Tomoyuki Fujinami

Fairy Tail vol 59 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

News!

ITEM! I went back to school!

I did, and I brought a grand’s worth of graphic novels with me for a regional School Librarians’ show-and-tell. I brought them all in a suitcase, packed to perfection and ever so heavy. Pulped, dead tree is truly heavy! Thank goodness for suitcases with wheels, I thought. Then I realised that I still needed to lift it into the boot of my car.

School librarians, prison librarians, gen-pop librarians, this is how Page 45 can help you:

http://www.page45.com/world/about/libraries/

We’ve been doing it for 22 years!

With four days this coming week to rest up (by which I mean write more reviews), I’m hoping to update Page 45’s 2014 easy-link secondary Library Page aimed specifically at schools to include all these new graphic novels and more, so I’m saving most of my photos for then. But you can find them right now on Twitter by following us @pagefortyfive for I formed a thread which I’m adding to even today.

If you like what you see then please retweet because otherwise school can fall in thrall to corporate agents of mediocrity and minimal diversity. And diversity is what we do best!

Here ends the self-serving sermon.

ITEM! So, yes, Easter opening hours!

We are open as always on Good Friday and this Sunshine Saturday (9am-6pm) but closed on Easter Sunday (on regular Sundays we are open from 11am-4pm) and closed yet again on Bank Holiday Monday. Good grief, what is wrong with us layabouts?!

If ever in doubt: Page 45: Where We Are And When We Are Open.

 – Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2017 week one

April 5th, 2017

Featuring new Saga from Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, YA gn Afar by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton, the return of Seth’s George Sprott and more!

Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c (£44-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser.

“I didn’t believe that Frank Lancaster had killed X-14…
“So I looked into it… and my entire life fell apart.”

There are some beautiful books on the market but few more so than this, reprinting all three VELVET softcovers, along with process pieces, the original trailer pages and an afterword by Brubaker on its origins.

Set in Paris, Monaco, London, Belgrade and the States during the 1970s and pulling back even further to the likes of the Bahamas in the 1950s, it is lush with 20th Century fashion from the sleekest sports cars to the slinkiest stealth suits, and wait until Velvet hits the Carnival of Fools, a masque full of masks in Monaco.

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

1973. There is an international espionage agency called ARC-7 so secret that most other ops don’t even know it exists. Its agents are so exceptionally effective that the chances of any of them being taken out in the field are minimal. As the story opens, one of their very finest is taken out in the field.

Immediately an inside job is suspected and all fingers point to agent Frank Lancaster. But Velveteen Templeton, the Director’s secretary, has doubts: she suspects it’s a set-up.

It is a set-up. But what Templeton doesn’t realise is that she’s being set up to believe it’s a set-up and so get set up herself.

What most of ARC-7’s agents outside of the Director don’t realise is that Velveteen Templeton wasn’t always the Director’s secretary: she was one of ARC-7s most effective, deep-cover field operatives for so many years. And that may prove the undoing of whoever has just set her up for treachery, treason and murder.

On the run from her own agency, Templeton has to retrace assassinated Agent X-14’s steps and his contacts across Eastern Europe, criss-crossing the globe while cross-referencing what she discovers with her own substantial and at times painful history in order to work out why X-14 was murdered from within. What had he stumbled upon in America that made him such a threat? Was it the same thing that her husband discovered? Because he too was set up and Templeton took the fall so far for it that she almost didn’t recover.

Brubaker’s internal monologues – in CRIMINAL, FATALE, THE FADE OUT and KILL OR BE KILLED et al –  have always been compelling, individualistic and often fucked up affairs – but here you’re almost as much in the dark as Velvet is, learning as she goes along, so you’re even more emotionally invested than usual. Several times I found myself suspicious of what I was being told because it sounded almost too perfect but with the strangest gaps and I wondered if I was missing something.

I was. But then so was Velvet.

During the middle chapters you will have your head whipped round not once, not twice, but three times in swift succession and at exactly the same moment as Velvet’s, because these people she’s up against are so deviously clever, and who is playing whom at any given moment is far from obvious.

