Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews June 2018 week one

June 6th, 2018

Featuring Ellen Forney, Karl Marx (!), Friedrich Engels (!!), Martin Rowson (!!!), JH Williams III, Gary Spencer Millidge, Julian Voloj, Thomas Campi, Grant Morrison, Darick Robertson, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Jeffrey Alan Love and so very many more in such a good cause!

Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c (£17-99, Image) by various, edited by JH Williams III…

“Guns are bad. The world is madness. Being a victim sucks. Conspiracy is strangling the truth.
“How am I supposed to poetically dramatize that in a couple of f%@*! comicbook pages?
“And to people who already know this.
“Everyone buying this book is doing it because they feel the same silent rage.
“It’s not like I’m going to shock and surprise them with my unique take!
“Vegas happened because we’ve tilted off our axis. And we all know it. We know!”

That’s Brian Michael Bendis, there. Please don’t worry, Brian, we are just so very, very grateful that there are people as eloquent and caring as you and the other 100+ writers and artists that gave their time and energy to espouse not just what we all know, but what we all feel.

 

Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

 

Before we go any further, let me give thanks by listing them in full, not least because to put them at the top where we normally do would break both our initial blog and the product page itself:

Rafael Albuquerque, Laura Allred, Michael Allred, Paul Azaceta, Henry Barajas, Jennifer Battisti, Brian Michael Bendis, Deron Bennett, Aditya Bidikar, W. Haden Blackman, Jeff Boison, Tyler Boss, Simon Bowland, Ivan Brandon, Bernardo Brice, John Broglia, Giulia Brusco, Ryan Burton, Kurt Busiek, Aaron Campbell, Mike Cavallaro, Craig Cermak, Cliff Chiang, Janice Chiang, Amy Chu, Sal Cipriano, Jeromy Cox, Christopher Crank, Rachel Crosby, Dee Cunniffe, Andrew Dalhouse, Nelson Daniel, Geof Darrow, Al Davison, Kelly Sue DeConnick, J. M. DeMatteis, Will Dennis, Michael J. DiMotta, Gustavo Duarte, Aaron Duran, Joshua Dysart, Pierce Elliott, Joshua Ellis, Mark Englert, Taylor Esposito, Triano Farrell, Lucia Fasano, Ray Fawkes, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Marco Finnegan, Tim Fish, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Tess Fowler, Tom Fowler, Rachael Fulton, Neil Gaiman, Monica Gallagher, Eric Gapstur, Michael Gaydos, Kieron Gillen, Isaac Goodhart, Sina Grace, Brandon Graham, Justin Gray, Stefano Gaudiano, Lela Gwenn, Brian Haberlin, Jason Harris, Matt Hawkins, Ray-Anthony Height, Daniel Hernandez, Talia Hershewe, Phil Hester, David Hine, Joe Illidge, Van Jensen, Jocks, Scott David Johnson, Joëlle Jones, Justin Jordan, Liana Kangas, Jarret Keene, Ryan Kelly, Eric Kim, Neil Kleid, Todd Klein, Dean Kotz, Ariel Kristiana, R. Eric Lieb, Jeff Lemire, Matt Lesniewski, Greg Lockard, Lee Loughridge, Marissa Louise, Andrew MacLean, Ollie Masters, Mariah McCourt, Jamie McKelvie, Mike Mignola, Mark Millar, Gary Spencer Millidge, Fábio Moon, B. Clay Moore, Moritat, Joe Mulvey, Patricia Mulvihill, Andrea Mutti, Chris O’Halloran, Michael Avon Oeming, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Richard Pace, Greg Pak, Alex Paknadel, Chas! Pangburn, Tony Parker, Michael Perlman, Pere Perez, Alex Petretich, Sean Phillips, Curt Pires, Nick Pitarra, Vladimir Popov, Javier Pulido, Cardinal Rae, Christina Rice, Jules Rivera, Darick Robertson, James Robinson, Gabriel Rodriguez, Robert Rose, John Roshell, Chris Ryall, Rafael Scavone, Erica Sthultz, Alex Segura, Kelsey Shannon, Alex Sheikman, Bill Sienkiewicz, Casey Silver, Gail Simone, Damon Smith, Matthew Dow Smith, Taki Soma, Matt Sorvillo, Jason Starr, Cameron Stewart, Dave Stewart, Matt Strackbein, Shaun Steven Struble, Ken Syd, Larime Taylor, Sylv Taylor, Paul Tobin, Noel Tuazon, Bryan Valenza, Geirrod Van Dyke, David Walker, Gabriel Hernández Walta, Malachi Ward, Dustin Weaver, Chris Wildgoose, J. H. Williams III, Kelly Williams, Scott Bryan Wilson, Chris Wisnia, Wendy Wright-Williams, Warren Wucinich

 

Art by Chris Wildgoose

 

In addition, J.H. Williams III (PROMETHEA, SANDMAN OVERTURE), resident of Las Vegas, has acted as the curating editor, which must have been quite the task given that the 75 contributions contained within the covers – the front one featuring a logo which is an inspired reworking of the iconic Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada sign combined with a thought-provoking vista – are an extremely varied mixture of eye-witness accounts brought to harrowing life, plus fictional stories and factual works which hauntingly illustrate this tragic shooting, currently the most deadly in modern US history with 58 fatalities and over 500 injured, and also the wider issues, be that the political football of gun control, comparative global statistics on spree-killers, mental and physical health issues for traumatised survivors, and so much more.

For example, Brian Michael Bendis’s contribution from which the pull quote above is taken (illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming, Taki Soma and lettered by Bernardo Brice), covers his own frustration at wishing he had done more personally to overtly oppose the lack of gun control in the US and his admiration for the teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting who are bravely standing up to be counted, and consequently viciously attacked for it by the right-media media, plus clueless vile trolls both online and in the real world.

 

Art by Phil Hester

 

I note for example that the family home of Parkland survivor, and subsequent vocal activist, David Hogg – who has even been accused of being a paid-for actor not even present at the shooting by conspiracy theorists – was recently ‘swatted’. A troubling and highly dangerous new phenomenon whereby someone falsely (and anonymously) reports a serious crime in progress at a particular address hoping that the householders will be hugely inconvenienced, if not indeed fatally shot (as has happened) by the rapid and heavily armed law enforcement response, typically involving SWAT teams, hence the slang term. Fortunately for David and his family, and perhaps not a little ironically, they were in Washington D.C. where David was receiving the Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian Award. Only in America…

You can do your bit, though, however small that seems, by buying this work as 100% of the net proceeds for the WHERE WE LIVE anthology will be donated to Route 91 Strong, a non-profit organization set up to help survivors of gun violence.

 

Art by Gary Spencer Millidge

 

It is such a diverse selection that it is tricky to put forward a favourite, if that’s the right word to use concerning such material, but Gary STRANGEHAVEN Spencer Millidge’s ‘The Watershed’, really stuck with me. It features a gun-toting action film hero plucked from the big screen to be educated by the ghost of a young girl about the recent history of mass shootings, both in the US and worldwide, including Dunblaine in Scotland, and the widely varying governmental responses and consequent statistical results.

 

Art by Gary Spencer Millidge

 

It also finishes with a couple of very salient observations concerning the Second Amendment, including that the arms which citizens should have the right to bare were of entirely lesser orders of magnitude in terms of killing power when it was originally written. The readily available precision-made modern assault rifle, replete with targeting scopes and bumpstocks for firing up to 120 rounds per minute, bares absolutely no comparison with a muzzle-loaded single-shot ‘long arm’ rifle. Thus, surely, the Second Amendment should be errr… amended?

One day, maybe…

 

Art by Michael Gaydos

 

Actually, just putting my future hat on again, and stepping into 2000AD-esque territory for a minute, what might hopefully ultimately make lethal weaponry irrelevant – aside from better mental health services, improved background checks on people wanting to buy guns, and if we can get carried away for a moment, the demise of the military-industrial complex – is improved non-lethal weaponry.

If cops could actually take down criminals in any and every given situation without needing to employ lethal force, be that through disorientating sonic weapons, ultra-fast acting sedative darts or indeed instantly hardening riot foam or some other crazy futuristic devices, then there is no  excuse whatsoever for private individuals to legally have lethal weapons. Tasers are a start, clearly, but it seems like police, some poorly trained American ones certainly, just think they are there to be used on unarmed people to execute a quick arrest, rather than actually trying to talk to people and understand what the problem is. So true, effective, 100% safe, non-lethal weaponry, meaning guns can be dispensed with by everyone, including the majority of law enforcement – given a certain other burning issue of the day in the US currently – would be a good and helpful thing.

 

Art by Aaron Campbell

 

As I say, one day maybe… Not so fussed about having Judges passing instant sentences and dispensing <ahem> righteous justice, though. But surely at some point, common sense in the US will begin to prevail amongst the majority of the population, even if it takes another generation or two, and then gun crime statistics and spree killings may finally begin to decrease.

JR

Buy Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c (£17-99, Super Genius) by Julian Voloj & Thomas Campi…

“You look like you haven’t eaten in days.”
“Ah…”
“No worries. My treat.”
“Maybe some soup?”
“Soup it is. What didya do for a living?”
“I did comics.”
“Oh nice. Anything I would know?”
“Well…”

Our opening prologue commences on a beautiful sunny day in a tree-lined park in Queens, New York, in 1975. An elderly man sleeping rough on a bench is taken by a kindly young cop to have some much needed breakfast, only to find to his surprise that he’s eating with one of the creators of Superman. The cop is obviously puzzled as to how Joe Schuster could have possibly ended up like this and when he asks him the question our story proper begins, narrated in the first person, with a subtle shift to a more period art style, right back to when Joe was a lad.

 

 

 

In fact, this starts slightly beforehand as we get the story of how Joe’s mother moved to North America from Russia with her sister. Along the way in Rotterdam they fell in love with the Russian Jewish owners’ sons of the hotel they were staying in and got married, before all heading off to Toronto together. Eventually, Joe and his mother and father would end up in Cleveland, which is where Joe would meet Jerry Siegel at Alexander Hamilton Junior High School where both were contributors to the school paper, The Federalist.

The two chums hit it off instantly and were soon collaborating on stories for the paper, before beginning to dream of finding a wider syndicated circulation for their creations. After some initial trial and error, both in terms of content and carrier, their fledging Superman character was snapped up by Nicholson Publications for inclusion in their Action Comics publication.

 

 

This was when Joe and Jerry made their fatal mistake by signing a contract which waived all future rights to the Superman character in exchange for a cheque for $130. A cheque which had the ignominy of both their names being spelt incorrectly, ensuring much embarrassment at the bank when they went to cash it. That contract proved to be an extremely costly error which haunted Siegel and Schuster for the rest of their lives.

The subsequent chapters of this fascinating work shows their toiling endeavours to eke out a living in the industry, firstly working on ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN, all the whilst mentally calculating and crucifying themselves over how much the publishers were creaming in, and their unsuccessful efforts to create another winner. Plus, every time another piece of merchandise appeared, or the 1950s TV adaptation and finally the smash 1978 film starring Christopher Reeves, it was like another hammer blow to their hearts and indeed, mental well being.

 

 

Eventually a compromise deal was reached, which provided them with a very belated stipend and credit for their creation, but it took a lot of pressure from within the industry, led by Neal Adams, to make it happen and even then, it was little more than a token nod from Warner Brothers, nervous that the bad press whipped up might affect box-office takings.

If you’re a true fan of comics and are aware of some of the various injustices perpetuated on creators by publishers over the years (and I note with some interest that the name DC Comics never actually appears anywhere in this work, presumably to avoid any litigious issues), you’ll find this a heartbreaking if informative and entertaining read.

 

 

Art-wise, the watercolour style palette and illustrative style reminded me rather of some Kyle Baker, but generally it provides the perfect historical feel for the work. The lack of pencils neatly and dreamily captures the sense of bygone days and a mythical American golden era. When the art shifts back to the pencilled, slightly more focussed style, in the mid-seventies for the wrap-up pages, it only serves as a further jarring reminder that for Siegel and Schuster, their creation, so universally beloved by the public, had been little more than a waking nightmare for them their entire careers, a ubiquitous omnipresent reminder of their youthful moment of naivety.

JR

Buy The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Communist Manifesto (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels & Martin Rowson…

“In this sense, the theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence…

… abolition of private property!”

Thereafter follows an intense Q&A discussion with the crowd at the Boojie Nights Kapitalist Komedy Club Open Mic Nite as Karl Marx performs his routine for the assembled Proletariat and Bourgeoisie. This particular line, as you perhaps might expect, provokes a disgruntled reaction from both sides of the crowd as rich and poor alike attempt to justify the continued existence of private property whilst Karl counters their arguments.

The thorny issue of private property, particularly land or dwellings, is something I have pondered myself before, but whilst envisaging a Star Trek-esque future where humankind has hopefully evolved past money completely. Presumably because automation of work has forced us all onto the dole to start with, but then assuming we manage to achieve some sort of utopia where there is a plentiful surplus supply of food and energy for all (through nuclear fission, I would imagine), hopefully currencies will subsequently experience the ultimate devaluation.

 

 

3D printers (basically replicators!) should mean people can produce pretty much anything they need, or indeed want, on the spot. All that would remain for debate in this new world… is who gets to live where… In this glorious new age of equality, if no one has to work, surely everyone is going to want the best weather and views? Unless the private ownership of all land and dwellings is removed and the right to live somewhere decided entirely at random, and perhaps not in perpetuity, people who owned said land are going to want to live on it. Or indeed charge someone else for the privilege. Hmm…

Of course, where the utopian Star-Trek model I referred to earlier will go totally tits up is when the ultra-rich start to hoard life-extending technology at the expense of everyone else, if they haven’t already… Currently they spend their money on maintaining their outward appearances, but once the process of avoiding errors creeping into RNA replication is cracked, near-immortality beckons, and do you seriously believe that will be shared with everyone? Apologies if you have heard me rant on about this before.

 

 

No, of course not, and the excuse will be that the limited resources of our planet couldn’t possibly sustain everybody suddenly not dying. Which is a fair point actually. So, probably the best for all concerned, which is what they will tell us, is if the great and good, the leaders of men, keep said technology for themselves (see LAZARUS), to help humankind steer the tricky course out to colonising the stars. And presumably exporting rapacious capitalism to the rest of the solar system and beyond…

You can make the case, despite Martin Rowson’s assertions in his foreword that at one point in time since Marx’s death in 1883 nearly “half of humanity would be governed nominally according to the ideas and aspirations originally expounded in The Communist Manifesto…” and that “…in the 21st century over a fifth of us, for good or ill, would be still.” that true Communism, in its purest sense as envisaged in this manifesto, has never been practiced. I would personally concur with that, because to my mind, until we have limitless energy, and by extension, thus an abundance of resources of all kinds, and thus need and want are completely eliminated, we can’t evolve past Capitalism. Of course, we should still try to be kind to everyone and practice compassion in the meanwhile. Which could very easily lead me on to a discussion regarding the Venn diagram of Buddhism and Communism, but that’s for another time…

 

 

Wonder what Karl Marx and Engels would have had to say about all that down the pub…? Which is actually where they spent most of their time fomenting and indeed fermenting this document that upon its completion, sat virtually ignored for thirty years, before being rediscovered and championed as a blueprint for egality.

Also, what would Martin Rowson say? I’d be very interested in hearing that actually. He’s done an excellent job adapting what is, in essence, a very dry polemic, for entertainment as well as our education. Marx is our ever-ebullient narrator figuratively and quite literally walking us through numerous full-page spreads with his exuberant overlaid exhortations, along with a handful of more discursive pages of panelled comics, such as in the Komedy Club, when Marx needs an audience to further his lecture. Overall, partly due to Rowson’s choice of spidery handwritten lettering, seemingly done with a quill, it has the feel of an extended political cartoon. Which isn’t remotely surprising, given he’s an editorial cartoonist by trade.

 

 

I think this is a very worthy adaptation, purely because anything which further disseminates important ideas to a hopefully new, as well as knowing and already appreciative audience, in such a satirically amusing manner, is a good thing. As would be pure Communism, if we ever get there.

JR

Buy The Communist Manifesto and read the Page 45 review here

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Ellen Forney…

“How are you?”
“I’m okay.”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Things are just… overwhelming.”

Following on from her MARBLES: MANIA, DEPRESSION, MICHAELANGELO & ME in which she talked about her experiences with mental illness with remarkable candour, Ellen Forney returns, this time with the aim of providing fellow suffers with an insight into her own personal blueprint for surviving, indeed thriving, in the face of such adversity.

We still get some revealing personal anecdotes in comics form to help illustrate a pertinent painful point or two, often surprisingly humorous in nature, but the accompanying primary body of material here is squarely aimed at directly helping people through analysing Ellen’s own experiences and what has, and hasn’t, worked for her.

Thus, with chapters on therapy, coping tools and strategies, dealing with insomnia, medication, warning signs, where to engage with like-minded people and book-ending chapters covering the basics and some general encouragement, this is effectively Ellen’s own survival guide to Bipolar Disorder, though as she comments in the first chapter, it is also relevant for any mood disturbance.

The physiological wheres and whyfores surrounding the causes of such issues are dealt with just as clearly here as in Steve Haines’ and Sophie Standing’s excellent ANXIETY IS REALLY STRANGE. But where ROCK STEADY really comes into its own is in the practical, often hard-won, insight and advice Ellen is then able to offer on the various topics mentioned above. It’s extensive in scope, and should provide a useful toolkit for anyone needing to tinker under their own proverbial hoods, either independently or under the guidance of an appropriate medical professional – something which Ellen also touches on.

I would heartily concur that, as the sub-title proclaims, this advice is indeed brilliant.

I think that knowing one isn’t alone is an important part of having the confidence to try and deal with one’s mental suffering. Yes, it can be incredibly difficult to even conceive of trying to open up and look forward, go deeper into one’s problems, instead of turning away and hiding from them, but knowing that other people have been where you have been before, and managed to progress towards a degree of stability, is an immensely important fillip. There is indeed an entire chapter devoted to that subject. The whole book will form another very valuable part of the ever burgeoning canon of comics and graphic novels dedicated to helping educate about and support our mental health.

Into Page 45’s Mental Health Section this, therefore, goes.

JR

Buy Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life and read the Page 45 review here

Happy s/c (£9-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson.

“AS SEEN ON TV!” as hastily repackaged collections are so quick to squeal.

But hey, the middle-aged bloke who served me at Sainsbury’s had seen the series, taken note that it was based on a comic, and he knew who’d written it. Never read a comic before in his adult life. That’s pretty cool, so however shall I sell it to you…?

Profanity, hot bullets and blue Brony action!

Many sarcastic thanks to whichever of my sympathisers on Twitter explained the term ‘Brony’ to me before the launch of MY LITTLE PONY comics, following a flock of five adult fellows in a single swoop pre-ordering the MY LITTLE PONY #1 COMPLETE BOXED SET at £18-99 each. I cannot unlearn what I now know to be true, so I may never fully recover. What I learned was this:

There has been a surge of what could loosely be called man-love for that saccharine pink pony, and those enjoying such a wayward cultural misalignment are called Bronies. Now, I’m hardly the butchest boy in the box and obviously Page 45 is an all-inclusive, non-judgemental love-in for all manner of diverse penchants and pleasures… but there are fucking limits.

 

 

By which I mean: “That’ll be £18-99, please. Thank you very much! You are so loved!”

And honestly, you are.

I’m just being cheap and I deserve any / all flack that I get.

But how could this possibly be of any relevance to a Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson comic?

 

 

Well, Happy here is a feathered blue pony with big, bulbous, bright shiny eyes, a purple unicorn horn and accentuated, goofy front teeth. Knowing Grant Morrison you may seriously doubt this, but potentially he’s the product of a delirious imagination as ex-Detective Nick Sax is sped across town in an ambulance after receiving several gunshot wounds in part-exchange for having murdered the four Fratelli brothers. They thought they were on a mission to axe our Sax, but it was no-nonsense Nick who hired them in the first place. The police are swift to the scene but that’s good news for no one except the Fratellis’ Uncle Stefano who’s determined to keep it all in the family – “it” being the Fratelli fortune. Unfortunately no one bothered to tell him the password and the only person still alive who knows that now is Nick. 

Corruption is the order of the day on the snowy streets of God Only Knows and torture/interrogation will follow, all kindly overseen and endorsed by New Jersey’s Finest in the form of Maireadh McCarthy who’s firmly in Uncle Stefano’s pockets. Time to send in arch-information extractor Mr. Smoothie:

“I feel like the ghost of a hard-on that will not die.”

 

 

Along the way we meet a drunken paedophile dressed up as Santa (you’ll meet him again – and, after Nick knows where, you’ll know when), while Sax quite casually and coincidentally dispatches a serial murderer in a prawn costume smoking a spliff from a back end of a hammer which was five seconds away from coming down on the head of a prostitute blowing him to blissful oblivion. Did I mention it’s Christmas?

From the writer of WE3, NAMELESS, JOE THE BARBARIAN, THE INVISIBLES and DOOM PATROL etc. comes something akin to THE FILTH only without the giant, flying spermatozoa. Profanity abounds and he’s set out to sully the holiday season whilst lobbing in the incongruity of bright-eyed chirpy-pants Happy The Horse who claims to be Hailey’s imaginary friend sent to Sax to rescue her from the plastered paedo. 

 

 

TRANSMETROPOLITAN’s Darick Robertson is on his best form ever with masterfully slick choreography, the sturdiest of figure work and eye-popping street scenes all beautifully lit and then coloured to perfection by Richard P. Clark.

SLH

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

Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 2 – The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.

Welcome back to sixteen more issues of very weird science!

See the Fantastic Four fly the Fantasti-car without first deciding on a designated driver… straight into a giant milk bottle!

Gasp as Mr. Fantastic stretches high in the sky to pluck a couple of missiles off the bottom of a fighter plane going at, oh I don’t know, a thousand miles an hour!! He doesn’t even have to unlock them!

Laugh as poor Johnny – the Human Torch whose flame can melt through rock and metal – is put out by a single vase of water!

“Put out of action by a plant pot!” he gasps.

It’s a vase, you dimwit.

“I’ll never live it down!” he wails. And he won’t.

 

It really *is* a vase.

 

It’s key material, with all the regulars from The Mole Man, Doctor Doom and Diablo to Namor the Submariner making another of his oh so many seductive moves on Susan Storm. You may want to read about his first foray in FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTION VOL 1 during which I had a field day because, honestly, distil their origin:

Saying “No, sir!” to NASA, four thieves steal a space rocket, and strangely we applaud.

 

And I really *wasn’t* making that up.

 

The X-Men guest-star as does Dr. Strange, and even Nick Fury in what might be his first appearance as Colonel as opposed to Sergeant. He’s working for the C.I.A. rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. which hadn’t yet formed, and is mightily concerned about America’s investment in San Gusto, a “showplace of democracy” surrounded by commies into which the US has sunk billions. Apparently the citizens are revolting, so Fury enlists the Fantastic Four’s aid to interfere with yet another nation’s affairs because, as he so righteously pronounces, “We couldn’t interfere in another nation’s affairs!”

Not until the C.I.A. or George Bush Jr. told him to, anyway.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this is all the result of the Hate Monger who has set up shop in San Gusto before travelling to New York to spread his racial hatred in mass rallies that incite the crowd to violence. This was Stan Lee’s first full issue tackling that most “un-American” of American sentiments upon which the country was virtually founded and which it has systematically practised or endorsed ever since (in an overt nod to the KKK, the Hate Monger is wearing a purple version of their cowardly cowl).

 

 

[Oh dear god, I wrote all of the above, verbatim, over a decade ago, and now we have Donald Trump as American President, praising white supremacists as “fine people”, while Nazi swastikas were ignited, just the other night, in Georgia without any arrests that I’m aware of.]

Lee is, of course, to be unequivocally commended for this first and his future attempts to liberate his readers from the predominant social attitudes around them by having his heroes vocally reject racism for the poison that it is, as he went on to do in AVENGERS EPIC VOL 2. It’s just a shame that it had to involve a fictional hypnotic Hate Ray, for the human race is perfectly capable of being swept away by the likes of Moseley, Trump and Hitler, the BNP, UKIP and the British Tory Party as it stands, without anything more conducive to racism than its own ignorance, ill-founded fear and desperate desire for conformity.

Where Stan Lee hasn’t yet seen the light, however, is with Women’s Lib. For although for the first time here Sue Storm begins to discover and experiment with turning objects other than herself invisible and utilising an extended invisible force field, she is overwhelmingly still in thrall to wigs and dresses and, well…

“You know, Reed, this measuring device to test my invisibility would make the kookiest hat!”
“Just as I thought! You have greater powers of vapidity than you suspect, Sue!”

Sorry, what he actually says is “invisibility” not “vapidity”, although you can see what he’s thinking. In fact you can read what he’s thinking half a dozen pages later when he snaps at his go-to girlfriend:

“Just like a woman!! Everything I do is for your own good, but you’re too scatterbrained to realise it!”

 

Hmmm…

But wait, perhaps Stan is having a go at the dismissive male by condemning him, Jane Austen-stylee, through words from his own mouth?! Ummm… no.

“That man!!” she seethes. “I know he’s right… and that’s why I’m angry!”

The undoubted highlight, however, is when the Hulk hits New York in a rage of rejected jealousy when he discovers a newspaper clipping Dr. Bob Banner has left crumpled in his giant purple pants: news that The Avengers have replaced him with Captain America for whom he’s been forsaken by BFF Rick Jones. If memory serves, the Hulk had actually told The Avengers to fuck off in no uncertain terms, but that Rick thing’s sure gotta sting.

Unfortunately The Avengers are hunting the Hulk down in New Mexico, and as the Hulk hits town (and the town’s subway system, its subway trains, its skyscrapers, its news vendors, water hydrants and anything else that gets in his way) Reed Richards succumbs to a bout of man-flu. Neither the Human Torch nor the Invisible Girl survive long under the viridian vandal’s relentless assault, so the way is paved for the biggest one-on-one slug-athon so far to determine the answer to that immortalised question:

“Who is stronger, the Thing or The Hulk?”

 

 

 

 

And it is truly epic. There’s a speedboat chase, a battle on top of the Washington Bridge, plus buses, buildings and electric cables all play their part as improvised hand-weapons while Ben Grimm (The Thing) valiantly soldiers on well into the second issue without a hope in hell of winning. It is, however, when The Avengers finally show up… that they get in each others’ way. Of course they do!

Except Captain America who’s smart on tactics, quick on his wits and, unlike the pill-popping Ant-Man / Giant Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man, totally drug-free. Here’s the Hulk:

“Try to lecture me will ya?? I’ll — Hey!! How can you move so fast??”
“Clean livin’ does it, Sonny!”

Yes, the Captain is Straight Edge!

I was so impressed with that pronouncement aged 6 that I used it everywhere: in the playground, right round The Rough with my mates… even when my Mum wondered how I could possibly eat so much ice-cream: “Clean livin’ does it, Sonny!”

 

 

Better still is the cover to that second issue (#26) set high on a nascent skyscraper’s skeletal girders, the Hulk at its apex and Rick holding on precariously to a corner, while all nine of our colourful combatants fly or climb towards them both. Structurally, it is magnificent, Giant Man no more than twice the size of the others for fear of tipping the balance of the composition too far in his favour and destroying the framing rhomboid which moves your eye around the piece in exactly the same way as the most famous of Caravaggio’s three ‘David With The Head Of Goliath’ paintings.

I’m not making this shit up.

Nor for once am I making this up when the raging hormone that is Johnny Storm, zapped by the Hate Ray mentioned earlier, gets his emotions confused after his sister Sue Storm douses his flame:

“Try that again, and I’ll forget you’re my sister — which would be a pleasure!

Johnny!

Bonus Jack Kirby cover / Caravaggio comparison point:

 

 

Follow the Torch’s fiery trail from left to right, then right to left as he turns towards the Hulk; your eye then moves a little further along the girder the Hulk’s holding up before dropping down towards Rick Jones then further left along the girder falling diagonally towards the street; finally Thor completes the loop as your eye moves back towards the Torch’s trail and the artfully placed yellow-on-green caption at the bottom. Repeat: you won’t be able to help yourself.

With Caravaggio, it’s not quite a rhombus but certainly a right-angled quadrilateral similarly pitched. Follow the slant of the left-hand side of David’s head down to his shoulder and thence through the shadow to the shine of the sword at its hilt; then down the length of the sword, tellingly, to the crotch; up and to the right is the object of his victory and desire, Goliath’s head, then the shape is completed back up to the head via the length of the boy’s visible, outstretched arm.

 

Yes, it’s that old chestnut.

 

You’re welcome.

Contains FANTASTIC FOUR #19-32 and Annual 1-2

SLH

Buy Fantastic Four: Epic Collection vol 2 – The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c (£18-99, Walker Studio) by Kevin Crossley-Holland & Jeffrey Alan Love.

“Kevin Crossley-Holland is the master.”

 – Neil Gaiman

I don’t have any evaluation for you here, so sorry, because it’s illustrated prose, and I’m currently addicted to Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’, his sequel to ‘Sapiens’ which was so stunning that I read it twice, back-to-back in order to assimilate its revelations. Eloquent and entertaining, the books thoroughly and thoughtfully contextualise the history (then potential trajectory) of human life over the last 70,000 years ever since our Cognitive Revolution. Expect to be mind-blown every other page.

We can order prose in for you too, if you like. It’s as easy as pie, and all available within the week as one-off requests or to pop in your Page 45 Standing Orders.

Anyway, every spread here is strikingly illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love and if today’s Young Adults are anything like me, they’ll still be lapping up epic mythologies. The photos I have for you are Love’s own from home, taken from Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

While reminding you of what Neil ‘Norse Mythology’ Himself wrote, above, here’s the publisher instead:

“An extraordinary and enthralling illustrated anthology of Norse Myths from a Carnegie-Medal winning author. The gods of the Vikings come to life as never before in this extraordinary illustrated anthology by Carnegie Medal-winning author Kevin Crossley-Holland and artist Jeffrey Alan Love. These dramatic, enthralling and atmospheric tales are based on the Scandinavian myth cycle – one of the greatest and most culturally significant stories in the world – and tell of Odin with his one eye, Thor with his mighty hammer and Loki, the red-haired, shape-shifting trickster.

“In this stunning collection of myths, the strange world of ancient magic, giants, dwarfs and monsters is unforgettably imagined.”

SLH

Buy Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

About Betty’s Boob h/c (£26-99, Archaia) by Vero Cazot & Julie Rocheleau

The City On The Other Side (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson

The Day The Crayons Quit s/c (£7-99, Harper Collins) by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

The Day The Crayons Came Home s/c (£7-99, Harper Collins) by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

Gumballs s/c (£17-99, Top Shelf) by Erin Nations

Hellboy And The BPRD – 1955 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson & Shawn Martinbrough, Brian Churilla, Paolo Rivera

John Carpenter’s Tales Of Science Fiction – Vault (£8-99, Storm King Productions) by James Ninness & Andres Esparza

Tomorrow (£7-99, BHP Comics) by Jack Lothian & Garry Mac

Wet Moon vol 6: Yesterday’s Gone (New Edition) (£17-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell

Dark Nights: Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV & Greg Capullo, Mikel Janin, Alvaro Martinez

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 5: Twilight Of The Guardians s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Patrick Zircher, various

Tales Of Suspense: Hawkeye And The Winter Soldier s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Travel Foreman

Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 h/c (US Edition) (£18-99, Archaia) by David Petersen

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week five

May 30th, 2018

Featuring Hartley Lin, Chris Reynolds, Sara Varon, Matt Fitch, Chris Baker, Mike Collins, Zach Worton, Daniel Lieske, Tom Sniegoski, Jeff Smith, Alan Moore and many more.

Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Hartley Lin.

“It all feels unreal. I feel like I’m an imposter.”

Strangely, that’s diligent Frances whose burdens are all too real, rather than her flighty friend Vickie who suddenly finds herself acting the lead character in a silly smash TV series in LA. Or is that really so strange? Career success has struck Frances too, far earlier than tends to happen in her lowly position, and it’s threatening to prove unmanageable. Not only that, but the lawyers whom she works for are not without their bizarre and quite extreme quirks.

The signs were there early on, before Vickie moved out.

“When did you get home? What’s all this?”
“Work. I’m finishing a memo for a shipping magnate that could mark the end of my career.”

The end of her career, before it’s even begun: I see what Frances means by “unreal”. Vickie is dazed, having slept through the day.

“I say. I have one fantastic hangover!”
“Gee. No kidding. Mr Kowalksi stopped me on my way in. You threw a bunch of crap into his yard last night?”
“God, so that did happen.”

 

 

 

Funny, bright yet deeply thoughtful, this eminently quotable and exceptionally authoritative fiction about friendship and those dauntingly big choices that determine your future also doubles as a satire about excessive workloads, executive stress and ultra-competitive back-biting office politics; specifically those in a big-time company of corporate lawyers.

It’s softer and more whimsical than Adrian Tomine (though his readers will sure love this too), its content and cartooning a wonderful fusion of Nabiel Kanan, Kevin Huizenga and adult-orientated Andi Watson, right down to the trees.

 

 

Vickie and Frances live together in rented accommodation. Frances is so buried at work she has to take a tonne of it home. Vickie is an up-and-coming actress who gets drunk, loses her keys then climbs through Frances’s bedroom window to get in. Oh, and she’s seeing Peter whom Frances has a more than a passing crush on. Here’s more of that conversation.

“Are you angry at me?”
“We can’t afford to get evicted.”
“You don’t even like this apartment.”
“I wish you weren’t so cavalier about everything.”

Or is it that Frances wishes that she could be more cavalier herself?

 

 

There’s no room for this in Frances’s life as a Law Clerk at Shultz and Homberg LLP. She’s proven herself popular but even that comes with a price, especially now that her protestant work ethic and reliability has caught the attention of Marcel Castonguay, Head of Bankruptcies. This means even more tasks: almost impossibly last-minute and complex instructions which will make all the difference in winning or losing the most massive multi-million-dollar court cases. Castonguay conducts himself unworriedly with an almost surreal detachment and self-assurance. Others aren’t as lucky as Frances. At lunch:

“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. You’re Sonja, right?”
“You don’t need to know me.”
“Um… What do you do in Bankruptcies?”
“It’s my last day. You’re replacing me.”
“Oh.”

 

 

Her seniors fare no better. Chris is constantly frazzled on way too much caffeine, sweating away in his suit, shirt and tie, and swearing by a book called ‘Zen Workspace’.

“It really works…”

Quite evidently, it doesn’t. Nina meanwhile feels constantly threatened by attempts to sabotage her career’s trajectory by a right manipulative bastard called Brian. After returning from running a personal errand for Castonguay late at night (bringing the ingredients for a fruit salad to his hotel suite – yes, he permanently resides in a hotel suite) Frances returns to the office to find Nina stretched out on its desk.

“God. This ceiling is unbelievable.”
“Nina? What are you doing here?”
“Trying to suppress a panic attack. I normally do the floor but I don’t trust the new cleaning crew.”

