Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2018 week four

February 28th, 2018

Featuring Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, Box Brown, Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy, Nicola Davies, Cathy Fisher. Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton, Colleen Doran, Glenn Fabry, Walter Simonson, Andy Kubert, Yuki Fumino, Carlo Zen, Chika Tono, more!

American Gods vol 1 h/c (£20-00, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell, Scott Hampton with Colleen Doran, Glenn Fabry, Walter Simonson. Cover by David Mack.

“These are the gods who have been forgotten, and now they might as well be dead. They are gone. All gone…. Even their names have been forgotten. Gods die and when they die, they are unmourned and unremembered.
“Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed in the end.”

So, let us remember, can people. Many a woman has died at a god’s decree; many a man too. They have been known to use us as pawns, and there is a game to end all games afoot here, before the lights finally go out.

First of three books – each containing nine sequential-art chapters – in which Gaiman elaborates on an element which he first explored during his epic SANDMAN mythology: that of faith, and the dwindling of gods’ power if followers fall by the wayside. If ancient gods are no longer believed in or worshipped, what power have they left?

 

 

And how did they come to America at all from lands so far away? Each was carried in the hearts and minds of immigrants, and mortals have been landing on America’s shores long before Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed he’d reached the Indies. Which gods of many faiths you will meet under most unexpected circumstances, I shall not say, for half the fun is in spotting them, but there are history lessons aplenty interjected – along with rude discoveries – and both Colleen Doran and Glenn Fabry have produced my favourite art of their substantial careers for these brief interludes.

 

 

The former illuminates the tumultuous history of one resourceful Essie Tregowan who once worked as a scullery maid on the shores of Cornwall and whose days ended – after many marriages, children and much meandering, up-and-down fortune – on the other side of the Atlantic. She never forgot the Piskies and the Spriggans, she always paid tribute, and it seems they never forgot Essie. Doran’s lines are as delicate as her softly lit colours, and her knowledge of historical fashion in hair and costume spot-on.

 

 

In a more modern setting, poor Salim is dispatched by his brother-in-law from Oman to cold New York City in order to sell cheap copper trinkets from a suitcase. His meetings with business owners are wholly unsuccessful and his funds, like his spirits, drain away until he strays into a taxi whose driver displays certain attributes which Salim finds fearfully familiar. Adam Brown’s colours on Glenn Fabry’s line art are quite extraordinary: I’ve never seen rain on a windscreen in a neon-lit city quite like it.

 

 

For these acts of worship in storytelling, story-spreading, acknowledgement and sexual congress, the gods will show their… gratitude? … to differing degrees and in many different ways. Top tip: I’d probably avoid reading this on public transport, though, for my own adjoining seat wasn’t empty.

So we come to the central narrative. It’s so long since I read Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS prose novel that much of this came as a pleasant surprise: it was like being reacquainted with an old friend who was as charming and witty as ever yet – thanks to P. Craig Russell on crystal clear layouts and Scott Hampton on hyper-real art – had grown even more handsome in the interim.

It also triggered recollections of further down this long and winding road which reminded me that – as any SANDMAN reader knows – Neil Gaiman is a master of foreshadowing. P. Craig Russell, whose exceptional adaptations to comics include Wagner’s RING OF THE NIBELUNG and THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE is no slouch on the foreshadowing front, either, and has distilled Gaiman’s prose to its vital essence while retaining so much of the original words’ key cadence, along with ideas like this which would be much missed had they ended up on the cutting room floor:

“The short service ended. The people went away. Shadow did not leave. There was something he wanted to say to Laura, and he was prepared to wait until he knew what it was.”

As to structure, sleight-of-hand stepping stones are one of Neil Gaiman’s fortes. I’ve spoken of this at least twice before in HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE wherein Neil’s stories begin grounded firmly in our shared reality but then his protagonists pass over a subtle, metaphorical bridge – or some sequestered, sun-dappled stepping stones – into another. It’s as though a rarely spotted signpost has popped up, redirecting you down a road less travelled, a side-path to somewhere else, somewhere other.

 

 

This is why Hampton’s hyper-real yet not-real art works so well from the start, for Mr Wednesday’s ever so many sleights of hand have already begun from the get-go. It is Shadow’s path that we follow, and it has an eerie, distanced quality to it, the protagonists not quite inhabiting their landscapes which, as you see, have a mutable quality to them anyway. Shadow has so little control over his environment, his circumstances or indeed his entire trajectory, and this will prove all the more disconcerting to someone who considers himself a pragmatist.

“Shadow had done three years in prison.
“He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.
“So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife…
“He did not awake in prison with a feeling of dread; he was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring because yesterday had brought it.”

 

 

Instead he keeps himself to himself and marks the days off on a certain calendar until he will see his wife once again. During these three years of calm incarceration Shadow’s cellmate, Low Key Lyesmith, introduced him to Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ (circa 425 B.C.) and the self-professed reluctant reader became hooked. What happened to Lyesmith? Transferred without warning, apparently; vanished into thin air.

“Shadow did not believe in anything he could not see.
“Still, he could feel disaster hovering in those final weeks, just as he had felt it in the days before the robbery. He was more paranoid than usual, and in prison, usual is very, and is a survival skill.”

With five days to go before his release, after a collect-call to his beaming wife who enthuses about the last leaves of autumn, Shadow is warned of an approaching storm: something cataclysmic waiting outside. There’s no audible thunder in the figurative air but then lightning strikes: Shadow is told that although he was due to be released on Friday… he will in fact be released a whole two days early. His wife has been killed in a car accident.

 

 

In an instant everything Shadow had mapped out for himself after his three years in prison is gone. He still has a future but it is empty, unfurnished, unforeseeable and so unimaginable. Numb, he boards the bus to the airport, then his plane home, but home is not what he thought it would be. Shadow falls asleep in the storm.

“Where am I?”
“In the earth and under the earth. You are where the forgotten wait. If you are to survive, you must believe.”
“Believe what? What should I believe?”
“Everything.”

 

 

When he dozes once again he is back in prison.

“Someone has put out a contract on your life.”

Then when he wakes up, Shadow’s nightmare begins.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly lost, late and disorientated in my dreams. But that is now Shadow’s reality. He’s at the wrong airport: the plane was redirected because of the storm. He misses its replacement; the next one is cancelled; but if he’s quick there is one he can catch.

 

 

“Shadow felt like a pea being flicked between three cups.”

And that’s precisely what he is. Now, following the death of his wife, his early release, the redirected plane, the plane that he missed, the one that was cancelled and the seat which taken, Shadow is finally where he needs to be. Well, he’s where Mr. Wednesday needs him to be: right across the aisle.

“You’re late.”
“Sorry?”
“I said… you’re late.”

 

 

For someone inhabiting this Age of Information, Mr Wednesday is far from forthcoming, but he’s on a mission and to fulfil that mission they must journey across America, gathering allies as they go. It is of course Shadow who will attract the one-eyed man’s enemies, receiving forewarning not from Mr Wednesday but from others who crossed their path.

“You’re walking on gallows ground, and there’s a hempen rope around your neck and a raven-bird on each shoulder waiting for your eyes, and the gallows tree has deep roots, for it stretches from Heaven to Hell, and our world is only the branch from which the rope is swinging.”

 

 

Over and again, Shadow will receive visitors – mostly late at night – and some are more welcome than others. Animals and birds may not be quite what they seem, but then, are they ever? Names will have meaning, coins will gain currency and promises will hold power. Beware whom you worship.

“Now there are new gods in America: gods of credit cards, of internet and telephone and beeper. Proud gods, puffed up with their own newness and importance. They are aware of us and they fear us, and they hate us. They will destroy us if they can.”

I’m sure you’ve gathered by now from all the references who and what Mr Wednesday is.

If so, you will be unsurprised to learn that Wednesday means war.

SLH

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

Bingo Love (£8-99, Image) by Tee Franklin & Jenn St-Onge with Joy San.

Beautiful!

What luxurious forms, deliciously drawn, delicately poised, full of innocence, joy and mutual, unequivocal adoration. Eyes fixed on each other – except when closed whilst kissing – the couple’s arms are entwined as the many years roll by, the bingo sheets passing like the pages of a calendar.

I love the cover’s narrative: hair greys, fashions change, but not their love for, nor loyalty to each other. Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, two women of colour, and eventually of some considerable age, able to share their affection and relish their relationship, free from outside adversity and —

If only.

I’m afraid the real world has a habit of intruding and it does so, dramatically, inside. But don’t give up hope, for hope this has in abundance. Whatever hostilities Hazel and Mari may face, I promise you that the cover doesn’t lie.

 

 

We begin in 2033 with a young girl kicked out by her parents simply because she is gay. If you think it’s disheartening that this would still happen in 2033, yes, it is. But I’d remind you that racism remains rife even though the Civil Rights Movement (detailed in the MARCH trilogy and THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS) kicked off long before the Gay Rights Movement, and progress unfortunately isn’t a one-way street, as evidenced in America today under racist hate-enabler President Donald Trump.

Aaaanyway, the good news is that the girl is comforted by an elderly lady who recalls her own childhood back in 1963 when a younger Hazel Johnson first spotted, at church bingo, a girl who also turns up at school. It is, of course, Mari McCray, newly moved to this more conservative area from California, bursting with an energy that has her stretching her arms and an exuberance which Hazel finds immediately infectious.

 

 

“Mari was on my mind for the rest of the day.
“We didn’t have any other classes together so I kept replaying our interactions over and over in my head.”

That’s ever so true! The feeling that someone is so close that they could be glimpsed at any sense, yearning for such another meeting, yet frustrated by incompatible timetables and a big crowd. Instead you are indeed left to replay the last encounter in search of signs and nuances that you’d made a new friend.