I cannot imagine the physical or metaphorical map Brubaker must have drawn to link all these dates and destinations so intricately, but his CRIMINAL can be exactly the same. Here as there he provides a gripping internal monologue as we keep pace with Velvet’s frantic plight in trying to keep one desperate step ahead of those who’ve evidently planned her undoing for ages.

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

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

Finally, with only one lead left alive to follow, Templeton believes she has no choice but to take the fight back to America, even though she knows that the second she sets foot on its shores alarm bells will start ringing. She’s counting on it.

“Every move I make from now on has to be two moves.”

Sometimes you won’t see the second move coming; often you won’t have seen the first move being made.

I love that Templeton is middle-aged and shows it. It’s not just the thick, white streak of maturity in her sable hair, it’s in the eyes that have seen too much and the suggestion of extra flesh around her mouth which put me in mind of Terry Moore’s equally individualistic women in RACHEL RISING. There was an American TV company desperate to sign the series… if Brubaker would just agree to Templeton being in her mid-20s, thereby missing the point and literally losing the plot. This is a period espionage thriller starring a woman with decades’ experience at the agency. It’s this very history that’s revisited which informs her psychological makeup and indeed the whole story.

In addition, so subtly, Velvet’s body language changes when undercover as a temp in Paris, her hair dyed grey to fade into the background. She holds a file modestly and meekly to her chest. When she brings a tray of tea to the investment manager’s desk, she’s slightly hunched in high heels. Successful espionage lies in the details, and the artists reflect this.

Epting and Breitweiser have steeped this series in its period time and place. It’s not just in the fashion of fabrics, though the black bathing suit in VELVET VOL 1 during the flashback to 1950s Bermuda was a masterpiece, its white stripe anticipating the streak which will later appear in Velveteen’s hair. It’s also evident in the hotel room furnishings, the bar tops, aircraft interiors, office spaces, shop windows, fly-posters, the monumental, white-stone, classical facades and balustrades, cars with their polished chrome, and a particularly posh, trans-European train dining car. Another quick nod to the fashion, though, and I almost wept when she had to ditch that exquisitely patterned, knee-length, black and white pashmina cardigan.

I’m very emotional, aren’t I?

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

 

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

Later on Breitweiser introduces some of the more expressionistic effects which lit up the THE FADE OUT and helped draw the eye. However, so much of this takes place at night that you may be enjoying the effects without necessarily noticing their cause.

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

It worked.

SLH

Buy Velvet Deluxe Edition h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Saga vol 7 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples.

“These are innocent people displaced by an evil war. They’re us.
“You really want to turn them away in front of our daughter?”

They’re also two-foot-tall, anthropomorphic meerkats whose eyes glisten like chocolate buttons dipped in even more liquid chocolate. One of their youngsters, Kurti, finds a photon rifle in the grass while gathering berries and brandishes it like a toy.

“Reach for the sky…
“Or I’m gonna war-crime you in the face!

Unfortunately, it’s not a toy. It’s very real and they finally find its trigger by mistake.

In many other hands the scene would be far more catastrophic po-faced, but Vaughan’s already made his point about war zones and live ammunition left where children play, and he and Staples milk the subsequent comedy for all its worth.

“HEY! What the fuck is wrong with you kids?!” shouts a heavily pregnant Alana, narrowly missed.

Kurti, tiny paws clasped to his mouth in horror, whispers in equally tiny letters: “Missus Alana said a cuss.”

As well as love, family, childhood and parenthood, SAGA’s always been about war, but here it comes right to the fore as Alana, Marko and their daughter Hazel find themselves trapped on a violently contested asteroid – for months while their depleted ship refuels from its subterranean resources – along with their resident, supercilious enemy Prince Robot (a walking, talking, bipedal television set) the fractious ex-soldier Petrichor and Hazel’s self-appointed nanny, Izabel.

Izabel, you may recall, was one of the few remaining members of the indigenous species found on the war-torn planet where Alana first gave birth and, like all remaining members of that indigenous species, she is quite, quite dead, floating around as an intangible pink ghost, severed at the waist and dripping entrails exactly as she did when she took her last breath.