Frances is reasonably sure that she went to university with one of them, and she knows she went to high school with the lad who sold her the bananas. Isn’t it funny how our job prospects pan out! And you know what I said about this rat race being competitive? Here’s Nina again, still staring upwards.

“Did you know my office only has 28 ceiling tiles?”
“You counted your ceiling tiles?”

“All the Associate Partners do. That ass Brian has 32 tiles. And it’s not because he’s more competent – Castonguay just likes him better. 32 tiles means more window. It signals you’re progressing toward Partnership and profit-sharing. If you’re not displaying your hunger, you’re dead in the water.”

 

 

Nina has an air of knowing what she’s doing, but she’s constantly found stress-puking into baskets. The upshot of all this is that you’re never sure whether Frances will survive, either; and, if she doesn’t, whether she will jump or be pushed. The pressures are relentless and she can no longer sleep at night. She scours a shop’s shelves for audio sleeping aids with Vickie. Tropical rainforest and cascading waterfalls sounds good on the surface, but they’ll only make you want to get up and pee. What else is on offer?

“Vermont bonfire… airport waiting area. Country highway with midnight cattle…”
“Gentle psychiatrist,,, crazy lagoon.”

Have you ever considered your relationship with work? It constantly crops up here. Castonguay’s take is typically pompous.

Tempus fugit, mors venit.
“It is a powerful transformation when one realises “work / life balance” is fiction. Our work is our very essence. At least that is what my new life coach asserts.”

 

 

Certainly there seems to be no balance at all for young Frances. Peter and Vickie find time to party so early on she asks Peter…

“Do you like what you do?”
“It’s alright… I don’t analyze any of it too deeply. I mean… I spend all day building other people’s dream homes. It’s just a job. It’s not who I am.”

Everyone seems to have a solid take both on life and work, and they find plenty to say on the subject, but Frances feels she has no such claim or clarity. It’s all too fast for any thoughts of her own, and her self-esteem suffers under the shadow of Vickie’s extrovert socialising and career success, however ludicrous the role she’s landed as a fantastical version of Frances’ more serious endeavours. ‘Bad Prosecutor’ is the most massive hit, becoming the legal firm’s water-cooler conversation point – which must be a bit weird when you’re privately best friends with the actor involved. This before Vickie began filming:

“Vickie, this character… she’s a vigilante District Attorney. Does that even make sense?”
“Sure, why not?”
“It really took five people to write this? “When the scales of justice have no teeth…””
“It’s TV, not Hemingway.”
“Here… she basically has sex with the criminal she’s prosecuting… in the courtroom!”
“You need a lot of hooks in a pilot…”

Frances asks if she’s nervous.

“Nah. It’s all a game anyway.”

 

 

Is Vickie as equanimous to it all as she seems? Will Peter (whom Vickie’s split from) finally notice Frances instead? More saliently, will repressed and self-doubting Frances finally notice that Peter took note of her yonks ago and actually accept his overtures rather than turn them all down because of the demands of her work? You can only invite someone to share things with you so many times and be rebuffed before it looks like you’re pestering, or begging.

“How many things will Peter invite me to before he realises I’m not worth the effort?”

The book is beautifully balanced between gentle, lilting, playful comedy, outright farce, profound matters of kindness, conscience and soul; solitary paths trodden alone even when cramped in a crowd, and that most difficult thing to avoid – comparing your own life to others’:

“I’ll never measure up to you.”

 

 

My last of many scrawled note reads, “The importance of friendship, listening – actually hearing – reciprocation, then finally talking things through”.

It’s possible that you may relate.

SLH

Buy Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c (£24-99, New York Review Comics) by Chris Reynolds…

“I really liked the comics of Chris Reynolds back then and I am happy to report that I still do.”

  • Seth

Classic understated compliment from the most dapper man in comics there! He is actually a huge fan of Chris Reynolds, our Seth. So much so, that he agreed to curate Chris’s material for this collection and design the book, which is a sideline of his. I frequently spot Seth illustrated covers on prose books in Waterstones and then promptly feel cheated that it isn’t also his comics within…

The front and rear covers here are a masterpiece of design, with a subdued mauve background paired with highly reflective cyan and coral shading and lettering, the front cover featuring the head of the helmeted character Monitor – one of the nominal stars of many of the short stories that form this chunky collection of over 250 pages set in the fictional Mauretania – outlined in Reynolds’ trademark thick black line.

 

 

I’ll leave you to read Seth’s designer afterword for yourselves, but it very neatly summed up my own thoughts and feelings regarding this material, which I will have to feely confess, I was previously utterly unaware of. I must give therefore also give plaudits to New York Comics Review in that respect, whose mission statement…  “In the tradition of NYRB Classics, NYR Comics presents new editions of out-of-print masterpieces and new translations of books that have never been published in English—from intimate memoirs to absurdist gags, graphic novels to dizzying experiments.” … has seen them publish the likes of Mark Beyer’s AGONY, PEPLUM by Blutch, SOFT CITY by Hariton Pushwagner, PRETENDING IS LYING by Dominique Goblet and YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES by Yvan Alagbé, which have all graced the Page 45 shelves.

My experience of this work, like Seth, was one of mystery, first and foremost, flavoured with desolation, isolation and ratiocination. That particular train of thought is never quite going to arrive at the station, but I’m entirely sure that is Reynolds’ intent. It is the journey, most definitely not getting there, perhaps not ever actually arriving, which is what this material is about. There are pieces which can be put together across the stories, clues dropped quite deliberately too I suspect, but you’re not going to be able to assemble a whole jigsaw of the obtuse workings of Mauretania and its equally peculiar inhabitants, and so you will be left pondering…

 

 

Which is not to say it is downbeat, not at all, though it did also remind me of Jeff Nicholson’s THROUGH THE HABITRAILS in its seemingly, at times, abstract tone. It certainly has a dreamlike quality, some of the most subtly surreal material I have ever read, I think. I can certainly see why it would appeal to Seth, whose IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN and pretty much all of his early life autobiographical material published over the years in PALOOKAVILLE has a similar graceful, almost delicate and meandering feel to it.

 

 

The quiet, rural landscapes and partially deserted cities of the never actually named country of Mauretania feel and look much like Britain. Perhaps not surprising given Chris Reynolds hails from Wales. The characters are a bemusingly polar bunch, I must say. In addition to various utterly banal workers and families, we have the behelmeted recurring Monitor (who is the closest we get to a lead character), a hardboiled police inspector named Rockwell, alien overlords who seem to have peacefully conquered the Earth through some strange, mystical hypnotic process called the Dial, plus several other one-off oddballs like the random bearded chap with more than a passing resemblance to Peter Suitcliffe. Thus the ostensibly sparse population of Mauretania manages to feel as collectively incongruous and mildly mysterious as the plots of the stories themselves.

 

 

The art contributes greatly in that respect. With its substantial, bold black linework it very strongly reminded me of a Jesse Reklaw work, THE NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE, which was a collection of peoples’ dream stories synchronously enough. There is also a dash of Eric COMPULSIVE COMICS Haven, Charles LAST LOOK Burns, Joe HIGHBONE THEATER Daly, Tim ABANDONED CARS Lane in there too. I can see some people initially finding the inking a bit heavy for their tastes but soon you’ll be drawn into the strange goings-on and left suitably perplexed.

JR

Buy The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Zach Worton…

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

This work which collects the entirety of the Charley Butters trilogy really ought to have been at least sub-titled “How Travis Just Keeps Making The Same Mistakes Again And Again And Again…”

Yes, ‘sensitive soul’ Travis, a self-confessed slacker who works in a record shop and has somehow found himself singing in a death metal band with his friends, despite actually liking ‘60s music, garage rock and girl bands is not in a good place and it is only going to get worse. Much worse. The sad thing is… he will only have himself to blame. Though he’ll try and blame Charley Butters, which seems a bit harsh, since Charley Butters was a little-known painter who mysteriously vanished from public sight in the 1950s before making any significant impact on the radar of public consciousness.

 

 

Whilst out in the middle of the woods filming a video for their band, the boys and their reluctant director Stuart stumble across an old cabin filled with journals and hundreds of versions of the same painting. They quickly learn it was the hideout of one Charley Butters, and putting the pieces together, they discover that he simply decided to disappear into the woods leaving his old life behind. His reasons for doing so aren’t entirely clear, certainly not to Butters’ then wife, who Travis and Stuart interview for a documentary film about the reclusive artist they decide to make after becoming hooked on his intriguing story through avidly reading his diaries.

So far, so good. Travis even finds the willpower to break up the band much to his friend Mike’s – who really is death metal for life if you’ll pardon the oxymoron – chagrin and finally gets the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams. He even manages to fit in a much overdue haircut! Yes, it starting to seem like Travis has it all. Unfortunately, he also has a burgeoning drink problem. Which he is rapidly beginning to lose control of…

 

 

As his addiction continues to spiral out of control, it’s not long before his professional and personal lives are disintegrating faster than a shredded beer mat at the hands of a plastered pint-sinker. Soon it seems to Travis… through the always truthful lens of the bottom of a glass… that his only sensible option is to follow the route of Charley Butters, quite literally, heading to Charley’s cabin to seek solace in solitude. And thus, perhaps, in also trying to track down the absent artist, somehow begin to find himself and thus get his life back in order. Which, on the face of it, if executed properly, with the appropriate degree of restraint on the consumption of alcohol, sounds like a pretty good plan. Unfortunately, self-control is not one of Travis’s strong points…

I won’t regale you with any further plot points, for Travis’s own journey, how it does and also does not mirror that of Charley Butters, is the true story here. Yes, I can promise you will learn the whereabouts of the titular artist, but by that point you’ll be too busy shaking your head at Travis’s continuing further descent into the ethanol-fuelled rabbit hole of his own making…

 

 

Strong, clean art black and white art from Zach Worton, like a finer-lined version of Dylan HICKSVILLE Horrocks, with his round faces and pinhole eyes, and also Michel THE SONG OF ROLAND Michel Rabagliati with his pointed noses. If you like a graphic novel that takes its protagonist for a walk on the wild side, then leaves them slumped in a sorry heap, this could be for you!

JR

Buy The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Apollo h/c (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker & Mike Collins…

“Dick? Shall I put the TV on? See what’s happening?”
“Nixon knows everything worth knowing.”
“Brooding won’t the time pass any quicker, Dick. Can’t you enjoy this with everyone else?
“This war, dead kid on the news. They blame Nixon for all those things, Pat. All of it. Nixon won’t be remembered for the moon.”

Nor even indeed going to China… But how remarkably prescient of old Tricky Dicky! Surely even on the scale of dodgy politicians (i.e. 99% of them), one that constantly referred to himself in the third person ought to have been suspect right from the off?!

Anyway, I’m sure most of you know the story of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin boldly stepping where no one had stepped before and Mike Collins getting the consolation prize of a trip to the dark side. The story of the moon landing has been covered many times, in many formats, so Matt Fitch and Chris Baker wisely take a different trajectory, focusing on not just our three astronauts and their mission, but also heavily on their families, loved ones and various other characters of the age like Nixon. Even the Spirit of America makes an appearance.

Set against the grounding backdrop of Nixon’s Presidency and the Vietnam War, we thus  gain a little more insight into precisely what Buzz Aldrin’s ultra-overbearing aviator father, who was a friend of Howard Hughes, might have contributed to his personality, how the tragic, untimely death of Neil Armstrong’s infant daughter from a malignant tumour in the base of her brain stem perhaps induced him to focus even more ferociously on his NASA career and err… how Mike Collins apparently had a spacey one hallucinating that the man-in-the-moon was talking to him and also chatting with the denim-wearing, bandana-clad, shade-toting Spirit Of America about how great America could be. I think that Mike’s experiences might well be an example of artistic licence, but I rather liked what they brought to the party!

I also very much enjoyed the dream sequence of a spacesuited Armstrong striding through a sun-kissed field of wheat. The deliberately choppy plotting as we switch back and forth from the mission itself, to various earth-based scenes, both set in the past and the then present, and these surreal vignettes all add to the impression of a time of rapid progress, of huge human potential, but also great global instability. Nothing ever really changes, then, including dodgy politicians. But as the opening quote from no less a luminary than Carl Sagan states, “Once upon a time, we soared into the solar system. For a few years. Then we hurried back. Why? What happened? What was Apollo really all about?”

Well, the short answer is that there was a space race, one that America was desperate to win after the shock to the system that was Sputnik I and then Sputnik II and LAIKA. I do find it sad though, that once the race was won, that the end of serious exploration of the solar system was consequently curtailed for several generations. If there is one thing I’d like to see occur in my lifetime, and hopefully it seems possible, it would be humans landing on Mars. Actually I’d probably prefer us to find evidence of microbial extra-terrestrial life somewhere in our solar system as well, be that Mars or one of Saturn’s moons, but it’s just good to see the pushing of the boundaries of human endeavour with humankind truly looking towards the stars once again.

Art-wise, British comics artist, Mike Collins (no relation to astronaut, I think) breaks out the Letratone effect, which seems to be all the rage recently, to help create a period feel. He really captures an excellent likeness of all the various public figures and his style neatly complements the at times serious, at times utterly whimsical approach of the writers. Unusually for a SelfMadeHero release, this work is presented in hardback format with a very striking dust jacketed cover of a falling astronaut against a Stars and Stripes composed of what seems to be coloured stars in jet-black night sky.

JR

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

Wormworld Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins (£8-99, Cubhouse) by Daniel Lieske.

Full-colour pre-teen fantasy in which a young boy called Jonas, staying at his beloved Grandma’s during the long summer holidays, finds that his father isn’t going to allow him the freedom to roam the idyllic countryside all day long, without some serious commitment to home work. Fortunately an older friend has leant him his old maths notes under the impression they’ll be used for “revision”. They won’t. Instead, Jonas presents them to his dad as maths questions answered each afternoon and, to begin with, this hoodwink pays off.

“Well, I can’t find any mistakes. Very good!”
“Our Jonas is a bright little boy!”

Jonas is pretty pleased with himself. “Man, did I feel smart!”

So it is that the lad enjoys each thrilling morning racing round the ancient woodland with grandma’s dog, Lotti, protected by his trusty wooden sword and enchanted, chain-mail armoured vest (it’s a red woollen pullover knitted by his gran) and imagining the most extreme adventures, as you do!

“Flying monkeys! Quick, we must hide!”

 

 

You can see Lotti, excited by Jonas’s infectious energy, thinking, “What?! Where?! Whatever, this is fun!” while of course crossing a brook by footbridge is the most dangerous task imaginable. “Careful! Don’t fall into the abyss!”

 

 

If you don’t recognise this as your own imaginative child’s play, I feel awful for you. But if you think that the glorious countryside colours so far are spectacular, with bright summer light streaming through the canopies up above, then, boy, are you in for an eye-popping upgrade!

So what’s Jonas up to in the afternoons instead of all that homework in preparation for whatever new school his dad has arranged for him?

 

 

Why, he’s playing more made-up games with his toys or concentrating on drawing the blue butterflies he’s encountered or creatures he conjures up in his head. Not only that, but he’s doing it in his own secret den, a fully furnished room even his grandma’s unaware of, accessed through a hidden panel in his bedroom wall. He’s known about this for years, he’s just never figured out – or even thought to figure out – why it’s there, who built it or what it’s really for. But when one of his insect crayon creations bursts unexpectedly into neon-pink life and buzzes through further passageways entirely new to Jonas, he’s shocked to discover –

 

 

His father calls him down to dinner. His dad’s coming up the stairs.

Racing back as fast as he can lest his bolthole be discovered, and grabbing a few sheaths of maths notes from his satchel in a hurry, Jonas fails to notice that these have already been marked by his friend’s teacher, and the poor lad’s holiday is about to come crashing down around him.

The confrontation is brutal. From the start you can tell that Jonas’s dad, with his stuffy moustache, doesn’t really get him and that they’re not close, which is why those annual holidays at his grandma’s are so cherished. But whoa, wait for this!

“I’m very disappointed in you, Jonas.” No, wait. “And your mother would have been too!”

Now, this hyper-real, computer-generated art isn’t my personal thing, but younger readers will adore it, there is no question of the exceptionally communicative craft, and even I found myself so empathising with young Jonas here, as he looks straight at the reader, that I choked at his tears. (And no, this isn’t Jonathan, for once; this is Stephen!) There is little more cruelly hurtful that you can say to someone than “The person you loved most in the world who is now dead would be disappointed in you”.

 

 

Oh, and there’s another bombshell detonated alongside: his father’s booked him in to boarding school. Please pass your own moral judgements at that one.

Grounded to his room for the rest of the holidays, and doomed to far worse in the Fall, once Jonas recovers his composure he realises that he still has an escape route, for through the secret passageway then further up ladders he found hours earlier lies that beacon of light which so startled him: a painting. It’s a painting that leads to another world entirely and, as I implied earlier, if you think the colours so far have been radiant, are you in for an eye-dazzling treat!

 

 

I wouldn’t normally take you half this far (see PERSEPHONE) but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be pre-teens who’ll be reading this, but those looking to buy for them instead.

Beyond the veil lie landscapes of fluorescent flora, twisted, mossy tree trunks, purple, puffy canopies you can fall through, giant, carnivorous insects… and someone who’s been waiting for Jonas for quite some time. Make that two people, one of whom has been dispatched to find the boy, then keep him safe.

Oh wait – make that three, I’m afraid.

Did I mention that the door shut behind him? Oh dear.

 

 

Please note: the interior art I have for you here was screen-grabbed from the original online series. It was a great deal easier than scavenging what little I found of the published graphic novel online, and allowed me to illustrate more precisely what I had written. The lettering has since been changed to lower case, and captions slightly rearranged on the page, but I could discern no discrepancies in the actual script. I’ve done my best to preserve the pages’ actual content, although in one instance, with Jonah in tears, that proved impossible.

 

 

There’s certainly nothing here which you won’t find within. It’s all a bit beautiful, isn’t it?

SLH

Buy Wormwood Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins and read the Page 45 review here

New Shoes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon.

“Good afternoon, Brother Donkey. I’m here to place an order for my friend, Miss Manatee.”

What?! Miss Manatee, Queen of Calypso…? Brother Donkey’s all-time favourite recording artist…?

“She will be performing in the city and will need shoes for her trip onto land.”

Why, of course she will need shoes! Wait—what?!

“Here are her measurements. Let me know when her shoes are ready.”

Hmmm…. How long do you imagine it will take Brother Donkey, highly respected cobbler, to realise that there’s something slightly impractical about a manatee – that huge, beautiful seacow, so gloriously graceful in the water – clomping about in shoes on dry land? Oooh, I wouldn’t expect that light to start flashing for a full 170 of these 200 pages!

 

 

You see, Francis has never travelled outside his village before, so although he may croon enthusiastically alongside her albums, he’s not really sure what a manatee is or does.

He’s going to have to go on a right old expedition now, however, because although his very best shoes are made from wild tiger grass, purchased each week from a squirrel monkey called Nigel who forages it from deep in the jungle, Francis has just run out of grass and his neighbour Nigel’s gone missing! Worst timing ever!

 

 

He’s ever so trepidatious about venturing into the South American jungle all alone, but he must somehow locate Nigel’s source of tiger grass and hopefully find Nigel into the bargain. Fortunately Rhoda the macaw offers to escort Nigel – in exchange for some shoes – and together they set off with their wild animal guide books. Those should be useful; or worrying. Some pages will give Nigel much food for thought, the specific thought being that he might prove to be food!

 

 

From Sara Varon (creator of the deeply poignant ROBOT DREAMS much loved by all, plus Young Readers ODD DUCK and BAKE SALE) comes a substantially lengthier graphic novel bursting with colour and novelty. Don’t worry, families, you will trot along through it quite quickly if (and it’s a really big “if”!) you can bear to leave each page of vibrant eye-candy behind.

 

 

Its commendable emphasis lies in kindness, generosity, cooperation, foraging from locally sourced, sustainable resources, fair trade and exchange (a big slapped wrist for Nigel awaits!), the thrill of exploration, adventure and acquiring new skills, keeping an open mind at all times, gratitude and learning. And if your young ones enjoy the pages of Nigel’s guide book, may I shoehorn in here recommendations for WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH and WILD ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH, each reviewed separately? Thanks very much, I have done so!

 

 

Perhaps the first clue for Francis that Miss Manatee might require something other than shoes comes when he and Rhoda need to cross a river. It’s no problem for the feathered one, but Francis the donkey has never learned how to swim. Herons, whom they treat to some bread, send the pair upstream to a family of capybara who encourage Francis to get his feet wet. It’s then that he notes that shoes aren’t particularly good for swimming in.

 

 

 

 

Their journey has only begun, though, and they’re no nearer to finding Nigel until a toucan obliges.

But what they will discover and those whom they encounter at the end of their trek will prove both unexpected and a wee bit frightening, but only because they’ve been wronged. Nigel has been a very bad boy, and it is up to Francis and Rhoda and Nigel to put things right. At which point I’d remind you about the book’s emphases.

 

 

But it’s never too late to mend (not strictly true, as our planet may pertinently attest very shortly) and all will be well in the end!

The book has been brilliantly thought through from start to finish, and Varon does finish with a photographic flourish: several pages of research she conducted in Venezuela’s Guayana.

 

 

So how do you imagine will Brother Donkey best equip his idol, Miss Manatee, for her gala performance on stage in the city? That, I will not say, but he will succeed in his commission, for a little lateral thinking does go a very long way.

SLH

Buy New Shoes h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bone: Tall Tales (£8-50 s/c; £16-99 h/c, Cartoon Books) by Tom Sniegoski with Jeff Smith, Jeff Smith.

Not just a reprint of ‘Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails’, this was a complete overhaul with brand-new material from Jeff linking the stories together in camping scenes reminiscent of Donald Duck replaced as scout leader by Smiley Bone, and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie replaced by Ringo, Bingo and the stubbornly sceptical Todd.

Stories are told round the camp fire about Phone Bone’s and Phoney Bone’s treasure hunt, and about Big Johnson Bone, founder of Boneville – his eventful birth in a log cabin right on the frontier in the middle of a winter storm, and a teenage, gorge-a-thon eating contest and early crush – before a full-colour reprint of the three-part ‘Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails’ which is dreamt up by one of the younger Bones.

 

 

Of that Mark wrote:

“Long ago, before the Bone cousins were run out of Boneville, the Rat Creatures had tails and this is how they lost them. This harks back to the earlier BONE stories with cute, big-eyed critters acting all defenceless and lost, and the rat creatures acting vain and stupid.”

 

 

In fact, if BONE quickly became a great deal darker and more complex than its jocular cuddliness first suggested, this is definitely an all-ages affair perfectly suitable for readers as young as you like. It’s the story of how an adult Big Johnson Bone, run out of town for cheating at cards and winning a monkey called Pip (addressed variously as Mr. Pop, Poop and Plop – I can already see my ex-house-monkey, Ossian, laughing himself to death) is caught with his ass in a twister and dumped without dignity down in the valley which the Bone cousins later discovered themselves.

 

 

So yes, the Stupid, Stupid Rat creatures are back and you’ll then meet their queen plus the queen’s enormous and even hungrier son who swallows Big Johnson and some of his new friends whole, and ends up like the whale in Pinocchio. So much for quiche, eh? After the Rat Creatures, the mice are the funniest, and although I have to concede that Sniegoski doesn’t possess the sustained wit of Smith that had adults enthralled, Jeff’s ebullient cartooning here will have you laughing out loud all the same, and the kids will just lap up the antics.

SLH

Buy Bone: Tall Tales and read the Page 45 review here

Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams (£18-00, Nobrow) by various.

Nobrow’s annual anthology this year is – with but one exception I glimpsed – an art book rather than comics, but you’ll be starved of neither beauty nor colour nor diversity.

“To celebrate 10 years of Nobrow we are curating an extra special edition of the Nobrow magazine, featuring 70 artists responding to our theme of ‘Studio Dreams.’ In 2010 we commissioned Jan Van der Veken to illustrate our dream studio and his illustration provided the perfect starting point for this 10th edition. World-renowned creators turn their hand to creating their dream studio spaces (whatever that might mean for each one) in this unique, international showcase containing over 100 pages of illustration.”

Every artist has thrown themselves full-throttle into this challenge, the production values are as exquisite as you’d expect from the publishers of GEIS, HILDA, MARCY AND THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX, GAMAYUN TALES: THE KING OF THE BIRDS etc and I’ve a few photos for you below.

 

 

 

 

SLH

Buy Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams and read the Page 45 review here

Voice Of The Fire new printing (£10-99, Top Shelf) by Alan Moore.

Structurally and linguistically, Moore’s first prose novel preceding JERUSALEM was exceptional.

Alan takes the geographical location which will become Northampton and charts six millennia of its legend and lore – its memory, if you like – through the eyes of its inhabitants, beginning with a narrator for whom concepts of the imagination, from dreaming to lying, are entirely alien. The language is therefore initially pared down to the purely physical so that, for example, instead of “smelling” something, the narrator “sniffs” it. As we move through the centuries each new narrator sees the evolving strata of event and repercussion through the eyes of their time, as events in previous chapters come back – or indeed forwards – to haunt them.

Alan’s wit is as sharp as ever, and black humour abounds. Once instance I’m tempted to refer to as gallows humour, were it not after the fact – you’ll see!

The finest testament I can think of is that every time Moore concludes a chapter and bids farewell to its protagonist, I truly wish he hadn’t, for I fell in love with each and every one of them, including the last.

SLH

Buy Voice Of The Fire 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’.

Afterwords (£5-99, self-published) by Gareth Brookes

The Communist Manifesto (£12-99, SelfMadeHero) by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels & Martin Rowson

Motor Crush vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart

I Really Didn’t Think This Through – Tales From My So-Called Adult Life (£12-99, Sphere) by Beth Evans

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life (£16-99, Fantagraphics) by Ellen Forney

Where We Live: A Benefit For The Survivors In Las Vegas s/c (£17-99, Image) by various

Injustice Ground Zero vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Christopher Sebela & Pop Mhan, various, Mike S. Miller

The Punisher vol 1: War Machine s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Guiu Vilanova

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week four

May 23rd, 2018

Featuring Jen Wang, Vera Brosgol, Jon Klassen, Mac Barnett, Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky, Hope Larson, Rebecca Mock, Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, Scott Snyder, more. It’s a  bit of a Young Adult / Young Readers special!

The Prince And The Dressmaker (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jen Wang…                                   

Well, it happened again… A graphic novel made me cry on public transport… I thought I had it under control and then just as the i4 started ascending Derby Road I could feel the old tear ducts start to tingle… Must have been the altitude…

Jen IN REAL LIFE Wang returns, this time on art and writing duties, just as she did with her excellent KOKO BE GOOD, with another captivating story that as before deep in its bold, beating heart is all about identity. Here she explores the nature of public and also familial prejudice against a particular type of person, plus the intolerable pressures they themselves endure from keeping their secret under wraps. Except, in this instance, it’s that the person in question likes wrapping themselves up in their secret… For Prince Sebastian likes to wear dresses, and indeed makeup, to present himself as a lady.

Which is a tricky one for the lad, because his father is the King of Belgium and determined to marry the Crown Prince off and get him popping out heirs and spares to continue their lineage as soon as unreasonably possible. Which is why he’s brought Sebastian and the family to Paris: to throw a grand ball and introduce him to society, and hopefully a few eligible female members of the European aristocracy. It’s not that Sebastian doesn’t like the ladies, for he does, it’s just that he can’t imagine any future Queens possibly wanting to marry one…

In any event, he’s getting a little fed up wearing the somewhat staid and outdated ball gowns he’s managed to purloin from his mother’s wardrobe and has decided to seek out a seamstress with talent (and, of course, discretion) to design him some killer outfits worthy of a Lady. For Lady Crystallia is the name by which Sebastian chooses to go when dressed up in finery for a covert night out on the tiles. The only person at court who is aware of his liking for court shoes is his trusted aide-de-camp Emile, and it is to Emile he entrusts the task of finding him such a skilled dressmaker.

This is how Frances enters Sebastian’s very small circle of trust. For her, it’s a dream chance to escape her life of drudgery working for a pittance at a local sweatshop and she seizes it with both her talented hands. Before too long Lady Crystallia and her glamorous gowns are the hot topic of the Parisian social scene. Frances doesn’t just hurry Sebastian’s wardrobe up to an à la mode status, soon she’s setting the trend as knock-offs of her creations start to appear on the streets.

But whilst that is as immensely satisfying to her personally as Sebastian’s newfound confidence in his alter ego and her evening appearances, Frances is also a little frustrated that their private arrangement means that no one can ever know she is responsible for the dresses. For Sebastian is convinced that if anyone were to realise that Frances was also Lady Crystallia’s personal seamstresses as well as his own, it wouldn’t be long before someone stitched the pieces together and outed him. As the tension begins to build in their professional affiliation, both start to realise there might be another burgeoning aspect to their relationship which neither of them are prepared to admit to themselves, never mind each other…

And that’s all waaaay before I got to the bit that made me teary!

What a fabulously modern tale this is, dropped into a period class-strictured setting. That conceit actually makes the central theme all more the powerful and relevant, if one takes the view that Sebastian’s parents are also a representation of society at large, in addition to being his mum and dad. Particularly when you get the pay-off… Get your monogrammed hankies at the ready! 

Jen’s art lends itself to gold-leaf encrusted ballrooms just as well as it did to Chinese virtual goldfarms in IN REAL LIFE. And some of the outfits are truly wondrous. The one that brings Frances to the attention of Sebastian early on, which she creates for a Lady Sophia for the grand ball to make her look like “the devil’s wench…” had as genuinely a jaw-dropping effect on me as it does to all the dazed debutantes. My favourite, though, was probably the dappled and dimpled orange creation with which Lady Crystallia makes her own stunning debut and wins the title, and three cases of Maldon’s finest preserves, of Miss Marmalade in a sponsored beauty pageant. I genuinely think Jen could make a living as a dress designer if she ever gets bored of creating comics. Which, I really hope she doesn’t.

Actually… that dress is probably my second favourite. My favourite would have to be the one that made the waterworks start trickling. It’s just not one which Sebastian is wearing…

JR

Buy The Prince And The Dressmaker and read the Page 45 review here

Be Prepared (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol…

“I knew the party wasn’t right.
“It was too poor. It was too Russian. It was too different.
“I was never going to fit in with American kids.”

Following on from her spooky debut ANYA’S GHOST back in 2011, which is currently being made into a film, Vera Brosgol finally returns with an autobiographical tale all about cultural identity, being the perennial outsider and how you should go about the tricky task of making new friends, with the right people, and courageously showing us how she got it all wrong several times. (For more on that particular subject the brilliant autobiographical REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale & Leuyen Pham is a must-read.)

Growing up, Vera felt different from the other kids. Of Russian heritage, with her single mum studying to be an accountant and struggling for money, she never felt that she and her younger brother were the equals of their American ‘friends’, with their seemingly endless supply of top toys and lavish sleepover birthday parties. She soon began to feel like the tolerated outsider, rather than a central part of the gang, especially after a particularly underwhelming attempt at finally hosting her own sleepover.

 

 

 

Then, every summer, just to exemplify the disparity even more, her ‘friends’ would disappear off for the whole of July to various camps, leaving Vera behind, bored and counting the days until they returned. So, when she hears about a summer camp for kids of Russian extraction, organised by the Orthodox Church she’s forced to attend, she begs and pleads with her mother to let her and her brother go. Her mother reluctant accedes much to Vera’s delight, but insists on the compromise that they can only go for two weeks because that’s all she can possibly afford. It is at this point, autumn…

As another school year tediously rolls by, instead of watching her friends get prepared and packed for their various extended summer excursions, it’s Vera who’s assembling all her necessary implements and accoutrements until finally she’s ready to go. It is, however, at this point only the start of June… Do you think she’s excited about it?!

Finally July comes around and the Brosgols are off. When Vera gets there, though, and is deposited into a tent with fourteen-year-old Sasha & Sasha (no relation), two long-term camp buddies who seem to delight in the fact that they’ve never had to put up with the same third wheel in their tent two years running, she begins to realise that some people are the same negative types wherever you go.

 

Despite her best attempts to make friends and become part of the ‘in crowd’ it seems likes she’s only ever further exacerbating her social isolation with her continual faux pas. It’s certainly no LUMBERJANES with their exuberant motto “Friendship To The Max!!” Plus, this particular camp… well, let’s just say it feels more like a military boot camp with early rising, onerous chores, Orthodox Russian church services and forced marches. When the two weeks are up and her mum arrives to collect her, Vera is ecstatic, having endured a torrid fortnight, to say the least. And then promptly horrified to discover her mum, presuming she’d be loving her much begged for camp experience, has scraped together the money to sign her and her brother up for the remaining two weeks…

It’s at that tipping point, that Vera finally realises she needs to change her approach, both to camp life and also making friends. Happily for her, the remaining fortnight proves far more fulfilling on both fronts. Sometimes, it really does pay just to be yourself, and let the (wood) chips fall where they may.

 

 

I’ve just flicked back through ANYA’S GHOST to see what changes or evolutions there have been in Vera’s storytelling and it’s only served to remind me of how accomplished her art and character development was even back then. I had actually forgotten that Anya was of Russian extraction and had a younger brother, so presumably she modelled Anya and her family on her own, which I never realised. Art-wise the main difference is that there is considerably more background detail here, which actually makes a huge difference in drawing the reader into the story and Vera’s arduous experiences!

Definitely one for fans of Hope Larson’s CHIGGERS due to the exploration of the trials and tribulations of friendship under the open skies, though I think – because this is a much more substantial work which also gets right into the particular rigours and rituals of summer camp life – it also strongly minded me of both Michel Rabagliati’s PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS and PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB, which hilariously and very sweetly shows him semi-autobiographically experiencing the delights of life under the canvas from both sides of it, as excitable youngster and also emphatically wet-behind-the-eyes teenage camp counsellor. Consequently I really enjoyed BE PREPARED, and hopefully Vera won’t leave it another seven years before her next work!

JR

Buy Be Prepared and read the Page 45 review here

Square h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

The eyes have it. They surely do!

They’re so expressive that the faces don’t need a mouth; that would lessen their impact considerably. They stare out at you, in this case more than a little anxiously, making a contact with yours that is remarkably difficult to break.

And I love that Klassen’s covers can be so iconic that a title’s unnecessary. What else would this book be called, and how on earth could possibly you resist it?

From the creators of the deliciously mischievous SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE – and so much more that you can find in our all-encompassing Page 45’s Jon Klassen section for Young Readers – comes a second helping of shapely shenanigans, this time starring Square and Circle.

 

 

Shapes are indeed what this is all about. That, and finding yourself a little out of your depth after compliments are given, based on erroneous assumptions, and you haven’t quite found it within your heart to come clean. Hmmm. Tricky one!

Square is a simple soul whose life is relatively straightforward.

“Every day, Square goes down to his cave and takes a block from the pile below ground.
“He pushes the block up and out of the cave.
“He brings the block to the pile at the top of the hill.
“This is his work.”