Franklin is forever presenting us what is familiar. Here comes another instance, after the pair has bonded over hot chocolate, an instinct for generosity, and a new nickname offered with affection which helps cement any new friendship with its personal, private stamp. Over the following, St-Onge provides us with a montage of further shared endearments as Mari and Hazel root for each other, dance with each other, play each other their favourite songs and sympathise when spice in the food proves too hot.

 

 

“From that first hot chocolate, Mari and I were best friends.
“My mother used to say we were joined at the hip.
“Between school and sports, we spent every moment we could together.
“We really loved each other as friends…
“But I wanted something more.
“I wrestled with my feelings for Mari for years. Was it worth ruining our friendship if she didn’t feel the same way?”

So there you go: the terrible dilemma which faces so many of us who establish a friendship first, then worry about the risk when you don’t know if someone wants something which you do, too.

 

 

There’s so much which is wonderfully universal about this love story.

In multiple ways it reminds me of Jade Sarson’s equally embracing, era-spanning, gorgeous graphic novel, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MARIE. That one’s 16+ with discretion, but there’s nothing here that should signify that BINGO LOVE isn’t for all. It’s not preachy; it’s kind and the celebrations, once they start, will induce big, beaming smiles galore.

 

 

Its colours by Joy San are as rich and warm inside as they are on cover and I know that I’ve a habit of harping on about hair, but St-Onge for me is right up there with Emma Vieceli, Kyle Baker et al. Hazel’s young, star-struck wide eyes also put me in mind of Sophie Campbell. My favourite bits, however, were the little fingers clasping each other, sometimes in sight, sometimes not.

Representation is important in its own right, as Chris Roberson makes so eloquently clear in his foreward to THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS because “people find it easier to become who they are when they see themselves reflected in media and stories”. If you’ve experienced a lifetime of seeing yourselves reflected in media and stories, then this may not occur to you. And, hey, good for you too!

But there isn’t enough old age in comics, for a start, and I’m getting on.

SLH

Buy Bingo Love and read the Page 45 review here

Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Women (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy.

Hello, and welcome back to another attack of the dead who are well read, the bodies that begat break-throughs, and the worm-riddled women who were once a lot less lived in.

I guarantee 100% Putrefaction Satisfaction, as well as whole lot of learning.

I reviewed at coffin-creaking length and in burial depth CORPSE TALK: GROUND-BREAKING SCIENTISTS, the two previous volumes, plus these very creators’ LOST TALES, all of which you can find along with so much in Page 45’s Phoenix Comic Book Section.

Having exhausted my musings on the craft of these two crazies – and the ever-so-clever conceit of interviewing reanimated corpses with modern-day irreverence rather than simply dishing out lacklustre history lessons – I’m going to resort this time to succinct bullet points in the hope of satisfying those with Attention Deficit Disorder (which is basically the entire human race in this multi-channel / internet age), then I’m going to have me some fun with Princess Caraboo’s interactive exercise on creating your own real-life fictional character. It’s not as much of a paradox as it may sound.

But first, the bullet points:

The cartooning is exquisite. Just glance at Adam Murphy’s puckered mouth and eyebrows, and those hands, hands, hands, bringing so much to gesticulatory life during the talking heads sequences!

 

 

Each page contains even more unnecessary alliteration than my longest-lasting reviews.*

* An independent analysts protests

These books are 100% historically and scientifically accurate, packed with hard facts which you could honestly pass exams on. (Caveat: apart from the bit about Adam ever interviewing a single one of these spectral specimens, let alone any lesser-known cadavers for pastime pleasure. Oh, and Granny Nanny’s precise details on buggering up the Jamaican slave trade which were passed down through the oral traditional – bit more of a mythology, that, but she sure showed the culprits what’s what. Princess Pocahontas’ legend will come into a much needed de-Disneyfication, though!)

 

 

They are laugh-out-loud funny with anachronistic banter from the bone idols (“Not chuffing likely!”) and puns galore including ‘The Sails of the Century’ and ‘A Killer Look’.

This collection of overwhelmingly new material also reprints the Queen Elizabeth pages from CORPSE TALK II which were so rip-roaringly brilliant that I spent the entire first half of that review fixated upon them, especially the double-spread ‘A Killer Look’ because OMG but Queen Bess didn’t do herself any favours whatsoever when it came to keeping young with cosmetics!

 

 

Here’s Adam introducing Queen Bess:

“This week, one of history’s feistiest fighting females! It’s the Tudor Tigress, the lean, mean Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I!
“Elizabeth, you might be the world record holder for the most insane family drama of all time!”

Our corpse-questioning host then catalogues what probably is “the most insane family drama of all time” by hailing two Marys (sister and cousin), a furious father bent on beheading (Henry VIII: amongst those on the chopping block, Liz’s own mum), family fights over the throne, further bumpings-off and finally Philip II of Spain, former husband to her dead sister, asking for Betty’s hand in marriage, then not taking rejection too well. Most young men would have slunk off sheepishly and ordered in pizza. Philip II ordered out the Spanish bloody Armada! Elizabeth:

“First we blasted them with cannons! Then we sailed shops of fire into them! Then God got in on the action, and stormed them to death! Don’t mess with The Bess – she gon’ open up a can of whoop-ass!”
“Aw yeah!”

You may have noticed that I haven’t quite grasped the concept of “bullet points”.

So we finally return to Princess Caraboo (1791-1864) who appeared penniless on the doorstep of one Mrs Worral, the local magistrate’s wife in the sleepy Gloucester village of Almondsbury which was about to wake up to its newly arrived, exotic occupant.

 

 

Princess Caraboo hailed from they knew not where, to begin with, for she knew not one word of the English language, and so they could not converse. She could mime. She could dance, in an Indian continent way. And she could speak in some foreign tongue which no one could identify until one bright spark suggested the language of Malay and offered to translate. Then they learned of her capture by pirates from the remote Island of Javasu, her bitter ordeals at their hands and her eventual escape, overboard, when Britain’s shores were in sight. Oh, how she was paraded and celebrated throughout England’s High Society, this regal, oriental princess!

In actual fact, she was a serving maid from Devon called Mary Baker.

All power to her! England 1791-1864: not much chance of a legal leg-up on the social or employment ladder for a woman, as Jane Austen’s tale will make clear. Socio-political context is ever so important in examining either history or literature, and the four-page condensation of ‘Pride And Prejudice’ (which is a triumph of salient points and satire) kicks off with just such a reminder.

 

 

So what is my point and where am I going to have some fun? As I’ve mentioned, each of these trailblazer’s tales is followed by a double-page diagrammatical spread whereon we are privileged to witness the extent of their legacy, the science or boat-building skills behind their stories, the details behind the slave-saving underground railroads (no trains, train times or consequent delays involved, how to dance the Charleston as performed, step by step, by none other than Josephine Baker, plus the extraordinary revelation that is the Golden Ratio found throughout nature and denoted by the Greek letter Phi. I actually think that Adam and Lisa did a better job of explaining that than Terry Moore did in his tension-drenched ECHO.

The ‘Brief History Of Women’s Rights’ timeline is given a full six pages, which is only right given the subject of this volume and the appalling length of time it took for women to actually achieve some.

And so at last to the fun!

Following Princess Caraboo’s wool-over-eyes antics, Lisa and Adam forsake their customary post-mortem spread for an interactive opportunity to hone your own lying skills, and to create your own real-life counterfeit / deceit with the help of some very silly suggestions from themselves.

 

 

Before that, however, ‘Try Writing Down Your Translations For These Common Words’

Hello: Monaye!
I’m hungry: Give’till monaye
Thank you: Multi monaye!

Good-bye: Theresa
Good-bye forever: Theresa-May

There’s plenty more, but you get the idea, and I’m sure you can do better!

Out March 1st 2018.

SLH

Buy Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Women and read the Page 45 review here

The Pond (£11-99, Graffeg) by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher.

“Just you wait until you see the water lilies.”

Oh yes, just you wait!

It’s Dad who looks to the future for his family.

He can foresee their shared joy in the nature and teeming wildlife which they will attract to their new pond once it is built, and he inspires them with his enthusiasm.

It’s so very good to have a project!

“There will be tadpoles,” he said, “and dragonflies.”
Mum told him that our garden was too tiny and my brother said that ponds were gross and stinky.
Dad took no notice.
He just smiled and whispered,
“Wait until you see the water lilies!”

And yes, you just wait!

 

 

“Dad never got his tadpoles of his dragonflies.
“He died and left a muddy, messy hole that filled our garden.
“Dead leaves blew in, tin cans, all sorts of rubblish.
“Ugly weeds grew tall.
“We all stared out at it: the muddy, messy hole that filled our hearts.”

I’m sorry to do this to you yet again but, just as with the same creators’ PERFECT, Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher have something important to say – this time about bereavement – and they do so honestly and eloquently.

Kindness and communication is everything, and so often our young ones don’t know where to start. And it is so very important to start, otherwise they (or we) are left lost and alone, with no one to talk to about what is a very bewildering experience, violent in its finality.

 

 

Adults find it difficult enough to talk about bereavement when they have years of experience with which to make a good go of it. We have a certain sense of context, at least. Children don’t.

We all need a way of seeing through abysmal loss to some form of future that will shine the light back into our lives without feeling disloyal: something to carry us through, like a promise to ourselves and to those we still miss. We need a way to honour their memory and so carry it forward in order that they will never, ever be forgotten.

“Just you wait until you see the water lilies.”

So yes, just you wait! They’ll be here.

 

 

As improbably as last time with PERFECT, Davies and Fisher have united to synthesise a pictorial story which openly owns to the understandable eruptions of outright anger at being left behind – at feeling betrayed – without which it would be as shallow as the first pond and so speak to no one.

Instead, this encompasses all of that, on day after disappointing day.