She bonded with Hazel, allowing Izabel to travel alongside, but Hazel’s growing up and beginning to wield the magical abilities inherited from her father in the same way some kids wield a magnifying glass over ants.

“Eksplodis!”
“Whoa! That fat one blew up real good!” shrieks a delighted Kurti.
“Young lady! What in the world are you doing?”
“Don’t use your angry voice. It doesn’t scare me.”
“I’m not angry, I’m disappointed. You’re hurting innocent creatures? For laughs?”
“They’re just bugs.”

They’re just bugs. The things we learn during war.

And then Hazel says something she will profoundly regret.

Right, so, hello! I always recommend that those who’ve yet to savour the wicked delights of SAGA read my review of SAGA VOL 1 H/C even if you end up buying the softcovers, largely because I made a hash of the first softcover review which bears no resemblance to how I now sell the series on our shop floor. I also recommend you remember that there will be at least One Moment per book when you will be horrified that you leant a copy to your grandmother or began reading it on public transport. Here it slaps you in the face then pokes you in the eye as early as page four.

SAGA is one of the most all-inclusive comics around, Vaughan and Staples taking full advantage of its space-setting to wring as much diversity as possible from its limitless possibilities. Let’s not forget that Alana and Marko are from two separate species – not just races – so Hazel is a major miracle. Just when you think they must have mined the last vein, they come up with something wholly unexpected and fresh. They will never fail to surprise, but that comes with great risk when it comes to your heart because remember (again) war has come to the fore and warmongers do terrible things from many miles away.

SLH

Buy Saga vol 7 and read the Page 45 review here

Afar s/c (£13-99, Image) by Leila Del Duca & Kit Seaton.

If ever you need reminding of the joyous, unburdening relief in sharing a secret – after days, weeks, months or years of awful isolation and crippling fear lest you be found out – then this original Young Adult graphic novel should do the trick. It won’t always go well, but that’s a whole lot of mental energy eaten up by the effort to continuously conceal that you can more profitably expend elsewhere.

Additionally, if you’re in the market for some gorgeous anatomy, beautifully delineated body language, carefully considered and exceptionally realised, localised costume plus a startlingly wide array of aliens as exotic as the most mythical of beasts, you’re unlikely to be disappointed, either.

Hold on, hold on, although this is emphatically a fantasy rather than historical fiction, most of this takes place in an environment akin to East Africa and, later on, ancient Egypt.

There Kit Seaton conjures up a city surrounded by lush, irrigated agriculture, with palatial buildings, clean, spacious and orderly thoroughfares between marketplaces bustling not just with commerce but theatrical entertainments and leisurely pastimes. All of this in stark contrast to where we kick off: an arid costal town where even fresh water is a much sought-after commodity, then another inland which is high-walled, inhospitable and surrounded by a shanty of shacks. I love the angle there, the weight at the summit, dangling over the edge, contrasted with the faded colouring in the distance down below for maximum vicarious vertigo.

In addition, there are foreboding deserts between them, littered with dangerous relics of a more technological past which has been long left behind and forgotten.

Each of these will have to be navigated by the far from wealthy fifteen-year-old Boetema and her younger brother Inotu if they are to survive when abandoned in each other’s care by their parents for much-needed itinerant work as salt shepherds.

But the siblings have further troubles to contend with. Although picking up a new friend in the form of a feral monkey with whom he develops a vital bond, thirteen-year-old Inotu falls foul both of the local lads when he defends the cornered and cowering animal, then of the long arm of the law which appears to be surprisingly metallic.

Boetema, meanwhile, has been having strange dreams which become increasingly vivid to her and in which she becomes more and more emotionally involved. Oh, it’s not just that they take place underwater or in jungle terrain above which hover luminous, ringed moons…. it’s that she is no longer herself but, for example, a green, four-eyed tiger, mother to a cluster of cubs she could not possibly have sired.