I’m sorry?

“This is his work.”

 

 

Square stands next to his square blocks of stone, staring out at us, as if to say, “What?”

It’s an exquisite moment of engagement between the reader and the protagonist. “This is his work.” That’s it. That’s what he does. It is his Purpose. Look at Square again! He’s definitely asking you, “What?!”

Anyway, one day while Square is hard at work, Circle floats by.

“Square!” said Circle. “You are a genius! I did not know that you were a sculptor!”
“Ah yes,” said Square. “What is a sculptor?”
“A sculptor shapes blocks into art,” said Circle.
“Ah, yes,” said Square. “I see what you mean.”
But he did not really see what she meant.
“This is a wonderful sculpture,” said Circle. It looks just like you!”

 

 

And it does! It’s even the same colour and texture as Square. And Circle, as it happens. Square looks at his block of rock, dubiously.

Now would probably be a good time to come clean, before…

“Now,” said Circle, “you must do one of me.”
“Oh,” said Square.

Yes, before that. Square eyes Circle and his square block of rock quite anxiously. They’re very different shapes.

“I will come back for it tomorrow! Good-bye, genius!”
“Circle,” said Square, “I think I should tell you something.”

But he doesn’t.

 

 

Now, I’m not going to take you any further but Square does seem in a right pickle, doesn’t he? He’s in for quite the night.

Aside for Klassen’s laugh-out-loud expressions, part of the comedy lies in the economy of Mac Barnett’s storytelling: simple sentences eschewing contractions, direct and honest, contrasting with the other economy here – that with the truth!

Returning to the expressions, though, there is a final note of exasperation which I deliberately don’t have for you here because I don’t want you to see what becomes of the stone under Square’s ham-fisted administrations. But there he stands in the pouring rain, his arms thrown out in… well, exasperation really is the only word for it… a leafy twig on his lodged on his noggin, looking for all the world like the ultimate in tetchy vexation, Sage the Owl from The Herb Garden.

So, whatever will happen in the morning?

 

 

Rarely have I encountered such a successfully sprung surprise which, as with most Klassen creations and collaboration could only be accomplished visually, reflecting Barnett’s extraordinary stroke of lateral thinking for – as so very often, I’ve found – salvation lies in serendipity.

SLH

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

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen.

Now out in softcover! Yippee!

Young Readers graphic novel from the headwear-conscious creator of THIS IS NOT MY HAT, I WANT MY HAT BACK and WE FOUND A HAT; but with writer Mac Barnett on board, hats are no longer the issue.

Nothing here is missing, but an awful lot is missed.

On Monday, you see, Sam and Dave dug a hole.

“When should we stop digging?” asked Sam.
“We are on a mission,” said Dave.
“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

And so, dig they do. They dig and dig deep. They dig so deep that their heads disappear underground, and then they dig deeper still. They are, I would remind you, on a mission!

 

 

So intent are they on this Important Excavation, what they don’t seem to have noticed is that their dog has embarked on this mission too. Or they’ve forgotten. The dog happened to be standing between them when work first commenced and looked a little dubious from the start. On the cover his eyes are to camera, as if to say, “What a bunch of buffoons”.

 

 

Yes, Sam and Dave should probably take a little more notice of their dog. Their dog has already found something spectacular. And oh look, there’s something even more spectacular.

Amazingly, Sam and Dave seem to miss everything spectacular ‘in spite of’ changing direction, splitting up and reconvening.

Still, they do have a lot of digging to do…

 

 

Brilliant! As with the HAT trick trilogy the words tell one story while the images reveal the truth! That’s what makes this comics: without the images you wouldn’t understand what was actually happening.

What they also share is a comedic oblivion.

For much more Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen, please see Page 45’s Jon Klassen section for Young Readers.

SLH

Buy Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Persephone h/c (£17-99, Archaia / Boom!) by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky.

Far more devious than I initially gave this credit for, with clues scattered throughout in seemingly spurious asides, this tale of two worlds – one above, the other below – plays with the Eleusinian Mysteries, recasting the roles and relationships of Persephone, Demeter and Hades. What I originally thought were plot holes transpired to be omissions intentionally left open so that when the right (or wrong) person finally walks through the doors it all makes a great deal of terribly sad sense.

In a book which will confound preconceptions, the opening and closing of gates, or portals with prove pivotal to the proceedings.

Thirteen years ago there was a war that should never have happened.

It was waged between the realms of fertile Eleusis which prospered in light above ground and cold, dark infernal Hades where nothing green ever grows. The two realms, linked by a magic portal, had had their fair share of misunderstandings, suspicion and strife, but nonetheless conducted a mutually beneficial, thriving trade and prospects for future peace looked bright when the youngest princess of Eleusis was married to Hades, Lord of the Underworld and, truth be told, they did love each other dearly.

 

 

Alas, Hades’ happiness was destroyed when his queen died, and the new trust between the two nations was shattered too, a fission only widened by bitter Hades’ increasingly unfathomable behaviour and obsession with what lay behind the forbidden gates of Tartarus in his own realm. From there he gained vast power and you know what they say about power. He craved more magic power, but there was none to be had down below. Only Eleusis had mages. They fought the Lord and his hoards tooth and nail, finally beating him back after two years of carnage and ended his life. Specifically it was sorceress Demeter of Eleusis who killed him, but at a cost, and as the graphic novel begins we find her distraught, holding a bloodied babe in her arms. She seals two vast doors, then crosses the River Styx, carrying the child up hundreds of echoing stone steps, through a vast golden arch and the Eleusinian soldier who tries to stop her will never forget the moment he tried.

 

 

The portal between the Hades and Eleusis is closed from above ground forever. Only magic can open it, and there is no magic below.

Thirteen years later and will look at the light!

 

 

Centropolis appears to be a prospering European city some half a century ago judging by the cars and fashions, and boasts some lovely Baroque architecture.

I wonder what happened to Hades?

No matter, school’s out for summer and Persephone and her friends have had their exam results back. Botany aside, Persephone is hardly a grade-A student. Remember, if you went on to Sixth Form, when you had start specialising, deciding which subjects to study? Big life decision, and it seems to come earlier in Eleusis.

 

 

One of the friends is being pressured by her Dad to go into the family bakery business instead; she assumes Persephone will want to join her mother Demeter in magic, and eventually take over her potion shop.

“You’re lucky you’re a witch’s daughter. My mom says that it’s getting rarer, since it’s hereditary. So it’ll always be in demand!”

 

 

Yes, but there you have it: magic is hereditary. Persephone hasn’t told her friends that she is adopted. And Demeter hasn’t told Persephone why.

We’re only a dozen or so pages in, but I’m not going to go that much further. Except… something surely impossible happens. The city square is attacked by Shades. A soldier from Hades has been rumoured to have been roaming Centropolis and here lies the proof. But how could the portal have been breached?

 

 

 

I wonder once more: what has been happening in Hades?

You’ll find out, because that’s where the vast majority of the book’s set, and it won’t be what you expect. Propaganda abounds wherever you roam and do remember that Lord Hades went mad. Don’t believe everything you read about a country: you certainly can’t judge its inhabitants by their rulers. Also, you can’t judge all daughters or sons by their parents.

Damn. I really don’t think I can write much more, and I’ve so many pieces of glorious interior art to show you.

 

 

The colours and light are phenomenal and there’s all the contrast you’d expect between above and below, but yet again, don’t imagine Hades will be all gloom and doom and unkindness. If bright summer light falls upon objects upstairs, then it radiates from them below decks. At one point we’re shown some astronomy telescopes down there which did make me laugh.

 

 

The art owes a little to Hayao Miyazaki and more to Joann Sfar with lots of GLISTER’s Andi Watson thrown in, especially when it comes to Hades’ architecture and crowd scenes, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Kevin O’Neill, especially when it came to Demeter who does love her hats. There’s a wee bit of manga melodrama and an element of anthropomorphism is Azrael, but however much he looks like a cat, he is human as you’ll discover.

 

 

You’ll get plenty of action and fair few more rules will come into play that I don’t want to clutter you up with here. Magic needs its rules or else it’s all hocus pocus, devoid of dramatic tension, and it will all prove very clever, I promise.

SLH

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

More softcovers have arrived (h/cs still in stock if you prefer):

Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

A cover makes a promise, but only the contents can deliver.

With its energy, its urgency and its two young twins, this fine-line cover promises a period piece of adventure and opposition akin to Tony Cliff’s teen treasures DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT and DELILAH DIRK AND THE KING’S SHILLING, both of which have been knock-out successes at Page 45 with teenagers and adults alike.

I had every confidence, but not even the first clue as to how much would be packed into its 225 pages, how complicated the lives of these two individuals would become from so many different factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspire to keep them apart.

Sorry…? No, they’re not both lads; one of them is a lass, disguised for a reason beyond gender impediment or safety’s sake.

 

 

 

What I want to impress upon you above all is that this is no mere A to C while B seems insurmountable, though B does seem a pretty tall order for anyone so short. For a start, this is but Book One of FOUR POINTS so C is far from the final object, but even so I was poleaxed by how many individual threads were so intricately woven within this single volume.

It begins in Manhattan, 1860, with Cleo waiting with Luther, leader of a street-gang of youths, outside an opulent mansion for her brother, Alex, to rob it at night. He fails. Well no, he succeeds in lobbing the silver stash out of the window for Luther to abscond with it, but Alex is caught and sent with his sister to a police station. They’re to be split, Alex remanded to Randall’s Island prison, Cleo dispatched to the nun-run House of Mercy unless they betray Luther’s trust in exchange for a train out of town.

 

 

 

Alex finds an added incentive in the Daily Tribune advertising for information regarding another set of twins, male but both missing after their father’s long absence, which fit their description. There’s a reward of $200 and that’s a sum they both desperately need. The snag is that they’d need to find their way to San Francisco on America’s west coast and New Orleans on its east is as far as their train ride will carry them.

So far, so insurmountable, and Luther won’t be happy. But I lied.

It begins in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he loved. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he has no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects are small and he must travel in order to provide. The stranger also bears two objects from which they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge has failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’s inherited has reached far further than a mere gang of youths…

 

 

I haven’t. Even. Started.

Okay I’ve finished, but Larson and Mock haven’t.

Cleo and Alex are going to face many dangers and many challenges: practical, geographical, judgemental, legal, nautical and hierarchical. But not least among them is their own outlook on life. There are two key players they will share so much time with whose sense of perspective – of values, of priorities – differs from Alex’s own at least. It’s not all about the money.

Being only twelve, they have a lot of growing up to do and it’s not just the uncharted physical terrain which will prove problematic, but emotional awakenings too.

Mock’s inner art is actually much denser than displayed on the cover, and much thicker of line. It’s closer to Hope Larson’s own. I see she supplies colours also and, combined, there is a rich sense of time and space, and how little there may be of either. The rain outside will be ferocious, the lamp-lit intimacy within will have you willing those trapped together into acts of honesty and confessional confidence which Larson won’t let you off easily with. Always there is this tension. Words unsaid are pretty powerful.

So superb is Mock’s New Orleans seen from a seagull’s point of view that you’ll crave more panoramas. Sorry, you won’t get those, but there’s always Book 2.

 

 

Instead you will marvel at how convincing Cleo and Alex are as male twins, without either of them ever losing their individuality. Not once does Mock give the game away, otherwise Cleo’s game would be given away too, both to those around her and to the readers. That’s no mean feat.

This is precisely why I want to tell you about the missing element I’ve so studiously avoided and redacted time after time from this review. It forms at least one whole half of the considerable complications which Cleo and Alex will be forced to deal with directly, each in their own way.

But hey, I had only this cover to go on before I launched in and now so do you.

SLH

Buy Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock.

 

 

Delicious!

Even the covers to these FOUR POINTS Young Adult graphic novels are providing some thrilling sequential-art narrative with the identical twins now firmly set sail, for most of book two sees them at sea – though a lot less confused about their true, biological parentage.

COMPASS SOUTH was packed. It was fast, furious and reactive, its cover conveying both energy and urgency as Cleo and Alex escaped across America while attempting to elude the multiple factions intent on tracking them down, hampering their progress and taking what little they have left, while consequent repercussions conspired to keep them apart.

Cleverly, Rebecca Mock enables you to tell the two individuals apart through one of them wearing a waistcoat, and it’s Cleo.

 

 

COMPASS SOUTH began in Manhattan, 1848, with the twins being bequeathed to a man, Mr. Dodge, by their mother whom he once loved and in all probability still does. Alas, he’d been parted from Hester for a span of five years. They are not his, but he had no hesitation in adopting the babes even though his own prospects were small and he had to travel in order to provide. The stranger also bore two objects from which, Dodge was told, they must never be parted: a pen-knife and a compass.

But in 1860 Mr. Dodge had failed to return from his most recent travels and wind of what he’d inherited had reached ruthless pirate Felix Worley who had known Alex and Cleo’s mother, Hester, all too well.

Finally the two twelve-year-olds will discover why Dodge failed to return at their key moment in their lives, who Hester really was and what became of their father, as well as the true purpose of that pen-knife and compass.

They’ll also discover why Worley wants what is now theirs and why he’s being so tenacious about it. Everyone has a childhood, you know; some are bleaker than others.

 

 

As with Vaughan and Chiang’s PAPER GIRLS, a second instalment reveals a certain structure by its conclusion, but just as I didn’t give away COMPASS SOUTH‘s, so there’ll be no spoilers here – for either volume.

KNIFE’S EDGE is a much brighter, more spacious affair with a lot more open, ocean sky and a lot less confinement below decks to cargo holds. Alex and Cleo are now comparatively in command of their own destinies, even if they need Captain Tarboro and his galleon The Almira to steer them in the right direction. For that Alex will have to agree to take Tarboro’s direction to begin at the bottom, swabbing decks, while Cleo resents being assigned to the cook as a girl and is determined to take what she considers far more practical and potentially life-saving instruction from the Captain on sword-fighting.

It rankles still further when, at a vital moment, Alex is handed a sword without any training simply because he is the lad. Cleo wouldn’t have survived so far if she hadn’t proved perfectly capable of looking after herself. She has grown a lot given that which they have so far endured, and no one is noticing, so there will be tensions, complicated further by the return of… well, quite a few unexpected personages from their past. As I’ve said before, words unsaid are pretty powerful.

 

 

Their first stop for supplies is Honolulu, Hawaii, with its submerged reefs, virtually invisible but for the small, gentle breakers, requiring some unusual assistance in navigating. The island itself won’t be easy to negotiate without causing trouble.

Thence it’s the Marshall Islands which Captain Tarboro has had prior experience with, well aware to his cost that the inhabitants are hostile and its seas swarming with sharks. There too lurk reefs…

You’ve lots of the lush to look forward to, all lit to time-specific perfection, and plenty of action too once the puzzles start being solved. Picking up speed will require some extreme measures, while lessons learned early on will prove vital but not necessarily completely successful.

 

 

There are some terrific aerial and subaquatic shots and one full-page panel in particular at the end of chapter two had me staring at it for ages, wondering why is was so particularly effective: it managed to be both dramatic and intimate whilst set at a remove.

Lastly, the importance of the oral tradition is explored (see MEZOLITH), once more set up in advance so that when it comes into its own we are reminded that stories, when passed along, do have a way of travelling very long distances indeed.

I do wish I could reveal this book’s punchline!

SLH

Buy Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Sentry s/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee.

“Reed… I’ve got to admit, the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. I feel as though someone just told me a secret and I’ve forgotten it…”

Yes, Sue, along with key moments from your own wedding.

In which the creative team behind THE INHUMANS, one of the most eloquent graphic novels ever to grace the superhero shelves, play mischievous mind-games both with the lead character and with the Marvel Universe and even its readers to boot.

Is the man waking up in the middle of a thunderstorm an amnesiac? Was he really once, at the very beginning of the Marvel Age, the world’s most powerful superhuman? Or is Bob Reynolds just a sorry excuse for a husband and hopeless drunk?

 

 

No one seems to remember The Sentry. Not his friends, his powered peers, nor the million readers who adored his tireless fights against an increasingly powerful Void. Not even Stan Lee, The Sentry’s original writer back in 1961, could remember much about his creation until Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief Joe Quesada unearthed a few rough sketches Artie Rosen had drawn way back in the early ‘60s. Why has everyone forgotten him, and how bad could it get if they all began to remember?

Answer: very bad indeed.

 

 

Jenkins and Lee craft a dark and often disturbing tale of mystery and suspense, full of raw, jagged gothic edges, chiaroscuro and penumbral washes juxtaposed against Rosen’s more naïve four-colour pages of the original comicbook which we can no longer recall.

A second reading alerts you early on to Jenkins’s carefully chosen metaphors, but the first read will surely keep you guessing.

 

 

This book collects the entire package on top the mini-series including Sienkiewicz’s ‘Hulk / Sentry’ which fits in well, along with the other three extra one-shots which only served to hold up the dénouement for me.

Plus, last but most certainly not least, you can read the whole publicity machine as originally presented to the comicbook press (Joe Quesada supposedly interviewing a befuddled Stan Lee) which formed a very effective and ridiculously witty prank. Clue: Artie Rosen doesn’t exist and definitely never did. If he does sound vaguely familiar, Sam Rosen and Artie Simek were calligraphers for Marvel during the so-called Silver Age.

 

 

The Sentry’s story more recently continued in Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato’s DARK AVENGERS.

SLH

Buy The Sentry s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley & Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Chris Sprouse, Rian Hughes, various…

“Oh, Mr. Green Lantern. Are you afraid?”
“I don’t get afraid.”
“Oh, I think you do… I think we all do… it’s all in that moment of discovery…
“When you’re about to learn something you will never be able to unlearn.
“Something that puts all the pieces together, and you finally see the truth, and the world changes.
“And you know it’ll never go back the way it was before.
“But if you’re so very brave, then just open the door.”

Just open the bloody door, Hal!! So we can find out precisely who, and what, is in the secret cave inside the Bat Cave.

“Seriously. Only Batman would have a secret cave inside his secret cave.”

Obviously. Not forgetting the secret Lunar Batcave on the moon…

 

 

Bats has actually installed a hidden room in the Fortress Of Solitude as well, just for good measure. I mean, he did have the good grace to ask Clark’s permission first, though he made him promise not to peek inside it at what he’d put there for ultra-safe keeping…

Yes, I can promise you more than a certain degree of mystery in these two intriguing set up one-shot issues of DARK DAYS: THE FORGE and DARK DAYS: THE CASTING that is already a million times better than the execrable mess that was CONVERGENCE. I probably shouldn’t be surprised this was great, given the writers are the long-time Bat-scribes Snyder and Tynion IV, plus the stellar trio of artists Jim Lee, Andy Kubert & John Romita Jr. on the pencils. But still, I’ve been burnt far too often with these big summer events.

 

 

Basically, Batman is trying to solve a mystery, one that has disturbed him so much, for so long, that whilst he’s had to call upon the likes of Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle and of course old blue tights himself for assistance, he’s given precisely nothing away to anyone else whatsoever about the nature of this troubling conundrum. That, however, is all about to change and not entirely through his own choice…

Piece by piece, what little information Batman has acquired is laid out for us, along with some cautionary insights from Carter Hall a.k.a. Hawkman, who has his own particular clandestine parallel interest to Batman’s investigations.

 

 

At the time of reading the one-shots, I thought there was a little nod to Grant Morrison’s BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that had Bats twizzling through time following the climax of FINAL CRISIS, which also seemed to be alluded to. So very kind of DC therefore to bolster these two new issues by including BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #1, FINAL CRISIS #6-#7, BATMAN (New 52 era) #38-#39, NIGHTWING (again New 52 era) #17 and more!

That concluding exclamation mark being DC’s, I should add. Not mine. No, mine would come at the end of “You’re reprinting FIVE issues of old material in a hardcover collection of TWO new issues? You greedy gits!” Actually, they are reprinting nearly six, because the ‘more!’ is actually merely an excerpt from DETECTIVE COMICS #950 and then they also throw in Morrison’s double-page spread Map Of The Multiverse for ‘added value’…

 

 

Just utter corporate greed. There is absolutely no reason why these new two one-shots, which are basically issues #00 and #0 of DARK DAYS METAL could not have been included in one hardcover with the six issues that formed the ‘main’ series. They are printing (nearly) eight issues in this volume after all… It is disappointing because it is exactly the sort of nonsense I would fully expect Marvel to pull, and charge twice as much whilst they are at it, but I had felt in recent years DC were actually about giving readers better value for money than Marvel. Hey ho.

Anyway, the new material is an enjoyably complex and riveting set-up for the impending DARK DAYS METAL HC event that piqued my curiosity sufficiently to want to read the whole shebang.  Not least because of whom Hal finds behind the green door… It’s an old piano, and Shakin’ Stevens is playing it hot… Okay, well, the door isn’t green, and it isn’t Shakey banging out ‘80s classics, but it is a shocker, certainly… Precisely how that person fits into it all, is just another perplexing part of this three pothole problem, Watson… Oh, do stop with the bad jokes…

 

 

NOTE: Also forthcoming very shortly are the collection of bad guy one-shot tie-ins DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE NIGHTMARE BATMEN HC which whilst not essential were certainly entertaining and rather decent. Plus there’s the usual utterly spurious sidebar material in various ongoing titles collected in DARK NIGHTS METAL: THE RESISTANCE SC, which despite that all being new material DC obviously realised people wouldn’t be mug enough to buy in a hardcover and have put straight into softcover format…

Can I just add, above grumble aside, I did rather enjoy the Metal event.

JR

Buy Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

Snotgirl vol 2: California Screaming (£14-50, Image) by Bryan Lee O’Malley & Leslie Hung

Redneck vol 2: Eyes Upon You (£14-99, Image) by Donny Cates & Lisandro Estherren

Coin Op Comics Anthology 1997-2017 h/c (£26-99, Top Shelf) by Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey

Kid Lobotomy vol 1: A Lad Insane (£17-99, IDW) by Peter Milligan & Tess Fowler

The Curse Of Charley Butters s/c (£17-99, Conundrum Press) by Zach Worton

Udon Noodle Soup: Little Tales For Little Things (£11-99, Fanfare Ponent Mon) by Yani Hu

Joe Golem Occult Detective vol 2: Outer Dark h/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Patric Reynolds

Adventure Time x Regular Show s/c (£14-99, Titan) by Conor McCreery & Mattia Di Meo

Misfit City vol 2 (£13-99, BOOM! ) by Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Kurt Lustgarten & Naomi Franquiz

Sabrina (£16-99, Granta) by Nick Drnaso

Wormwood Saga vol 1: The Journey Begins (£8-99, Cubhouse) by Daniel Lieske

Golosseum vol 1 (£10-99, Kondansha) by Yasushi Baba

Saga Of Tanya Evil vol 2 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Carlo Zen & Chika Tono

Happy s/c (£13-99, Image) by Grant Morrison & Darick Robertson

Apollo (£15-99, Self Made Hero) by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker & Mike Collins

Bone: Tall Tales (£11-99, Scholastic) by Jeff Smith & Tom Sniegoski

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test (£12-99, Nobrow) by Hamish Steele

Asterix the Gladiator (£7-99, Orion) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Asterix and the Banquet (£7-99, Orion) by Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 4: Identity (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Goran Sudzuka, Mark Laming, various

New Avengers vol 4: A Perfect World (£17-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Valerio Schiti, Kev Walker, various

Venom & X-Men: Poison-X s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Cullen Bunn & Edgar Delgado, Jacopo Camagni

The Wild Storm vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week three

May 16th, 2018

Featuring David Lapham, Graham Annable, Inio Asano , Rick Remender, Bengal, Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson, Christophe Bec, Stefano Raffaele, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Alan Moore, Ian Gibson.

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer (£17-99, El Capitan) by David Lapham.

“Trust me. You are not going to raise this girl up. She’ll drag you down.”

That’s to Orson, from his sister, about Beth.

And to be fair, on the very first night that he met Beth, naive, clean-living Orson attempted to rob a liquor store at gunpoint (he failed) after being slipped two aspirin (they weren’t) and ended up catching crabs (not the shellfish) (and not from Beth).

Orson’s subsequent attempts to recall that evening, persuade others to elaborate on it and discover from whom he caught pubic lice are mercilessly funny. One can forget that, as well as being one of the most mesmerising and brutal crime comics on the shelves, STRAY BULLETS is run through with a rich seam of verbal and visual comedy. Here it’s more fecund than ever before.

One of the title’s other strengths – and in this it is incomparable – is its improbably complex, cat’s-cradle structure. By this I mean that Lapham has already crafted the most extraordinarily tight timeline, anchoring almost every single episode, its constituent scenes and so their individual protagonists in very specific places on very specific days during the late 1900s. In the original series, Lapham would dart back and forth, filling in gaps, creating brand-new connections and demonstrating cause and effect, action and repercussion, however far in the future or way back in the past.

 

 

That Lapham has found space within that cat’s cradle to dovetail all this in too is remarkable, but I promise that new readers need have read nothing before, because David knows what he’s doing. In fact, if were new to STRAY BULLETS I would start here.

For a start, SUNSHINE & ROSES is much more linear, beginning in Baltimore on May 15th 1979 then careening at breakneck speed before its second chapter fast-forwards to the fall-out two years later. But… early on Lapham pulls back to the pivotal party in between those years, which we originally witnessed a thousand pages earlier way back in STRAY BULLETS VOL 1. He does so because it played the single most influential part on where Beth’s best friend Nina is now in 1981: under virtual home arrest to her sugar daddy Harry. Harry rules Baltimore’s crime scene via the services of handsome, long-haired, Hawaiian-shirt-loving Spanish Scott who makes most of the actual play from The Cock’s Crow strip club, with the assistance of the massive, bespectacled enforcer they call Monster.

 

 

 

Monster is usually both impassive and implacable, but has doted on Beth since childhood, which gives her just a little leeway and wiggle room when she needs it the most. It’s not that Beth is a blunderer – she has quite the reputation for capability and cojones – it’s that she lives half within these crime circles and half without, owes money to the wrong people like Dez ‘Finger’, plus her friendship with cocaine-addict Nina, whom she’s no longer allowed to even see, will bring out her decidedly non-compliant streak. It will catalyse so much of what comes next.

KRETCHMEYER kicks off with a masterful opening page, striking in its structural departure and its initial meeting of minds between the two chief protagonists: STRAY BULLETS mainstay Beth and newcomer (both to town and to us), the ever-cautious, ever-suspicious, always observant Kretch. The scenario will be answered, in no uncertain fashion, in the volume’s final few pages.

 

 

STRAY BULLETS is traditionally told in crystal-clear variations built around a 4-tier, 8-panel grid, but here we are presented with three equal tiers, each devoted to a single wide panel which together create a symmetry of sorts. At the top and the bottom we’re treated to close-ups of Beth then Kretch, while in the middle we’re shown their actual interaction plus an onlooker evidently in awe: “Holy shit. That’s Beth.” Beth has form, you immediately infer, and indeed she seems fearless. Here’s the full exchange minus the onlooker:

“Hi…”
“Hmmm…?”
“I saw you pretending not to stare at me from across the room…. I’m Beth, by the way. And your name is…?”
“Kretchmeyer.”

Each facial close-up is on the one hand a character study, on the other a projection or mask, for both will prove consummate actors while each is attempting to read the other and so size them up. Beth is all self-confidence, making the first move with a radiant, smile and seductively sparkling eyes. She’ll often twirl her blonde hair through her fingers like this to create an air of idle lack of guile at the precise point when she’s going to be at her most manipulative.

But Kretch is unflustered by the playful remonstration, by his companion’s quietly voiced concern and indeed by Beth’s proactive challenge. Look at that face! It’s insouciant but beguiling with soft skin, soft mouth (which might or might not be a smile) and soft, hooded eyes: soft, knowing, hooded eyes. He has been patiently waiting for Beth to introduce herself for quite some time…

Boom! Page 2, and Kretchmeyer is suddenly clambering up a staircase, out of breath, some twelve days on. Panting, he pauses to retrieve the rifle with telescopic sights which he’d weeks earlier stashed away. Brushing back the sweat streaming down his eyes, he takes aim at the three men exiting Bobby’s Donuts and pulls the trigger. A man called Lonnie’s head explodes.

 

 

With this unauthorised assassination, Kretch has surreptitiously kick-started a turf war. Two pages and two nights later, he’s found his way “in” by seducing Beth.

I wouldn’t underestimate anyone here, if I were you. Not Beth, not Kretchmeyer, nor even young, loyal and fast-thinking Orson who’s hopelessly fallen for Beth and so tries his best to keep up with her drinking and pull her fat out of a fire which he is completely unfamiliar with but not necessarily ill-equipped to deal with. She may drag him down with her, but he’ll love almost every second of it.

 

 

 

Certainly never underestimate Spanish Scott or Monster. Beth loves to believe that she can manipulate Monster, her childhood knight in shining armour, but it’s his clear, cold-logic simplicity that allows him to see through to the truth. I love that his apartment is as clean, uncluttered and austere as his mind is. Monster in some ways (and out of everyone) has the truest moral compass even if it points to Magnetic South, for he boasts a direct sincerity which others apart from Orson don’t.

How you estimate Spanish Scott’s sister Rose or ‘Roses’ with her delinquent son Joey is entirely up to you. Possibly the: worst mother ever and tireless nymphomaniac, it is she who gave an off-his-face Orson the crabs (very funny scene between Orson and his sister, on discovery) and she won’t stop pursuing him. Beth:

“What do you have to offer besides sloppy seconds?”
“I got a lot to offer!”
“Diseases don’t count, Roses.”

 

 

 

Lapham’s eyes and mouths are amongst the most expressive in the business: besotted, disdainful, malicious, dismissive, defiant, charming, flirtatious, cantankerous, conspiratorial, determined, drunk-as-a-skunk and angry as hell. Even the eyelashes set the cast apart: Beth’s are more natural and therefore tinier than Nina’s or Rose’s makeup-enhanced whoppers, doomed as they are to drip kohl, while the men evidence none except Kretch whose upper eyelids come with a sensual, sybaritic flourish which is immensely attractive to both women and men… as he knows full well.

 

 

Lapham’s also in complete control of his periods too: even the flashbacks to Beth and Monster’s shared childhood come with the 1970s t-shirts of their time.

His use of spot-blacks is up there with Los Bros Hernandez’seses (I’m not sure where to finish that possession), with shadow on walls used to highlight what’s in front of them, like a car. That instance minded me of EXIT’s and THE DROWNERS’ Nabiel Kanan who kindly supplied our website’s original line art. But it’s softer in both instances: take any single page I’ve gleaned for you here and drink in how much more malleable humanity there is in evidence than, say, Frank Miller’s brutish SIN CITY.

 

 

But don’t presume there isn’t a cruel streak to STRAY BULLETS or even David himself. Every single chapter he writes comes with “The End” and a couple here conclude idyllically in a happy-ever-after-fashion for our favourite characters.

Wonderful! They’ve earned it! We’ve earned it too!

But it isn’t.

The End.

Far from it, as you shall see.

SLH

Buy Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer and read the Page 45 review here

Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson.

Considering what our canine and feline friends have to deal with here, a sky full of freefalling frogs feels like a stroll in the Green Thumb organic-produce park.

Pugs says it best:

“Oh crap. Looks like stupid’s back in season.”

But holy heck, this is one hell of a horror comic!

It looks clean and cute enough at a very superficial first glance: dogs, pups, cats, rats, racoons and, err, twelve-foot-tall bloated bullfrogs all beautifully painted by Jill Thompson in verdant watercolour wash and (my guess) gouache.

I particularly loved her Green Thumb garden-nursery splash page, for its fresh and joyous choice of Spring and Summer colours put me so much in mind of Diana Fegredo’s swoonaway prints, cushions and lampshades: https://www.dianafegredo.com/ You would love to languish there!

 

 

So would our gang of growling, gawping and determined defence league of cats and dogs. But that which they are made to endure within is demonically driven by Evan Dorkin.

One chapter, for example, sees a mother frantically searching for her pups which went missing in the scant seconds during which she obediently answered her call to be inside by her owners. When she was finally let out, they were gone.

“My children are missing.”

Dorkin doesn’t miss a linguistic trick – “children” – while Thompson’s greyhound is grief-stricken not melodramatically but penetratingly wide-eyed, almost blank-eyed at the enormity and helpless incomprehensibility of her separation and loss. It’s a fine and well judged line that Thompson travels there and throughout: the anthropomorphism is relatively minimal. When a cat hisses, spits and snarls it is most definitely a cat. There’s no hint of Walt Disney at all.

 

 

And then that tale grows darker, because some human beings do not deserve to be classified ‘Sapiens’. Our dog detectives do what they can to track down Hazel’s missing children, but they fail and so fall back instead on their training in the occult to perform a summoning to see if the pups are dead, on the other side, and therefore available to pick up the miasmatic, ectoplasmic phone. But they’re still novices, barely initiated and, without a Wise Dog on hand, it goes hideously, indescribably wrong.

Worse still is when you first find out what really happened. It’s implied through visuals only in a single, haunting panel if you care to look closely for so very many clues – and fuck the teenager’s parents for failing to do so. There is a wealth of storytelling about this family’s history there when you think about it: the shared culpability in the crimes which the kid has committed.

 

 

What is reported, after the fact, comes in terms which we associate with loners going postal in American schools. Everything about that episode will make you so sad, so very angry.

Another episode I’ve already touched upon brings a shower of frogs that start gorging on their own kind until they form one massive, carnivorous amphibian. And when you find yourself facing the zombie dogs, let me tell you, they are terrifying but that’s not really the point: it’s more about tragedy instead.

 

 

It’s about tragedy because, at its heart, this is a book about courage, kindness and compassion for others – about friendship, honour and loyalty (“After all, dogs are nothing if not loyal”) – and although there are uplifting instances of unexpected redemption through exceptional self-sacrifice, there are moments where, I’m afraid, that proves desperately insufficient.

And it will pull so hard on your heartstrings because Dorkin and Thompson have kindly turned each of our muttley crew into individuals whom you cannot help but care for. My mum tells me I bawled my eyes out during ‘Bambi’, aged 5. This will hit you even harder.

 

 

“Big or small…
“Short or tall…
“Here’s what happens to us all…
“We go to sleep, we close our eyes…
“And leave behind a nest of flies.”

In case you’re wondering, that short verse accompanies someone’s dearly beloved best friend / dog turned into hit-and-run road kill.

 

 

An improbable collaboration between the creators of MILK & CHEESE, THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB and  WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON, MAGIC TRIXIE (someone please reprint them!), this is entirely other from what you’d expect of its constituent authors. They’ve forged something completely different from either of their individual oeuvres, and that deserves the loudest round of applause.

SLH

Buy Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Graham Annable.

Isn’t the sky amazing?

When you look at it properly, really absorb its infinite blue enormity, it’s mind-blowing.

Also, clouds: they’re so unrealistic. I love them!

So it is with Peter and Ernesto, two BFF sloths who are stuck up a tree. They love to wend their way slowly to the top-most branches and pick out animal cloud-shapes in the sky.