But also it projects forward, so that even the initially reluctant then obdurate brother sees the promise in a new spring ahead.

And. It. Is. Celebrated!

 

 

Cathy Fisher pulls no punches during the bleakest days. Those pages are dark and raw and as muddy as the hole in the ground left by Dad’s absence. But they’re still accompanied by the same sense of cocooning – of encircling – which forms a comforting motif throughout: there are hugs and swirling leaves, there’s the looping hosepipe and the pond life framing the family and joining the siblings together when once they were at odds. Finally there’s the finished oval-shaped pond itself, which forms a heart through being bisected by the book’s spine and binding, as the pages rise from its centre. Which is clever.

I don’t think that pond was ever going to be big enough for ducks, but ambition is a beautiful thing.

SLH

Buy The Pond and read the Page 45 review here

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Box Brown…

“Andy, how come you like the bad guys? They’re mean and they cheat.”
“Yeah… they’re mean… They can get away with anything!”

I first came across Andy Kaufman in the very late seventies in his role as the loveable Latka Gravas in the sitcom Taxi. I remember being fascinated as a very young kid by this oddball character that everybody seemed to like. There was something childlike and otherworldly about the character than instantly made you warm to him. But because Kaufman died so young in 1984, aged 35, I never really knew that much else about him, probably like most people outside of the US, where he was infamous.

In fact, Kaufman became almost universally reviled and disliked in America for his various other appearances on television and his seemingly strange wrestling career that saw him wrestle only women including declaring himself the Women’s World Wrestling Champion. It wasn’t until I watched the Jim Carrey-helmed biopic Man On The Moon from 1999 that the genius of Andy Kaufman started to make some sense. The man wasn’t a madcap comedian in archetypal American sense, he was a performance artist who from a very early age understood that playing the heel, in wrestling parlance, was going to get you a far more visceral response and fervent engagement from the audience, than simply being a nice guy, however talented.

 

 

Andy Kaufman took that performance art to such a level with his obnoxious characters, always staying in character whilst in public, that only his very close friends and family knew who he really was, a loveable, gentle man who didn’t drink or do drugs and practiced transcendental meditation every day without fail. Obsessed with Elvis, magic and in particular wrestling from a very young age, he quickly decided he wanted to entertain people, and then set about building his own unique path to stardom.

 

 

This work, from a creator who would probably relish in the title oddball himself, Box AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, TETRIS, ANDRE THE GIANT Brown, chronicles the short, spectacular life and career of a man who delighted in being misunderstood and revelled in the rage he could induce in people. It’s a little ironic, therefore, that he probably remains best known by the general public for the one character that everyone did love, Latka Graves, who in emotional terms was the closest Andy came to portraying and revealing any element of himself to the world at large.

 

 

When I heard Box Brown was doing this particular autobiography, I wasn’t remotely surprised as he makes no secret of the fact he loves wrestling as much as Andy Kaufman did. In fact this time around Box wanted to explore the make-up of a man who loved fooling people even more. But you don’t remotely have to be a wrestling fan, or indeed even an Andy Kaufman fan to love this work. Knowing practically nothing about him I was utterly engrossed by every aspect of his existence as brought to life by Box. Truly one of the late twentieth century’s strangest stars. As penned by one of the twenty first’s!

JR

Buy Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman and read the Page 45 review here

I Hear The Sunspot vol 2: Theory Of Happiness (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino…

Of I HEAR THE SUNSPOT VOL 1 I wrote…

“Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

I don’t know!

Even after finishing I’m not sure! When they talk about a gentle romantic comedy, this is like being oh so teasingly tickled with a feather duster. You don’t know whether you actually like it, but it does feel rather pleasant. Or so they tell me…”

So… after finishing this sequel which, following the smash success of the original manga and its subsequent film adaptation, apparently only came about due to the huge public demand in Japan from people absolutely desperate to know the answers to those questions above… I really can only begin my review of this volume with…

Will they?

Won’t they?

Are they?

Well, I guess you can imagine that all those enchanted members of the public weren’t after an unhappy ending… so you can probably take a good guess at how this mixed-up matter of the heart ends up…

Or maybe not… HAHAHAHA!!

Yes, volume two is just as teasingly, tantalisingly frustrating for all those who are grappling with Kohei and Taichi’s lack of err… grappling… as they continue their “more than friends, less than lovers…” pas de deux routine.

There will be no third volume. I can at least be kind enough to tell you that…!

Meanwhile, Taichi has seemingly grown up somewhat since the last volume and is behaving considerably more like a responsible adult. He’s always had a big heart and now he’s trying to do his best to help more people like Kohei, who despite becoming ever more independent, continues to struggle in the world at large with his profound hearing impairment. In fact, between Taichi’s good works and Kohei’s increasing self-reliance, the friends are spending less and less time in each other’s company. Plus there’s a new friend on the scene…

When they do get a bit of quality time together, once again the hard of hearing Kohei repeatedly fails, or chooses not to see, the subtle yet semaphore-sized romantic signalling of the boisterous, bellowing Taichi, much to Taichi’s agonising dismay. Scene after scene of mildly comedic misunderstandings, unfortunate mishaps and missed / botched opportunities for pronouncing said feelings will practically have you screaming at the page. It’s like being a love-struck incompetent teenager all over again!!

As the two continue to be like ships that pass in the night, one does begin to wonder if their ‘relationship’ will ever find safe harbour or end up dashed on the rocks once and for all. Or even just continue drifting aimlessly on and on without actually ever getting anywhere…? For I did also comment of volume one that I never knew non-romance romance was actually a sub-genre…

(PSSST!!! No volume three remember… Don’t give up hope just yet!!!)

JR

Buy I Hear The Sunspot vol 2: Theory Of Happiness and read the Page 45 review here

The Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Carlo Zen & Chika Tono…

“You will be born into an unscientific world…
“…as a woman…
“… come to know war…
“… and be driven to your limits!!!”

No, not a real-life story, but a marvellously complicated piece of fantasy with a couple of salient points to make. But mainly just madcap mayhem.

An obnoxious Japanese salaryman manages to get pushed under a train by someone he’s just taken great delight in making redundant and finds himself, to his surprise, getting admonished by what appears to be God. Being the sort of irritating smartarse he is, he starts talking back to said deity, and then to his even greater shock, gets told he’s going to be reincarnated as a female child soldier in a war torn alternate version of Europe.

 

 

Now, Tanya, as he subsequently becomes, does have some magical military abilities, but it’s clearly no picnic of a life for a nine year old. However, applying the same sort of ruthless Machiavellian stratagems and ruthless approach to his, sorry her, new career, as he did to his carving through the rank and file and up the greasy corporate pole, she soon becomes a lauded, decorated war hero with several bloody victories to her name at the front. Despite the fact that what she’s actually trying to do is simply get a safe posting behind the lines. It’s almost like someone has got it in for her…

 

 

Meanwhile, it turns out there are several Gods, of all the flavours you would expect. Who are bickering and tinkering away with their various creations behind the scenes, playing games with each other and just generally abusing their omnipotence.

 

 

Where it’s all going I have absolutely no idea, but it’s as fun as it sounds daft. Which is very and completely, respectively.

JR

Buy The Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman s/c (£17-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Mark Verheiden & Andy Kubert, Arthur Adams, Michael Alred, Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Mark Buckingham, Matt Wagner, John Totleben, Eddie Campbell, others.

In which we concentrate on the question “Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader?”

I’ll tell you what happens when you finish a great story by Neil Gaiman: you go Very Quiet and Very Still. Nothing else happens except in your mind, and perhaps not even there for a few seconds. It needs time to process, to percolate. Shhh…

From the literary magician who can transform a motorcycle manual into something that not only sounds but is profound, comes another story about telling stories and indeed about stories told. Or, as Alan Moore might put it with particular application here, “All stories are true”.

After Lord knows how many fingers tapping on Lord knows how many keys, and so many wrists rendering different shades of pencil, there are so very many tales told about Batman in so many different ways that not all of them join up. How could they? Why even should they? Does it actually matter? The only important thing is that The Batman never gives up: “There’s always something you can do.” He’ll live, he’ll die and he’ll live again in animation on the television, in live action on the silver screen and on the page in prose and in comicbook form: revised, re-envisioned, reinvented.

 

 

This is Gaiman and Kubert’s answer to the question of discontinuity, embracing it all in word, in form and in deed. And celebrating it by paying tribute. Kubert’s pencils are glorious, and his ability to mimic Mazzucchelli, Lee, Kane, Adams, McKean et al is stupendous. In addition, can I confess that I guffawed at Two Face’s car?

 

 

As the story opens, Batman lies dead in a casket. His friends and adversaries from across the last several decades gather round in the back of the Dew Drop Inn (and you should, you really should) tended by the man who killed Bruce’s parents in Crime Alley.

 

 

Each stands up to tell a different story of his demise or recall what the driven dark knight said about life. As they do so, the man they are mourning listens to them closely and watches unseen, unsure of what he is witnessing. Is Bruce dead? And if so, who is his female fellow shade?

“This is Crime Alley.”
“Yes. Very good.”
“But it hasn’t looked like this for sixty years or more. This is crazy… Why are we here?”
“Why? Bruce, you never left.”

The finest pages are most certainly the last, but my secular self very much enjoyed this exchange edited to safeguard your own discovery, summing up exactly why I just don’t care whether or not there is an afterlife. It’s one of the best explanations of and exhortations to altruism that occurs to me right now:

“Are you ready to let it go now? To move on?”
“To go to my final reward? I told you, I don’t believe in –”
“You don’t get Heaven, or Hell. Do you know the only reward you get from being Batman? You get to be Batman.”

 

 

Contains WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER plus SECRET ORIGINS #36, SECRET ORIGINS SPECIAL #1, WEDNESDAY COMICS #1-12, BATMAN #686, DETECTIVE COMICS #853 and GREEN LANTERN/SUPERMAN: LEGEND OF THE GREEN FLAME #1.