Gradually she realises that she’s not actually dreaming but projecting, travelling and inhabiting these bodies, however temporarily, and it terrifies her. Worse still, in one such manifestation she makes a hasty miscalculation which has fatal ramifications then finds she cannot go back to rectify or atone for her mistake.

The killer is this: the sister and brother aren’t confiding in each other. For fear of scaring the other, each is going through their alienation alone.

And I’m afraid it may prove the death of them.

I wish I could end this review with a bombshell like that because this book made me smile in so many ways – I’ve fallen in love with another artist new to me – but honesty dictates that I have to put my hand up in order to declare one major problem: in this self-contained graphic novel one gigantic plot thread dangled above us so enticingly – and repeatedly in order to catalyse two narrative trajectories – is never resolved, that of Inotu’s encounter with the cyborg. It’s not resolved in any sense at all: not in his existence, his nature, his intention nor his success or failure in whatever scheme(s) he might have had in mind.

This is an editorial oversight. I don’t normally go casting stones in that direction except that – uniquely as far as I can recall – the editor is credited on the cover.

SLH

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

Yeast  (£3-99) by Stanley Miller…

“So, um…”
“Cough…”
“Someone… stole our nut…”
“Hmm…”
“He’s just sitting by our hole.”
“You could bribe it?”
“What with?”
“Drawings.”
“…Of what?”
“Whales…”

Teenage comics guerrilla surrealist Stanley Miller returns with, as requested, a sequential-art based narrative following on from his pair of gag-strip rib ticklers THINGS I THINK ABOUT SOMETIMES and WIZARDS N STUFF. Here we have the story of three psionically powered errr… entities… that live in a very non-descript hole in the ground and fervently worship a nut. They love nothing more than levitating said foodstuff up to their excitable eye level with the pulsating power of their prayer. It appears, to my snack-savvy senses, to be a partially opened giant pistachio, but I wouldn’t bet a bag of pickled walnuts on it.

But then, disaster strikes, and the object of their adoration is abducted by, well, an even stranger faceless being. Confused and distraught, our trio seek solace and advice from Old Man Gribble. His random suggestion above might seem like a completely crackpot approach to establishing diplomatic relations, but his shamanic ways could just hold the key to retrieving their talisman intact and uneaten. Or simply be as bonkers as it sounds and not remotely help at all…

Stanley once again deploys his trademark David Shrigley-esque art style but the story seems like, plucking two flavours from my mind, a bemusing blend of Anders BIG QUESTIONS Nilsen and Hans FOLLY, THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDISCRETION Rickheit. Thus a curious combination of the sweetly profound and the farcically preposterous which just works. It left me feeling rather uplifted, actually! Sure, it’s not reinventing the pictures and words in beautiful unison wheel, but it’s certainly another step in the remarkable evolution of this undoubted future comics genius.

Do you like nuts, by the way? Particularly hot nuts so fiery that when you pop them in your mouth they make your eyes water? I do. If you do too, I can’t recommend The Notts Nut Shack highly enough. Their Garlic & Habanero and their Scotch Bonnet nuts, rocketing up the Scoville scale to the levels of 350,000 & 400,000 Scovilles respectively, are some serious tongue-tingling taste-delivery dynamite. If you’re city-centre-based you can purchase them at the Brew Cavern in the Flying Horse Arcade where I also fulfil all my extensive beer needs! And trust me, these bad boys are so hot, you will feel like your head is levitating off your shoulders and want a nice beer handy to slake your blistering mouth afterwards.

Which weirdly, rather synchronously, brings us full circle to the inexplicable title of this mini, as no yeast, no fermentation, no beer… Is it opening time yet?

JR

Buy Yeast and read the Page 45 review here

Doom Patrol Book 3 (£31-99, Vertigo) by Grant Morrison & various.

“There is another world. There is a better world. Well… there must be.”

In which everything and everyone falls apart as one of our resident freaks and misfits discovers that none of them were the results of accidents, but a single experiment, carefully choreographed very close to home.

There’s an agonising chapter devoted entirely to Cliff helplessly enduring an increasingly horrific explanation of what has gone before, his deactivated robotic body housing his very human brain, straining to express his mental agony. It’s all about Catastrophe Curves and unpredictable events. There’s another one coming.