Except they’re not “stuck” at all: it’s only their lack of adventure and ambition that’s kept them so sedentary, and Ernesto has had enough – probably of Peter’s singing. I can’t say I blame him. Fancy sharing a tree with someone who thinks they’re in a musical. *shudders*

“In this tree live you and me!
“We always see what we always see!
“Probably will till we’re a hundred and three!
“Nothing ever changes for you and me!”

Those last two lines give Ernesto pause for thought. He glances down, then at Peter, worried about how best to broach his thoughts. He doesn’t want to hurt his friend.

“I like this piece of sky, Peter!”
“Me too!”
“And I like this tree we live in.”
“Me too, Ernesto!”
“But I must go, Peter.”
“W-what?!”
“This is only one piece of the sky, Peter. I want to see ALL of the sky!”

And so off he trots, just like that, leave poor Peter quaking with worry.

 

 

And Ernesto doesn’t just trot, he races fearlessly across a rope bridge which is all “sh-sh-sh-hhak-e-e-ey” and positively relishes it. Then “Wooo…” he’s all “…wobbly!” afterwards, and so tumbles delighted down into the river, SPLOOSH! “Ha! Ha!” Oh, he is having such liberated fun!

 

 

“Splish! Splash!
“Splish! Splash!”

Ernesto shakes himself dry.

Does that remind you of your young ones? They’re forever shrieking uninhibitedly away in our Market Square’s accessible water feature without a care in the world for anything other than the thrilling, physical sensation of splishing and splashing in water. They don’t need towels; they’ll race themselves dry! Brilliant!

 

 

That it’s a painfully slow sloth prancing gaily around like a fat-furry Dr Seuss creation is, of course, half the humour. Surely never has such a creakingly creeping creature crossed the ocean, either, to take in the wonders of the desert sky, then the Aurora Borealis!

 

 

Eventually Peter’s anxiety for Ernesto becomes such that he is determined to find him, distracting himself from his own trepidation with song. Folks, if you’re going to be reading this at bedtime to your dearest sproglets, you’re going to have to burst into song – quite a lot! I’d probably start practising now. Also, how’s your whale song? Watch a documentary like ‘Star Trek IV’ if it’s rusty, because you’ll be needing to wail that too.

 

 

 

Everywhere they go, both friends encounter others who are happy to help. Cooperation garners greater results and experience enriches – I think they’re the things here. Also, it empowers or, as I always say, it takes a little initial courage to acquire further courage.

There’s lots of open white space between thick, fuzzy panel borders and beautiful, complementary colour palettes: first green and blue, then blue, white and blue; purple in the dessert and gorgeous green for the Northern Lights.

 

 

Returning to the sky, this time at night, aren’t constellations utterly random? Now, they really are unrealistic: Aries is a very badly drawn ram indeed.

SLH

Buy Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Death Or Glory #1 (£4-25, Image) by Rick Remender & Bengal…

“What did the doctor say?”
“Won’t see us. Owe ‘em too much money.”
“How the hell do we live in a world where some fuckers at an insurance company get to decide who lives and dies?”

Quite. Action and misadventure abounds in this double-length high-octane opener of a crime caper from Rick THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME Remender and artist Bengal. Plus a bit of relevant social commentary too!

So… Glory Owen needs copious amounts of hard cash fast, like yesterday, to get her adoptive father Red a new liver. Red’s lived his life off the grid, free from the system, in fact, not even Glory knows his real name. Just that he looked after her when her mother died and now it is time to repay him in his dying hours of need. Because no paperwork, no social security number and certainly no health insurance means without serious amounts of hard cash to buy a new organ, he’s on his way out. Glory’s pretty sure Red wouldn’t want her to do what she’s about to do, but in her eyes, it’s time to repay the debt of a lifetime of love he’s shown to her.

 

 

 

She’s about to rob her ex-husband and big time drug dealer Toby of a briefcase full of his illicit lolly… Well, not him technically, just his couriers, who happen to be the local sheriff and his deputy. She has a plan, kind of, which mainly seems to involve a wing and a prey and a very fast car. It’s not going to go well, clearly, which of course it doesn’t. Which is pretty much where we finish this first issue: in a state of chaotic flux.

Special mention should also be made of the hitman who has one of the most novel ways of killing people I’ve seen since Javier Bardem went around knocking on doors and nailing people with his pneumatic captive bolt pistol in No Country For Old Men. This lunatic’s weapon of choice is liquid nitrogen…

 

 

Fans of car chases are going to enjoy this series, I suspect, if what we’ve seen so far and forthcoming covers are anything to go by. Set out in what feels like the Midwest somewhere, it all has a touch of the Dukes of Hazard about it so far, though the stakes and consequences are clearly somewhat higher.

Artist Bengal, probably best known for the likes of NAJA / MEKA / LUMINAE for Magnetic Press has a lovely crisp style with a cinematically vibrant colour palette. I’ve seen him comment online that he thinks he’s a considerably better inker than penciller but I think he’s being incredibly harsh on himself as it all looks as immaculate and highly polished as a freshly washed, polished and buffed car bonnet.

 

 

Remender only ever seems to work with top quality artists who love a clean line: Sean Murphy on TOKYO GHOST, Matteo Scalera on BLACK SCIENCE, Greg Tocchini on LOW, Jerome Opena on FROM SEVEN TO ETERNITY and I think Bengal is right up there with those folks.

JR

Buy Death Or Glory #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano…

“I bet you’re thinking… “What’s life all about, anyway?” But it’s fruitless to ask such things.”
“Yeah. I should just do my homework instead.”

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’d probably read some comics…

So… much like volume one of Inio Asano’s everyday mind-scrambler GOODBYE PUNPUN, by the time I closed this opener’s front / rear cover (depending on your perspective) I genuinely still had no clue as to what conceivable direction the main story is going in, no matter which way I flipped the pages. I know a fair bit more about our characters, though, with our high school ladies Kadode Koyama and Oran Nakagawa, their cacophonous circle of chums, Kadode’s weird Munchausen’s-afflicted mother and crush-worthy teacher Mr. Watarase leading the cast.

 

 

But as to how and why it all intersects with the gigantic, implacable, immovable alien mothership casting shade over several districts of Tokyo, generally depressing the national mood and the perversely, almost comedic, pathetically easily repulsed mini-flying-saucer invasions dispensed from it on a daily basis, I truly have no idea. I suspect we will eventually find out given part of the typically irreverent Asano asides on the rear cover. Other creators need pull quotes; Asano just treats it as an extra bonus page to mess with us even further:

“The Japan Self-Defence Forces are STILL looking for a way to combat the alien threat, but so far conventional weapons have had no effect. Maybe it’s time to try something UNCONVENTIONAL.”

 

 

But actually being completely in the dark it does not matter in the slightest because, like me, you’ll be too busy being entertained and occasionally mildly appalled by the gloriously relentless send up of myriad manga tropes such as schoolgirl panties, Yaoi fanatics, inappropriate teacher-pupil behaviour, blaming the American government for everything (surely a nod to Naoki PLUTO / 20th CENTURY BOYS / MONSTER Urasawa, that last one?) and many, many more besides.

 

 

The characters clash and collide, verbally joust and jest, in the most delightfully ridiculous of ways that you almost feel an ensemble musical number could spontaneously burst out at any moment. Knowing Asano, that’s not something I would rule out for a future volume, either… But overall it really does feel like Kiyohiko Azuma’s classic high school yarn AZUMANGA DIOH has been taken as the starting point and then sprinkled with some classic high-concept, esoteric Asano lunacy. Make that a lot of it.

 

 

There is possibly one clue thrown out about what said ‘unconventional’ methods might be, which I think might have nothing to do with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and everything to do with Oran, but, again, with Asano, he is the master of faux red herrings. Or just making the reader so deliriously confused they start trying to read something significant into every little thing to attempt to glean some semblance of sense as to what is going on. It’s a very clever trick and a truly unconventional storytelling technique that few can pull off. Personally, I’ve found the best thing to do with Asano is just strap in and enjoy the swirling mental Waltzer ride.

JR

Buy Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Under: Scourge Of The Sewer (£14-99, Titan) by Christophe Bec & Stefano Raffaele.

Stefano Raffaele knows how to do ‘cavernous’.

He can draw a mighty sewer complete with credible stone strength and darkness both in the depths of the distance and the viewer’s immediate confines as those reckless enough to explore or even set up domestic shop in Megalopolis’s sewers approach us. The wisest carry flame throwers or at the very least rifles, for what lurks in its furthest reaches has developed unusual, unsavoury breeding habits and a certain degree of gigantism. And by “a certain degree”, I mean they are bloody enormous.

Christophe Bec is no stranger to bloody enormous. Have you read his CARTHAGO? It featured Megalodons in the modern age, and I might have done a little wee.

Now, Megalopolis is a bloody stupid name for a city, not least because it’s impossible to pronounce without sounding like Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men – either that, or pissed. On the surface – quite literally above ground – it doesn’t seem much more mega than any other city, so I suspect it was named after its sewers which are ridiculously vast not in their sprawl but in their stature. I’ve seen film footage of sewers and most have a diameter twice the height of a human. You could fly the world’s largest jumbo jet down these, leaving ample room for another to pass the other way safely. Blackpool Tower could be relocated here without bending its apex like some wonky Christmas tree.

 

 

Why did Megalopolis build such formidably sized sewers?

So it could accommodate crocodilian monstrosities larger than a nuclear submarine and spiders the size of Mount Rushmore. They knew they were coming! (They didn’t.) The first Mayor had evidently studied evolution thoroughly and calculated that most species of animal took no more than a couple of generations to a) lose all their pigmentation and b) expand in size one thousand-fold. It’s basic science, especially when excrement’s involved, and this sewer has sure gone to shit.

 

 

I did, however, like the logic of our resident scientist Sandra Yeatman’s explanation for the queen spider’s new egg-laying habits “in a sanitary environment despite the filth and contamination”. There is a genuinely repulsive scene in which they discover babies floating in the effluence which are still moving. They’ve been jettisoned down the toilet by an ethically questionable hospital whose plumbing evidently aspires to the sewer’s in size, because you won’t get that many babies round the average u-bend. Presuming it’s still alive, Dr Sandra Yeatman opts to give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, because every doctor knows that you don’t just resuscitate the dead (you do).

And it is still alive, after a fashion: it’s alive with baby spiders. Brrrrrr….

 

 

Now, our resident scientist is a woman so that she can experience overt chauvinism at the hands of the all-male Sewer Police. Every sewage system has its own police force: this is an historical fact. They’re led by Lieutenant Wilson Jericho whose career took a decidedly downward trajectory after buggering up a hostage situation in a bank which had modelled itself after a funfair Hall of Mirrors.

It’s an unorthodox city, Megalopolis, isn’t it? Most of its urban planning seems to have fallen to Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men.

Don’t worry, though, its Mayor is corrupt (obviously) and he has his own private army led by one Kotzwinkle who, like all self-respecting henchmen is bald (check), burly (check) and is always seen looming from below (check). Plus, although he was born Norman Postlethwaite, his school career advisor saw the signs early on and suggested he try something a little more Germanic.

 

 

Once the Mayor is informed that there massive mutations down below he immediately initiates the standard political procedure of a cover up and sends his private army to do what the city already pays the police for and wouldn’t you just know that the city’s Carnival is imminent?

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was at school in the mid-sixteenth century, our favourite day of the year was the field trip. One year we visited a nuclear reactor, on another we toured a morgue, and the ultimate outing was to an abattoir. So where do you think Megalopolis’s educational authority sends its kiddywinks for their annual jolly…?

Yup!

SLH

Buy Under: Scourge Of The Sewer and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this…!”
“You’re a monster and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.”

The Punisher’s reason for living is to eliminate people he doesn’t like. Not for Frank, the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and time wasted weighing the scales of justice is time that could be far more effectively and satisfying spent with an Uzi, a six-pack of hand-grenades and a mortuary full of Mafiosi.

For the creators of PREACHER, this laugh-out-loud burlesque was one long opportunity for some seriously black comedy as deadpan Frank slaughters his way to the top, both disarming and dismembering an increasingly grotesque crime lord, Ma Gnucci. Yes, it’s Ennis’s trademark Loss of Limbs Motif.

His first stint on Frank Castle, this is a far cry from what he went on to accomplish in the far more socio-political PUNISHER MAX, but sometimes you have to eat the hamburger to appreciate the steak* and this is the Linda McCartney Vegetarian Mozzarella quarter pounder of burgers for which product placement I’d appreciate a lifetime’s supply: very, very tasty.

Anything and everything is a weapon to Frank, so imagine what he can do in a zoo.

 

 

 

As with PREACHER, it’s friendship and loyalty which form the heart of the book, coming this time courtesy of the unsuspecting naïfs he’s shacked up with in rented accommodation: punk Spacker Dave, the over-excitable man of so many piercings that he’s become a human curtain rail…

“Doing the town, huh?” he asks, as Frank leaves their home.
“It’s tempting.”

 

 

… Mr. Bumpo the balloon-shaped pizza addict constantly stuck in his own doorway, and shy young Joan who brings Frank freshly baked cookies as tokens of her timid affection.

Steve Dillon acts his heart out, playing Frank imperturbably straight in the even most ludicrous circumstances, pulling bloated Mr. Bumpo through his own doorway without breaking his stride, constantly emphasising the man’s efficiency. Dillon is a master of communicating emotion through expression, so that although anger appears to come easily to artists (on the page!), few do pants-wettingly worried as well as Dillon. And there’s plenty to worry the wrong people here.

 

 

 

You’re in for twelve full chapters which I concede I haven’t read for a couple of decades or so, but Jonathan recalls Frank being less than impressed by three copy-cat vigilantes who want to join forces with him and I once referred to this as “the comicbook equivalent of an Arnie film, but with fewer plot holes and a lot less overacting”. Sounds about right.

* Thank you, Marc Almond (‘Ugly Head’)

SLH

Buy Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c and read the Page 45 review here

From the Page 45 Archives may we proudly present our beardly beloved Mr Mark Simpson who wrote the following – including a personal revelation you will never see coming! – over a decade and a half ago.

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson –

There are books like this that you’ve got to leave alone for a few years if you’re after the same kiddy rush that you got way back when. Just finished the second book, and I’ve still got the goosebumps. Does that make it any good? Well, Terry Jack’s ‘Seasons In The Sun’ will do the same for me but that’s no real measure of quality either way. It still feels special. 

The story for those who’ve not read it before: far off into the future, Manhattan Island is dominated by the Hoop, a giant floating ring of slum housing for the terminally unemployable. And in this future that’s a lot of people. There’s dream of escape but there are precious few jobs. This is where we find Halo, an ordinary spod who, almost by accident, becomes something else, something legendary. The first chunk covers life on the Hoop, the almost military planning of a simple shopping expedition, the various forms of entertainment, racial tensions and ways of opting out. By the second book she has a waitress job on a ship heading far off into space. And her experiences change her.

 

 

The original tagline went thus:

“Where did she go? OUT! What did she do? EVERYTHING!”

The three books (there were ten planned) show her losing her charm and innocence in a similar way to Evey from V FOR VENDETTA. At the end of each book she moves on to the next situation, one quite removed from the last. Such character development was a marked change in the usual 2000 AD stasis.

 

 

Ian Gibson’s marvellous clutter and sharp, dark technology were perfect to delineate the shadowy corners of the plot.

It’s early Alan Moore; he probably hates it.

MAS

Buy The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 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’.

Black Magick vol 2: Awakening II (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott

Four Points Book 1: Compass South s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Four Points Book 2: Knife’s Edge s/c (£11-99, Square Fish) by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

I Am A Hero Omnibus vol 6 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Kengo Hanazawa

Nobrow 10: Studio Dreams (£18-00, Nobrow) by various

Disquiet (£17-99, Fantagraphics) by Noah Van Sciver

Triangle s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Square h/c (£12-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole s/c (£6-99, Walker Books) by Mac Barnet & Jon Klassen

Paradiso vol 1: Essential Singularity (£8-99, Image) by Ram V. & Dev Pramanik

Persephone h/c (£17-99, Archaia / Boom!) by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky

The Prince And The Dressmaker (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Jen Wang

Young Frances – A Pope Hats Collection h/c (£17-99, AdHouse Books) by Hartley Lin

The Artist Behind Superman – The Joe Schuster Story s/c (£17-99, Super Genius) by Julian Voloj & Thomas Campi

Dark Days: The Road To Metal h/c (£24-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley & Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr., Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Chris Sprouse, Rian Hughes, various

Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 3 – Spider-Man No More s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr. With Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin

Moon Knight vol 1: Crazy Runs In The Family s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Max Bemis & Jacen Burrows

The Sentry s/c (£20-99, Marvel) by Paul Jenkins & Jae Lee

Cutie Honey A Go Go! (£10-99, Seven Seas) by Shimpei Itoh & Hideaki Anno

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing vol 6 (£11-99, Vertical) by Katsuyuki Sumizawa & Tomofumi Ogasawara

One Piece vol 86 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week two

May 9th, 2018

Featuring Jamie Smart, Manuele Fior, Luke Healy, Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Marcus Sedgwick, Thomas Taylor, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southwark, Tom King, Clay Mann, Mark Millar, Greg Capullo, Dan Slott, more.

The Interview h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior…

“So there must be something else, right? I mean another reason why you’re here. Something you see sometimes. Something unusual.”
“Do you believe in the existence of extra-terrestrial civilisations?”
“Off the top I’m not sure.”
“What if I told you that I was in contact with them?”
“Hm.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“Since you say so, I’m obliged at least to take it into consideration.”
“How are you in contact with them?”
“Telepathy. I think they choose to instruct me.”
“And why would they choose you?”
“Because I can see the signals. Not everybody is able to.”
“When was your last ‘contact’?”
“Last night. It was unbelievable. Do you understand what I am saying?”

 

 

 

Raniero does understand indeed. As a psychologist at the hospital where Dora is being ‘treated’ at her parents’ behest, primarily because they are disgusted / concerned about  her membership of a cult called the New Convention, which is rapidly rising in popularity amongst the youth championing emotional and sexual non-exclusivity, polyamory, he might be inclined to think her somewhat unhinged. But after his late-night car crash and subsequent strange experience in a field involving an inexplicable triangular light show, well, let’s just say his mind is somewhat suddenly open to the possibility that Dora could be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 

 

Ahhh… we all adore Fior, the creator of former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month 5000KM PER SECOND and recent collection of shorts BLACKBIRD DAYS. This full-length work, was actually published about a year ago, but we just didn’t get round to reviewing it at the time. Set in 2048, it tells the unlikely proto-romance of Raniero and Dora who are drawn together during a period of intense uncertainty in both their lives. As Raniero’s beloved wife prepares to leave him, primarily for his stubborn, steadfast refusal to move from the tranquil countryside to the bustling city, it seems, the chaos that the arrival of Dora, and the lights, brings into his life precipitates an unexpected transformation of his world. And indeed the world…

 

 

 

With a strong cast of additional characters such as Raniero’s wife Nadia, consultant friend and philanderer Walter, local farmer and fixer Franco and Dora’s odd friend from the New Convention Rossella, I found this work utterly brilliant in every respect. It strongly minded me of the prose work ‘Atomised’ by Michel Houellebecq, for its themes, general tone and its quirky characters. I was absolutely captivated from start to finish, and much like ‘Atomised’, I didn’t see the ending, or endings, for the characters coming at all.

 

 

Art-wise, the chameleonic genius is at it again. I commented in my review of BLACKBIRD DAYS about his impressive ability to employ a myriad art styles masterfully. Well, here he is once more with yet another different approach, a black and white treatment that manages to combine ligne claire line work and smudgy black charcoal shading. It gives the most seductive art house cinema feel to it all, and indeed the depiction of Raniero’s wife makes me think of the delightful Italian actress Monica Bellucci.

 

 

I think the cover alone manages to sum up practically every aspect of what you are about to experience on the pages within, which is no mean feat in itself. The image of Dora, both simultaneously vulnerable and alluring, looking directly out at the reader, standing in a posture that indicates she is yearning for acceptance yet possessing a deep wisdom, with her sparkling dress and the disorientatingly kaleidoscopically triangular background, is a masterpiece in and of itself.

 

 

Another contender for my favourite book I’ve read this year!

JR

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

Looshkin (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart.

“IT’S COMING OUT OF MY BUM!!”

Irrepressible blue cat Looshkin has just scoffed a big wedge of King Mouse’s most prized possession, Firecracker Cheese, offered in truce with humble sincerity and a great big rocket with a fizzing fuse stuffed inside. Now he’s achieved lift-off, blasting round the mice’s tunnels behind the family skirting board. There are a couple of pink-and-purple lightning bolts emanating from Looshkin’s noggin suggesting some degree of alarm but – really? – he’s relishing it!

The role of any decent pull quote is to evoke the distilled essence of what lies within. Sometimes it’s possible to peel back the complex layers of a carefully crafted collection of comics and also strike at its sophisticated thematic core. So let’s hear that again.

“IT’S COMING OUT OF MY BUM!!”

Mission accomplished.

 

 

Jamie Smart – the creator of FISH HEAD STEVE and four BUNNY VS MONKEY books whose full-colour bombast you can revel in alongside the other all-ages excellence in Page 45’ PHOENIX COMICS collection section – knows exactly what makes kids gurgle with over-excitable, uncontainable, mad-screaming glee and that’s this: fart jokes, toilet references, appalling misbehaviour, unbridled chaos and the most massive collateral damage while raging round a home shouting stupid strings of silly-sounding syllables!

Here’s Looshkin terrorising all and sundry with a frying pan and a few choice words:

“FOOT FUDGE!
“WOBBLY BOBBLY!
“FISH FINGERS!
“OFFICER DIBBLES! SERGEANT PLOP-PLOPS!
“MONKEY SOCKS!
“MONKEY…
SOCKS!”

Knock-out, smack-down CLANG!

The timing – both verbal and visual – is neither random nor irrelevant to the comedy. It may be instinctive to Smart, but a simple string of words isn’t enough for the anarchy to hit home with maximum skillet-smacking impact. In the last two panels there, Looshkin launches himself back over the arch of a green settee to position himself behind a beleaguered Bear whose default setting throughout these 64 pages is wailing, wide-mouthed terror.

 

 

On the subject of timing, the immediate family find themselves on the receiving end of a visit / inspection from perpetually scowling Great Auntie Frank (who could have stropped her way from a Giles cartoon) and all the fun of the riotous fare to follow is laid out with exceptional economy in the three-panel pre-credits prologue:

“Ah, Great (rich) Auntie Frank! I’m so glad you could come around for a morning coffee!”
“Hmph! I HEAR you have recently purchased a CAT.”
“Well…”
“Well, nothing. You keep it away from us. My prize-winning poodle PRINCESS TRIXIBELL has a very delicate constitution. The slightest fright, and her fur begins to fall out.”

“Uh. Oh…” murmurs Mum in a tiny inset panel to herself. Uh-oh indeed.

 

 

Prize-winning, pampered poodle Princess Trixibell is presented to the readers on a gold-tasselled burgundy velvet cushion, a shivering and shaking big bag of nerves. Even though nothing has happened yet, it is almost impossible not to start laughing immediately at the oh-so inevitable which Jamie is, of course, smart enough to leave well alone for three more pages because a) anticipation is everything b) instead of dropping a single water balloon on a UKIP member’s head, it is much, much funnier to build up a supply of two dozen water balloons, fill them to bursting point (preferably from a toilet), then carry them five storeys further up before launching the entire barrage down at once.

And that is precisely what Jamie does, upstairs, where the kids and cat have supposedly been locked up safely. My analogy wasn’t random, either: it will involve water – toilet water, obviously – and squirrels.

“THEY’RE EATING MY FACE!”

Key to all this is Looshkin’s insatiable appetite for everything: he cannot help himself and will not be stopped. In his determination to catch a bumblebee in a jam jar to steer it safely out of the window, he fails to notice his own success when the bee buzzes out of the window of its own accord, so he carries on pursuing it right up onto the rooftop because he hasn’t caught it yet!

 

 

 

Utterly oblivious and determinedly in denial, Looshkin doesn’t just refuse to take responsibility for his actions and their consequences, he refuses to acknowledge that his actions have any consequences that can’t be considered tip-top results! There’s a terrific running gag involving “Dial-A-Pig” (it’s… a service) because cats clearly have access to mobile phones, but for once Looshkin opts for something a little more esoteric:

“Ding Dong! Delivery! Here’s that baby shark you ordered.”

He’s holding it, out of water, in his bare hands.

“Looshkin, did you order a SHARK?”
“It’s NOT a shark! It’s an OTTER!”

Is it that Looshkin believes he can change the truth by sheer force of will?

“You’d better not be running through my house with a shark!”
“Nope! Otter!”
“Well, okay then.”

Or is that he simply doesn’t know the difference?

 

 

Here’s the son:

Whatever you think it is, what on earth are you planning to do with it?”
“All the things that otters are known to love doing!”

The genius of what follows is that neither a shark nor an otter are known to love dodgems, thick, creamy milkshakes or dressing up like Santa Claus half as much as Looshkin does. He looks particular fine in full Father Christmas ensemble and a winter-white beard.

“But it’s July!”
“Hey! You can’t argue with nature!”

Haha! So clever! Here’s the daughter:

“Did Looshkin get a SHARK?”
“OTT-TTER. You’re all going to give him identity issues.”

Looshkin is the ultimate child running wild, craving action, attention, adventure, brand-new experiences (preferably dangerous), unorthodox experiments (“We can do a science!”) and, above all, delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. What the family craves is peace and quiet; failing that, they’d quite like to comprehend their new cat so they call for an expert, Professor Lionel F. Frumples who has written himself a résumé.

“Cats! What are cats?
“Cats are cats.
“Zat is right, I’m an expert at cats.
“I am brilliant at cats. BRILLIANT at zem.
“I understand everything about cats. If you told me you were a cat, I’d INSTANTLY know you were lying. I don’t recognise your scent. Get out of my office.”

Unfortunately Looshkin has mistaken Professor Frumples for Cap’n Fruitcakes (“inside Looshkin’s brain…” is a frequent refrain here, translating what is into what Looshkin deliriously perceives) whose treasure chest contains delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. To get to the heart of the cat’s psychology, Professor Frumples is determined to discover what Looshkin really wants. What Looshkin really wants is delicious, brightly coloured, sugar-coated cereal. Mum:

“This is a bad idea. Looshkin doesn’t handle sugar very well at all!”
“SILENCE! Who is more likely to know about your cat? You, with your cat? Or me, with my beard?”

He holds up one finger with authority.

“It is ME.”

 

 

 

Smart blasts every panel on every page with energy, exuberance, excitable lettering (emphatically hand-drawn, and old-school in its sound effects and titles, the sort which any child could copy), delicious colouring which sorely tempts you to lick it, and Looshkin’s big, blue head with its pointy ears, cat-narrow eye-slits and that gleefully gaping, manic maw. Irrepressible, as I say, he will not stop even after disaster has struck and then struck again. The strip may come to a close, but Looshkin won’t have that, each catastrophe seen by him as the most thrilling theme-park ride:

“AGAIN! AGAIN!”

I liked the extra anti-deflation device at THE ENNNNDDD.

SLH

Buy Looshkin and read the Page 45 review here

Permanent Press (£10-99, Avery Hill) by Luke Healy…

“Look, can I be frank here?”
“S-sure. Of c-course.”
“I’m just worried that…
“I’m just worried the audience won’t know how to react.
“After sitting, watching this thing for hours.
“To have it end just like that?
“I’m worried they might feel ripped off.”

Haha!! There’s a delicious irony at play there, which I will leave you to discover for yourselves… The quote itself is taken from the exceptionally clever extended story, The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion, which forms the main part of this collection. It’s actually one of the most deftly nested set of stories within a story I’ve read for some time, starting with stage notes explaining how we are about to play the role of the Reader. Which apparently can “often attract positive attention from cute boys wearing glasses, sitting across from them on the train, and you can only hope for similarly positive reviews”.

 

 

It revolves around our lead of Robin Huang, a stage director whose meteoric rise to superstardom and West End luvviehood was abruptly halted by an ill-received reworking of ‘Macbeth’ focusing almost entirely on Lady Macbeth. She’s been tapped by a rather laissez-faire BBC producer called Benjamin to adapt the equally ill-received titular novel by A.B. Cadbury. Thrown in for good measure is Robin’s mildly delinquent teenage daughter Natalie, whose primary focus seems to be winding up her teacher Mr. King whilst studying said book, which presumably explains the wider title itself.

 

The Cuckoo’s Nest novel has suddenly made it onto Natalie’s school syllabus due to A.B. Cadbury receiving the annual BBC Fine Fellowship, which in addition to a small stipend means for the period of a year the corporation will focus on promoting the winner’s works in a myriad of ways. Hence the commissioning of the stage play. Oh, and did I mention it is going to be broadcast live on BBC4 and Benjamin wants opening night to be in a mere six weeks time…? Which is not taken well by Wally the set designer, a man obsessed with perfection, and so who is therefore insisting on hand making it all himself. Good job he’s not planning on building a full sized house with various moving and revolving elements… Ah.

As a study in what is, I am sure, a veritable pressure-cooker environment, directing a play, the additional farcical elements Luke squeezes into this situational comedy are absolute gold. (I should add, by the way, that upon finishing this it has made me really want to watch Christopher Guest’s ‘Waiting For Guffman’ again soon.) As Robin begins to feel the pressure rising ever further, convinced everyone is going to hate her adaptation, presuming by some miracle she somehow manages to get it ready by opening night, the last things she needs are her daughter managing to get suspended by pushing poor Mr. King just a wee bit too far this time, and Wally managing to mangle yet another potential leading man with his hazardous over-elaborate set.

 

 

When the various story elements begin to overlap and intertwine you will be wondering what on earth is going to happen next. There was one twist I certainly didn’t see coming, which produces a hilarious life-imitating-art moment referencing events in the novel. It’s not the only one either… As I say, very clever.

Fleshing this collection out exquisitely are some of Luke’s auto-biographical woes on the emotional trials and tribulations of being a comics creator and his father’s repeated attempts to persuade him that becoming an accountant and joining the family firm would be a considerably better career option. Interspersed with those mildly excruciating excerpts are a series of fictional strips about two prickly neighbours, and only moderately social misfits, Amir and Mo, who are like ships that pass in the night in their apartment block, barely aware of each other’s existence, their primary interaction being Amir banging on the ceiling to stop Mo playing his trumpet. Except for the time they get stuck in the lift together, which despite finally giving them the time to get to know each other, only serves to eventually end up driving even more of a wedge between them.

 

 

It’s like some people just don’t know how to be happy! Luke does. Though he apparently isn’t, judging by his black shadow of doom following him around, but he’s convinced being nominated for another comics awards would help! The Unofficial Cuckoo’s Nest Study Companion was very deservedly up for an Ignatz.

Art-wise, this is an equally wonderfully constructed affair, with a rolling mixture of sequences of small panels, excerpts of text á la TAMARA DREWE, borderless panels and various other cheeky conceits such as having the occasional conversation displayed typed-out as if in a script using a classic old-school typewriter font. Plus even the odd photo crafted in for good measure, which actually works perfectly both times it is used as a conceit.

 

 

In fact, I suspect the first instance, which is very amusing in its own right, is purely to set up and prepare the reader for the later, much more spectacular use which provokes an entirely appropriate response from Robin that tickled me greatly. The art itself due to the neat and minimal thin line work minded me a little bit of early Chester Brown with a bit less inking and shading. I love to see such apparently simple yet intricately detailed work. Whilst I can’t promise an eventual West End stage adaptation of this for Luke, I think I certainly can guarantee him considerable sales off the shelves of the Page 45 retail theatre.

JR

Buy Permanent Press and read the Page 45 review here

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill.

1958, and Britain has only just rid itself of Big Brother (booting it back to the Netherlands after 43 increasingly excruciating series).

Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain have severed their ties with MI5 and are currently considered rogue agents. Now they are back, sent to steal the Black Dossier secretly stashed in MI5’s Military Intelligence Vauxhall HQ. The Black Dossier, compiled from intelligence records and fragments of fiction, contains every known record of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s various incarnations and its constituent members across the centuries.

Disguised as actress Oodles O’Quim, Miss Murray plays on the vanity of a womanising Secret Service agent licensed to thrill, who can’t keeps his hands off her. Snatch it they do, and from that moment on it’s one long chase up the Thirty-Nine Steps to Greyfriars, the boarded-up boarding school cared for by one William Bunter, then onto Birmingham’s spaceport where Roger The Robot awaits. Unfortunately so do the agents dispatched by the mysterious M. Will you recognise them before they recognise Mina? And what national secrets can the Dossier possibly contain that MI5 is so desperate for it back?

 

 

As you’ve probably inferred, like all the other LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN books, everything here is a cut-and-paste collage of previously published fiction, and half the fun is spotting the references. No one other than Alan can be expected to get them all, but merely catching a nod to one of your favourite books like Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies is quite the fuzzy thrill. What is utterly mind-boggling is not only Uncle Alan’s breadth and depth of cultural knowledge, but the ingenuity with which he’s reweaved his unpicked threads into a brand new tapestry which holds so well together. Also, Moore’s ability as a literary chameleon and mimic.

For within THE BLACK DOSSIER lies The Black Dossier containing, amongst many gems, part of a previously undiscovered piece of Shakespearian bawdiness called ‘Faerie’s Fortunes Founded’ starring Masters Shytte and Pysse; ‘What Ho, Gods Of The Abyss’ by Bertie Wooster; the erotic ‘New Adventures of Fanny Hill’; and ‘A Prospectus Of London (1901)’ from which this description of Freemasons Hall, Vauxhall made me laugh:

“While architecturally an acquired taste, this riverside landmark is an undoubted benefit to the community, as the worthy fraternity within are believed to occupy themselves mainly with organising charitable jumble-sales and similar altruistic activities.”

Naturally Orlando is as ubiquitous as he always claimed!

 

 

Also included is a set of 3-D glasses for when Alan and Mina reach Ye Blazing Worlde with its extra dimension, and at this point we really do doff our battered top hats to artist Kevin O’Neill whose art on this series has always been riddled with detail worthy of what must be the most gargantuan scripts imaginable. The 3-D sequences, however, with the like of the Effervator (an effervescent elevator travelled on via bubbles) is a triumph on another level entirely.

 

 

Finally, big love to Knockabout who finally published this in the UK after DC’s Paul Levitz banned it from our shores to spite Alan Moore, thereby rewarding all DC’s loyal readers – and their loved ones buying presents – with petulant contempt, and depriving Page 45 alone of thousands of pounds worth of Christmas revenue. Oh yes. The book gets pretty pugnacious too:

“What’s that he’s wrestling with?
“I – I think it’s poetry. They must be rehearsing for later. Ooh, look at that! It dazzled him with imagery, then beat him over the head with a blunt metaphor!”

Hmmm… looks like we can now access the DC edition. Here it is!

SLH

Buy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor…

“Anyway, I’ve got a plan. It’s very simple. We wait until the monster appears, I throw the bomb, it blows up, you take the photos. Then we put our feet up.
“Leaping lizards!”
“The monster, miss?”
“No! Look! The Count! Come to steal our monster, no doubt!”