SLH

Buy The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Pizzeria Kamikaze h/c (£22-99, Archaia) by Etgar Keret & Asaf Hanuka

Compulsive Comics Sc (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Eric Haven

Crosswind vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Image) by Gail Simone & Cat Staggs

Exo h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Jerry Frissen & Philippe Scoffoni

Yellow Negroes And Other Imaginary Creatures (£14-99, New York Review Comics) by Yvan Alagbe

The Inking Women: 250 Years Of Women Cartoon And Comic Artists In Britain h/c (£19-99, Myriad) by Nicola Streeten & Cath Tate

Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Ian Lendler & Xanthe Bouma

Motor Girl Omnibus s/c (£24-99, Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore

A Game Of Thrones vol 1 h/c UK Edition (£14-99, Harper Collins) by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham & Tommy Patterson

Angel Catbird vol 3: The Catbird Roars h/c (£12-50, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Brody’s Ghost Collected Edition (£20-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley

Star Wars: Jedi Of The Republic – Mace Windu s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matt Owens & Denys Cowan, Edgar Salazar

Troll Hunters: Tales Of Arcadia – The Secret History Of Trollkind (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Marc Guggenheim, Richard Hamilton & Timothy Green II

Justice League vol 5 s/c: Legacy (Rebirth) s/c (£14-99, DC) by Bryan Hitch & Fernando Pasarin

Teen Titans vol 2: The Rise Of Aqualad s/c (Rebirth) (£13-99, DC) by Ben Percy & Khoi Pham, Pop Mhan

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 1 – Great Power s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby

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

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 1 – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Larry Ivie & Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers

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

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 3 – The Masters Of Evil s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich & John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, George Tuska, Gene Colan

Avengers: Epic Collection vol 4 – Behold… The Vision s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Roy Thomas & John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith, Frank Giacoia, Howard Purcell

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 7: I’ve Been Waiting For Squirrel Like You s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ryan North & Erica Henderson plus Anders Nilsen, Michael Cho, Carla Speed McNeil, Chip Zdarsky, others

Weapon X vol 2: Hunt For Weapon H s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Marc Borstel, Ibraim Roberson

Fire Punch vol 1 (£8-99, Viz) by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2018 week three

February 21st, 2018

Featuring Tove Jansson, Nicola Davies, Cathy Fisher, Vera Greentea, Laura Muller, Kirsten Wild, Zara Slattery. Sebastian Girner, Galaad, and Jason

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

“This is where the forgotten spirits wait, hoping that someone finds an old photo and lights a candle for them.
“They smell like the rain. No, like a flood.”

No one has truly died until they’re forgotten.

Their spirits survive in our recollections of how they affected our lives.

Throughout Mexico, families gather to celebrate and remember their immediate loved ones and older ancestors during the Day of the Innocents and the Day of the Dead, so keeping their legacies alive in their hearts and minds.

But some stories slip through the cracks – along with unfinished business – for not everyone leaves a living relative behind to keep that flame alive. Those spirits are restless, those spirits are pained.

Some of us cannot bear to be forgotten.

Emotional investment: do you know what ‘Nenetl’ means?

 

 

My second review of our Greentea Publishing comics imported direct from Vera herself is of this complete four-part fantasy which is immaculately structured and ever so satisfying once the true nature of Nena becomes clear, and her remaining ties to this world are disentangled, revealed, both to us and to the tight tale’s young cast. I wasn’t expecting anything quite so clever, but one should never underestimate Vera Greentea.

We first meet Nena in a bustling market square bathed in late-afternoon shadows – already decked out with street-straddling flags and sugar skulls galore – bumped into by tiny Jonah who’s sporting some short-legged, bright orange dungarees. I don’t think I’ve ever typed the word “dungarees” before. There are a lot more collisions to come, and I don’t mean that merely metaphorically. Laura Muller loves drawing multiple “strobe shots” of figures in flight across a single environment, thrusting them forward with a much greater sense of momentum than had they been split between panels. Almost always they are then brought to an abrupt halt, either by themselves on coming to the edge of a rooftop, or by being thumped into by someone else in a hurry. During the first issue alone that happens three times, and it’s very effectively done.

 

 

 

 

So what’s Jonah carrying? You’ll have to wait for part three. Why’s he in such a rush? Again, see part three! Why is Nena waiting there and where did she come from? I’d suggest patience until the middle of part two – that which takes place several hours earlier. I did promise you clever structure, didn’t I?

So exactly who is our Nena? Ah-hah! The secrets will all eventually out, for now you’ll only learn where she’s heading: an assignation with older Bastian, friend of Jonah, thence an ancestral vault which leads to a catacomb of skulls.

However, have you studied the cover to part one properly? There Nena dances, arms perfectly poised mid-air for balance, her lower leg striding daintily out from under her dress, revealing… Oh.

It’s another of those classic rhombus compositions like Caravaggio’s ‘David With The Head Of Goliath’ (Villa Borghese version), this time using the line of the leg rather than a sword to complete the circuit between hands, arms, head and foot.

And don’t you just love the luminous quality of Nena’s red dress?

 

 

Material like that shifts in colour depending on the quality of light falling across it; material like that shifts in colour depending on what lights shines through it, as Nena drops down from the rooftop, her dress fanning out, all seen from below with the sun up above, not transparent but translucent. Then there’s the forward / sideways roll upon landing and, yup, carmine joins the crimson.

 

 

Muller will later show you what she can do with blue hues too, both in the candle-lit catacombs and in the graveyard where confident, ambitious Violetta  (sister of Eli, all part of the same set of friends as Jonah and Bastian, as tutored by Father Eduardo) makes a terrible mistake in a ceremony whose consequences she doesn’t fully understand.

“The spirits are waiting…”

Oh yes! That, they are!

As with WRAITH, Greentea generously allows her visual storyteller, Muller, to do so much of the immediately obvious fancy work. A less judicious or self-confident author might be tempted to clog up the shape- and colour-driven pages with extraneous dialogue and hideous exposition simply to show that they’re working. Some people get paid by the paragraph, you see. However, when you’re self-publishing and you’ve had the good fortune to secure an artist like Muller on your comic, then it would a crime to clutter it up.

I can assure you that, instead, Vera has set all the tale’s hidden vertebrae into interlocking perfection.

SLH

Buy Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 1 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 2 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 3 and read the Page 45 review here
Buy Nenetl Of The Forgotten Spirits Part 4  and read the Page 45 review here

Don’t Call Me A Tomboy (£6-99, WildSlattern) by Kirsten Wild & Zara Slattery.

“Don’t call me a tomboy,
“I’m made of girly stuff
“like grazes, mud
“and tatty curls
“and toxic belly fluff.”

Artfully done!

I adore the entire attitude here, deftly delivered with a degree of defiance but also grace, as the young girls’ energy blasts unapologetically from the pages.

At 4” x 12” tall, I also adore the format which, on its first two of sixteen story pages, emphasises the other Winsor McCay elements: the lines, forms, the colours, the traditional rocking horse and the fierce, fantastical imagination of childhood, as well as the rhyme itself.

 

 

“Don’t call me a tomboy,
“my name is Lily-Lou,
“I love jumping through the treetops
“and hunting like a Sioux.”

Plus I adore the production values: thick card cover and silky-smooth pages.

What’s not to love?

Hurrah for individuals!

SLH

Buy Don’t Call Me A Tomboy and read the Page 45 review here

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

The fire has been lit, the stew has been eaten. It’s time for a friendly battle of wits.

“I am greater than a dragon and stronger than a Titan.
“The rich need me. The poor have me.
“And if you eat me, you die.
“What am I?”

Oh no, no, no, you’re going to have to buy the book to find out, but I can honestly say that I have seldom strayed across a more satisfying riddle.

I imagine we’ll be selling this fast-paced fantasy predominantly to adults, but you can also rack this safely next to LUMBERJANES, HILDA and BAD MACHINERY for the most excellent All-Ages adventure. The colours on the cover could not be fresher, while within you fill find rustic town roofs and windows lit like jewels in the night, forests given the most enormous depth with mixed sandy hues in the foreground spotlighted between greens which dominate the furthest stretches before glimpses, between tree trunks, of a blue sky beyond.

 

 

And then our small, gradually gathered crew discover The Dragon’s Maw, an ancient and vast labyrinthine citadel whose precarious stone steps spiral deep underground, taking them past warnings carved on the walls in a strange dwarven dialect, then across rickety old rope bridges spanning seemingly bottomless chasms.

I think, if it’s okay, I’ll turn back now; I’m not one for heights.

The initial, full-page reveal of the citadel which concludes chapter two (after two pages of groping blindly through darkness) is pure Tombraider. Glorious! I don’t mind sending Lara Croft into danger on my behalf.

 

 

We open late one evening in a tavern with war-painted, white-tufted Luvander delivering her finishing move with a flourish, winning hands-down at Dragon’s Horde: lots of lovely coinage to scoop up and spend! Ummm… not so much.

“You lousy cheat!”

Ooooh, such a sore loser!

He’s going to be very sore soon – they all are – for when they duff up then corner Luvander she responds with… is that’s dragonfire?! They’re going to need another tavern.

 

 

 

So that’s a mystery for another time. Normally she wouldn’t need it. She’s a nimble as anything, eluding the angry, armed townsfolk at her own leisurely pace with effortless acrobatics, but it does mean she’s back to sleeping in a barrel of smelly onions and down to one copper coin. Oh wait, there’s an urchin who hasn’t eaten for days. Back down to nothing, then.