But let’s not forget all the fun. Morrison packed DOOM PATROL with outlandish inventions, and here the Chief comes up with molecular-sized processors held in colloidal suspension, which are able to “interact in a way that simulates the electrical activity in the neurons of a human brain” to create the most powerful neural net ever assembled.

“The Think Tank is the future of artificial intelligence.”

And it looks just like a swimming pool.

It’s always entertaining to blaze out with an apocalypse, and this concluding chapter in Morrison’s ode to insanity comes with not one but two. The first of these is catalysed by Dorothy letting The Candlemaker out of her head. It’s not the first time she’s done that, either, her chief childhood bully paying the bloody price.

A product of her willpower and imagination, The Candlemaker’s apocalypse is likewise one of ideas, setting out to destroy the anima mundi – the world’s soul:

“Listen: if you want to destroy a people, first destroy its dreams.
“Generations of missionaries have lived by that noble creed.
“Modern man has successfully razed the imaginative landscapes of primal peoples the whole world over. Kill the gods first, slaughter the sacred animals, rewrite the mythologies, and build roads through the holy places. Do all this and watch the people decline. Without souls, they soon die, leaving dead shells, zombie cultures, shambling aimlessly toward oblivion.
“We’ve been experts at this kind of thing for centuries…”

Also: the ultimate incarnation of Rebis, some more bodywork for Cliff, the emergence of Sane Jane from Crazy Jane, and a massive expansion of everyone’s favourite stretch of sentient, semi-detached, but foundation-free housing, Danny The Street. Who needs planning permission when you can teleport? Bona to vada, Danny!

This whole series was about ideas and wonder and strangeness, Morrison’s own imagination running wild, and it ends on a deliberately ambiguous note which may cause you to rethink everything you’ve read after a distressing post-script in which a doctor determines to kill Crazy Jane’s: her imagination, her ideas, her wonder and strangeness.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies DOOM PATROL’s world better than a scene deep in the subterranean bowels of the Pentagon as a plot is hatched to unleash a homicidal maniac on the screamingly insane Presidential candidate Mr. Nobody and his Brotherhood Of Dada:

“Didn’t this ‘Brotherhood Of Dada’ transform a police officer into a toilet in France a couple of years back? What happened to him, Ms. Roddick?”
“As far as I know he’s hanging in the Beauborg Gallery.”

At the bottom of the page we discover that the military commander and Ms. Roddick are bouncing down the midnight corridors on animal-headed Space Hoppers. It’s a joke that’s revisited in different ways time and again.

Finally, as an added bit of fun – and I mention this partly as a warning, because I wouldn’t want you to think you still had thirty more pages of DOOM PATROL left to read – the DOOM FORCE one-shot parody of Marvel’s height of infantilism, the original X-FORCE, is tucked on at the end, each artist lacerating Rob Liefeld’s art as ably as Morrison nails the wretchedly piss-poor dialogue.

SLH

Buy Doom Patrol Book 3 and read the Page 45 review here

New Stock Discovered!

George Sprott 1894-1975 s/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Seth.

Thank goodness we have discovered fresh stock, for this was once made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month!

For sheer, immediate and arresting beauty this has to be one of the most magnificent books we have ever stocked. The cover alone takes my breath away with its silver and blue-foil titles embossed on an enormous, thick, antler-grey card and a black-cloth spine. Open it up and you’ve got the most indulgent double-page landscapes of snow and ice; painted, three-dimensional cardboard recreations of individual buildings significant in the strips; and the meticulously composed, delicately coloured vignettes themselves which together form the life and times of George Sprott.

Former Arctic explorer, lecture-hall regular and local Canadian television celebrity whose weekly series Northern Hi-Lights has long run its 22-year-old course, George Sprott is tired. He’s tired and old and past his time, and this evening, on October 9th 1975, his life will to come to an end.