Ah, very quickly we are left in no doubt as to whom the real bad guy is! It’s not any of the myriad monsters that fourteen-year-old orphan Scarlett Hart and her trusted butler Napoleon are attempting to bag for bounty to keep hold of the family pile Ravenwood Hall. No, it’s the dastardly Count Stankovic, who once salaciously sought the hand of Scarlett’s mother in her days as a debutante only to be quite rightly slighted, and then publically embarrassed by Scarlett’s father just for good measure. He’s never forgotten it, and since the passing of Scarlett’s parents some four years ago in a monster-hunting-related incident, he’s gunning for revenge against their offspring by bankrupting Scarlett and forcing her to sell the family estate for peanuts. What a cad!

 

 

Fortunately, she’s more than capable of looking after herself. Throw in the wily Napoleon and his wife, the redoubtable Mrs White, taking care of matters back at the mansion, including the necessary mechanical upkeep of their monster hunting equipment, and she’s more than a match for stinky old Count Stankovic. She’s still going to have to worry about the monsters, though, and there are rather a lot of them all of a sudden. I wonder if the Count might have something to do with that…?

Acclaimed children’s author Marcus Segdwick turns his hand to writing comics for the first time and it’s a pretty good debut, actually. I thought the characters were well rounded and the overall story entertaining enough. This isn’t anything remotely different or new, indeed I can think of a certain other red-haired young lady monster hunter who really needs to make another appearance soon (hint hint, Mr. Ellerby), but for a first foray into comics I can’t really fault it. This is billed as being for the ‘middle grade’ audience, which is apparently for those age 8 to 12 and I would say that is spot on.

 

 

I wasn’t familiar with artist Thomas Taylor, either, who apparently illustrated the original prose edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but he’s pretty good too, minding me of Joan THE RABBI’S CAT Sfar with the pointy chins and large eyes, and indeed perhaps a dash of David THE ENCHANTED CHEST Sala with some of the thin, almost spindly figures and random swooshing curves.

JR

Buy Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter and read the Page 45 review here

Stumptown vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southwark…

“One-ten.”
“What does that mean!?!?”
“It’s the seconds you have left before every cop in southeast Portland is crawling up your ass in response to this little home invasion of yours. Average response time in this part of town is about three minutes. Which means you got about half that time left to vanish.”
“Brad! We gotta…”
“SHUT UP!
“You… you’re full of shit.”
“Time the time to stab me and you’ll to find out.”
“Braaaaaaad…”
“Get to the truck… deal with them later… especially you, bitch.”
“Uh-oh! Hear that? That sounds like sirens! Bye bye.
“Skinheads. What’re you gonna do?”

Volume two of STUMPTOWN wasn’t what I was expecting at all, either in terms of the story or the art, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. I guess I expected the story to focus much more directly on Dex and her continuing personal and professional travails, particularly with the crooked casino owner / crime boss from first time around, who I presumed was being set up as some sort of arch-nemesis. But this, to start with at least, is much of a straight gumshoe case, revolving about a professional musician and her stolen guitar… until the skinheads turn up looking for their stolen methamphetamine.

 

 

I wasn’t remotely disappointed, but something I absolutely loved about STUMPTOWN VOL 1 was its real emotional heart, and this was just different in tone and indeed colour palette. Still, once I’d made the mental shift I got into the story itself, and one thing that was exactly the same this time around, Dex’s ability to irritate just about everyone she meets from skinhead thug to DEA detective, is just a pleasure to behold. And that crooked casino boss, well maybe she’s not quite so absent from this story as I first presumed and Mr. Rucka is just playing the long game. I hope so!

 

 

Also STUMPTOWN fans who are not aware, please note, it shares the same continuity as the Rucka prose novel ‘Fistful of Rain’ and also his seven ‘Atticus Kodiak’ prose novels, as apparently several secondary characters crop up in both. For anyone who hasn’t read any Rucka prose, I can highly recommend it, including his ‘Queen & Country’ books, which intertwine with the QUEEN & COUNTRY graphic novels.

JR

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

DC Nation #0 (25p, DC) by Tom King & Clay Mann; Brian Michael Bendis & Jose Luis Garcia Lopez; Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson & Jorge Jimenez.

Attention! This is a superhero readers’ alert, not a review. But still, attention!

1) 25 pence!
2) 3 stories leading into DC’s next big events which will not be reprinted until their respective collected editions i.e.
3) These are prologues, not previews.

“First, find out how The Joker reacts when he discovers Catwoman has turned her back on crime and plans to marry his archnemesis. Can the Clown Prince of Crime stand to see Batman happy? Writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann set up the events that lead to BATMAN #48, BATMAN #49, BATMAN #50!”

It’s genuinely funny, and this is the same team who brought you that which in last week’s Page 45 Reviews blog I declared the best Batman book of all time.

“Then, DARK NIGHTS: METAL shook the DC Universe to its deepest foundations – now it’s time to rejoin legendary writer Scott Snyder, along with all-star artist Jorge Jimenez and co-writers James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson, for the prelude to JUSTICE LEAGUE: NO JUSTICE #1 of 4! Discover what universe-shattering mysteries have emerged from the most wondrous and chaotic corners of the cosmos to hunt the Justice League in DC’s summer blockbuster event!”

Four themed teams take on the most massive, planet-devouring entities in the hope that they’ll never reach Earth. They reach Earth. Ooops, spoilers! Attention once more: this is a weekly comic beginning this very week! Gasp!

 

 

“And get your first glimpse at Superman’s new world in this exclusive preview of the upcoming six-issue miniseries MAN OF STEEL, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by José Luis García-López. With Truth, Justice and the American Way all under attack, both Superman and Clark Kent find there’s never been a more important time to stand up for what they believe in.”

That too will be a weekly comic. Stop it with the weekly comics, corporations! You’re only doing it so retailers can’t reduce their orders for subsequent issues if the first one turns out to be a big ball of cretin.

There was also a prologue to that in ACTION COMICS #1,000, back in stock.

SLH

Buy DC Nation #0 and read the Page 45 review here

Reborn s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo.

“Don’t you believe in anything, Mrs. Black?”
“No, Danita. It’s all just fairy tales. I don’t think God would allow us all this suffering and tragedy we endure.
“I only believe what I can see with my eyes, Family and friends. Grandchildren and schoolchildren. Anything promised beyond all this was just made up to get us through the night.
“Do you really think any of us really make a difference?”
“Of course I do, Ma’am. Our lives are a constant series of random interactions, each changing things a million times a day.
“The longer we’re here, the more we have an impact. The world would be a different place, if it hadn’t been for you.”
“You know, that might just be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Elderly Bonnie Black doesn’t want to die. She’s lived a good life, outliving her beloved husband Harry by fourteen years, who was killed by the infamous Minneapolis sniper along with a number of others, but still has a loving daughter and grown up granddaughter whom she adores. Bonnie’s just not ready to leave this world behind, particularly with no great faith in there being anything whatsoever afterwards. She’s going to die, obviously, very shortly, of a stroke. So it would be fair to say she’s not expecting what happens next: waking up in her twenty-year-old body in a fantasy land locked in a perpetual war between good and evil, being anointed the saviour of the free folk.

 

 

Which, when you put it like that, sounds a rather trite premise, I will grant you, but it’s the (re-) appearance of family like her father, high school friends (and enemies), and even her old cat and dog, which take this story in a stranger, altogether more interesting direction. Some, like Bonnie, are in their own youthful forms, whereas others have become more… representative… versions of themselves.

What is certain, though, is that much like in the real world, or at least the pre-death world, there are those who are intent on ruining it for everyone else through the usual megalomaniacal desires for total domination. Remember that pesky Minneapolis sniper? Well, he committed suicide at the end of his killing spree… Plus, if everyone else Bonnie knew is present in this new realm, for whatever strange reason, just where is her hubby Harry? I feel an epic quest coming on…

 

 

Speaking of epic, this is storming art from Greg Capullo who really throws absolutely everything at this. The battle sequences particularly are a visual feast of the utterly fantastical. As with a number of Millarworld works, this is merely billed as book one, but it feels complete to me. Still, given your chum Mark has just sold Millarworld to Netflix for a probably not unsubstantial sum, I suspect he’ll be rapidly revisiting more than a few of his properties for another volume or two…

I would quite like it if he started writing more comics with a view to them being adapted for longer form series actually, rather than to be adapted for films, as I sometimes feel the stories are getting wrapped up before they’ve barely got started e.g. CHRONONAUTS and MPH. I just want something with a bit more meat like the JUPITER’S LEGACY and JUPITER’S CIRCLE series, which are really great, and going a little bit further back, WANTED, which despite being self-contained had so much to it in terms of plot and character development.

 

 

It’s a lower risk approach, I get that, and it has produced some really great standalone stories like SUPERIOR, SECRET SERVICE and STARLIGHT, so I probably shouldn’t complain. Overall Millar’s quality hit rate is pretty damn good. Plus you can’t fault his commitment to single-handedly enrich the cream of comics artists! I always love hearing who he is going to work with next.

JR

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

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, J.M. DeMatteis, Jen Van Meter & Richard Elson, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stephanie, Buscema, Ryan Stegman,

The first thing you should know is that this wasn’t a sideshow spin-off.

This was the main Spider-title replacing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for approximately three years. The first of two hefty volumes, this repackages AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698-700 and SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1-16 previously collected as ‘Dying Wish’, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ (a very clever title under the circumstances, and you shall see), ‘Troubled Min’ and ‘No Escape’.

Amazing Spider-Man: Dying Wish

Oooooh, the final few issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN* leading up and including #700!

What’s left of mop-topped minger Doc Ock has been knocking on death’s door for quite a few years. Now it looks like it’s about to open up and swallow him whole, tentacles and all. Yes, Doctor Octopus has mere hours to live, but is determined to have the last laugh over the quipping, thwipping pain in the arse who’s been beating his backside for over five decades.

 

 

And that’s when he discovers Spider-Man is Peter Parker, nephew of that sweet old woman whom he once had the hots for, and to whom he was briefly engaged. Doc Ock and Aunt May made it as far as the altar, I kid you not! Boy, this new knowledge has sure got to rankle!

Ah, but the man has a plan, and it is a cunning one. He’s going to swap minds with Spider-Man and leave Peter Parker in his old, ravaged shell to face the funereal music instead.

All sorts of ironies abound in this final tussle, and although I was emotionally ejected from the proceedings by Ramos’ plinky plonky artwork, the surprise ending was certainly very different from what anyone could have expected, and set the stage a very new, very different SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN.

 

 

*The final few issues, that is, until Marvel inevitably relaunches with a fresh AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 next year, before reinstating the old issue numbers as soon as they approach 750. You mark my words.

[Editor’s note: I was three years out, but that prediction otherwise proved 100% accurate. There was indeed another AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 before Marvel reinstated its old issue numbers. As I type this, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is about to celebrate its 800th issue next week. Then, of course, there will be yet another #1 because Marvel – currently a desperate, clueless, headless chicken – simply cannot help itself.]

Superior Spider-Man: My Own Worst Enemy

“Ahhh! I can’t take this anymore! It’s – It’s crazy-town banana-pants!”

In ‘Dying Wish’ Doctor Octopus side-stepped certain death by swapping minds with Peter Parker as his own sorry, saggy old carcass expired. Now he inhabits Peter’s youthful body and pretty face whilst inheriting his memories, his relatives and acquaintances, including a very confused Mary Jane Watson.

 

 

Unexpectedly, this fusion has catalysed a reformation of sorts, for Otto Octavius is now determined to fight crime as Spider-Man but with his own, warped set of priorities and a new, more methodical approach which somehow eluded our Peter.

Doctor Octavius has a very different modus operandi

And this is the delight: some of Otto’s innovations are genuinely clever and infinitely more practical; some of his quick thinking has already paid dividends which poor Peter never saw; some of his strategies risk ruining Spider-Man’s reputation for good; because some of his costume modifications are dangerously diabolical.

Meanwhile, some of the much older man’s moves on Peter’s young loved ones are positively icky. And all Peter Parker can do is float there in some sort of astral plane and watch…

 

 

Oh, he is far from gone, I can assure you! There is enormous comedy potential to be had here and Dan Slott has seized it, revelling in the dramatic irony that is everyone’s ignorance except Carlie Cooper’s.

Moreover, the longer this goes on, the more it makes sense that it was Dr. Octopus who finally seized control of Peter Parker’s life, for they share so much in scientific background and acumen. Otto can take full advantage of Peter’s position at Horizon Labs, he’s just far less likely to share. He can be convincingly savvy in all of these spheres and, in addition, his arrogance comes across to those not in the know merely as renewed self-confidence: the diffident ditherer is gone, and some women find that attractive.

Pretty much impressed by the art as well which comes across as Eric Larsen inked by Howard Chaykin on Ryan Stegman’s part, then with Giuseppe Camuncoli it becomes something more akin to mid-John Romita Jr inked by Eric Larsen.

Above all, this is far from assembly-line fisticuffs. It is very well thought-through. The condition which could so easily have been treated as a mere gimmick has instead been thoroughly seized by the horns and ridden as a rodeo, and an opportunity to surprise.

It is bananas, for sure, but it is far from pants. It is instead, crazy-town banana-pants.

And I think that is where we came in.

Superior Spider-Man: Troubled Mind

Above all else, what Doc Ock has brought with him is a lifetime of resentment which began with being bullied at school and which was exacerbated each time he decided to twist tentacles with the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. The end result is a decidedly less friendly Spider-Man whose temper is triggered during almost every confrontation, resulting in the death of one villain so far. The Avengers – initially merely baffled by the sudden mood shift from merry rejoinders to snide superciliousness – have finally taken note that something’s a little off and call him in for a brain scan.

 

 

Meanwhile, Peter is beginning to make tiny steps to reassert his own identity: small note-book doodles when the doctor is distracted, and he’s desperately hoping that the brain scan will secure the Avengers’ help. And the brain scan does reveal an anomaly, but who’s best qualified to judge what it is?

There are significant developments here, but not necessarily those you’ll be expecting. The irony of any secret identity is dramatic enough, but it’s substantially heightened by this double deception, and Dan Slott milks this for all that it’s worth. Better still is the gradual reformation, in certain areas at least, of the bitter old whinger; something which I pray isn’t dropped when this has all sorted itself out (which it will the very second another film looms onto the horizon).

I’d also like to single out Edgar Delgado’s colouring which in places is far from obvious. I stared at the second page of issue #9 for quite some time, particularly the bottom right panel where instead of enhancing the curves of the Ryan Stegman’s beautifully drawn nose, Delgado opts to emphasise the shadow of the helmet over Peter’s cheeks.

 

 

I like what he chose for the flesh tones there as well. In fact a round of applause for Ryan Stegman generally who melds all the melodrama of Humberto Ramos with a softer, gentler humanity. At dinner with Aunt May, for example, you can see a genuinely appreciative if slightly smug Otto Octavius shine through Peter’s fresh-faced puppy-dom. These little things are important.

Superior Spider-Man: No Escape

The premise for SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN is relatively simple but its execution has proved surprisingly thorough: in ‘Dying Wish’ one of Spider-Man’s oldest, ugliest foes, Otto Octavious (PhD and at death’s door), finally won the day by switching his consciousness with Peter Parker’s just before his own body expired.

For a while Peter’s own memories lingered on as did his spirit, ever so slightly alarmed about what Dr Octopus was doing with his body, to his friends and even his vilest villains. This niggling nuisance was swiftly purged but not before Peter’s psyche had imprinted itself on Otto’s to the extent that, along with the power, he was indeed going to accept the responsibility of fighting on the other side of the law while ignoring even more of its letters.

 

 

The villains weren’t just banged up, they were banged about first: the vulture was [redacted], the Scorpion lost his [excised] and J. Jonah Jameson was most impressed. To him this is indeed a far superior Spider-Man. Smug and disdainful as well, I might add, and although some have accepted this as maybe a mid-life crisis, others have since grown suspicious.

Here we return to The Raft (maximum security penitentiary for less than penitent supervillains) which in the process of being decommissioned, but not before the Spider-Slayer, sentenced to death, has been executed.

“Spider-Man. Come to supervise the slaying of the Spider-Slayer, eh? I’m sure you’re thoroughly enjoying the irony of that.”

He’s actually more preoccupied with his own past there, when once locked up as a criminal.

These are the sorts of things this series has dealt with: Octavius’s fresh-found perspective on those he once allied himself with, and the irony of J. Jonah Jameson finally coming round to Spider-Man’s cause based on the actions of someone who isn’t even Peter. Do you think he’s going to regret that?

 

 

Now, I’m merely thinking aloud here, but if there was one individual above all who would begin to take counter-measures given Spider-Man’s increasing superior success, it would be a certain brillo-bonced psychopath for whom every day of the year is a lime-green and purple opportunity to trick, never treat.

SLH

Buy The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 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’.

Be Prepared (£9-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol

Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson

The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel (£8-99, Oxford Press) by Deborah Ellis, Nora Twomey & various

Hellboy Omnibus vol 1 s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola with John Byrne

The Ballad Of Halo Jones (Colour Edition) vol 1 s/c (£9-99, Rebellion) by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson

New Shoes h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Sara Varon

The New World – Comics From Mauretania h/c (£24-99, New York Review Comics) by Chris Reynolds

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale Of Two Sloths h/c (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Graham Annable

Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil s/c (£15-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & David Rubin

Under: Scourge Of The Sewer (£14-99, Titan) by Christophe Bec & Stefano Raffaele

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. s/c (£17-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Mike Costa & Ryan Stegman, Gerardo Sandoval

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop vol 3: Family Reunion s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Kelly Thompson & Leonardo Romero, Stefano Raffaele

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£22-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, Jimmy Palmiotti

Venom: Carnage Unleashed s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Marv Wolfman, Larry Hama, David Micheline & various

The Ancient Magus Bride vol 8 (£11-99, Seven Seas) by Kore Yamazaki

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction vol 1 (£9-99, Viz) by Inio Asano

Fire Punch vol 2 (£8-99, Manga) by Tatsuki Fujimoto

The Girl From The Other Side vol 4 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Nagabe

Happiness vol 7 (£10-99, Kodansha) by Shuzo Oshimi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2018 week one

May 2nd, 2018

Featuring Gipi, Manuele Fior, Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson, Jeff Lemire, Tom King, Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Seth Mann, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee.

Land Of The Sons h/c (£24-99, Fantagraphics) by Gipi…

“What does the notebook say?”
“Notebooks don’t say anything. They don’t have mouths.”
“He never taught us to read.”
“I know.”

The man from Pisa returns with his darkest work yet, following two young brothers scavenging and scrabbling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Where they live, on a house in the middle of a lake with their father, would be idyllic, where it not for the poisoned waters, the bloated floating corpses, a paranoid survivalist who is probably the most normal of their neighbours, plus the ever-present threat of the marauding mob of the uberpriest, following the word of God Kool.

The brothers are managing, getting by, just, and growing up on the job under the extremely stern eye of their father, who has decided the best way to make sure they actually hit puberty is to hit them every time they misbehave. Or at least when he catches them, which they’re getting increasingly better at avoiding, unsurprisingly. Avoiding a battering is clearly a great incentive to improve your sneaking around and parent-deception skills.

 

 

It’s impossible to decide whether their father does have any affection for them, actually, certainly they no idea whatsoever. What also infuriates them, particularly the hot-headed younger brother Lino, is that their father writes about them in his journal. Given he’s never bothered to teach them to read, and he refuses to tell them what he’s writing, Lino has absolutely no idea what his father’s private thoughts might be. But after his unexpected death, Lino is determined to find out. He just needs to find somebody who can read. And that… obsession… is going to get the brothers into some serious trouble. A whole post-apocalyptical world of it.

 

 

Ah, he’s never been one to play it for laughs, our Gipi, and this is certainly no exception. Here, he’s crafted what I reckon is a pretty good approximation of just how bleak life would be if civilisation collapsed. What is different this time around is that this is purely a black and white work. I’ll freely confess, I was a tad disappointed when I opened this up and saw a lack of colour, because I think his watercolour palette is exceptional. But actually, the absence of colour only goes to highlight his excellent line work, minimal as it is.

 

 

He’s not even chosen to employ any real shading, either, it’s just perfectly placed thin, scratchy lines that build up to dramatic, powerful panels, often pulsing with palpable tension. It’s quite striking how if you flick through the pages very quickly, the artwork seems like it should feel weak, not least because there seems such an expanse of white, blank space. But once you actually start reading, the illustrations captivate your attention completely.

 

 

Also, whereas with many other creators, anything unusual such as seemingly strangely drawn facial details would immediately break my concentration, here I found myself fascinated by the composition and thus drawn deeper into the characters. It’s powerful stuff. He’s clearly a man entirely at ease with his own economy of detail. Most of the characters simply have black pin-sized dots for eyes, for example. Which ought to serve to remove such a degree of connection to the individuals yet somehow instead manages to accentuate every other aspect of their facial emotions. The level of expression he gets into eyebrows in particular would make even Roger Moore proud. So very, very clever.

 

 

He might not be particularly prodigious, but when Gipi does get something out, you know it’s probably nailed on to be a masterpiece.

JR

Buy Land Of The Sons h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Blackbird Days (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior…

“The question you’ve gotta ask yourself at this point is:
“Why, of all people, me?”

There are a lot of answers to that question. For Mr. Marcuzzi, that particular query is about to be the least of his worries, as his day is about to get a whole lot weirder.  Mr. Marcuzzi is actually the chap pictured on the front cover, by the way, with his snazzy space age car. He also has a haircut that Mick Miller would be proud of but I’m not sure how many of you will get that demi-hirsute reference. Anyway… he’s off to visit a quarry where, well, let’s just say the laws of physics might just be having a holiday. A very relaxing holiday…

The question I was asking the universe at large when I finished this fabulous collection of ten short stories was what was going to happen next in half of them. Always the sign of a great short story, that, when you are desperate to know what happens next. The only reason the other half didn’t provoke the same response, I should add, is they are they are perfectly self-contained little nuggets.

 

 

 

This top ten are an extremely eclectic collection, both in terms of story and artistically. A couple would certainly immediately identify Fior to anyone who lapped up 5000KM PER SECOND which we made a Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, but unfortunately currently remains stubbornly out of print.

 

 

 

But let me take a quick run through what you can expect here! So we have: parental anguish at losing a child in Berlin airport, obnoxious film students on a trip to Paris, an Italian girl visiting a small Norwegian town on an exchange, a couple on a driving holiday in Italy, a French soldier in the Napoleanic era who goes mutilatingly mad, the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin attempting to relax in the thermal baths near Naples, third-generation Laotian immigrants examining cultural self-sequestration versus integration in France, the aforementioned strange goings-on in a quarry including a telepathic deaf mute, a two-page commentary on racial diversity in France, and errr… giant robots fighting outside the Gare de l’Est in Paris. Yep, this collection really does have something for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

With a plethora of differing art styles too, some radically more so than others, Fior more than capably demonstrates he’s as versatile with the pens and brushes as Eleanor HOW TO BE HAPPY Davis. This work would undoubtedly be an ideal way to familiarise yourself with an exceptional Italian creator who is only going to go on to create more fumetti meravigliosi.

JR

Buy Blackbird Days and read the Page 45 review here

The Pervert (£15-99, Image) by Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell.

“I don’t want to do any of this sort of work as a girl.
“No amount of money, okay.”

Oh, this is such a lonely book, however populated.

The pale-coloured panels in their rigid grid are surrounded by so much white space that it echoes, while the snapshot short stories from Felina’s first-person perspective are themselves broken up by monochromatic landscapes, some rural, others suburban, but always eerie and empty. They are cold, often beautiful but bleak.

“Each day of this. I’m just part of someone else’s day.”

There is a huge sense of isolation, for not all conversations can be classed as communication, and Felina has erected barriers or set herself boundaries like the above to protect her. Some things she simply does not want to talk about. We don’t even learn her real name until close to the end: she only lets Tom in while on her way out, waiting on a plane to take her back home to Michigan.

 

 

Earlier:

“I came here because you only know what I let you know about me, yeah?
“You don’t know enough to hurt me.”

And Felina is indeed so very vulnerable throughout. Don’t get me wrong, she can take care of herself – physically at least, thank god – but the very fact that she has to eye a lampshade and assess its efficacy as a weapon in case her client gets violent says it all.

 

 

Felina, I should probably point out, is a trans woman earning her way in Seattle as a sex worker, and this graphic novel – some of which you might already have come across in the pages of the ISLAND anthology curated by Emma Rios and Brandon Graham – is as explicit as that implies, far more so than OMAHA THE CAT DANCER to which artist Remy Boydell pays tribute in the back.

 

 

Thankfully none of Felina’s nightmare scenarios manifest themselves, but you cannot help but fear for her safety because even off work – walking down the pavement, head bowed after being stared at and muttered about in a diner – she receives bigoted abuse from some stupid car mechanic who, like any bully, presumes that they’ll get away with it, almost certainly because he has in the past. This time he doesn’t, but any sense of temporary victory which Felina or the reader may or may not feel from the outburst of violence is both short-lived and pyrrhic, for the damage has been done and the final few panels alone in the shower are devastating.

‘Cut Throat’ is a particularly powerful piece of storytelling, carefully composed from start to finish. It begins so promisingly, so positively in friendship, kind words and sex for pleasure. It’s not all idyllic, as you’ll see, but hey. It’s on the fourth transitional page that Felina finds herself sitting alone, comfortable in her nakedness, reminding us exactly where she is in her own transition. But as she makes her way to that diner – initially through warm, autumnal colours – we’re shown a close-up of her cheek which is very closely shaved but still peppered with tiny flecks of black stubble. The final panel on the page pulls out to reveal the effect of its feel on Felina as she strokes it, gingerly. Thanks to Boydell’s immaculately judged portrait we are left in no doubt as to the severity of the blow, both to her immediate ease and long-term optimism.

It is then that we enter the diner with is whispering clientele, thence the pavement and the malicious mechanic.

 

 

 

It’s not all melancholy, though, I promise. Your expectations will be overturned again and again. Tom’s first encounter with Felina, for example, proves him to be as comically dim-witted as he is later determined to be kind, supportive and attempting to understand Felina’s complexity. People are complicated, relationships are complicated and that argument on holiday hit home. Keeping everyone happy can be difficult. Experiences will be revisited (like that argument on holiday) because the structure of the whole is not necessarily linear.

 

 

What Perez and Boydell have crafted is candid, explicit, humane, tender, painful and actually quite deliciously blunt.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of representation (THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS and BINGO LOVE, for example) and why it matters so much, but in addition diverse perspectives are essential if we’re going to understand and so empathise with each other a bit better.

SLH

Buy The Pervert and read the Page 45 review here

Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire…

“I start to feel really weird.
“I start to feel like the colour is being drained out of everything.
“I start to feel like I’m finally really all alone.
“That’s when I hear someone out in the woods…
“That’s when I find her. And for the first time I realise that maybe two people can be all alone together.”

Royal City returns for a mesmerising second arc, transporting us back in time to 1993 to afford young Tommy the luxury of recounting the story of his last few months. The rest of the then teenage Pike brood are as individually and collectively dysfunctional as ever, I should add, though nowhere near as emotionally damaged and inept as their future shelves will become. Just typical, normal teenagers in other words.

As Tommy takes us through the events leading up to his untimely death, what struck me most was how utterly unsuspecting and therefore completely unprepared the family are for the tragic shattering event that is shortly to follow. Which is entirely understandable, particularly given that Tommy seems to be the one that all the others have the most affection for. His passing is going to leave a very big hole in all their lives.

 

 

Also absent is the mystery of the opening volume, in that Jeff chooses not to reveal a single iota more regarding precisely how it is that Tommy is acting as our narrator or how his grown up siblings can occasionally see him.  Though… perhaps a sketch in Tommy’s notebook following a doctor’s appointment may reveal a clue of sorts in that respect. A CT scan shows something in Tommy’s brain that the doctor finds puzzling and he’s scheduled him for a follow-up with an out-of-town specialist.

I found Tommy’s drawing, whilst being driven home by his mum – naively assuring him everything would be alright – tantalising for its content… Particularly whilst bearing in mind what his father begins to obsessively collect, something we see the very beginnings of here. Actually, now there’s a scene which upon re-reading I do wonder whether there isn’t a little more to it than first meets the eye. Hmm…

 

 

Much like everything he writes, Lemire here is all about the characters and their frequently excruciating interactions. ROYAL CITY is shaping up to be a fascinating character study of the individuals that nominally form this ‘family’, riven by the tragedy of the sudden erosion of their emotional centre.

 

 

For some of the Pikes, I have a degree of hope that they can finally overcome this loss and achieve happiness. For one in particular, though, I’m not sure that is ever going to be possible. But then I very much doubt Lemire would let everyone have a happy ending… I really don’t think that’s in his nature! As for the part Tommy will undoubtedly play in directing the course of his siblings’ futures, or at least attempting to, for that, we will have to wait for volume three.

JR

Buy Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Sleeper Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson.

“But just as I’m trying to focus and push my worries about Peter Grimm’s suspicions out of my head, a face in the crowd jumps out at me…
“And then mine jumps out at her.
“And everything falls to pieces.”

Hair-tearingly tense espionage thriller deftly conducted by the creators of CRIMINAL, THE FADE OUT, KILL OR BE KILLED, THE SCENE OF THE CRIME plus the noir-horror hybrid FATALE, this doesn’t just avoid the pothole cop-outs of most superhero tales when it comes to crime and consequence, it pole-vaults over them and plunges the protagonist into a world where there’s no soothing alternative to ruthless expediency.

Field agent Holden Carver was sent deep undercover just before his boss was sent deep into a coma.

Unfortunately a) the cover in question is as hired thuggery for Tao, a ruthless powerbroker who is preternaturally perceptive, b) his comatose boss, John Lynch, was the only one who knew he’d been sent undercover so c) there’s no one around to extract him. With no light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t turn out to be a train, Carver’s only option is to complete the missions for the slime he now works for without killing his conscience or his former friends who now think he’s defected. Not a lot of recourse, there.

 

 

Carver has to convince one of the most astute manipulators on the planet that he has sincerely switched sides and isn’t a double-agent; he has to earn and maintain the trust of his new, vicious and suspicious peers; he cannot forewarn his former cohorts of what’s up to (they’d never believe him anyway), so he must somehow either sabotage some of the assignments whilst making it look like someone else’s fault, or carry them out correctly without killing too many innocents, and hope that the results don’t tip the scales irreversibly in the terrorists’ favour.

 

 

How many innocents can Holden kill before the total begins to chime with his moral concept of “too many”?  What happens when he’s sent up against the love of his life and her new husband? And how long can he keep this up before his new boss discovers the truth, Carver gives up completely or – worse still – throws in with the other side? He has, after all, made friends in that camp.

 

 

Sean Phillips’s intense, brooding, twilight pages are full of a palpable sense of foreboding, on which anything can come round the corner, and because so many faces are cast in half-shadow, no one’s at all sure what the others are really thinking. This includes the reader. I found myself so successfully immersed in this deadly, murky and often angry arena that I was fretting throughout and trying to peer round corners and up flights of stairs on Carver’s behalf. I actually angled my head!

Best of all, while his visual storytelling is so fluent and fluid, he’s also as brutally solid as anyone else, seen here – 15 years ago – with more jaggedly angular faces than we’re used to by now, perfect for people this raw. He hasn’t yet settled on the three-tiered grid as seen in the books above; instead the panels cascade down over the background, and that contributes a more disorientating, action-driven tension.

 

 

Meanwhile, Brubaker’s tour de force here lies not only in the plotting, but in the internal monologues wherein Holden Carver attempts to justify his actions to himself, wriggle his way out of inconsistencies and uncover as much as he can, whilst staying alive – albeit battered – in the process. Wrestling to make the right choices isn’t easy, either, right up until the last minute.

Along the way there are some very funny superhero origin parodies, and you’ll love Ms. Misery for whom happiness is a life-threatening disease.

Lastly, prepare yourself for the most excruciatingly ironic final few pages while you wait for the second half. It should be noted that we were never guaranteed its second season, so it could all have ended here.

 

 

Point Blank:

Never argue with the woman serving you at the bar!

“And who said I wasn’t already post-human? You guys always assume just ‘cuz I’m tending bar that I’m normal…”
“Oh really, so what are your powers?”
“Honey, I get better looking every drink.”

The prologue to Brubaker and Phillips’ SLEEPER, I found a second reading of POINT BLANK infinitely more enjoyable for having since relished the nail-biting noir of the main series itself. I own, however, that they are on two completely different levels. SLEEPER is the mature, fully formed Brubaker you know now, operating in his own theatre on creations that are almost all his; POINT BLANK is him negotiating his way there, having to use characters which – other than the lead and chief antagonist – really don’t suit him. It’s good but not great, so DC’s decision to repackage it at the front of this book comes with the warning that you should please not judge the main meal by its entrée.

 

 

Cole Cash is drinking at a bar.

He really doesn’t want to be there, but he made his old colleague a promise, so here he is. His old colleague is John Lynch, former head of International Operations, the Wildstorm universe’s covert anti-terrorism organisation. But Lynch is late and something’s not right. For a start, Lynch is never late – that’s usually Cash. But it’s not just that: he hears echoes of a past conversation he can’t place.

It’s as if Cole’s forgotten something…

 

 

As Cole tries to recall the last several nights, some bits come back easier than others: Lynch on the trail of someone called Carver, erasing the memories of those he catches up with in case they recall the encounter. But when he finally quits the bar to investigate, he finds Lynch shot and deep in a coma. No one can get the drop on Lynch – probably not even Cash – it’s how he’s survived all these decades in the most dangerous job on the planet.

So who finally did the job, who is this Holden Carver and why was Lynch so desperate to find him? Ah, now you see why I mean about hindsight!

As Cash delves deeper, he gradually realises that he’s running the very real risk of buggering up the biggest subterfuge of them all, but nothing will prepare him for the final blow.

 

 

Set on the periphery of the Wildstorm Universe, there are very few capes. Oh wait, there’s The Midnighter from THE AUTHORITY, but then that black leather costume to him is just casual clothing. It’s what Brubaker does better than anyone else: genre-splicing action / espionage with powers.

Colin Wilson provides decidedly European-style art (I know, I know, that’s a sweeping generalisation) which manages to be both exceptionally clean yet rugged at the same time. I’d probably classify it as “cinematic, ne’er do well chic”.

SLH

Buy Sleeper Book 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, Seth Mann.

“Shall we?”
“This… could be fun.”
“This will be fun.”
“No.”

For once I’m going to have a little think now before I write something truly contentious.

While I’m cogitating, please note that should I persuade you to read this book, the fifth in a series, you honestly won’t have to have read the other four. I haven’t.

Okay, I’m done.

This is the best BATMAN book that I have ever read.

It’s also the best SUPERMAN book that I’ve ever read.