It matters not, for Luvander is as tireless an optimist as she is an adventurer, forever smitten with a wanderlust which takes her out into the countryside and straight into the middle of a robbery. Instinctively she sides with the victims: Prince Aki, royal bodyguard Koro and Dorma Ironweed, a stocky young dwarf whom they’ve hired as a guide to The Dragon’s Maw. Her grandmother’s recipe for stew is quite spicy.

 

 

Prince Aki is only sixteen and embarking on his first quest, as is tradition. He may not match Luvander’s strength or cerebral dexterity, but he too is inextinguishably up-tempo, while Koro is ever suspicious. I suppose it’s her job.

Down they all go into darkness, seeking the Maw’s secrets and perhaps ancient gold. The stone stairs and passageways are littered with skeletons, so they’re not the first by any means. Unfortunately there’s someone hot on Luvander’s heels, and he brings with him two very big dogs. Also: none of them have noticed that there are braziers lit, and presumably kept fuelled…

 

 

Terrific stuff, with huge energy and humour, frantic, abyss-edge battles and, how I love a good dream sequence! Lots to try to interpret there: a stained-glass window, chains, padlock, temple ruins, treasure, a young Luvander… and what’s up with her eyes on occasion, anyway?

Do you like dragons? I do!

SLH

Buy Scales & Scoundrels vol 1: Into The Dragon’s Maw s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“I loved the little bedroom on the top floor of our pointy house. In summer, swifts nested in the roof above it and I watched their fledglings’ first flights from its window. They were perfect from the very start, soaring high to slice the sky with crescent wings.”

What superbly weighted cadence that final clause carries, darting up twice on “high” and “sky”, suggesting the power, speed and reach of the swifts’ sweeping trajectory, as well as their agile ability to “slice” with energy and precision.

That the fledglings were “perfect from the very start” is equally well worded. First sentences, I’m sure, are far from easy; but as more challenging third sentences go, that is a belter. Everything that follows is informed by it.

 

 

You’d be forgiven for thinking – given the manner in which I’ve chosen to introduce this eloquently expressed, profoundly moving and finally uplifting picture book – that you were about to launch into an idyllic memory of childhood delight, inspired by (and a tribute to) the almost inexpressible wonders of nature. You’d be forgiven because you’re not entirely wrong, but this is far more than that.

Cathy Fisher’s illuminations will make your souls soar as high as these birds’ constant, life-long flight; and your heart dip and twist, then beat again, in time to Nicola Davies’ almost impossibly successful evocation of what it can mean for a young child to anticipate the birth of a sibling with whom they long keenly and excitedly to share all things ebullient…

“That’s how it will be, I thought, me and my sister, racing and chasing, screaming with laughter and delight.”

 

 

… Only to discover, abruptly, that their newborn brother or sister doesn’t seem so immediately perfect after all.

“I could see that she would never race or chase. She didn’t even scream. Her dark eyes looked at me and she lay quite still.”

Here the air-borne freedom of the swifts lies in stark visual contrast to a baby who is beautiful, cocooned in soft cloth, but seen from behind the bars of her cradle, with wire-like coils of black and white scrawled above, then dragging the whole down into potential darkness.

 

 

As she gazes up into sky from the grass which bursts with dappled flecks of gentle summer colour, the older sibling’s initial, outright rejection is expressed with heartfelt regret but a candour which is vital, for this tale is told to “open up the subject of disability for young readers” so that communication can begin.

Where it takes you several pages later, however, after the swifts continue to screech, sweep and circle while the baby sister lies still, is… well, it’s perfect.

 

 

The reunification through understanding is inspired by the discovery of fledgling beached, as it were, on the lawn. It lies there, stranded, for swifts are incapable of taking flight except from above.

Clearly, the bird is going to need a helping hand… But that’s all it will take.

 

 

I wish I had even more interior art for you here. There’s a close-up against black of the fledgling’s head and winged shoulder, its glistening black eye reflecting the white-clouds and blue sky it yearns for once again, and the face of its new friend. The image is echoed a few pages later, and that one I do have for you, life and love radiating from the soft skin, lips and eyes.

Such immaculate structure!

 

 

I’m sorry it took me a couple of years to find this book for you. You may well have already discovered it for yourself. Our primary focus – for which we have more vocation than a monastery full of monks – is on comics and graphic novels, and so is the focus of the solicitations sent to us by our suppliers. But we are equally passionate about all forms of art, especially when created by those who have something important to say and the skills with which to say it. So occasionally I stray upon something new, outside our immediate arena, to add to our burgeoning selection of illustrated prose within our Young Readers already established graphic novel section. For this one, I’m indebted to our dear friend Helena Pielichaty, Page 45 customer, author and passionate patron of reading.

For another all-ages picture book which has something vital to say (albeit in a completely different tone!), please Sarah McIntyre’s THE NEW NEIGHBOURS, reviewed.

SLH

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

The Dangerous Journey (£9-99, Sort Of Books) by Tove Jansson.

“Susanna woke one morning
“Bored and confused and cross.
“She gave her cat a warning.
“She told it who was boss.”

Oh, that will work out well – as anyone who’s ever been owned by a cat will know well.

“You’re old, Cat, and you’re lazy –
“Too peaceful, too serene.
“Not me! I’m wild and crazy
“And I’m sick of all this green.”

Okay, but be careful what you wish for, Susannah…! Uh-oh.

“I’d love it if some vandal
“Turned green to sparkling gold –
“Danger, disaster, scandal!
“What might our future hold?”

Danger and disaster as it happens, for when Susannah discovers a second pair of glasses in her green and pleasant land, it stops being either green or pleasant, but becomes a nightmare terrain of slimy swamps, eerie landscapes full of “hot red clouds”, erupting volcanoes and birds flying backwards, upside down. There follows a frightful  but also funny flight through a world turned topsy-turvy, but fortunately she encounters some familiar friends from Moomin Valley in the form of Hemulen, Snufkin, Sniff, Thingummy and Bob, and together, through foul weather, they plough their way back to the sanctuary of home.

 

 

I’m informed that this was the last picture book completed by MOOMIN’s Tove Jansson (see also WHO WILL COMFORT TOFFLE etc) and, as before, British poet Sophie Hannah has worked her magic on a literal translation by Silvester Mazzarella to render the most extraordinary thing: a beat-perfect English-language version which manages to replicate the specific, mischievous wit and linguistic prowess of Jansson’s original, and still it rhymes!

 

 

In fact it rhymes beautifully. Astonishing, really, especially given Thingummy and Bob’s predilection for swapping bits of words round (clue – they’ve just encountered the volcano):

“Thingummy muttered, ‘Flazing blame’.
“Bob said, ‘It’s hed hed rot!
“Smorld up in woke – a sheadful drame,
“When smorld is all we’ve got!’”

Shades of Lewis Carroll there, and that last line is particularly clever in retaining “smorld”, for it makes no sense without its earlier accompanying swapsie, yet every sense, encapsulating their entire predicament: a world that’s gone up in smoke.

 

 

If this is Jansson’s very last picture book then in some ways she’s come full circle, for MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, her first, also featured a fearful journey outside of the safety zone of Moomin Valley as Moominmamma leads Moomintroll through equally unnerving, spooky and potentially dangerous landscapes in search of a lost Moominpappa.

THE DANGEROUS JOURNEY comes with a quite traditional structure: tranquillity enjoyed, tranquillity lost (well, actively rejected) then tranquillity ultimately restored after much penitence and strife, with the unspecified verdant meadows replaced by and upgraded to the tulip blooms of magical Moomin Valley. You’ll note that the visual treatment of the two idylls is markedly different too: the first is serene, sedate, quaint, picturesque – what I might call country cottage – whereas Moomin Valley is a riot of cartoon effervescence.

 

 

 

There’s no further mention of the strange second pair of glasses – they’re not taken off – but the cat’s back, still sleeping soundly, and is treated and greeted with a great deal more appreciation.

Sorry? Yes, belated spoiler warning, possibly, but as with many things it’s very much the journey, not the destination.

SLH

Buy The Dangerous Journey and read the Page 45 review here

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

Classy collection of four silent books, previously available separately, from the creator of I KILLED ADOLF HITLER, LOW MOON, IF YOU STEAL, ON THE CAMINO all reviewed with interior art so that you can get an idea of what Mark’s talking about.

Of Tell Me Something, Mark wrote:

Two conventions, one from comics, one from film, both from the same ear. All the faces here have blank eyes, no pupils (think Harold Gray). This tempers the expressions and makes each face (whether bird-like or dog-like) a mask. This is added to the use of (silent) film titles and the characters’ actions (hard) boiled down to archetypes. You’ve got the femme fatale with the two rival suitors, one from the wrong side of the tracks, a disappearing father and hired goons. Very refreshing to see Jason keep the ‘beauty’ drawn in the same style as the rest of the cast. Too many times I see an artist abandon a (for instance) gritty style to up the cheesecake on the dame. Just a pet peeve.

 

 

Of You Can’t There From Here [one of my favourite titles to any book — think about it!], Mark wrote:

Two evil henchmen take time off from fetching fresh brains for the evil scientist masters to have lunch in town. While they complain about the hours and the pay there is bedlam and love happening around them. The mad scientist has fallen for the bride of the monster but the monster doesn’t want to give her up. Jason adds a mundane layer to the horror story.

 

 

Of The Living And The Dead, Tom wrote:

Second instalment in the Norwegian cartoonist’s horror/comedy trilogy which started with ‘You Can’t Get There From Here’. This time he offers flesh-eating funnies with a George A. Romeo by way of Buster Keaton Zom-Rom-Com. Truly original twist at the end too, but I won’t give that away. This is carried once again by Jason’s intrepid use of timing, each panel perfectly captures the motion and the meaning of each second. Being almost silent – the little dialogue there is interrupts the visuals by stealing its own panel much like a silent film would give a few frames for the same effect – this almost invites you to steam through the action until you’re flying through the pages like a flip-book. More please, sir!