“Tonight, of all nights, George is preoccupied with death. Mind you, not his own. If you recall, this morning George read of the death of an old flame. This sparked a rather regretful mood in him. At this moment he is thinking of the death of his mother. Back in 1952. George has always considered himself a loving son. In fact, he’d prided himself on the depths of his tender feelings for his mother. Not much of love was ever said between them. Yet he had felt secure in the unspoken bond they shared. It was only as he sat by her deathbed that it occurred to him. As she lay gasping, he realised he had not visited her in two years.”

So well written.

As the various vignettes accumulate – the recollections of his former colleagues, Sprott’s own troubled dreams and memories, and indeed the narrator’s occasional insights (Seth is in very mischievous mode: “As your narrator I must apologise for beginning yet another page with an apology.”) – it becomes increasingly apparent that George is a bit of a sham and his life, when he can bring himself to think about it clearly, has been a disappointment not least to himself. His Arctic adventures weren’t all that he made them out to be, and therefore the two careers he built upon them as lecturer and broadcaster are to some extent a lie. As to his time in a seminary, well, the dates (1914-1918) are as interesting as the episode there is telling. Here’s one short interview that speaks volumes, with Fred Kennedy, the local TV channel’s afternoon-movie host:

“George Sprott was a good friend of mine. I was with him at CKCK from the very beginning. God, we tied on a few together. Believe it or not, he was popular with the ladies. And I didn’t mind picking up his discards. And yes, he could talk. But always about himself. He never asked you a goddam question. Ever! I hate to say it, but George was a crashing bore.”

Seth’s always been one to dwell: to dwell on the past and concern himself with memory itself. Here mortality and indeed legacy come into play, for George hasn’t left one: his broadcasts were all junked by the station, he’s barely remembered and he doesn’t even know his own daughter. Given how he treated his wife, he’s lucky to have the affections of his niece

Seth’s previous book, WIMBLEDON GREEN, was a similar exercise in composite collage and thoroughly enjoyable it was in its own right, but if that was an exercise then this is the finished performance, far more grounded in reality and set in a very specific time and place now long past. Like Eisner in DROPSIE AVENUE it’s the cityscape itself which is of equal interest to those inhabiting it, Seth charting the history of individual buildings as time and circumstance like the Second World War dictate their evolution, their rise to prosperity and fall into dilapidation. Mark would have swooned at those cardboard constructs and indeed at every one of the pages here which give ample space to the magnificent art inside.

 

My favourite work from Seth to date, with plenty for you to ponder. Great little epilogue too: a throwback to WIMBLEDON GREEN in a way, which neatly ties together a few loose threads as we meet Owen Trade, collector/scavenger/thief.

SLH

Buy George Sprott 1894-1975 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.

Adventure Time Comics (£10-99, Titan) by various including Tony Millionaire, Box Brown, Marguerite Sauvage

Arthur And The Golden Rope h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Joe Todd Stanton

The Far Side Of The Moon – The Story Of Apollo 11’s 3rd Man h/c (£14-99, Tilbury House Publishers) by Alex Irvine & Ben Bishop

Lumberjanes vol 6: Sink Or Swim (£13-99, Boom! Box) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Carey Pietsch

We Stand On Guard s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce

Superman vol 2: Trial Of The Super Sons s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason & Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, various

Batgirl And The Birds Of Prey vol 1: Who Is Oracle s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson & Claire Roe, Roge Antonia

Green Arrow vol 2: Island Of Scars s/c (£14-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Stephen Byrne, Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra

Mighty Avengers By Bendis Complete Collection s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Frank Cho, Alex Maleev, Stefano Caselli, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., Khoi Pham, others

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor vol 6: The Maglignant Truth (UK Edition) s/c (£12-99, Titan) by Si Spurrier, Rob Williams & I.N.J. Culbard, Simon Fraser

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Goodnight Punpun vol 5 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 3 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

One-Punch Man vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

 

ITEM! Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie interviewed on film about THE WICKED + THE DIVINE.

We may have reviewed THE WICKED + THE DIVINE extensively. It’s ever so wicked. And divine.

Wasn’t that trailer excellent?

That’s it, really. I’ve run out of time!

– Stephen

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