You may have enjoyed many for the spectacle of acrobatics and of combat; there have been some boasting extensive, razor-sharp plots realised with beat-perfect timing and thematic hearts which have been eloquently expressed, like IDENTITY CRISIS. But few superhero books – so focussed on fisticuffs – are renowned for being joyful, for being fun.

Whereas this, I swear, is a scream, bursting with character-driven wit, fulsome affection and fun. I’ve long made a joke about how you’re unlikely to see a superhero comic in which everyone settles down in a park for an uninterrupted picnic, but that is almost exactly what happens for the whole of one chapter here when Lois Lane, Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) decide to visit Gotham County Fair in their civvies. It’s taken them a whole hour to agree on this venue and Selina is starving. But there’s a slight problem: it’s superhero cosplay night. Says the spod at the entrance, “And you all ain’t superheroes.”

 

 

Back at the car park, Lois observes, “Well, there is a solution, right? It’s not as if you don’t have costumes.”

Bruce: “No.”

Clark’s rather worried that they might look too much like the real things (!!!), so Lois suggests that they switch costumes.

Bruce: “No.”

Selina, one hand on Bruce’s shoulder, the other on his lapel:

“What my kind, patient, fiancé means is that he sees that his kind, patient fiancée is tired and hungry.
“And he’ll do what he needs to do to remedy that situation.
“Isn’t that you mean?
“Darling.”

Bruce: “No.”

With all the comedic timing of Gerald Durrell’s family house-moves in Corfu, the very next page shows Bruce having resentfully given in. He’s donning Clark’s red, yellow and blue in a changing room cubicle while Lois slips into Selina’s slinky black (“It stretches.” “It better.”) and Clark contemplates the Kevlar. Selina is going to wear Lois’s sharp purple dress which obviously isn’t a superhero costume, but she has a solution.

“It’s… subtle.”

It isn’t, but it was always going to work.

 

 

Which is where we came in, on a magnificent, full-page, Clay and Seth Mann masterpiece of Lois and Selina escorting Bruce, unshaven and so stubbly (clever – I’ve never seen Superman unshaven) striding out, fists as tight as Superman’s often are, and Clark bringing up the rear in Batman’s full cape and cowl with glasses on top: glasses which he does not need.

There is enormous humanity in Clay and Seth Mann’s figures and faces – exceptional stature too, reflecting their capability. The ladies are precisely that: soft-faced and exceptionally attractive but in no way sexualised in their postures. Well, you know, apart from the page in which Lois and Clark then Selina and Bruce react somewhat differently to their times in The Tunnel of Love!

 

 

There’s an increasingly tender intimacy between Lois and Selina as the evening progresses, until they’re sneaking a few snifters from a hipflask they share and Lois cracks a joke designed to boost Selina’s sense of identity. Then they collapse to the floor in laughter, Selina nestling her head against the Catwoman mask worn by Lois: two new friends completely at ease, enjoying the moment to its fullest.

 

 

If I’ve so far failed to mention that Batman and Catwoman have recently become engaged, I do apologise. That evidently happened in another book. These are the immediate ramifications including Bruce’s current and former wards finding out (not via Bruce but from Alfred the butler, which irks them something chronic) and this evening which is primarily about the girls getting to know each other better by exchanging confidences after meeting for the very first time in the preceding chapter.

It’s also about Superman taking it all as graciously in his stride as he can, because that’s in his nature, and Batman feeling extremely awkward because he’s about as far out of his comfort zone as you can imagine! Haven’t you always wanted to see that? Out of his comfort zone, I would emphasise, without there being any clear or present danger.

In that preceding issue Lois and Clark and Bruce and Selina do approach a clear and present danger from different directions, unknowingly, until they eventually bump into each other after exiting elevators halfway inside a skyscraper. Lois and Clark have taken an elevator up; Bruce and Selina have opted for descending down its twin shaft.

 

 

On their way there, the action flips between each party’s perspective in very brief bursts, with one couple’s conversation often being continued by the other. Yes, they are working on their investigative goals, but more interestingly they’re focussed on friendship. Specifically, they are focussed on why Bruce is not picking up the phone to talk to Clark about his engagement to Selina, and why Clark isn’t making the first move, either. Both Lois and Selina take the maternal role in trying to cajole the obstinate ‘children’ into communicative action. It’s not as if either Bruce or Clark is being churlish, they’re just being obdurate, tight-lipped men!

But while describing each other to their loved ones, both display the most moving awe, respect and deep-seated admiration, as well as a far greater understanding of each other than they have of themselves.

I’ve seen this reflective and reflected to-and-fro attempted in a prior series over a decade ago which I will not name and shame even though it was a toe-curling, cringe-inducing, cliché-ridden, heavy-handed and mawkish atrocity. This, by comparison, is light, bright, poignant and beautiful.

 

 

The final stroke of genius, however, is that although both Bruce and Clark erroneously conclude by declaring that you cannot possibly be best friends – or any friend at all – with someone like the other (because they’re simply far too remote and impressive), the consequent funfair fiasco proves the exact opposite, while Selina and Lois – curious about each other’s choice in men – hit it off big time.

This is possibly my favourite line, in which Selina Kyle (career criminal now on the rocky road to reform) confides what lies so deep in her heart that she has committed to a man who has made it his partial mission to bring her in. This to Lois Lane, who has spent half her adult life being defenestrated:

“It’s just when I fall, he catches me.
“I know. It’s stupid.
“Does that make any sense at all?”

All of this proves part of a refreshingly new dynamic even during the first three combat chapters after the newly engaged couple encounter Talia Al Ghul, Bruce Wayne’s potentially a-mortal and decidedly lethal ex-lover, mother to his own son, Damian. Once more King eschews the obvious on all counts, so don’t expect petty jealousies: Selina Kyle is far too self-confident.

You can count on Damian for that instead.

 

 

It’s called ‘Rules Of Engagement’, one of which, obviously, is that you have to keep your loved one happy, and it’s funny witnessing Batman (very much Batman, rather than Bruce) deferring, back-tracking, almost apologising, and attempting to master the art of flattery when his fiancée can see straight through him.

Bellaire’s colours initially contrast the cool of the study with the heat of the dessert as Batman and Catwoman approach Khadym while Alfred breaks the news of the engagement, artfully preceding this task with a seemingly unrelated “The mansion, like this family, is as large as it needs to be”. He has complete command of every situation in that first chapter, including the seemingly uncontrollable dog. But will you notice, I wonder, Bellaire subtly controlling the oranges then reds of the dessert until the unseen sun finally sets and the fight continues well into the night?

 

 

King finds time to further explore the relationship between the current Robin, Damian, and the original, Dick Grayson (now Nightwing but at one point Batman to Damian’s Robin), which is very much as little / big brothers. Damian, aged all of thirteen, has a habit of superciliously chiding others as “children”, and Joëlle Jones provides an exquisite panel of expression when Damian tries it on Grayson, eyes and eyebrow disdainful, but lower lip jutting out with boyish petulance.

I’m going to leave the final story for you to discover for yourselves because you really shouldn’t see it coming especially Michael Lark’s quiet, tender and quite deliberate, crisp-leafed, autumnal contrast to Lee Weeks’ energetic early-days engagements of a completely different nature… although Catwoman is quite clearly flirting from the very beginning.

 

 

Weeks pumps the pages to bursting point with cat-and-mouse, catch-me-if-you-can, youthful balletics and such torrential, driving rain that you’ll feel both drenched and exhausted by the time they catch up with each other. Watch out for the wine glass as well.

SLH

Buy Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) and read the Page 45 review here

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

“I did it! I’m free!”

Quite an iconic moment there as Ditko’s Spider-Man lifts himself from under tonnes of steel fallen into the water of Doc Ock’s subaquatic dome. The willpower comes from the certain knowledge that without the serum he’s stolen, Aunt May will surely die.

The truth is, metaphysically speaking, that poor Peter will never be free, no matter how much he tries to atone for the death of Uncle Ben. And Aunt May has more trips to the hospital bed ahead of her than Florence Nightingale managed in her medical career.

If you look carefully you’ll find some exemplary body language and facial expressions in Steve Ditko’s art.

Just take pages 8 and 9 of #31. Page 8, panel four, shows a college student gesturing over and away from his head with an “I’ve clocked you” hand signal whilst the girl catching up with him reaches out to grab his attention instead. In panel six, meanwhile, Gwen Stacy’s eyelashes are Rimmelled up to the Max Factor, far more of a vamp than John Romita’s imminent swinging-sixties’ doll which is what she needed to be to attract poor Peter later on. Meanwhile, Flash and Harry’s contempt for poor Peter (I’m not sure it’s possible to type “Peter” without “poor”) in the following panel is obvious (Flash’s is a face-palm “D’Oh!” whereas Harry’s sneer is simply withering), but on page 9 panel six shows Peter in a phone booth asking the hospital about his Aunt’s condition, and his expression is one of forlorn, selfless anxiety, no weaker for its puppyish purity.

As a bonus Ditko’s pencils to #31 are reprinted in the back, along with his original cover to #35. Here’s that iconic sequence I mentioned earlier, by the way, in full, after the cover. Note how Peter’s weighted down not just by the machinery (and pressure) but also by the number of panels which gradually give way as he exerts increasing upward pressure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Green Goblin becomes a virtual co-star in a substantial subplot which will explode next volume when John Romita Sr. takes over the art.

In the meantime, Peter Parker finds his first love affair swimming swiftly down the swanny when Ned Leeds returns to the arms of Betty Brant who’s always looked a bit weird, no more so than on page 15 of #25 in her frosty face-off with Liz Allan, her blonde twin / clone with a perm.

“Well! Fancy meeting you here, Miss Allan! Do you always travel in a pack like that??”
“Why, no, Miss Brant! But sometimes it’s hard to get rid of all my admirers! I’m sure you don’t have that problem!”

They’ve both come to see Peter and they’re actually fighting over him. And yes, that is indeed the first appearance of Mary Jane Watson, her face hidden behind a drooping dahlia, her hair within a headscarf, introduced to Liz and Betty by Auntie May:

“Mary Jane, this is Betty Brant, and this is Liz Allan! Girls, I’d like you to meet Mary Jane Watson! She just dropped in to visit my nephew!”
“Hel-lo, girls!” she sings, musical notes floating to emphasise her self-confidence.

 

 

“She’s a friend of Peter’s??” thinks Betty, incredulously. “She looks like a screen star!”
“He’s been hiding her from us??” puzzles Liz. “Our shy, bashful, studious Peter Parker??!”

No, he’s never met her and won’t for many more issues as Mary Jane continues to “drop in” to visit Aunt May’s nephew while (poor) Peter Parker is otherwise engaged as a metahuman punch-bag. That’s what he’s been hiding from you, ladies. Ooooh, the irony of it all!

Contains AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #18-38 and Annual #2.

The first page of #27 looks a little bit dodgy. I wonder what the title means?

 

 

For far more substantial Stan-Lee satire (I was gentle here, but normally I really cannot help myself), please see AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC VOL 1, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC VOL 1 plus AVENGERS EPIC VOL 1 and VOL 2 which does actually contain a commendable tirade about racism.

SLH

Buy Amazing Spider-Man: Epic Collection vol 2 – Great Responsibility 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’.

The Ghost & The Owl h/c (£8-99, ActionLabComics) by Franco & Sara Richard

The Interview h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Permanent Press (£10-99, Avery Hill) by Luke Healy

Stray Bullets – Sunshine & Roses vol 1: Kretchmeyer (£17-99, El Capitan) by David Lapham

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier s/c (£16-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Norse Myths – Tales Of Odin, Thor And Loki h/c (£18-99, Walker Studio) by Kevin Crossley-Holland & Jeffrey Alan Love

Reborn s/c (£14-99, Image) by Mark Millar & Greg Capullo

Green Arrow vol 5: Hard-Travelling Hero s/c  (£14-99, DC) by Benjamin Percy & various

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension (£13-99, Titan) by George Mann, Cavan Scott, Nick Abadzis & various

Assassination Classroom vol 21 (£6-99, Viz) by Yusei Matsui

Berserk vol 10 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 7 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 8 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Berserk vol 9 (£13-99, Dark Horse) by Kentaro Miura

Chi’s Sweet Adventures vol 1 (£10-99, Vertical) by Konami Kanata

Erased vol 4 h/c (£21-99, Yen Press) by Kei Sanabe

My Hero Academica vol 12 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Platinum End vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

The Promised Neverland vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 4 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week four

April 25th, 2018

Featuring Thi Bui, Sarah McIntyre, Sarah Andersen, Jonathan Hickman, Tomm Coker, Steve Lowes, Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr. more!

Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker.

“They Will Devour Us Whole.”

Do you know the definition of ‘dominion’?

“Sovereignty; control: God’s eternal dominion over man.”

There have been many gods, but man is fickle and man forgets.

What happens when man forgets is that gods lose their power. But the one true God who has ensured that He will never lose His dominion over man is called Mammon; for Mammon has forged money, so that we will remain forever in His thrall.

In our substantial review of BLACK MONDAY MURDERS VOL 1, so remarkable in its prescience, design and complexity that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, I summarised the series glibly yet succinctly as a “big, fat-cat package of occult crime fiction exposing investment banking as a deal with the devil.” You have already met the banking dynasties who have vied for their own power within this domain. Now you will meet the devil.

 

 

After multiple warnings and hours of earnest dissuasion Dr. Tyler Gaddis, professor of economics, is going to lead Detective Theodore Dumas to the Capitol of all western capital: the Federal Reserve.

The password is this: “We come to trade.”

What they will discover underneath, hidden in the Abyss down a thousand stone steps, each laid one upon the other against only one wall, is akin to a court in session. Gaddis and Dumas are advised thus:

“The face of god is mighty and terrible. His appetite is eternal. His patience is not.”

 

 

What Gaddis offers are Aramaic coins; what they both seek are answers. Detective Dumas wants to know who killed Daniel Rothschild of the Caina-Kankrin Investment Bank. Dr. Gaddis wants to know why his algorithms designed to predict a market crash and mitigate its impact on emerging blue-collar investors don’t always work.

“It should have, but it didn’t. I discovered inconsistencies. Events that fell out of predictable models.”

Soon he will know why, and so will you, and it will all begin to make the most appalling sense.

 

 

Mammon’s proclamations, translated from glyphs, are beautifully written with a stark, impassive eloquence and lettered by Rus Wooton for maximum, echoing chills as they emanate from a skull crowned with antlers.

Tomm Coker has exercised enormous restraint during all the conversational pieces in the boardrooms et al, furnishing them with an intensity born of minimal emotional tells until anger erupts and does so, therefore, with a startling impact. The shadows Coker casts are exquisite, while Michael Garland ensures that every page broods, sometimes breeds, and glows.

But now that we’ve gone subterranean, both line and colour artists take full advantage of the opportunity to be gruesome, not with gore, but with that which truly chills. The descent – the steps leading down into darkness which I don’t have for you here – is truly terrifying in that there is only one wall and in that the drops looks eternal. Oh wait, last-minute find: here it is!

 

 

The design of the immaculately preserved courtroom / library / throne is gloriously gothic in its architectural sense, while its occupants meet every requirement in its other. In particular, I loved the boutonnière, linen jacket and waistcoat worn by ram-skulled Mammon. and the finery of his silent, spider-masked second, holding the antlered skull aloft by its segmented spine.

 

 

“Eternity has two seasons. Day and night. Wake and slumber.
“When I wake, I hunger, and when I hunger, I consume.
“This indulgence upsets the carefully cultivated balance that my schools maintain in this world. The market reacts as I eat – the scales becoming unbalanced – and a correction must be achieved.
“So man pays until my hunger subsides.”

Please don’t think that’s the secret. The secrets lie in the schools.

Please read our review of BLACK MONDAY MURDERS VOL 1 in which I write about the feuding dynasties and their role in our many misfortunes; about the elegance of the art and the hastily photocopied dossier pages which pepper each chapter inviting you to join their dots and do your own detective work within this detective horror fiction. Otherwise I’ll have to repeat myself.

But the two other main threads which weave their way so tightly together here are the wholly unexpected histories of Daniel Rothschild and his former private bodyguard turned Caina-Kankrin security chief… and the return from exile of Daniel Rothschild’s sister Grigoria, initially recalled to take his seat, but now moving swiftly to exact her revenge on her Daniel’s murderer and savage control over Caina-Kankrin in doing so.

Ah, yes, the Rothschilds – now there’s a family that truly consumes. Her normally inscrutable, white-haired femme familiar has quite the appetite too.

 

 

But the other seats in Caina-Kankrin will not let Ria wrestle control without resistance, especially Beatrix Bischoff:

“There are tremors in the Market, Ria. Mammon wakes.”
“It sure feels that way, doesn’t it? What are the words?”
“”The sheep cry and scream – there are beasts in the field.””
“Yes. And I am one of them.”

She surely is. I wonder what she was up to while in exile…?

Now, where did we come in?

Ah, yes, “dominion”. If you’re reading this in our illustrated blog, behold the “full” definition as presented with witty redactions. If you’re reading this in the product page, you’ll find it, seven down, to your right.

 

SLH

Buy Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Dinosaur Firefighters (s/c £6-99; h/c £12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre.

There’s a poster pinned to the wall in the staff room, sub-titled ‘A Handy Guide For Firefighters’. It’s quite succinct.

“IS IT ON FIRE?”

Below are depicted two houses, identical but for a single salient feature: one them is bursting with flames (√ On Fire), the other is entirely inert (X Not On Fire).

Glad that’s sorted, then. We wouldn’t want to waste water.

Action stations!

Do your young ones dig dinosaurs? Of course they do! They dream of little else! Are fire engines – lights flashing, their sirens NEE-NAR-ing – the most thrilling way to travel? Yes, indeed they are! Preferably through an indoor shopping centre at lunchtime.

 

 

Behold, then, this Early Learning heaven which wastes no time in charging straight to the rescue of Snookums the cat, stranded on top of a pre-historic fern, the centre-piece of a quiet, cobbled courtyard on the coast. Dipsy the Diplodocus has just joined the crew and knows what to do!

“Her long neck was just right for reaching up to the top branch,” we are told in letters that travel up her long neck to the branch. Neat! Nimbly, she grabs a giant frond in her mouth, pulling the cat closer. “But…”

Can you tell what well-intentioned Dipsy might have done wrong yet? I might have opted for securing Snookums by the scruff of its neck, myself.

It’s already been visually established that friends and families are sitting relaxed around this piazza, sharing a pizza or drinking a cafetiere of coffee. Someone is selling ice creams. All eyes are on dynamic Dipsy! Over the page, however, the mayor is shown, cutlery poised, about to dig in to an enormous pink pudding, all wobbly and covered in cream. I’ll write that again: all wobbly and covered in cream.

 

 

Your eyes cannot help but be drawn to it by the full-page parabolic arch which begins, bottom-left, with Dipsy’s fellow firefighters, eyes wide, mouths gaping agog, all staring diagonally upwards from their lurching red and yellow fire engine; then there is Dipsy herself, long neck also curved round to the right as the frond snaps in two and the fern catapults poor, fluffy Snookums on the same curved trajectory, out towards the reader and the inevitable, jellied destination as the mayor eyes her prize, oblivious.

Both ellipses are invaluable to the comedy. On any second read through I can hear youngsters giggling in anticipation even as early as “But…”, so by the time Snookums is sailing through the air towards its date with the cake they will be squealing, then SPLAT!!

 

 

Snookums seems quite delighted by the final sensation. Mrs. Mayor, maybe not.

More mirth from Sarah McIntyre, then, the creator of THE NEW NEIGHBOURS which wraps its warm heart round the welcoming of strangers, THERE’S A SHARK IN THE BATH which will cure any aversion to immersion, and the co-creator of JAMPIRES, PUGS OF THE FROZEN NORTH, PUG-A-DOODLE-DO! etc, all of which you can find reviewed with gusto in Page 45’s Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre section. Hurrah!

Don’t worry that Dipsy the Diplodocus doesn’t get it right first time round, or even the second time when Trevor the T-Rex gets stuck in the climbing frame… again! The absurdity of that page is a scream. A) What does a T-Rex that large even want with a climbing frame? B) How did such an enormous beast get onto or even into the climbing frame in the first place, let alone then stuck in it and C) … AGAIN?!?!?!?!

 

 

Everyone messes up a fair few times at first, but perseverance is everything and Dipsy will remain determined to do her best, quickly discovering that her individual attributes which made her an awkward fit for fire-fighting at first (the standard uniform jacket barely covered her neck – they have to order an XXXXXXXL especially) will be the very things to save the day when a real emergency strikes and the fire engine breaks down.

She might even make up for her mishap with the mayor. I hope so! Because that dry cleaning bill can’t have been cheap.

 

 

One of the things I love most about McIntyre’s work is that, along with the exuberant, colourful comedy, she so often has something important to impart to impressionable young minds, digging into her own awkward experiences to do so. With THE NEW NEIGHBOURS it was her insight as an American immigrant to England, so often asked when she’s going back (!), which suggested to her that now would be a very good time indeed to create a picture book about welcoming strangers, appreciating the fresh things their individuality brings to any community, and most emphatically not listening to ill-informed gossip nor spreading it about in the first place!

 

 

Now, I’m not sure if you’ve met La McIntyre (she’s so often touring and performing, inspiring young people to create for themselves, so you must!) but she is really rather tall. Amazonian, in fact! And in her online journal she confides that when young she too felt as awkward as Dipsy the Diplodocus when it came to standard-sized kit: https://jabberworks.livejournal.com/803407.html Now Sarah’s stature – and wow factor fashion-wizardry – helps her stand out a mile, drawing excitable kids straight to her. So it is with our pre-historic protagonist, who will discover that her shape and size, while making her feel a little clumsy to begin with, will in fact prove pivotal to saving all and sundry. It’s difficult not to compare yourselves to others, even as adults, but any book that helps improve a vulnerable child’s self-esteem – when we all grow at different rates – is a winner for me!

The forms are truly gorgeous, filling each page to bursting. Dipsy especially can scarcely be contained, doubled over in the confines of the staff room when at her most disheartened. That’s a very clever melding of cause and consequence, of physical discomfort and body-language embarrassment. The eyes there are ever so expressive, the pink flush of her cheeks standing out against her otherwise blue markings as she’s offered a consoling beverage, and that those are so watery makes her stand out from her colleagues.

 

 

Although one of her peers on that very same page made me chortle with his horns fanning out like a punk’s egg-white-stiffened hair.

Other random background observations (there really is so much to spot): I loved the traditional cuckoo clock which is given a bone- and Pteranodon-tweak, and that the fashions are a mix of contemporary and quaint (see mayor once more), with transistor radios sitting alongside laptops. I imagine this is the first time I’ve used the word “crockery” in a review, but that’s worth a glance too.

I also adored that the mayor’s Chain of Office appears to be made out of red- and blue-centred Jammy Dodgers, with a final berried biscuit in the middle. Mine would be too! Do you think that’s a vote-winner?

Lastly I’d add that if your young ones love this, then their next step up the Young Readers ladder should be to Gary Northfield’s TERRIBLE TALES OF THE TEENYTINYSAURS which still makes me chuckle and is reviewed. If memory serves (it does so decreasingly) Gary and Sarah shared a studio once, and now they share shelf space. Hooray!

SLH

Buy Dinosaur Firefighters s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Dinosaur Firefighters h/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Best We Could Do s/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui.

New softcover edition of a best-selling book so profoundly moving that we made it Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month.                                      

So often the best route to true understanding lies in the lives of others.

And no one lives solely in their present.

Every individual is coloured by their experiences which have informed their decisions which have in turn brought them to where they are today. It is in these histories that lies the context, and context is everything.

It is not enough to be aware of the bigger picture if you cannot comprehend it, and the best key to comprehension is through the eyes of those individuals who are living it or have lived through it; or those who subsequently died during it.

So it is with those of us looking in from outside; and so it is within families themselves.

“Travis and I moved to California in 2006 to raise our son near family, trading the life we had built and loved in New York for a notion I had in my head of becoming closer to my parents as an adult.
“I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I recognise what it is not, and now I understand…
“Proximity and closeness are not the same.”

 

 

This is a story of parenthood, of childhood, of a generation gap which seemed like a chasm, and if you thought Belle Yang’s search for understanding in FORGET SORROW doubled as a fascinating account of one life in early 20th Century, this is an even more involving and personable account of two separate lives in mid 20th Century Vietnam which eventually and improbably converge. Through this Thi Bui begins to know her parents for who they are in greater depth, and so come to terms with her own strange childhood after the family’s terrifying escape in 1978 from Vietnam via Malaysia to America, then feel far more at ease with her own place within it all.

It is rich in detail and extraordinarily articulate, partly because it is so well structured.

It begins with the excruciatingly difficult birth of her own son which her mother flew all the way from New York to attend but then kept her agonised distance. The following hours in hospital aren’t easy, either, the practicalities of motherhood not coming naturally to Bui. She bonds with her mother over the pain of childbirth, then…

“Ma leaves me, but I’m not alone and a terrifying thought creeps into my head.
“Family is now something I have created, and not just something I was born into.
“The responsibility is immense.
“A wave of empathy for my mother washes over me.”

Bui will return to her own motherhood only towards the end because this is not about that, but all which led up to it.

 

 

“My father always said he had no parents. In my twenties, I learned that my grandfather was alive in Vietnam and wanted to meet us.”

Her father refuses to join them. He is adamant. He does not want to see his own father again, but he won’t explain why.

“Soon after that trip back to Vietnam (our first since we escaped in 1978) I began to record our family history, thinking that if I bridged the gap between the past and the present I could fill the void between my parents and me. And that if I could see Vietnam as a real place and not a symbol of something lost, I would see my parents as real people and learn to love them better.”

We will all see her parents as very real people and understand precisely why her father or “Bo” will not return and will have nothing to do with his own father. It is extraordinary, I promise you. You cannot begin to imagine.

 

 

Before we delve fully into the structure, I want to talk about the art which is soft and tender, and full of lyrical flourishes like a boat on the sea behind a quiet conversation, lush landscapes and so much more swirling water at one point doubling as a birth. The page just quoted also depicts the tumultuous oceanic crossing, while beneath it a young Thi stands naked, with her back to us, a map of Vietnam carved out of her body where her heart should be, bleeding out of her, up towards the sea or perhaps bleeding down into her to fill that void with fresh understanding.

“How did we get to such a lonely place?
“We live so close to each other and yet feel so far apart.
“I keep looking toward the past…
“Tracing out journey in reverse… over the ocean… through the war, seeking an origin story that will set everything right.”

The first part of this story – her mother’s six baby births – is indeed told in reverse. None of them are easy. The most recent was in the coastal Malaysian refugee camp, another during war; her mother’s firstborn wasn’t stillborn but she didn’t last long, the first parental shadow falling over the proceedings in the form of her own aloof mother’s advice not to breastfeed. Is that where it all began?

“How does one recover from the loss of a child?” she asks as we stroll down a leafy lane. “How do the others compare to the memory of the lost one?”

This triggers memories of Thi’s early childhood in a dark apartment in California, left with her younger brother in the care of her father while her sisters go to school and her mother takes the only job they can get because their degrees aren’t recognised – assembly-line work on minimum wage – which her father refuses.

“That sounds terrible.”

Instead he just sits there smoking, occasionally erupting, while forbidding them to answer the door. Her brother cowers in the closet when anyone comes knocking.

 

 

But what happened to her father when he was their age? There will be cowering there too. Cowering on an almost unimaginably dark scale; also our first history lesson, post-WWII – of France’s return to Vietnam to take back what they saw as colonially theirs (perhaps out of pride after being occupied by Germany) – after Ho Chi Minh had declared independence on behalf of the Viet Minh. So begins the geographical divide and the first atrocities…

It is there that we leave him for now, aged seven, with few or no prospects.

“And in the dark apartment in San Diego, I grew up with the terrified boy who became my father.”

 

 

This is what I mean by structure: each particular element informs a specific other.

So it is with her mother’s story, which could not be more different and which is brought to bear on Bui’s low self-esteem in comparison to her mother’s beauty. Hers was a much more exotic upbringing, as the youngest daughter of an affluent family and a daddy who doted on her, educated and thriving in French schools. She made friends with an older servant girl who took her to live with her family during the school holidays, sleeping under the moon in the countryside.

 

 

But when the servant is married off and so leaves the household, marriage as a trap begins to form in her mind while education represented freedom instead. She aspired to be a doctor. Evidently that didn’t happen, but why? How did she end up married to Thi’s father? Through education, ironically. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent…

Again, the structure is so well judged, Thi Bui seeking to understand her parents thoroughly and independently, before they even met let alone got married and had children. You will see all those births again, this time in the order they occurred, fleshed out as so many dots are joined and – oh! – there was a brief moment before those children when, against all odds, it all seemed so idyllic: teachers with two incomes in a beautiful small town in the deep southern part of the Mekong Delta.

They’d survived the First Indochina War, the Land Reforms – both with catastrophic casualties – but then came the Americans in 1965, destroying Vietnam’s agriculture with their defoliants and its economy with their imports, the descent of cities into police states, and thirteen more years, fully fleshed out for us all to comprehend just how unlikely they were ever to have escaped, and the toll that mere survival took on both of them. You can even spot almost the exact moment of Bui’s father’s collapse from provider to withdrawn brooder while her mother desperately, indefatigably soldiers on, for what other choice is there for a mother?

That’s not the end of the story, obviously, even after the refugee camp and the flight to America.

Once more there’s the question of provision, assimilation, finding your own place in a strange country and foreign climate, re-education after those degrees aren’t recognised, and the painstaking accumulation of fresh documentation both for the family and each of their children separately. It is so very impressive, yet it is humbly titled THE BEST WE COULD DO.

 

 

Sarah McIntyre’s all-ages THE NEW NEIGHBOURS wraps its warm heart around the welcoming of strangers, and along with Francesca Sanna’s THE JOURNEY, Sean Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, Kate Evans’s THREADS and Sarah Glidden’s ROLLING BLACKOUTS, THE BEST WE COULD DO is another book with which to bang on the head of anyone tempted to think for even one second that seeking asylum is easy or believe the hate-mongering lies of the right-wing press and politicians that refugees are idle, disrespectful, sponging drains on our resources.

In rebuttal Thi Bui could offer you the nightmare of random raids in a police state and the fear of being disbelieved, the horror of a sea crossing when you could be caught at any second, the generosity of Malaysian villagers with so little to give, the values instilled into their children by Thi Bui’s parents and the sheer hard graft of the mother in order to build something from nothing and set her children up to be educated at length, thrive in peace, and so that one of them could be in a position to write and draw this extraordinary graphic memoir over many years – while teaching in a high school for immigrants in Oakland which she helped create – in order to pass it all on to us for a greater understanding of others.

But, of course, this isn’t a rebuttal. This isn’t a polemic.

This is one woman seeking to gain understanding of herself and her relationship with her parents, in order to relax into parenthood herself.

We’re just lucky enough to be privy to this personal story, and so benefit from it ourselves.

SLH

Buy The Best We Could Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Herding Cats (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen.

“This is petty. I need to let it go.
“ANGER, I RELEASE YOU!”

Sarah dispatches her gnawing, pent-up, stress-inducing, self-destructive wrath into the distance with no uncertain force.

“I’M FREE!”

But this is the cleverness in her cartooning: only now do we discover that what she had thrown is in fact a whirling, twirling boomerang.

Three years later: BONK! “That bitch.”

What’s so desperately vital in any book of behavioural one-page comic strips is the crucial recognition factor: do you recognise your own ridiculous yet so often recurring frets and foibles in Sarah’s self-deprecation? For me, they tick every recognition box and I laughed at myself, raucously, right up until the serious section with its warm heart of nurturing gold which we’ll come to in a bit.

 

 

If, however, you want to stand out from the masses, you need ingenuity in your presentation, to see what is commonly observed from an unexpected angle. So it is that we come to workload and procrastination. The first is one of the greatest pressures in my life, the second is one of my greatest of very many flaws: putting off something which I know definitely needs doing, all in the vain hope that it doesn’t. What a buffoon! However, we all know that sharing any workload helps enormously, so Andersen’s split herself in two.

“Present me: “So much work…”
“Future me: “That’s okay! If we divide the work equally, neither of us have to –“

In a blur of instantaneous action ‘present’ Andersen on the left SHOVES both enormous stacks of paper in their entirety at ‘future’ Andersen on the right who flails to the floor, buried under their weight. In the fifth and final panel irresponsible Andersen, still in a frenzied blur, scarpers off gleefully, stage-left, leaving future Andersen to “ – suffer”.

 

 

Like Andersen’s ADULTHOOD IS A MYTH and BIG MUSHY HAPPY LUMP, the comedy is ever so contemporary, full of failure to care for oneself which ensuring one looks after others, anxieties, self-consciousness and self-doubt. It would serve anyone very well who’s looking for more Allie Brosh (HYPERBOLE AND A HALF). Yes, as the purple fur-trimmed cover suggests, there are many, many preferential-treatment cat comics to coo over too, but this is the Age of the Internet and social media with all its abundant resources and so many of its flaming consequences.

“Today’s question!” reads Sarah. “Will people on the Internet argue about anything?”
“YES!” bellows a furious crowd, startling Sarah to her left.
“NO!” screams an indignant, antagonised anger mob to her right.

As you can imagine, what follows is pitchforks at dawn, and they won’t stop waving even after dusk.

 

 

Which is funny! But there’s a darkness discerned too, which Andersen explores in the now traditional extended essay in the back. When Andersen was starting out the accessibility of the internet made it an invaluable vehicle and venue in which to post her comics, gain a following, and grow in craft, confidence and stature. But now nascent artists beginning to explore and hone their creative talents online can be subject to thoughtlessly (or even maliciously) harsh criticism and even outright bullying with seriously deleterious consequences to their self-confidence. Unlike a spider’s this web wasn’t designed as a trap but that, to those vulnerable, is what it can become.

“It turns out, when you give people endless access to a shroud of anonymity and a soapbox, the results might just be disastrous. Whereas users congregated in small pockets before, social media has enable the rise of mass movements that use trolling as a deflection tool for “doing the most damage I can do and then saying it was just a joke.”

 

 

There are plenty of comics – all new, I think – to illustrate her arguments, but Sarah also offers encouraging ways in which to survive criticism which, when offered constructively, is an essential part of self-improvement. And it’s difficult to take even when couched with kindness:

WHAT THEY SAID:
“Good thing, good thing, good thing….
“Bad thing. BUT! Good thing, good thing.”

WHAT YOU HEARD:
“…………………………………
“Bad thing! Only bad thing. YOU are a bad thing.”

Sarah’s suggestions are practical, understanding and supportive, eventually concluding with: do for goodness sake take breaks in the real world, but don’t let the idiots win – keep creating!

 

 

What other topics has Andersen taken up this time? Childhood heroes, doomed to disappoint or disgust you. Self-destructive fandom in-fighting… Ah yes, resolutions: “I will set my alarm for 7:30. And I will wake up at 7:30! No snooze!” Then you sleep blissfully, optimistically in YOUR BED OF LIES.