 


Of Meow Baby, Tom wrote:

Fun, short, mostly silent tales about Jason’s non-specific anthropomorphic versions of Hammer Horror staples Elvis, Godzilla, Godzilla’s mum, The Terminator, a caveman, a ’50s-esque Alien, a lynch-mob and an ice-cream vendor. Difficult to convey just how visually funny these are, but if you’ve read his more sombre tomes such as HEY WAIT, imagine the same heart-rending, understated timing applied to comedy. It’s pitch-perfect. 

And of Almost Silent, Stephen wrote:

Classy collection of four silent books previously available separately.

Never let it be said that I don’t do my research.

SLH

Buy Almost Silent and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

American Gods vol 1 h/c (£20-00, Headline) by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Box Brown

Bible Of Filth h/c (£30-00, David Zwirner Books) by Robert Crumb

Capture Creatures (£13-99, Kaboom!) by Frank Gibson & Becky Dreistadt

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: An Art Book h/c (£24-99, SelfMadeHero) by Reinhard Kleist

Uber vol 6 s/c (£17-99, Avatar) by Kieron Gillen & Daniel Gete

White Sand vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Dynamite) by Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin & Julius Gopez

Yellow Kayak h/c (£12-99, Simon & Schuster) by Nina Laden & Melissa Castrillon

The DC Universe By Neil Gaiman s/c (£17-99, DC) by Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Mark Verheiden & Arthur Adams, Michael Alred, Simon Bisley, Sam Keith, Mark Buckingham, Matt Wagner, John Totleben, Eddie Campbell, others

Astonishing X-Men vol 1: Life Of X s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Jim Cheung

Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart vol: 1 Riri Williams s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Stefano Caselli

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2018 week two

February 14th, 2018

Eternal: A Shieldmaiden Ghost Story (£6-99, Black Mask) by Ryan K Lindsay & Eric Zawadzki with Dee Cunniffee.

“Battle is a constant, inside and out.
“Reflection is something only found in still waters.”

I do love a double meaning and a deft turn of phrase. I found this to be eminently quotable.

ETERNAL is a juicily drawn, artfully coloured, album-sized graphic novella whose prologue – revisited intermittently – comes framed with great style and class, letting a whole lot of light in. Once we’ve moved passed the cover in Page 45’s Weekly Reviews Blog you are going to want me to stop writing and leave you to drool. I’ll just mention this before I forget: although each page I’ve provided is exquisite in its own right, there are even more gasp-inducing spectacles within from a green-misted morning to a radiant sunset followed three pitch-black pages later by a full-page, crackling, boat-bound pyre that glows in the night.

Sean Phillips and Marc Laming have both ordered copies, and there’s no greater compliment to (and endorsement of) an artist than being purchased by one’s peers.

Some of Zawadzki’s expressions put me in mind of 100 BULLETS’s Eduardo Risso, some of the line textures of Simon Gane (see ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD), while subject and setting are going to appeal enormously to fans of NORTHLANDERS, BLACK ROAD and VIKING: THE LONG COLD FIRE.

 

 

 

As to the colouring by Cunniffee, there’s a substantial essay in the back (though sadly no process pieces – you have the line artist on hand for that) about his approach to this and several other projects which should prove very useful to those beginning their studies or commencing their careers. Cunniffee’s use of an overlaid watercolour effect for the skies and the pyre fire alone provide a subtle but strikingly effective contrast to the otherwise untextured colours, as when thick clouds of smoke belch and billow from a fortress destroyed by the shieldmaidens, along with its occupants.

Or so they think.

“When you play with magic, you come across problems.
“When you murder magic, you create problems.”

Some of my sale pitches are more narrative than others (STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV #1 was almost entirely narrative two weeks ago, but I enjoy telling stories, and here stories sell), others are more analytical. This time I’m going to let the interior art do all of the talking and leave you to unlock the majority of the tale’s trajectory for yourself.

However, we begin with a brief lesson on the pragmatic necessity of violence in a world where, if you do not visit upon others, it will be visited upon you:

“I want to travel, I want to explore. Why must those things come with violence?” asks the young boy.
“They mustn’t, yet, alas, they do. This is merely the reality of things. But if you are the one cutting then you get to decide what’s cut.”

 

 

There’s an inarguable wisdom to those words under such circumstances, and our chief protagonist and shieldmaiden Vif will be doing a great deal of slicing and dicing accompanied by inset panels of zoomed-in effect which emphasise the speed of the slashes and thrusts. She is adept.

“It’s not about violence, Grimr…
“It’s about control.”

The problems will arise when she loses it – her self-control – twice.

 

 

When she does so the first time, there is a subtle visual clue right at the bottom of the page which merely hints at what she has done. The full, horrific reveal is carefully delayed until you’ve turned over the page, then you see what her rage has wrought.

Anyway, I suspect you may be craving more art. I have it. Go for your life!

 

 

 

Lastly:

“You poison the water of the world and then decry its taste?”

Sick burn!

SLH

I promise this will be back in stock next Wednesday.

Buy Eternal and read the Page 45 review here

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

Please treat this as if I’m reviewing volume one.

I am. I’m reviewing both.

“Did you just say you’re a Briggs?
“As in Briggs Land?
“As in those Nazis?”

One of the most terrifying series currently on our shelves, BRIGGS LAND is a riveting read containing no horror other than that which is real to our world: control through intimidation in the form of threats of violence which are always followed through with occasional deliberation but no hesitation whatsoever.

On the flipside it is, at its heart, the struggle of one woman to right decades of male wrong on the vast tracts of land that she so precariously owns. Does she even own it? That, along with her authority, is up for vicious, vitriolic contention.

 

 

Most of the women on Briggs Land rarely leave its hundred square miles of privately owned property.

In BRIGGS LAND VOL 1 we learned of one husband who forbade his wife to wear shoes. He took them away so that she wouldn’t stray, even from their household. To call it a patriarchal environment would be the most massive understatement, and if you imagine that its women resent this, then you would be wrong. It is so ingrained, so inculcated, that they believe in it too.

The sole exception is our main protagonist, Jim Briggs’s wife Grace. Not only has she seen the atrocious effects of his lack of empathy for women over these many years, she knows what is coming for her people, fast and furious, if she doesn’t wrench control from her husband right now.

 

 

For although Jim Briggs lies in jail, his influence remains at large, potent, infectious and commanding loyalty as fiercely as it always has done, from those who don’t know what he’s up to. What he’s doing is a deal with the Albany D.A. to secure early release by selling off Briggs Land from under everyone’s feet… to the very country from which they originally seceded. Their prison-bound patriarch is their ultimate traitor and – other than Grace – none of them know it.

So here she so resolutely stands, carving out as much command as she can, while under assault from all sides: the media, the FBI, the local police authorities who want the most money and can control access to their very amenities, and her own family. Her husband in particular has Grace aggressively in his sites, and she can’t even trust her eldest son not to misuse their neo-Nazi affiliations to extort what he wants from their former collaborators.

The threats to her life could come from anyone, at any time, and they do.

Breathe out.

 

 

Where Woods will surprise you this volume is in presenting a completely different angle.

I don’t know how you view American secessionists, but I imagine the opening quotation comes quite close: open, modern, reasonable and liberal are not going to play high on your hit lists. Nor should they: BRIGGS LAND VOL 1 made that very clear.

Oh, Grace will continue to come under increasing not decreasing threat (and from more quarters still), but Woods presents people as individuals and bigotry from both sides, not only at ground level, but on a socio-political scale too. I wouldn’t expect the writer of LOCAL, NEW YORK FOUR, DEMO. DMZ, STARVE, NORTHLANDERS, BLACK ROAD and more not to be nuanced.

 

 

This, from Grace, for a start:

“We didn’t start Briggs Land and invite you in just to see you all turn into addicts and white trash stereotypes.
“We’re supposed to be better.”

Some things can and should be cauterised, but the rot which remains has a way of making its way back home to haunt you. Expect complications.

These include an innocent backpacking couple straying on their land and getting the wrong end of a hidden-boy stick, so necessitating (according to one of Grace’s sons) their confinement. Even if it’s only temporary, their release would prove problematic, especially since they are military helicopters circling overhead, along with the sensation-hungry mass media.

 

 

 

 

Now, how do you think the male-dominated Briggs Land residents would respond to abortion, eh? Remember, there is an overwhelming sheep and indeed pack mentality in a closed community like this, but there still exists individuals and that’s how Brian Woods renders them.

Rendering them also is the series’ established artist Mack Chater, along with Vanesa R. Del Rey and Werther Dell’Edera plus colourist Lee Loughridge, all at the top of their games, each in their various ways bringing an extra element of palpable, infectious fear to that which unfolds. In both books I’ve found myself constantly watching over shoulders – Grace’s most of all, but here another female family member brave enough to help out a teenager out in her hour of need.  Del Rey brings extra textures to the nocturnal excursion, along with worried looks, hunched shoulders and desperate, out-of-breath terror.

 

 

Mack Chater is a woefully underrated artist in the vein of Marc Laming, grounding Briggs Land’s inhabitants in the here and now, stinting not once on their environment, be it the private compound with its defiantly displayed, fluttering stars-and-stripes flag or the chain link fences which surround its otherwise most accessible entrances and exits, preventing unwanted intrusion or unauthorised egress. Then there are the old smuggling routes through remote, dense woodland to (and over) the Canadian border, so rich in lush colour thanks to Loughridge and such brittle detail that you can almost hear a twig snap.

That you can fear a twig snap.

SLH

Buy Briggs Land vol 2: Lone Wolves s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

There’s more than one way of feeling exposed.

It can be getting your kit off in public, to be sure, but there’s also finding yourself outside of your comfort zone and at the mercy of events you can’t seem to control.