 

 

Now picture this: you’ve just made the mistake in a shop of holding a folded shirt up against you to see if it will fit or perhaps you’ve tried it on… and then you have to fold it back up with store assistants watching and it’s impossible, it won’t match the others whatever you do!

 “You ruined it.” You begin sweating self-consciously, eyes darting about as all the other shirts start to unravel, turning into big, mushy, unhappy lumps. “You ruined everything.” Now the entire department is on fire… “How?? How did you mess up this badly? “Oh God I’m sorry.””

 

 

Yup, that’s me. Again, I cannot emphasise how much the lateral thinking – of the other shirts unfolding and the clothes store igniting – is vital in its hyperbole to the humour. Below, it’s about the timing. One panel only devoted to merrily holding forth with friends in a pub…

“Contrary to popular belief, being introverted is not about your ability to socialise.”

… a single panel leaving, contentedly…

“It’s about what you do after.”

Three whole panels curled up in a cocoon on your bed or sofa, mind-whirring, paralyzed.

SLH

Buy Herding Cats and read the Page 45 review here

Hard Core Pawn #1 (£4-00, A Heavy Manners Comic) by Steve Lowes…

“I am grateful I live in a democracy where my vote is equal to that of the next persons and that my opinion really counts…”
“… For fuck all. The masters of mankind must maintain an illusion of democracy to remain in control. Thus the need to impose democracy upon those not yet within our power.”

He has a point regarding the illusion of democracy, if you stop and think about it. Well, two to be precise: the illusion of democracy, and the need of those in control to impose it upon others, elsewhere.

Facts that perhaps more and more people are waking up to. Or “getting woke”, as the kids with their annoyingly grammatically inaccurate ways are currently wont to say.

What makes this exchange so striking is that the first statement is from one chess piece, a black pawn, putting a ballot paper into a ballet box, whilst the second, coming from a white king, has shredded paper going directly into a waste bin.

All the characters in the various strips in this work – be they based on existing songs and poems such as ‘Strange Fruit’ made famous by Billie Holiday plus also some original material written by the creator – are chess pieces, frequently pawns and kings, hence the title, HARD CORE PAWN.

 

 

The strips cover a range of pertinent hot topics such as capitalism, gender politics, racism and terrorism, always presented from that black and white gaming-piece perspective. As conceits go, it certainly allows Steve to concentrate on the punchlines, which are hard-hitting and occasionally outrageously amusing.

Art-wise, as you’d imagine, it’s not too testing to draw chess pieces, but that’s not the point. It allows us all to very easily slip into the position of the pieces.

My favourite strip was probably ‘Alcocapitalism’ in which Steve charts the rise of alcohol consumption and its subsequent impact on the global economic structure. The punchline there, a slightly reworked reprise of a repeated beat throughout, had me howling. It just goes perfectly to show that politics and farce go hand-in-hand, but we all knew that right?

JR

Buy Hard Core Pawn #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Fight Club 2 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart…

“Throughout childhood people tell you to be less sensitive.
“Adulthood begins the moment someone tells you, “You need to be more sensitive”.”

I swear on my psychotherapy couch that you do not need to have read the original prose novel to relish this original comic actually written – not suggested – by Chuck Palahnuik himself. I read the book many moons ago but can barely remember a word.

I seem to recall it was at least partially about smashing the system: rising in up in rebellion against corporate conditioning, financial finagling, governmental authoritarianism and the pervasive mediocrity we can obliviously settle for during our everyday, oh-so-short lives; about waking up from the ubiquitous mass hypnotism of messed-up humanity… whilst enthusiastically submitting to someone else’s indoctrination. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

It’s why Jonathan Hickman’s scathing NIGHTLY NEWS rang such a bell with me. The first paragraph of our NIGHTLY NEWS review reads:

“Terrorism. Communication. Authorative anti-authoritarianism. One man’s enlightenment is the same man’s indoctrination. Stop being a sheep, and be part of my flock instead!”

The cult of personality, eh? Unless it’s mine, I’m always suspicious.

 

 

As I said, however, Fight Club could have been about something else entirely, like hitting people. I imagine that’s why many went to see the film.

Fight Club 2 begins with a similarly iconoclastic personal survey in which you can discover, “Are You Space Monkey Material?” It poses 12 questions with mirth-inducing optional answers. Let’s try a few.

“MY GREATEST REGRET IS…
A. The adverse effect my carbon footprint has on the intricate web of sensate life forms.
B. My past insensitivity to others whose cultural milieu and genetic makeup vary from my own.
C. My unexamined participation in the context of an entrenched capitalistic power hierarchy.
D. Nothing. Sir.”

We’ll leave aside “DO YOU GET OUT OF THE SHOWER TO TAKE A LEAK?” – it is funny, though – and skip straight past the increasingly angry activism of no-nonsense D to question number 12:

“THE GREATEST THREAT FACING OUR CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS…
A. Failure to recognise and reign in the scourge of white privilege.
B. The impending collapse of world oil reserves.
C. Dwindling honeybee populations.
D. Me.”

As you may have gathered — whoops, I was about to tell you what to conclude! Someone really should shoot my autopilot.

Okay, so the graphic novel itself kicks off with the narrator addressing the audience directly.

“Look at him. He calls himself Sebastian these days. Ten years ago he was destined to be another Alexander the Great. A new Genghis Khan. But Sebastian… he calls himself happy.”

Well, with the aid of some tranks, anyway.

 

 

Back home his son is being nannied by a woman wielding a carving knife. But then his young son is having a time-out after being caught synthesising explosive compounds from local debris like dog poo.

His wife Marla is unsatisfied and so dissatisfied, calling for a certain, so-far off-stage Tyler to “deliver me from this bland, boring life”. (First-time readers: you’ll see, you’ll see.) “Please, rescue me from my loving husband…”

By the end of the first issue-worth of material Tyler may just have done that, but in the meantime Marla’s begun to take evasive manoeuvres of her own and Sebastian is swallowing them whole. Chic and suited, she’s quite the self-obsessed piece of work, invading a counselling session for those with Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome (such rapid aging that 10-year-olds appear to be 60) while complaining about her wrinkles – “They’re all on the inside!”

Chain-smoking throughout, she’s drawn by Cameron Stewart with a superb sense of insouciance that puts me in mind of Mrs Quinn, the rich bitch in Nabiel Kanan’s THE DROWNERS, though there’s more than a touch of Sean Murphy in her angular face.

 

 

My favourite pages are those on which pills or petals – rendered to striking contrast with three-dimensional modelling complete with shadows which fall over the panels beneath them – are imposed over what is being said by the narrator or the narrative’s participants. Whereas the dog’s barking merely drowns thoughts out like ASTERIOS POLYP talking over his girlfriend, the effect here is different because you can discern what lies below – with the romantic rose petals at least – suggesting that the bunch of flowers Sebastian has bought his missus is merely a smoke screen hiding the lie of their messed-up marriage.

“Happy Annive -”
“I lo – you -”
“Take your pill.”

There’s no hiding that last line.

Sebastian, meanwhile, is the epitome not so much of exhausted but sedated. Everyone’s more got more life in them than he has. Even his neighbour.

“Studies conducted by the United States Military prove that what women fear most is physical pain… What men fear most is being humiliated, losing social status, public ridicule.”

 

 

Sebastian used to be a fighter once, but he’s fallen asleep. Now it’s time to wake up.

I think I can hear alarm bells ringing.

What you should now be asking yourself, is just who set off said alarm…?

Aficionados of Fight Club, the prose work that is, will absolutely devour this. It does everything they will have ever craved for in a sequel, which they probably never actually expected to happen, and so much more besides. They will learn who Tyler Durden truly is. Chuck Palahniuk will speak to them, and his characters, directly. No really, and their worlds will crumble into dust and ashes around their ears. Okay, maybe not that last bit, at least not for the readers, but I genuinely didn’t see where this was going until the big reveal and even then, armed with that particular piece of knowledge, I couldn’t see precisely how it would all end.

 

 

As exquisitely complex and tortuously dark as the original, I sincerely hope this encourages more prose literary figures to try their hand at comics writing (as William Gibson has just done with the excellent ARCHANGEL). I’m not sure I want a sudden raft of sequels to prose works in comics form, I think there are more than enough sequels generally already thank you, but given the original work was such a distinctive, vicious piece of satire regarding the culture of consumerism and the decay of Western civilisation, that has been proven so acutely accurate in the interim since its release, I think Chuck deserved his opportunity to play Tyler’s story out to its ultimate, nasty unavoidable end-game. In other words: FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! The nagging question though, is what exactly is Tyler fighting for?

SLH & JR

Buy Fight Club 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Punisher Max: The Platoon s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov…

Welcome back, Frank!

I have to say, I’ve missed you, buddy. Nobody but nobody writes Frank Castle better than Garth Ennis and the character is never better than when removed from the chaffing restrictions of the capes-and-tights milieu and placed squarely smack bang into a real world of pain.

“FIX BAYONETS!”

“And that is not an order you ever expect to hear. But that was the thing. He had the instinct for it.
“The rest of us knew how to survive, but at the end of the day we were civilians in uniform. A bunch of conscripts, getting short, waiting to go home… which we knew we’d do without a backward glance.
“He’d been in-country a week, but he just knew without having to be told. Him and Dryden.
“There was only one answer to this.
“And not just violence. That’s too simple a word, it doesn’t cover it.
“This was something else, this was forgetting everything else you’d ever been taught about the very idea of civilisation…
“You had to…kind of let the devil in the door.”

 

 

The surviving members – well, all except one – of Fourth Platoon, Kilo Company, Third Battalion of the Twenty-Sixth Marine regiment have gathered in a bar at the behest of writer Michael Goodwin, whose book ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’ about the massacre of an entire Marine firebase and the subsequent creation of the Punisher following the loss of his family in Central Park won Goodwin several plaudits. He’s interested in interviewing them about their recollections of their absent comrade, their former commander, one Second Lieutenant Frank Castle…

So, just in case you were in any doubt, we are well and truly back in the brutal world of PUNISHER MAX, and indeed back in ‘Nam, the veritable world of pain I was just referring to.

 

 

So what angle is Michael Goodwin taking this time?

“I guess I was thinking about the innocence we had about ourselves: I’m of that generation too, remember, I was just too young for the draft. But that isn’t… Okay, I wrote a book about Firebase Valley Forge and the Punisher. Castle sees his family killed in front of him, and I don’t think it’s hard to find the roots of what he does next in that third duty of duty.
“But what about his first tour? The one he returns from at the end of ’68 and nothing else happens? The one where – just maybe – he still has a chance.
“You see, it’s not just about the war and what was lost to it. It’s not just about the country, either. It’s about the guys who came home. Well, he came home from his time in Vietnam, the time that changes everything about America. He had a life before the Punisher, and I’ve been thinking about this ever since my book… I…
“The way I see it, all I did was write the ending.
“I never wrote the story.”

He has, though, (thank you Garth!) just pretty much written my review for me. I wouldn’t normally quote so much from a comic, but I think it’s important for you to understand, if you are not already familiar with Garth’s PUNISHER MAX material, that this is not a superhero comic. It’s a war comic, and more importantly – as in the tradition of the very best war comics – it has something important to say about the profound impact combat inevitably has on the people who go through it. Even a fictional character like Frank Castle. How they are changed. For one cannot go through the horrors of war without being transformed. For some it’s only a little, perhaps a shifting they can learn to live with, in time. For others… there is really no way back home ever again. Not in the emotional sense, certainly. Some… well, some perhaps find what they’ve been searching for all along…

 

 

This work is a perfect coda to the Vietnam-based elements, ‘Born’ now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1 and ‘Valley Forge, Valley Forge’ now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. Yes, technically it’s a prequel, but it both informs and is informed by those two arcs which bookended Garth’s extended run. Here he’s teamed up once again with Goran STARLIGHT Parlov who illustrated several PUNISHER MAX arcs including the utterly hilarious one starring the demented and depraved lunatic, the Barracuda. There is also plenty of black comedy to be had here.

Parlov brings an angular steeliness to young Frank, whilst still giving him the appearance of a young blue-eyed inexperienced man, almost movie star-like in his statuesque and resolute handsomeness, having not yet been exposed to the tempestuous weathering of war. That comes soon enough, though, as Frank’s platoon, stuck in a forward position with insufficient firepower and some serious bad country to deal with, rapidly begin to realise that whilst the new LT might be a rookie, he certainly isn’t green.

JR

Buy Punisher Max: The Platoon s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin, Peter Milligan & John Romita Jr., Trevor Hairsine, Salvador Larroca, David Yardin, Scot Eaton, Kaare Andrews.

Very different from Christopher Priest’s sly, winking socio-political approach to BLACK PANTHER, this is more geo-political but just as sassy and sharp.

Quality art from John Romita Jr. depicts one specific instance from the history of Wakanda – the African nation ruled by the Black Panther – oh so elegantly illustrating why it was the only such country that has never been invaded by another.

As Reginald Hudlin has written elsewhere, it has been firmly established that African humans were far more advanced far earlier than their European counterparts, so it stands to reason that if one nation had continued to develop unimpeded then they would have the technology to defend themselves against European imperialism without even breaking a sweat.

There’s an immensely satisfying sequence in which one such arrogant, nineteenth-century would-be conqueror, devoid of any humanity whatsoever, is humiliated then dispatched. The Wakandan chief is the epitome of fearlessness and strength: a warrior of few words which, when delivered, are no idle threats.

 

 

Cut to the present and Wakanda has reacted to America’s current, Iraq-invading neo-imperialism by declaring a no-fly zone over their country.

So, how do you like them apples?

“There is no way a bunch of waffle-makers are going to play us out of position in Wakanda! We need to send in support troops to aid our Wakandan allies right away!”
“And where are those troops coming from? Our troops are spread too thin already. We just don’t have enough bodies.”
“Oh, that’s the one thing we have plenty of.”

Ouch!

“We’ve got more than enough bodies to inva — I mean, assist Wakanda!”

Standing in front of row upon row of coffins, each laid out under the Stars & Stripes flag on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier off the African Coast:

“I think it’s time you found out what kind of special cargo we’ve got on this ship. These brave men and women died for their country. All that training and manpower wasted. The military hates waste.”

The dead rise, cybernetically enhanced.

“We’ve found a solution to our manpower problem. They’re tougher, stronger, fearless, take orders exactly and don’t write sad letters back home.”

 

 

This contains the first story arc of the politically pointed 2005 series before it all went unnecessarily tits-up during a crowbarred-in crossover with The X-Men and readers fled faster than stoats from a boat that’s been set on fire.

Boats are infested with stoats. It’s a modern epidemic. True fact!

Hmmm…. A vastly extended version of Reggie Hudlin and John Romita Jr’s WHO IS THE BLACK PANTHER (which is where my review, above, comes from) this collects BLACK PANTHER (2005) #1-18 and X-MEN (1991) #175-176 so, yes, that crossover I much maligned. Of those subsequent issues Marvel kindly informs us:

“Then, social satire meets all-out action as T’Challa’s adventures continue! The Panther enters the  HOUSE OF M! An outbreak of strange, mutated animals brings Storm and the X-Men to Africa! The Panther teams up with Luke Cage, Blade, Brother Voodoo and Monica Rambeau to take on the undead! But every king needs a queen, and so T’Challa embarks on his most dangerous quest yet: to wed the love of his life! Which of the world’s greatest super hero women will say ‘I do’?”

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

SLH

Buy Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 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’.

Blackbird Days (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Manuele Fior

Godhead (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Ho Che Anderson

Land Of The Sons h/c (£24-99, Fantagraphics) by Gipi

Lazarus Sourcebook Collection vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka, various & Michael Lark, others

Crossroad Blues (£13-99, Image) by Ace Atkins & Marco Finnegan

The Pervert (£15-99, Image) by Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell

Please Destroy My Enemies (£8-99, Silver Sprocket) by Michael Sweater

Scarlett Hart – Monster Hunter (£13-99, FirstSecond) by Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor

The Way Of Tank Girl h/c (£9-99, Titan Comics) by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett, various

Batman vol 5: Rules Of Engagement s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Tom King & Joëlle Jones, various

Injustice 2 vol 1 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo, various

Injustice 2 vol 2 h/c (£22-99, DC) by Tom Taylor & Bruno Redondo, various

Nightwing vol 5: Raptor’s Revenge s/c (Rebirth) (£12-99, DC) by Tim Seeley & Miguel Mendonca, Javi Fernandez, Scot Eaton

Sleeper Book 1 s/c (£26-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson

Stumptown vol 2 s/c (£17-99, Oni) by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southwark

Annihilation vol 2: Complete Collection s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Simon Furman, Keith Giffen, Christos N. Gage, Stuart Moore, various & Jorge Lucas, Andrea Di Vito, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Mike McKone, Scott Kolins

Darth Vader: Dark Lord Of The Sith vol 2: Legacy’s End s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Jessica Jones vol 3: Return Of The Purple Man s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos

The Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, J.M. DeMatteis, Jen Van Meter & Richard Elson, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stephanie, Buscema, Ryan Stegman

Battle Angel Alita – Mars Chronicle vol 2 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

One-Punch Man vol 13 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata

The Art Of The Secret World Of Arrietty h/c (£25-00, Viz) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week three

April 18th, 2018

Featuring Javi Rey, B. Mure, Ben Passmore, Tillie Walden, Greg Rucka and friends, Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Big Brother.

Out In The Open h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Javi Rey, based on the novel by Jesύs Carrasco.

“He sharpened his senses, searching for the voice that had forced him to flee.”

A boy lies cowering in a dark burrow amongst the roots of the olive grove, one arm on the dusty earth, the other clasped protectively around his own torso. He is as still and as silent as possible; but you can almost feel him shivering in the suffocating heat as he strains to hear the one sound that he so desperately never wants to again.

His eyes are wide, black dots of terror.

And they stay like that for hours, until the sun finally sets.

This is a beautiful book full of soft pinks and bruise-purple shadows upon bright, straw-coloured, grass plains and arid desert. Craggy outcrops appear in the distance. Under the succour of rare, sparsely leafed tree, there are dappled shadows which I doubt could afford much relief from the noon-day heat, but it must be some comfort, some sanctuary.

Where the boy escaped from there was no sanctuary, not even at home. But there were worse things than his father’s beatings. There was the sheriff. And what would a sheriff want with a young boy like him?

 

 

Yes, it’s a beautiful book full of vistas and sunsets, and the surprise of a sunrise when you were convinced you’d never make it… But it is devastating.

The prologue speaks of promise lost.

“There was a time when that plain was a sea of grain. On windy spring days, the wheat undulated just like the surface of the ocean. Green and fragrant waves awaiting the summer sun. The same sun that now baked the clay, pulverising it until it turned into dust.”

What was once wholesome and full of potential to sustain and nurture life has now been drained of it by the sun which should also be life-giving but in this instance proved otherwise. In the cameo panel above, what was once a sea of green or golden wheat has now been survived by desiccated, sharp, brown needles.

It’s based on a novel of prose from a Spanish writer called Jesύs Carrasco. ‘Novel’, I’m told, not ‘novella’, nor three-page short story, but if you did away with all the art and lined up the prose here, then it probably wouldn’t fill many more pages than four. So yes: very much “based on”, no mere “adaptation”.

 

 

 

The images are profoundly communicative, not just of the radiating heat round the small fire of a temporary camp site when the night must be freezing, but of fear and of wariness. The boy’s arms are once more clasped protectively, this time round his knees and not just for the cold: the goatherd seems kindly enough, but trust will not come easily to the boy, ever again.

There too the colours do so much of the work: salmon pink for the glow and the warmth of the crackling fire on flesh and clothing, while the night is slate blue.

 

 

 

The solitary, wizened goatherd who has little of his own intuitively understands at least some of the plight of the young boy who initially hovers round the camp site. Even after the kid attempts to steal the old man’s satchel, he is invited to share food and the comfort of the fire. But, as I say, trust will never be offered or earned easily again, even through guileless kindness. Ulterior motives have been this boy’s experience.

I’m afraid that you’re shown those in memories more like dream sequences when a chillingly cold blue drifts in.

When the sheriff first appears he does so as a prancing dandy smoking a cigarette, precise features eroded to a jauntily hat–topped, yellow-eyed, satanic-red grinning skull. He seems perfectly pleased with himself.

 

 

 

In some ways this reminded me of Craig Thompson’s HABIBI. Not stylistically in the slightest, but in that it is also a tale of survival, endurance and provision for others in the wake of man’s inhumanity to man. Provision for others is so often offered by those who have least. The goatherd offers the boy what little he has in the way of protection and nutrition; but the goats are themselves parched and so produce little milk.

Also: the goatherd may be out of his depth.

SLH

Buy Out In The Open h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ismyre (£8-99, Avery Hill) by B. Mure.

“So what’s the next step in your master plan?”
“Genius never tells. Or sleeps. But snacks are very important.”

Agreed!

Also important are colours, and you’re in for an eye-full!

This charming, fantastical, anthropomorphic mystery and call to floral arms bursts with warmth and spectacle, along with a delightfully daft political powder keg waiting to explode.

The Prime Minister of an old, rustic European country is planning a grand event to celebrate ushering in a new age of prosperity (for the already wealthy, at least), and is determined to have an ice sculpture as its centre-piece, carved by one Edward Goodwill. Unfortunately, in its run-up, citizens are going missing and a cell of masked Eco Anarchists has embarked on a campaign of urban vegetation detonations. The Prime Minister is convinced that the two are not unrelated.

 

 

Crocodilian art dealer Evelyn rather likes the Eco Anarchists which she calls Flower Wizards instead: “Such aesthetically daring activism!”

Edward Goodwill, meanwhile, one of her best-selling sculptors, discovers that it’s not only people who are disappearing. The sculptor’s decorated wooden figurines are vanishing too. Edward takes to a bar to ponder both the puzzle and the Prime Minister’s commission in private, only to be befriended by a fox called Faustine who is self-assured, extremely assertive and exceedingly resourceful. She is determined to get to the bottom of the twin mysteries, help a faltering Goodwill complete his governmental commission, then perhaps have a right old cackle into the bargain.

 

 

Good golly but the pages vibrate with light and colour, right off the electromagnetic spectrum.

The colour, washed over such delicate thin and crisp lines, provides so much depth and energy that you won’t even notice the eschewing of spot-blacks or textures.

We begin with an essay in aqueous blue and lemon yellow for an opening page of nocturnal tranquillity, harmony and indeed melody as Edward’s widower neighbour, on the opposite side of the street, sings to herself about love. Edward decides to call it a day, and pops a work in progress onto the shelves only to discover that another one’s gone missing. Cleverly, there, red is first introduced.

 

 

Bathed in blue, Goodwill falls sound asleep as we pan up above the city to see a silent, paved, solitary street with one particularly grandiose house with its equally ornate facade jutting out from its peers, and so focussing our attention upon it. Yellow and red washes re-emerge quietly, so quietly, shhhh….

Then BOOOOOOOM!

 

 

That’s going to take some pruning.

But back to Faustine the fox, and her cunning plan to solve all of the city’s mysteries in one fell swoop:

“There, do you see?”
“I thought genius never told.”
“Genius is showing you. Shut your face.”

SLH

Buy Ismyre and read the Page 45 review here

Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore.

Fabulous title, glorious cover, you’ll find the contents equally colourful.

“After Charlottesville, tons of Confederate monuments have come down around the country – but we still have the largest monument to white-supremacy in the country: the presidency of Donald Trump.”

Vastly expanded hardcover edition of the former pamphlet – which was potent enough in its own right – this is ten times as long, with a far wider remit.

Within, Ben Passmore observes an America in which vocal, overt, organised racism – with its attendant intimidating, gun-toting marches further radicalising the easily brainwashed into acts of murderous terrorism – has been “legitimised” by Trump’s refusal to decry it as criminal, instead embracing some of its thugs as “decent folks”. Instead, it’s the Antifascists who are cast as violent while the Klan classes itself as the oppressed underdogs under attack. “There’s a war on whiteness!” screams one boss-eyed white-supremacist woman.

 

 

In the wake of which, Passmore also assesses the state of counter-racist political activism in the form of protests, and finds it lacking and inadequate to the task. “”Freedom of Speech” isn’t worth much if it facilitates inactivity.” Of Trump he goes on to say, “If the fight to remove racists made of stone and metal is any indication, we will have to use just as diverse tactics to overcome the real one.”

“The spirit of this collection of comics,” he writes, “is more a reflection of ideas… about how to be dangerous, how to be a failure, and how to laugh in the face of a world that wants to crush us… And we all fail, homies, it’s okay. We just have to learn how to fail upward.”

 

 

Personally I like it best when Passmore addresses us directly about politics and social politics, with a clarity, conviction and eloquence that is infectious. Partly because some of the more surreal stuff I simply didn’t understand.

However, I did gross out mightily at the ‘OK Stoopd!” hook-up featuring a feckless, defeatist, cannibalistic chicken, gobbling drumsticks from a bucket as grease drools from its quivering gullet. The cat asks:

“I gotta ask… you’re chicken, which is solid, but isn’t it weird to be like eating chicken?”
“These CAGE MONKEYS!? I was smart enough ta stay outta the fryer! It’s their own lazy-ass faults! CAGE MONKEYS!”

So I don’t suppose the chicken will be joining the protests.

 

 

I also laughed heartily at the Hand of God chatting to Jesus:

“Why doesn’t anyone want to hang-out with us?”
“Cause you do weird shit.”

The Hand of God does indeed do weird shit; right on the page, too.

The autobiographical ‘Ally I Need is Love’ from Passmore’s time as a pedicab driver includes two glorious caricatures when he picks up a “tomb-faced” old white lady with an imploded head and a “tween smoke cloud”. It doesn’t matter how fast he pedals, that thick cigarette smoke encircling the girl’s head – like clouds round a mountain – is not going to be blown away.

 

 

Instead, it is Ben who is blown away when the old woman tries to pick him up, persistently, eventually coming out with…

“It’s just that itz my birthday and I haven’t been with a black man in so long…”
“THA WHAT? Get off my cab!!!”

But what happens next is as profoundly moving as it is unexpected. (I’m not sure we can entirely trust the final panel, but it is the most perfect and passionate punchline, rendered with love).

Basically, this: just because Passmore is laudably and necessarily blunt and uncompromising in his politics, please don’t presume that he is either self-righteously self-satisfied or humourless. Above all, however, he exhorts: “Stay dangerous”.

 

 

So back to ‘Your Black Friend’ which I originally reviewed thus:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

It gets better.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

SLH

Buy Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c and read the Page 45 review here

I Love This Part h/c (£12-99, Avery Hill) by Tilly Walden.

It’s my favourite part.

“Can we ever tell anybody?”
“Probably not.”

Simple, subtle, sublime.

Two girls share experiences, confide in each other and reassure each other gently.

They explore landscapes together, looking out, over or nestling within them. This is the sweet languor of youth when you still have time to rest supine and stare at the sky up above you.

There’s an intimacy right from the start in the way they inhabit those landscapes, absorbing a song, one ear-bud each, or crouched under a duvet in front of a laptop with a night-time cityscape rising behind them, its tiny, square, skyscraper windows brightly lit while their monumental silhouettes stand out, crisp and bold, against white and purple-tinged clouds.

“I got an ipod Shuffle once for Hanukkah and it really stressed me out that I never knew what song was next.”

 

 

That made me smile. It’s true, isn’t it, that we enjoy the segue from one song to another on an album we love, subconsciously anticipating what we know will come next as the final chords on the current one fade or when it concludes in a blistering crescendo? It’s the same with any mix-tape you’ve made.

So here’s the thing: the story is told in single-panel pages and if the landscapes are so often majestic – mountains, canyons, valleys – then the two girls are equally epic and so completely at one with them.

 

 

Their positioning is perfect and the sense of scale is breathtaking. Tillie Walden already demonstrated an adoration of Windsor McCay’s LITTLE NEMO in THE END OF SUMMER; here she takes that influence and makes of it something uniquely her own. Winsor thought like this, but he never did this. There’s also that dreamlike comfort to it. Or at least there is to begin with.

Initially each full-page panel features both girls in synch, either side by side or opposite each other, but then there’s a brief falling-out over a photo uploaded onto social media without the expressed consent of the other. It’s still gentle and the kindness – the reassurance – remains. But there follows a telling page in which they’re no longer completely as one but staring in different directions and, oh, the art is exquisite as one girl’s swimsuit hugs tight while the other’s dress billows carefree in a breeze.

 

 

Gradually there encroach pages in which only one or neither girl features, silence falls and texting begins instead.

Never forever, I promise you, for this is far from linear but it’s in marked contrast to what went before when their relationship morphs as they tentatively explores new territories, not necessarily successfully.

Aaaaaand we’re still only a fraction of a way in.

The comic’s not long but it’s still substantial, begging you to linger and rewarding you if you do.

It’s fiercely well observed with incredible understanding and empathy but without demanding you recognise that, for so much is left to be said by the silences. I’m in awe of that confidence. And if it isn’t confidence then it’s one massive leap of faith in an approach which is an unequivocal success.

 

 

I could type ten more paragraphs precisely proving in which ways Walden has achieved that – I honestly could – but I’m here to intrigue you to discover the rest for yourselves rather present evidence for my assertions once again for the university examining board.

Since the original softcover of I LOVE THIS PART, Tillie went on to produce A CITY INSIDE which includes one of the most romantic lines ever written:

“You gave up the sky for her.”

Then, aged all of 21, she produced the autobiographical SPINNING, one of Page 45’s fastest-selling graphic memoirs of all time, which provides a personal context to I LOVE THIS PART and, most unexpectedly, an answer to what happened next.

SLH

Buy I Love This Part h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus: X Plus 66 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka with Eric Trautman, Aaron Duran, Neal Bailey & Steve Lieber, Mack Chater, Justin Greenwood, Alitha Martinez, Bilquis Evely, Tristan Jones; colours by Santi Arcas.

“Family Above All.”

LAZARUS is one of my favourite current comic series: gripping intrigue, balletic action and phenomenally intelligent extrapolation from recent scientific developments, as well as a thorough exploration of the socio-political ramifications of a societal reversal. Each of the first four volumes is reviewed, including the two-in-one hardcovers, with attention to regular artist Michael Lark who here provides the cover.

Spoiler-free summary, for it’s important to what follows:

In the far from distance future the world’s economies didn’t just collapse, they imploded, taking all nation states with them.

The entire globe has reverted to a feudal society ruled by 16 Families: the Families with the most money, because money buys people, money buys science and money buys guns.

Underneath them lies a slim stratum of society with key skills vital for the Families’ prosperity and hegemony. These Serfs are richly rewarded, their needs taken care of. Everyone else is Waste.

 

 

All Families have a Lazarus, each augmented by differing means according to the individual Family’s scientific resources, to the extent that – although they cannot rise from the dead – their bodies can withstand and recover from the most brutal physical punishments. They are then rigorously trained to become the Families’ bodyguards, military commanders and ultimate assassins.

In the Carlyle Family’s case it is their youngest daughter, Forever. Ever since she can remember she has been told, “Family Above All”. And by ‘told’, I mean ‘indoctrinated’. And by ‘indoctrinated’, I mean lied to.

LAZARUS: X PLUS 66 is a book about loyalty. It’s about loyalty within families, but above all loyalty to The Family in whose domain you are permitted to reside. Those loyalties will all be sorely tested.

 

 

X Plus 66 is a year. It’s the year immediately following LAZARUS VOL 5, marking just over six and a half decades since the Families met in Macau to carve up the world and its riches between themselves. To give Michael Lark a well earned breather, the collection’s comprised of six short stories drawn by different artists, each of which picks up on ancillary – but by no means peripheral – characters and their fortunes which there would have been little room to have covered within the central series. In doing so, it provides a wealth of extra flesh on the main body’s bone, so I would urge you not to skip it.

 

 

There are some superb neologisms for new scientific research and development, like “sleeving”: the ability to slot an archived personality, complete with its memories, from one Lazarus into its successor. Not yet possible, but they’ve achieved the next best thing with Sir Thomas Huston of the Armitage Family taking advantage of all his predecessor’s  internally recorded and externally archived experiences.

“As experience is the best teacher, each new Sir Thomas benefits from the life of the last.”

I think you’ll especially want to learn the fate that befalls the Morray Family’s Lazarus, Joacquim Morray, given the horrifying swerve in his fate last volume. You’ll also discover exactly what relation he is within the Morray Family Tree. This has no small bearing on his past, present and dubious future. Mack Chater (BRIGGS LAND) draws a halting first-page panel which could not have present Joacquim as more vulnerable, his shaved pubic area making it all the more clinical.

 

 

Tristan Jones gives the grizzliest chapter the grizzliest of dirty, detailed texture set in The Dragon’s lair (The Dragon is the least pleasant Lazarus of the lot – I mean, bwwaaaaar). He’s holed away in a remote, claustrophobically dark subterranean bunker with mauled dolls dangling from chains. Unnervingly, there’s also one in a rib cage directly outside the entrance to the snow-swept cave entrance and more with cameras for eyes inside.

 

 

Surprising, then, that there’s a fine piece of painted portraiture framed on a wall. All to do with his upbringing, as you shall see…

The media’s plight under feudal control is examined, and the lives of some of those newly elevated from Waste to Serfdom is shown with an extra vantage over a shanty town of those left behind, drawn by Justin Greenwood. You may want to smack one mother.

 

 

Lastly, I do know why the elite army training episode comes first, in order to re-introduce and re-emphasise the main theme – loyalty and Family Above All – but it isn’t in all honesty quite as gripping as the rest, so do please soldier on.

Next: Michael Lark returns in LAZARUS #27 any day now.

SLH

Buy Lazarus: X Plus 66 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Paper Girls vol 4 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang.

Four ‘80s schoolgirls lost in time.

They’re lost many times in many times, each volume shooting them into their own future or far into our past – very far, in one instance.

If you love the idiosyncrasies of any era – obsessions, slang, popular culture, outdated technology and lack of technology we now take for granted – then you will love PAPER GIRLS. Cliff Chiang has done an enormous amount of research and the temporal locations are immediately identifiable to readers at least, while the girls’ reactions to each era’s customs are priceless.

Here, for example, you will laugh loads at the Armageddon anti-climax that was the Millennium Bug, when Y2K doomsters warned you to switch off your computer before midnight on 31st December 2000, lest it explode or take control of your kettle or something. The actual turning of the millennium and century, a year later, was pretty much ignored.

 

 

Remember too that the young ladies are the products of their past, and that this is from the writer of EX MACHINA, SAGA etc, who’s not renowned for white-washing realities which some other authors would find awkward to tackle. One of these girls is a bigot. She is. She’s a victim of ‘80s AIDS scare-mongering along with other ill-informed societal bullshit and she takes it out on one of her friends. Some exceptionally deft and comical character-acting is on offer from Cliff Chiang there.

 

 

Also, the girls are going to be visiting their futures: not all of them are going to have made it there in one healthy piece. Others’ lives may also have taken unexpected, uncharacteristic turns. Would you want to know what happens to you?!

 

 

For more, please see previous PAPER GIRLS reviews, much more in depth. Cheers!

SLH

Buy Paper Girls vol 4 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

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.