Imagine, for example, finding yourself on the way to catch an international flight which you cannot miss, and pungently smelling of faeces. For no discernible reason. Such is the stuff of nightmares. There, but for the grace of God, go we!

Seagle has had plenty of experience of both vulnerabilities and generously opens himself up for you to have a right laugh at his expense – and a good think. You will learn loads because, surprisingly, this is as much a travelogue as anything else, and it’s all the richer for it.

The co-creator of IT’S A BIRD… and THE RE[A]D DIARY with Teddy Kristiansen has had professional cause to visit countless cities all over the globe where he has observed much to bring you great mirth, including different attitudes to communal nudity when it comes to swimming pools, saunas and showers.

 

 

Then there are his first-hand experiences of being naked in public. Not on the street – though there was one notable exception in Helsinki where out of necessity he found himself spread-eagled, starkers, like a starfish in the snow – but in places where most of us would naturally expect to strip… except, he informs us, in the US of A:

“[This] may seem obvious to non-Americans, but I can assure you that in the U.S.A., most pool-goers shower in their swimming suits, so as not to have to get naked.”

Good grief! And I thought the British were self-conscious prudes.

 

 

Put into the eye-opening context of America’s full-throttle recent retreat from nudity (as late as the ‘70s, during gender-segregated swimming sessions at some high schools, swimming naked for boys was mandatory), this is a personal journey through personal journeys of one man emerging into a healthy equanimity with removing his clothes from after a lifetime of crippling embarrassment when it came to his body on account of considering himself physically inferior, almost translucently pale and skinny.

For Steven it began with a girl – of course it did! – a girl whom he fancied at school. She called him “cute”, constantly, and he took it as a huge compliment… until the day on which he discovered that she was referring to his lack of muscular, manly development, and she made a big show of it in front of her friends.

 

 

It’s then that t-shirts and shorts were abandoned for decades, even in the sweatiest of weather, in favour of maximum length and multiple layers.

There’s an all too similarly sad moment in Liz Prince’s TOMBOY.

Recovering from this was a gradual progress that began, improbably enough, during one memorable experience at a tiny comicbook convention in Alicante. It doesn’t seem the most likely venue to be forced out of your clothes in front of others, does it? Nevertheless, that is what happens, but not on stage. The trauma begins with a friendly football match, the prospect of which was trauma enough for Steven who had no faith in his athletic prowess, nor the slightest comprehension of soccer rules. And I know what you may be thinking: “Oh come on, it’s only a game!” But I still have regular nightmares of being forced on stage without having even read the play in the first place, let alone memorised its lines. It’s exactly the same thing, and Seagle is ever so adept at placing you squarely in his emotional, short-coming shoes.

 

 

The break-through began when he bit the bullet of this post-match, communal shower and in full fear of being judged physically by those much buffer than himself. He found that he was not. Not one jot. No one was remotely interested.

Flipping backwards and forwards in time, the writer than expands on his liberation from self-stifling anxiety, not to a whey-hey get-it-all-out exhortation towards exhibitionism but to a realisation that this and his other fears surrounding nudity proved to be completely ill-founded. He’s equally eloquent and candid about all that. There’s even a personal, circumstantial-evidence poll about what his straight friends and his gay friends say they fear most about showering with other men. It does make perfect sense.

Now, I began this casual assessment by proclaiming that this collection of essays harboured far more than a catalogue of bath-house experiences, yet that is what I’ve appeared to fixate upon. I promise you that I wasn’t kidding.

Sometimes the naked bits feel like more of an excuse for other even more interesting anecdotes with which he’ll regale you in full – like Seagle’s complete inability to recognise the film-famous out of their celluloid context – but instances of skin-bearing actually act as an editor of sorts, confining what is, I suspect, a five-fold treasure-trove of additional stories to a later collection. “If it doesn’t involve stripping, then I can’t even go there.”

Yet.

 

 

 

Each essay is illustrated by an artist whom you’ll grow so comfortable with that their successor will prove quite the surprise and delight. Some bring you something close to comics, others will deliver a more prose-and-illustration effect. One will cram your cranium full of yearning to visit the old / new majesty of Tallinn, newly freed from Soviet occupation. Now therein lies a sense of historical perspective!

Another will make you shudder as you embark on an ill-advised excursion into Karlovy Vary which you’ll wish Seagle had shied well away from. Seagle too! It’s so dank and darkly illustrated that you might fear you were straying into the latest hostel movie. Brrrrr…

As to why, after his flight out of Barcelona, he – and he alone – was bundled out of the plane in Munich by shouting, armed guards…

 

 

 

 

So many of my favourite pages, however, are the chapter introductions / interludes by Emel Olivia Burell. They are majestic, and I’ve a fair few for you here!

SLH

Buy Get Naked and read the Page 45 review here

 

Godshaper s/c (£17-99, Boom!) by Si 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 RPG video-game characters, both of which we long 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.

The first but by no means last Shaper we meet is called Ennay, he of the braces and diamond ear stud, 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.

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?

 

 

So what else lies in store? Peggy Slim, queen of Synthpop Soul: her gigs fill stadiums, while her god has grown big enough to act as her entire stage set, such are the rewards she reaps. She’s married – very happily married – but this union harbours a secret. And what of good ol’ fashioned organised religion in this world of personal deities? Oh, same old, same old, hate-mongering as usual.

“Consider now the true serpents in our midst…”

He means the godless, obviously.

SLH

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

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

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.

 – Abel Meeropol, ‘Strange Fruit’

“That’s one thing that most of us know that most white folks don’t. That race doesn’t really exist. Culture? Ethnicity? Sure. Class too. But race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom. Race is a strategy. The rest is just people acting.”

 

 

Zane Pitchback is an actor, and a consummate actor at that. He has to be. His job as a black journalist is to pass himself off as white, to travel south then infiltrate and report on the hanging of black men by white supremacists. This is a fiction, but it is a fact that “between 1889 and 1918 2,522 negroes were murdered by lynch mobs in America. That we know of.” And for the local people, it would be a gay family outing, including women and their children having their photographs taken as keep-sakes for the day in front of their dangling, humiliated and mutilated human trophies. By the 1930s it was no longer even considered news, but some extraordinarily brave individuals fought to make it news and expose the culprits by “going Incognegro”.

 

 

As the book kicks off Zane is posing as a photographer’s assistant at one such publicly perpetrated and community-supported murder, taking down names and addresses for free photographs, but his cover for once is blown and he barely escapes with his life. Unfortunately he’s been clocked. Returning to New York City, he’s determined now to exchange his anonymity for a little local recognition and a job as managing editor of the paper he writes for. He’s surely deserved it. But there’s one fresh file he cannot ignore: a report from Tupelo Mississippi of another young black man arrested and jailed for the murder of a white woman he was seeing and shared a moonshine operation with. The man is Zane’s brother.

 

 

This time it’s not enough to witness the almost certain lynching; this time Zane has to thwart it, and clear his brother’s name in the eyes of local population blind to such trivialities as truth or culpability, and policed by those who’d rather not start causing ripples by resisting the baying for blood. Unfortunately Zane’s city friend Carl, smarting from the jibes of his girlfriend, is determined to prove himself Zane’s equal by accompanying him on his mission, and with his brash behaviour and ham British accent he breaks one of the cardinal rules of undercover operations: keeping a low profile.

All of this would be gripping enough, but there’s a much wider mystery here: it’s a “who really dunnit?” for the murder itself is far from what it seems, there are several instances of mistaken identity, and there’s much to come out about the missing deputy, Francis Jefferson-White – it won’t be what you expect.

 

 

The work is substantial in length and substantial in depth with plenty to say about race and society both present and past (if it truly is). It’s also Pleece’s finest moment so far, particularly in his eloquently expressive faces, but also his use of light and shadow, either under sunlight or beside firelight. In spite of the new grey tones (all bar three pieces of interior art here are from the original edition), there’s a starkness and intensity which befits the exceptionally dire circumstances.

The language is pretty stark too.

SLH

Buy Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery h/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

“Order a weird art-house comic, get a weird art-house comic.”

 – Page 45 customer.

It is hard to disagree with that sentiment. Particularly meant in the positive sense, as it was. But then buy something from Koyama Press, and, well, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to get something that will test your artistic sensibilities, and possibly even your sanity, like recent work CRAWL SPACE by Jesse Jacobs did. It’s a graphic novel that we seriously considered making a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month but we just couldn’t get hold of enough copies.

This is actually weirder than that – which is saying something, trust me. But then this material was actually drawn on tracing paper for starters, something which Koyama Press have done their darndest to recreate in terms of paper stock, at probably not inconsiderable cost to themselves. Apparently the creator Connor Willumsen wanted to see what his creation looked like from both sides, which is very artistically diplomatic of him.

 

 

You can see where he has used what I assume is tippex for colouring or speech bubbles on the panels that are of a darker hued background. There’s a sequence that particularly stuck with me of a skunk and a man in a puffer jacket covered in capital Rs ascending some sort of stepped Mayan pyramid to arrive at what looks like a drawing table with a mysterious box just waiting there. Which is in fact a dream sequence that occurs during a trance induced in a cinema foyer… Which…

 

 

So what’s it really all about? Well, I’m actually going to cheat and quote the first paragraph from Koyama Press’ own blurb because I’m not sure I can describe something so resolutely abstruse and recondite as well as they do. And because there’s only actually about another three of you who will be remotely interested in buying this, as brilliant as it is, and Page 45’s impending refit is fast approaching. Time, as they say in the Twilight Zone, is a one-way street.

 

 

“Reality’s grip is loosened as Spyda and Lynxa explore a potentially constructed environment that shifts between dystopic future and constructed virtual present. Like a form of multistable perceptual phenomena, Anti-Gone exists in ambiguity.”

Okay, I probably should at least try. It’s a wee bit like some of Dash Shaw’s more out there material such as THE UNCLOTHED MAN IN THE 35TH CENTURY A.D. but not as finely polished, though that’s entirely because Connor Willumsen is doing his own thing exactly as he’s intended. However, it’s assuredly artistically worthy in its own right and absolutely deserving of attention. It’s big, bold ambitious comics, which I love, and if I think you like a bit of weird yourself don’t be surprised if I make you try to buy it the next time you’re passing the till…

 

 

I’ll leave you with a random line from one of his characters that sums Connor’s approach up perfectly…

“God damn, where did you get your style?”

JR

Buy Anti-Gone and read the Page 45 review here

 

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

“Good. It’s real simple. Do what I tell you and you’ll live through this. You understand me?”

No, not new recruit Jodie being inducted into the dark arts of Page 45 mail order, but Parker dispensing a pearl of choice wisdom to the bent cop he’s trying his very hardest to be civil to. Given the cop and his partner are doing their level best to help a crew of mob guys rub him out and steal his score, I’d say he’s being pretty darn considerate. For a master criminal, Parker certainly manages to get himself into a fair few tight spots, but I guess if everything went to plan, that’d be pretty boring.

Here, hot footing it from the scene of an armoured car heist after a nervous getaway driver  has managed to roll their car in the snowy conditions, he’s spotted leaping the fence into a locked up fairground by a couple of on the take cops picking up their pay-off from some local wise guys. Hearing reports coming in of the heist over the police radio and putting two and two together, the bad guys decide there’s some easy money to be had and posse up with the intention of relieving Parker of his cash. Unfortunately for them, well, he’s Parker. So, after surveying his surroundings, planning as many moves ahead as a chess grandmaster, including laying some ingenious booby traps, surely only an easy mark would bet against him walking out through the fairground gates with his swag.

 

 

Another excellent adaptation of a classic Richard Stark novel, Darwyn Cooke again brings our favourite tough guy to life in his own inimitable pulpy, period style. This time around the locale is the rather less glamorous Buffalo, New York, though we do once again open up with the now requisite, scene-setting two-page landscape splash. As ever, amidst the gala of glorious art on display, there’s a unique little conceit and this time around it’s a fold-out map, in a few different art styles of course, of the fairground itself.

Darwyn Cooke truly is a master of his craft, there’s so much stylistically to admire here, so much background detail, so many clever devices. It’s not often I really enjoy breaking down someone’s work, understanding how every panel and page are put together, every bit of space used for maximum effect, but if you take the time to read this work a second or third time and do so, you’ll realise it’s an absolute masterclass in how to graphically portray a dramatic, action-packed story, it truly, truly is. Marvellous work, and only succeeds in taking my appreciation of his abilities to even higher levels.

 

 

My only criticism, and it’s a very reluctant one, is SLAYGROUND feels a touch lightweight in plot compared to the previous three PARKER capers. It all seemed over too soon, and whilst the end pages promise Parker will return in 2015, even despite the additional short story thrown in for good measure after the main event, that seems far too far away right now. I’d been looking forward to this for ages and now the wait begins anew. Ah well, maybe I’ll just read this one more time…

JR

Buy Parker: Slayground s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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

Grisly, pulp tale set in 1920s New York and various other locales including a desert island. The head of the special investigative unit the UPI has been murdered in a particularly gruesome manner, and it falls upon John Lord to track down his mentor’s killer. There’s a pretty sophisticated plot which commences with the simultaneously telling of two separate tales, that of John Lord’s return to the Big Apple from the front after a spell in the forces, an appearance that seems to provoke an ambivalent response in pretty much everyone, and that of a group of castaways, marooned on an island after a rather brutal act of piracy.

This second tale, entirely wordless, would appear to reveal all about the identity of the murderer almost immediately, or is it in fact just a very clever red herring? I shall say no more!

 

The art is also most definitely up to the usual high standards of a Humanoids imprint release. Yet another highly recommended crime release! If you read and enjoyed THE BOMBYCE NETWORK, this will also appeal.

 

 

JR

Buy John Lord and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Bingo Love (£8-99, Image) by Tee Franklin & Jenn St-Onge

Corpse Talk Ground-Breaking Women (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Adam Murphy, Lisa Murphy

The Dangerous Journey (£9-99, Sort Of Books) by Tove Jansson

Demon vol 4 (£15-99, FirstSecond) by Jason Shiga

Don’t Call Me A Tomboy (£6-99, WildSlattern) by Kirsten Wild & Zara Slattery

Jimmy’s Bastards s/c vol 1 (£13-99, Aftershock Comics) by Garth Ennis & Russell Braun

Kim Reaper vol 1: Grim Beginnings (£13-99, Oni) by Sarah Graley

Lovecraft: The Myth Of Cthulhu h/c (£17-99, IDW) by Esteban Maroto

Lumberjanes vol 8: Stone Cold (£13-99, Boom! Box) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh & Carey Pietsch

The Pond (£11-99, Graffeg) by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher

The Secret Loves Of Geeks (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Margaret Atwood, Hope Larson, Cecil Castellucci, Gerard Way, Jamie McKelvie and many, many other

Titans vol 3: A Judas Among Us s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Dan Abnett & Brett Booth, Kenneth Rocafort, V Ken Marion, Minkyu Jung

X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson & Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, others

Baccano vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Ryohgo Narita & Shinta Fujimoto

I Hear The Sunspot vol 2: Theory Of Happiness (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yuki Fumino

RWBY (£9-99, Viz) by Shirow

Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Carlo Zen & Chika Tono

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews February 2018 week one

February 7th, 2018

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

 

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

We could not be more grateful or proud.

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

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

 

 

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

They really do! And Piper is beyond all containment.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

We Ship Worldwide!

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Of course she can!!

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

 

 

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using food!

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

“And Br’er Fox, he lay low!”

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

February 5th, 2018

Are you excited? We are beside ourselves!

And it is going to be glorious!

THERE HAS BEEN A DELAY!

OUR PRIMARY BUILDER IS HOSPITAL-ILL!

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

Because TBH our lighting has always been shocking.

Page 45 Will Remain Open Throughout Refit In Two New Locations

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dates Of Disruption: Commencing Monday 19th February

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

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

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

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

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

 

Date Of Discovery: Friday 16th March

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

Or a little earlier if we can.

Hooray!

 

We Need Your Help!

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

Watch This Space!

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

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

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

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

Twitter hashtag already in use: #Page45Evolution

 

FAQs

How much are you spending? £50,000

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Credit Where It Is Due:

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

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

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

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

Trust me! Trust Jonathan!

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

Thanks!

 – Stephen

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

Page 45 Credentials, Bringing Comics To All

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week five

January 31st, 2018

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

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

Do you often sit on park benches?

Maybe you just pass them by?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“THE WORLD’S STUPIDITY IS INFINITE.”

Which is fair enough.

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

“THE PARTY IS FINITE.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

Buy The Park Bench and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

Ooh, that sounds fab – I’ll take two!

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

I promise you the unpredictable.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

To be continued!

SLH

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

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

 

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

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

We will return to that anon.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Well, quite.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Can this day grow any more humiliating and debilitating?

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

“This must be a joke…”

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

And Samuel was not looking well.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

I think we’re on page twelve.

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

You can read a little bit about their mission here.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

JR

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

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

I love this sense of scale!

Is it okay if I start crying now?

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

“Lou’s not like other little girls…”

No, indeed, as you will see.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

This is spectacular. It truly is spectacular.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Fool me twice!

 

 

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week four

January 24th, 2018

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

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

SEE SOMETHING
SAY SOMETHING

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

SEE SOMETHING
SAY SOMETHING

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

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

 

 

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

It’s gone.

 

 

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

Oh my God! It’s —

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

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

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

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

There is so much laughter!

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

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

 

 

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

That’s very true.

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

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

 

 

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

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

“Tambi?”

Oh no.

 

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

We do indeed.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

(I’m sorry.)

Did you once have a fly in your soup?

Or a frog in your throat?

What about a shark in your bath? How frightful!

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

 

 

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

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

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

It is time to play the first game!

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

JR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

Fortunately someone else does.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Was that a bomb going off?

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

JR

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

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

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

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

Punisher Max: Kingpin

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

<BANG BANG>

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

 

 

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

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

Punisher Max: Bullseye

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

BANG!

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

 

 

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

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

Punisher Max: Frank

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

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

 

 

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

Punisher Max: Homeless

 

 

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

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week three

January 17th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Even the mildest among them are flashing their metaphorical teeth.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

This is generous storytelling. It reaps rewards.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

We still don’t know why.

This is the penultimate volume.

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

SLH

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

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

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

 – Zhuangzi

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

I’m not even kidding you.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

News headline:

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

Welcome to Generation Gone.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

This is going to get complicated.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

JR

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

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

STOP… HAMMER TIME!!!

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week two

January 10th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 – Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

SLH

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

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

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

Poor Tamsin!

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

It’s also a subplot.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

SLH

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

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

The Darrow is in the detail!

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

The first is a masterpiece of scene-setting:

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Even at all the earrings are ridiculous.

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I laughed when I read that line too.

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Not actual dialogue, although it swings close.

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

Collects the original first three volumes.

Of volume one, our Jonathan wrote:

“You perv.”

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2018 week one

January 3rd, 2018

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

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

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

You’re not a number, of course.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

SLH

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

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

Poor, poor, wonderful Maggie…

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hahahaha! Yup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“RIP”

And that’s why I love Liz Prince

SLH

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

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

“Avengers.
“It’s time for your meds.”

I believe that sums up this beautifully.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLH

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

SLH

Buy Aetheric Mechanics and read the Page 45 review here

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

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

Oh dear.

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

JR

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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