I enjoy Jack Kirby composition analyses and this cover, right, is no slouch. Unusually, there is no foreground, only mid-ground and background. The four paper dolls are caught mid-gesticulation before they thrust forward towards the inviting, intervening space: Captain America, Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, all in glowing, rich, complementary colours. Immediate action is implied in each. This leaves Goliath, behind them, in contrasting sky-blue and gold, not to dominate the whole but impress upon you his weight and comparative, sheer strength of scale, his thick arms fanning out to defend the whole of his cohorts with fists, the rising then bifurcating, central yellow stripe of his costume keeping the organic triangle in motion.

If only there were such sturdy Roman strength and reciprocal teamwork inside.

“Avengers Assemble! Mayday! Mayday!”
“It’s from Cap! He’s been imprisoned in a dungeon! Into your costume, Wanda… quickly!”
“Imprisoned, Pietro? By whom?”
“No time for that now!”

Or, you could have just answered: “The Swordsman”. It’s a little more informative, a lot less dismissive, and two seconds swifter to say.

 

 

Following the team’s earliest experiences in AVENGERS: EPIC COLLECTION VOL 1, our Avenging Assemblers by now consist of Hawkeye and siblings the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, led by a Captain America wrestling with self-doubt under the weight of responsibility and the isolation which comes of having been trapped an oceanic ice cube since WWII. He doesn’t have any mates outside of Avengers Mansion, you see. But then nor do any of the others because Stan hadn’t thought to write about them.

The Captain is desperate for some of the original members to return, the original members being The Wasp, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. Yeah, he’s not so keen on the Hulk.

“Hulk happy to keep Flag-Man company. Hulk give you big hug.”
“Sorry, wrong address.”

 

 

Good news cometh, however, as both the Wasp and Ant-Man return early on in this volume, the latter as the much enlarged Goliath in a blue and yellow costume which my child-eyes adored, the former in a swimsuit to resume her former career as professional prisoner / bait. With Hawkeye still envious of Captain America’s leadership, they’re bickering among themselves incessantly. It’s like Big Brother in muscular fancy dress, the Diary Room located somewhere in Steve Rogers’ head.

“Hello, Steve. How are you feeling today?”
“Hello, Big Brother. I’m feeling a bit low, to be honest. Hawkeye hates me. He’s keeps calling me Methuselah.”
“I bet he can’t spell that, and who knew he could read? Anyway, he’s only jealous.”
“Yes, I can read that much in his thought bubbles, but it’s demoralising when all he does in speech balloons is bitch, bitch, bitch. I think the Scarlet Witch has a crush on me. If Quicksilver found out, he’d skin me alive before I could even utter the word ‘incest’.”
“They are quite close, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, but we’re going to have to wait until Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s ULTIMATES for readers to realise that.”

 


“Steve, is there anything else you wish to discuss with Big Brother?”
“I still haven’t had my suitcase back. From 1944.”
“Big Brother is looking into that. Anything else?”
“Can I get a flag?”
“A flag…?”
“I’d like something to wave.”
“Why?”
“There could be Commies.”
“…”
*sobs*
“Thank you, Steve.”

What I’ve so far failed to mention is that amongst the household’s weekly tasks (in order to ensure a shopping budget big enough to keep Hank Pym / Ant-Man / Giant-Man / Multiple Identity Crisis Man in Temazepam) is getting Dr. Victor Von Doom struck off the medical practitioners’ list. His bedside manner is appalling, and I swear to God that unlike the above these are actual quotes:

“Here is a gold farthing for you, my boy! I, too, have known what it is to be… a cripple!”
“There is a great surgeon in the Zurich, across the border! He can cure our child! But he leaves for America soon!”
“We beg you, good master… open the dome, so we can bring our son the doctor before it is too late!”
“Impossible! It must remain sealed… until the four enemies of Latveria have been disposed of!”
“But what of the boy…?”
“Silence! This audience has ended!”

You’d ask for a second opinion, wouldn’t you?

 

 

Frankly, I have no idea how Doctor Doom’s surgery remains open: he’s not exactly renowned for his patience or patient care, and his prescriptions are unorthodox to say the least.

It’s all enormous fun, of course, as are the appliances of sciences: World-Wide Scanner-Scopes, Protecto-Shields, Vibra-Rays, Spectro-Waves, Visi-Projectors, Giant Plastithene Domes and a Temporal Assimilator which means it’s only taken you a tenth of the time to read this than I wasted in writing it.

 

 

However, hope lies high on the horizon in the second half, both for the team’s cohesion upon Goliath’s return, and for readers’ more rounded socio-political nurturing.

“Beware of the man who sets you against your neighbour!”
“For, whenever the deadly poison of bigotry touches us, the flame of freedom will burn a little dimmer.”

Bravo!

In 1966 Stan Lee took a brief break from his own screaming stream-of-subconscious sexism to tackle racism instead, and did so with bold, unequivocal directness and robust language which I commend without one iota of irony. In AVENGERS #32 and 33 he introduced the Sons of the Serpent, Marvel’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, seen here spitting their white supremacist venom out to a crowd which laps it so deliriously up:

“Our enemies must know we will show them no mercy! As the original serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden… so shall we drive all foreigners from the land!”

Err, no really, that was God. The serpent poisoned the mind of innocents – and with that double whammy we’ll notch the scene up to a Serendipitous Stan because these are racists, so they’re inherently stupid.

 

 

Coming back to the commendable directness there’s another scene in which the hate-mongering tosspots set about ethnically cleansing a section of the city by beating the living crap out of a man while successfully intimidating neighbours into doing absolutely nothing:

“We warned you not to move into this neighbourhood!”
“But it’s a free country! I’m a law-abiding citizen! You have no right –“
“You dare speak to us of rights? You – who were not even born here!”

 

 

Up above:

“Henry! What’s the commotion outside the window?”
“It’s the Sons of the Serpent! They’ve cornered Mr. Gonzales! We – we have to do something –!”
“No! Come away from there! It’s dangerous to get involved! It’s none of our business!”

Well, isn’t that so often the way? Lest some of his readers learn the wrong lesson (bear in mind a lot of them were young and impressionable), Stan takes a moment to emphatically sneer at the couple’s cowardice:

“Thus we take our leave of Henry and his wife – two less-than-admirable citizens who feared to get involved…”

 

 

Again, bravo! This is, after all, a book about getting “involved” – that’s what the Avengers do – and they’re not slow off the mark voicing their own disgust after Goliath catches the bigots attacking Bill Foster, who’s black, outside his lab. I think that may be the first appearance of Bill Foster (he went on to become one of several Goliaths himself), and it’s certainly Steve Rogers’ first trip to the S.H.I.E.L.D. H.Q. which was buried under a barber’s shop. This is also the era when Hercules signed up as an Avenger and former Soviet spy Black Widow signed up to S.H.I.E.L.D. having spectacularly failed to win anyone other than old flame Hawkeye’s trust with the Avengers. Meanwhile Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have lost their powers but Stan The Man has lost none of his way with women. The Wasp speaks last:

“If you wish to see Captain America alive once more, you are to follow these instructions to the letter! You will report to the next meeting of the Sons Of The Serpent, at the following address – “
“They can bet on it – we’ll be there!”
“I’d like to see someone try to keep me away!”
“Oh dear! I haven’t a thing to wear!”

*sigh*

SLH

Buy Avengers: Epic Collection vol 2 – Once An Avenger… 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’.

The Best We Could Do s/c (£12-99, Abrams) by Thi Bui

Herding Cats (£9-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen

Black Monday Murders vol 2: The Scales s/c (£17-99, Image) by Jonathan Hickman & Tomm Coker

The Bridge: How The Roeblings Connected Brooklyn To New York h/c (£17-99, Abrams) by Peter J. Tomasi & Sara Duvall

The American Way: Those Above And Those Below s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by John Ridley & Georges Jeanty, various

Cyanide & Happiness: A Guide To Parenting By Three Guys With No Kids (£8-99, Boom!) by Kris, Rob, Dave

Dinosaur Firefighters h/c (£12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Dinosaur Firefighters s/c (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Fence vol 1 s/c (£8-99, Boom!) by C.S. Pacat &  Johanna the Mad

Fight Club 2 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart

Hound vol 3: Liberator h/c (Signed & Numbered) (£29-99, Cuchulkin Entertainment) by Paul Bolger & Barry Devlin

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 2 h/c (£22-99, Boom!) by Simon Spurrier, Philip Kennedy Johnson & Kelly Matthews, Nicole Matthews

Looshkin (£8-99, David Fickling Books) by Jamie Smart

Me And My Cat? (£6-99, Andersen Press) by Satoshi Kitamura

Stone Age Boy (£6-99, Walker Books) by Satoshi Kitamura

Royal City vol 2: Sonic Youth s/c (£14-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 1 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin, Peter Milligan & John Romita Jr., Trevor Hairsine, Salvador Larroca, David Yardin, Scot Eaton, Kaare Andrews

Black Panther: Complete Reginald Hudlin Collection vol 2 s/c (£35-99, Marvel) by Reginald Hudlin & Scot Eaton, Manuel Garcia, Koi Turnbull, Marcus To, Francis Portela, Andrea Di Vito, Cafu

Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & various

Punisher: The Platoon s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov

Bleach vol 72 (£6-99, Viz) by Tite Kubo

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol 3 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Clamp

Legend Of Zelda vol 13: Twilight Princess vol 3 (£6-99, Viz) by Akira Himekawa

Sweet Blue Flowers vol 3 (£16-99, Viz) by Takako Shimura

Your Name vol 1 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Makoto Shinkai & Ranmaaru Kotone

Your Name vol 2 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Makoto Shinkai & Ranmaaru Kotone

Your Name vol 3 (£9-99, Yen Press) by Makoto Shinkai & Ranmaaru Kotone

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week two

April 11th, 2018

Featuring John Porcellino, Jason, Nicolas Wild, Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey and even Eddie Campbell, after a fashion.

From Lone Mountain (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by John Porcellino.

KING-CAT is such a kind comic.

It is clear, concise and enormously thoughtful.

It’s also very brave and astonishingly intimate.

Yet it’s not without its moments of comedy, especially where insight’s involved.

“One day Diogenes was sorting through a pile of bones…
“Alexander the Great came along and asked him what he was doing…
“Diogenes said:”I’m searching for the bones of your father, but I can’t tell them apart from those of a slave.””

Porcellino gives Diogenes a couple of tattoos: an anchor on his right arm, a love heart on his left. You may think that whimsical. I think it’s perfect, both for Diogenes and for John.

Throughout these pure, direct and above all honest, mostly autobiographical short stories, John receives love from his wife Misun and his cat Maisie in a quiet, unfussy and far from cloying fashion, and he returns this adoration to Misun, Maisie and – with awe and appreciation – to the abundant wonder which he perceives all around him.

 

 

Light comes constantly under his appreciative gaze, during the day and at night and those hours of spectacle in between. The weather, as well: sunshine, wind, rain and snow. Sometimes he evokes them verbally, poetically; often he leaves his clean and precise pictures, already full of space, to do that instead. Breezes carry scents and he notes those too.

Foxes, skunks and squirrels are observed, sometimes sought after, and flora is cherished as much as fauna. He likes to list their Latin names. Sometimes he’ll simply tell you about a tree.

Porcellino also lists his ‘King-Cat Top 40’s, scattered with more tiny hearts, as a positive way of acknowledging and publicly appreciating anyone and anything that has brought him joy in the making of each semi-annual KING-CAT comic or during their intervening months: friends, music, pictures, books, places, sensations, more light, more nature, more moments, and memories too.

 

 

John is as likely to recall memories from many moons ago as he is to tell you more recent tales. They’re almost always dated, both the memories and their commitment to paper. Sometimes they’re pivotal moments, like his history with drinking (it wasn’t good; he stopped); sometimes they’re reflections that have since taken on new meaning to him along his journey.

“I’m looking for those winter evenings
“I’m looking for those autumn nights
”That warm light inside that tells you it’s safe
“I’m looking for that old feeling
“The going within
“The soft arms of fall”

Other times they’re brand-new discoveries, and it is quite the journey, both spiritually and geographically as John uproots himself, his wife and his cat to move house such vast distances that they take five full days of self-driving.

And that’s where the anchor comes in, because John needs anchors like Maisie and Misun and his Dad so desperately, and that’s where the love comes back too: giving this love and appreciation is John’s way of staying sane, of holding on hard to hope when the crushing adversity is so crippling at times that he cannot create.

 

 

You’re going to witness remarkably little of that in his comics – which is as extraordinarily restrained as the comics are controlled – but it’s ever so real as the notes in the back and the whole of his HOSPITAL SUITE make abundantly clear. Indeed, his very occasional allusions to his mental health within the body of KING-CAT itself cause him nothing but more grief and guilt. The one-page prologue, ‘Hippie Girl’, is highly unusual except in its retrospective self-recrimination at his anger after being ravaged by OCD (it was drawn last year, but occurred during this period circa 2006) emphasised by the love heart between “Hippie” and “Girl” and its direct, cut-through-the-bullshit, priority punchline:

“Brother,” asks the Hippie Girl, innocently, “What happened to your smile??!”

Vilification met with genuine care and compassion.

 

 

Moving home is a double-edged sword for someone with John’s OCD as he explains succinctly in the back of his move early on here to San Francisco:

“OCD is a disease of familiarity. New surroundings, while fear-inducing at first, often-times relieved my symptoms – everything was fresh and hadn’t yet taken on a multi-layered patina of anxiety. So those early days in SF were open and free, and the creative spirit of the city inspired me.”

John also does a lot of walking to stave off or alleviate those symptoms, by day and at night, popping down alleys purely because he’s never done so before. I used to like to explore; so often I don’t make the time anymore.

 

 

Unfortunately two of his most solid anchors disappear during the course of this retrospective work, and there are eulogies of remembrance, of moments shared – yet more acknowledgement and appreciation – that are beautiful to behold.

As I say, KING-CAT is a very kind comic, very brave and very intimate. It’s never maudlin, but it is at times inevitably sad all the same, with a huge sense of loss as John searches for somewhere once more to call home. It’s not necessarily geographical, although that would help.

 

 

Anyway, I promised you comedy too, so let’s bow out on ‘Squirrel Acrobat’. Sorry I can’t supply you with John’s diagrams!

“SQUIRREL A is confronted by aggressive SQUIRREL B, on the power-line wire across the street.

“’B’ threatens, stamps, chatters; ‘A’ steps back but doesn’t want to give up ground. SQUIRREL B repeatedly charges SQUIRREL A, then retreats.

“Finally, both squirrels have had enough. They race toward each other at high speed, in what appears to be an inevitable head-on collision. I watch in disbelief as, just before the moment of impact, SQUIRREL A suddenly spins upside down on the wire, runs past SQUIRREL B underneath, and jumps into a nearby tree.

“SQUIRREL B puts on the brakes and looks visibly confused.

“Leaves fall.”

Collects KING-CAT COMICS #62-68 (2003-2007), one and a half dozen extra pages of comics and just under a dozen pages of highly Illuminating, contextual notes plus a delicious, only partially used alternative, landscape KING-CAT cover.

SLH

Buy From Lone Mountain and read the Page 45 review here

What I Did h/c (£22-99, Fantagraphics) by Jason.

“Hey, wait…”

In life, there are Moments that Matter.

In life, there are Moments that Matter the Most, but so many of these crossroads can only be perceived while staring back down the road with the benefit of hindsight.

I pray you find most of them joyous because, if they are otherwise, the terrible truth is that retrospect can prove a very cruel mistress, in that although you can finally see what was once at stake, you are powerless to change your choice.

This collection reprints ‘Hey Wait…’, ‘Sshhhh!’ and ’The Iron Wagon’, which were my own first encounters with Jason, the now-legendary creator of a unique brand of anthropomorphic, deadpan comicbook comedy  responsible for the subsequent IF YOU STEAL, LOW MOON, I KILLED ADOLF HITLER, ALMOST SILENT and most recently the autobiographical ON THE CAMINO.

He is so funny!

There aren’t many laughs in ‘Hey Wait…’, however. Instead, it is the single most affecting thing that I have ever read in comics.

 

 

I used to believe that to speak about it at all would ruin any reading of it for others, but it’s such an important, landmark work that I’m going to attempt it now, for the very first time, without reference to the exact moment or nature of the crossroads. And I’m going to do it with a little help from my dear friend Mark who, nearly two decades ago, succinctly wrote:

“The first half tells of a pair of friends during their childhood without any of the sub-Spielberg mawkishness that’s been endemic over the past couple of years. The second instalment is the aftermath of an occurrence and the distance between your initial belief in the world and the outcome.”

Young Bjorn and Jon stroll up to a front door with all the nonchalance they can muster. Bjorn looks back to make sure that they haven’t been spotted, and Jon rings the doorbell. Both their mouths crack to great big grins of childish glee as they scarper away in the full knowledge of how naughty they’ve been!

The door is answered by a baffled Creature From The Lost Lagoon.

 

 

What follows in Part One is a series of joyful, single-page vignettes, immaculately portraying exactly what life was like for me as a relatively care-free six-year-old with my best mate, although I think these two are slightly older.

Firstly, “Can Bjorn come out to play?”

Then buying sweets from the corner shop with what little pocket money you have; maybe sharing or swapping some. Ludicrously unsubstantiated gossip spread in the playground (“How do you know?” “Heard it from someone.”). Territorial teenagers forbidding you passage down an alley, then telling you a sex-joke you don’t understand: of course they look like impossibly old, wizened men to you! Fumbling the ball in gym class, the ball being passed by a girl you maybe fancied; spying her in the park later on, then hiding, embarrassed. Asking your friend if they think she is pretty – he’s not sure, either; he has no terms of reference – agreeing instead on who was the best-ever artist on Batman! Now that’s Terra Firma!

 

 

Perhaps you created a secret society with a dedicated den? We did! You’d have to pass some sort of initiation test to join in. Then members would have to learn code words etcetera in order to gain access to the shack! It was idyllic: just the two of you, always together, even whenever apart!

Part Two is otherwise.

***

The second offering is ‘Sshhhh!’, a completely different beast but one that more recent Jason fans will find far more familiar: surreal, absurd, funny and ridiculous, but equally imaginative in different ways. Nothing is predictable, anything can happen.

 

 

 

For a start there are nine silent chapters of varying length, during each of which the same man leads his parallel love lives in differing directions, is the object of affection / rejection or, in at least one instance, has multiple walk-on parts in another woman’s love life. Sometimes with a gun; or a fist; or simply as a desperate daydream at the very last minute – basically, she wishes she’d gone with him, not the hunk. They aren’t contiguous chapters, is what I’m trying to say: the story reboots after each, but it will end, more or less, where it began.

 

 

In the first, a man plays a flute, busking for money. He earns a single coin, tossing it from thumb to palm: life is a game of chance? He spends it on a hot dog which he eats on a park bench before retiring alone to his nest. (Note: this is the only instance that I can recall in which any of Jason’s anthropomorphic birds spend any time in a nest – they live in houses. I don’t think this implies homelessness. Given how the whole of ‘Sshhhh!’ ends, I reckon it represents freedom from the daily grind and romantic rat race. But I am obtuse, so do please forgive if I’m wrong. All interpretations are surely valid.)

 

 

Anyway, he sure is lonely and after a snooze he spies several other occupants of the park being romantically involved. He retires mournfully to the park bridge, alone, and drops a stone idly into the water. SPLASH! And a woman appears right beside him. They look meaningfully into each others’ eyes as a vulture looks down on them through a telescope from an old castle turret…

Their romance blossoms, but a nest seems not enough, so they rent a flat. He attends a job interview to pay for the flat and their groceries. He begins sorting mail, she begins buying groceries. Nice little visual reflection of each others’ cubby holes, there.

I’d remind you that all this is silent: Jason is extraordinarily communicative as well as economical in his storytelling.

Anyway, shit happens (thanks, vulture) and you fear for their future, but both you and they are given a most unexpected reprieve. After which, obviously, shit happens.

The man stands mournfully at the park bridge, alone, and drops a stone into the water – this time hopefully, in remembrance of what happened before. SPLASH!

Nothing happens, except that the autumnal leaves are blown from the trees.

So that’s chapter one.

In chapter two the same bloke is pursued by a skeleton.

 

 

You immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s the impassive shadow of death, stalking him at the bus stop, following him onto the bus, thence relentlessly home. He tries to outrun it on several occasions, but surely you can’t escape death? Haha! Actually, this too is a courtship. They end up in bed together. Death brings him breakfast in bed. Together they do the dishes, watch TV and they take turns in the toilet.

I’m not going to spoil it for you, for the climax is almost as laugh-out-loud funny as the aftermath. But pity poor Death! Hey, you have to move on…

There are seven more chapters.

***

So to ‘The Iron Wagon’, this time an adaptation of a 1909 Norwegian prose murder mystery unless Jason is having us on. One never quite knows.

 

 

It’s ever so clever, but I’ve lost my notes and am well past my deadline tonight.

Particularly sly is the sound-effect lettering when you first hear The Iron Wagon pass by. You don’t see The Iron Wagon: it’s a superstitious local legend, intimating that something awful is about to occur.

Something awful occurs.

But the second time you read this through after the final reveal, and look at the lettering again, you will smack your forehead in hindsight.

Please drink a bottle of Bourbon and so forget that you ever read this.

I certainly won’t remember writing it.

SLH

Buy What I Did h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Kabul Disco vol 1: How I Managed Not To Get Abducted In Afghanistan (£14-99, Humanoids) by Nicolas Wild.

“Are you an alcoholic, Mr Wild?
“If not, you soon will be.”

Guy Delisle fans of the overseas absurd are going to lap this up! It’s an autobiographical scream from start to finish.

And I do mean finish, for on his bizarrely circuitous way back to France – having managed to not get abducted in Afghanistan – Nicolas Wild stops off in Dubai, then Moscow where he discovers a souvenir shop selling Soviet propaganda posters from the 1930s.

“How much for the ‘Death To Capitalism’ poster?”
“350 roubles.”
“Can I pay in dollars?”
“Of course.”

Indeed Guy Delisle was so enamoured that he wrote its introduction. It’s pretty effervescent.

Coming from the critically acclaimed creator of the similarly wit-ridden travelogues PYONGYANG, SHENZHEN, BURMA CHRONICLES, JERUSALEM (as well as HOSTAGE), that is the most massive endorsement, and I’d also recommend this heartily to those who’ve enjoyed Riad Sattouf’s ARAB OF THE FUTURE VOL 1 and VOL 2 and Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim’s POPPIES OF IRAQ, all of which manage to incorporate warm-hearted humour while they explore the customs of their countries of origin or migration.

 

 

The sly difference is that Wild goes one comedic step further to mess with our minds with a few minor, mischievous embellishments. That they’re embellishments will be clear either during or immediately after their deployment, but each serves to make exceptional salient, satirical points to make you stop and think. Otherwise, all of this happened, and I love to learn loads from first-hand accounts which humanise and bring much closer to home what can otherwise seem like overly distant struggles being endured by others a long way away when, jeepers, we’re all human beings and every life matters.

As the comic kicks off, it’s early 2005 and Nicolas Wild has been crashing at the flat of fellow French cartoonist Boulet (NOTES: BORN TO BE A LARVE) without paying any rent or bills. The rent and bills become due. Wild is without money or inspiration (or, impending: a home) when what should pop into his in-box but an email offering him a full-paid job and a pad… in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan in 2005 wasn’t the safest place in the world: they were still in the process of building their own army after their most recent war.

 

 

The gig is a couple of months’ contract with a private communications agency called Zendagui Media founded by two French folk, chain-smoking Valentin and perpetually skiing Edouard, who are in equal measures charming, disarming and infuriating; and Diego, an extreme adventurer from Argentina:

“That table is the graphic design department. We’ll clear some space for your laptop… That’s Quentin’s desk – the logistics department. The Civic Educational Theatre Department,” says Valentin, gesturing right. “And that desk’s the radio studio.”
“So which drawer’s the toilet in?”

Nicolas is introduced to Tristan, the grumpy guy he’ll be joining along with Harun in creating a series of comics to educate the country’s population on its most recent Constitution and therefore their human rights. One of those rights is to a free education rather than illegally enforced child labour, but since 80% of Afghanistan’s population is effectively illiterate, they wouldn’t be able to read those rights and thereby acquire that education without comics. The medium of silent comics is an international language so perfect for this project. (See also: passenger airplanes’ laminated safety instruction cards and Ikea’s self-assembly range of Mission Impossibles.)

They have six weeks to create these comics from scratch, so no time to leave the office to make preparatory sketches. Edouard lends them his external hard drive full of photo references instead, but mostly they’re of him holidaying in Bamiyan, Salang and Wardak Province etc.

“I bet sending this hard drive to France would’ve cost less than flying us out to Kabul.”
“Dubai looks cool!”

 

 

Over the course of a nine-panel page Tristan explains to Nicolas and Harun another shortcut they can use via a graphics tablet:

“We’ll only draw each character three times: full-face, profile and three-quarter views. Then we can copy / paste them as much as we like.”
“Aren’t you afraid it’ll be obviously fake?”
“Nah. We’ll be clever, by flipping the image horizontally, for example.”
“That’s smart.”
“Or we can throw in a detail from time to time, to cover our tracks. Like hats for example…”

It was only when Tristan thinks, on the final panel, “I’ve got a cramp in my finger” that I realised he’d been pointing at the computer screen all the time; that he, Nicolas and Harun had been drawn in full-face, profile and three-quarter views from the start; that they had been copied and pasted throughout; that the image had indeed been flipped horizontally in one panel and – oh look – they’re now wearing hats!

They might just get away with it.

 

 

The Afghan Constitution is a pretty hefty tome and Tristan advises Nicolas to read it on his first night back at the guest house shared by all of Zendagui’s English-speaking expats. (“So what architectural style is this?” “Dunno. Soviet Swiss Chalet?”) They only get electricity every other day, the pipes have burst from the cold, and Nicolas’s bedroom is heated by a Bokhâri stove. It’s neither lit nor fuelled and there is an exquisite sequence, when the temperature drops to -15 degrees Celsius, as Nicolas searches his suitcase for some flammable paper, finds none, then spots the Afghan Constitution, glances as the stove, then eyes the Afghan Constitution again, desperately.

He should probably have got the guard to light it, using Kerosene.

Zendagui has 4 guards, 3 drivers, 2 cleaning ladies and 2 very enthusiastic cooks. For some reason there’s a boot and a spider in the fridge. Nicolas wakes up and takes to the terrace, wrapped in a blanket. There’s the melodious sound emanating from a mosque of Muslims being called to prayer… followed by the beating blades of five military helicopters.

“Goooooood morning, Afghanistan!!!”

 

 

Later you’re treated to a day in the life of a street in Kabul:

Early a.m. is for the herding of goats, holding up traffic.

Midday means buses and kids flying kites.

By mid-afternoon it is overrun by gun-mounted, armoured jeeps.

There are some seriously beautiful buildings on offer, but on the whole Wild’s cartooning is flamboyantly fun, some of the eyes reminding me of Simone Lia’s until a single page, after Zendagui’s communication skills have been commandeered to help the Afghan government recruit civilians for its army, and Nicolas is taking photos of men of all ages in training.

“Poor guys. To think that some of them will be sent to the front to fight the Taliban…”

The style shifts abruptly, haltingly into fully fledged, highly individualistic portraits, the last one looking quite young and more than a little worried.

Later it transpires that some of their claims, the lures being used on their recruitment posters, aren’t entirely true: wages aren’t being paid on time or in full for a start…

So equally my own claim that this was “an autobiographical scream from start to finish” isn’t entirely true, either, especially when one Clementina Cantoni, working for the Care International NGO helping Afghan widows to reintegrate into society, is kidnapped. Then a very sobering curtain comes down and a curfew is imposed as Nicolas Wild and his co-workers begin praying she is freed, start contributing to that campaign, and hope that they are not next. Diego announces that the company has gone to Security Level 2.

Wild provides a diagram (which I am about to translate for you!):

 

 

“Security Level 1
“Afghanistan’s a cool place. You can even go out in the streets to buy cigarettes.

“Security Level 2
“Yikes, the situation in the country’s kinda rough. I’d be better off staying at home and the sending the guard for cigarettes.

“Security Level 3
“We all stay at home and pray to God that nobody’s touched the Level 3 cigarette supply. The worse thing about all this is that, the higher the Security Level, the less you want to quit smoking.

“Security Level 4
“In theory, you should already have been repatriated to France. The tobacco shop was probably bombed anyway, and the guard’s been temporarily laid off.”

Sometimes you have to find your comedy where you can.

Things I learned:

Azerbaijan actually exists. Until now I had presumed it was merely an imagined Eddie Izzard punch-line. Apparently Timbuktu is real as well. My geography is appalling.

Azerbaijan seems almost identical to Bratislava, of which I have first-hand knowledge, in that its suburbs remain semi-Soviet and its population abrasive bordering on hostile.

 

 

Wild gets stuck there for a whole week while waiting for Kabul’s airport to be cleared of snow. So that’s something else I learned: Afghanistan is not perpetually arid. There is seasonal snow, and it globs gloriously across the page so that you can almost reach out and touch it. One woman wears ear muffs over her hijab. Why would you not?

Cell phones are a ubiquitous annoyance wherever you go, and your friends’ will go off at the precise moment you need to ask them an urgent question the most, possibly after you’ve just asked it.

The Afghan Constitution had a lot of less liberal predecessors. Its writers / rulers from 1964 are paraded in front of you in a history of revolving-door revenge and reprisal very similar to POPPIES OF IRAQ’s.

Religious self-flagellation is alive and well. Related: Muslims take and commemorate their Prophet’s suffering a lot more seriously and with a lot more sympathy than most Christians do theirs at Easter. It’s a long time since we carried wooden crosses down the street, but it’s not that many years since my last Easter Egg Hunt.

 

 

According to the Persian calendar, 2005 was actually the year 1483. This explains which the internet never worked in Afghanistan. Chairs are a lot less common there, making room for more floor space.

I already knew of the self-defeating stupidity surrounding America’s arming of various, successive opposing factions, but if you didn’t, it’s here, along with the astonishingly absurd way Afghan voting slips attempt to sell various candidates to a population, 80% of whom wouldn’t be able to identify them by name. You’ll have to buy the book.

Lastly, I learned how to surprise a “SUR-PRISE!!!” party. I hope one day to use it myself: that’s worth the price of admission alone.

SLH

Buy Kabul Disco vol 1: How I Managed Not To Get Abducted In Afghanistan and read the Page 45 review here

Redlands vol 1: Sisters By Blood (£8-99, Image) by Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa Del Rey.

In which a serial killer seeks to expose the truth.

This book is going to surprise you – and in so many ways.

Like INFIDEL, it is a terrifying ordeal which fuses the occult with real-world horrors like racism and, here, misogyny: the treatment of women as witches and bitches and cattle; to be burned, slaughtered, used and abused for sexual gratification, or as part of a serial killer’s pretentious art project. Okay, there may be another motive there too, but only “too” not “instead”.

“This is serious, Bridget. This weirdo can ruin us. He’s making a scene and we haven’t caught him yet. Why aren’t you annoyed about this? I’m annoyed about this. Be more annoyed about this.”
“You’re annoying me right now, does that count?”

 

 

Firstly, there is that deft dialogue, reprised a dozen or so pages later when the present-day Redlands-ruling trio of Roo, Alice and Bridget are called out to witness the attention-seeking murderer’s latest nasty little tableau of three dead, naked women on display, chosen to resemble each of them in turn.

“Alright, I’m annoyed now.”
“Welcome to the party.”

Secondly, do you suspect there is something that I haven’t told you? There is plenty that I haven’t told you. You should probably be getting used to that: I want to intrigue you to buy.

 

 

Although, here’s a hint: “This is serious, Bridget. This weirdo can ruin us.” Not, you will note, “This is serious, Bridget. All these women are being murdered.” (“On our watch,” optional.)

The opening chapter is set in Redlands, Florida, forty years earlier, at night.

 

 

It blasts like a furnace roaring into your face as a local police precinct, heavily manned, lies under siege from three women (unseen), while outside the base of a sizeable tree has begun to burn. The red-neck sheriff and his deputy son are bullish but already on the defensive. They all have shotguns. They also have a crowded jail down below full of we-don’t-like-your-sorts-around-here”. Their public lynching has apparently gone a little awry. Awwwwww.

 

 

What occurs next is vicious, startling and ever so cathartic if you happen to dislike bigots and bullies.

Del Ray keeps the multiple manipulations and subsequent, sleight-of-hand interventions swift, dramatic and emphatically out-of-the-blue, while Bellaire ensures that justice proves ever so poetic.

And Redlands is burned to the ground.

 

 

Forty years on, chapter two sees those same three women in charge of a Redlands rebuilt from its foundations up. But “in charge” in what capacity, exactly…? And why are they less concerned with the evisceration of women than they are of their own hegemony? When the dead ladies’ corpses are counted, DNA-sampled and found to be delinquents with no surviving family, they are relieved.

“It is good news, Alice. At least we don’t need to bother with concerned parents, notably the worst human creatures God could have created.”

It’s a surprising priority for law-enforcement ladies. But then they’re not really law enforcement.

 

 

Other surprises include that the main mysteries and histories and even alliances are not going to be what you will at first suspect. This is no linear, A to B to C tale at all. I promise you startling developments, abrupt forks in the road, diversions aplenty, sub-plots galore, and even more fire before we’re finished!

The first chapter’s colours are all old wood and fire, except for the cage below which is the sort of putrescent, dysentery green you might associate with equally crowded, below-decks slave holds. There’s lots of lovely red in chapter two (roses, sacrificial blood, that sort of thing), while Miami at night is all kinds of lurid, clashing neon, inside and out.

 

 

Del Ray’s figures are fulsome and wholesome, except when they’re dead. Actually there are loads of different body forms but I liked that line, so it stays. She does emaciated very well too, but I liked the sense of weight, especially when being lifted, naked, from a deck, then dangled above a dozen leathery alligators lurking in the river. Don’t try that at home.

The clothes are heavily creased – I don’t iron, either – and largely loose as you’d expect at those temperatures, and there’s a grainy feel throughout, with lots of texture lines providing additional perspective and depth, or in Roo’s case, a sense of great age in spite of her tight skin and clear complexion.

 

 

She has long, spindly, claw-like hands and a daughter called Itsy who’s… (Don’t spoil the surprise, Stephen.)

But honestly, the dialogue:

“Why do I have to go? High school kids never stop talking. It’s the worst.”
“We do not choose our abilities, Alice. They choose us. Perhaps you enjoy listening to others – ”
“Stop talking.”

SLH

Buy Redlands vol 1: Sisters By Blood and read the Page 45 review here

Isola #1 (£3-25, Image) by Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschl & Karl Keschl with Michele Assarasakorn.

The cat and the captain have a long way to travel.

Stealthily they prowl across wetlands, through meadow valleys lush with summer-green trees, and over buzzing forest floors which prickle with humidity during daylight, then fall to dark, dank and dangerous at night.

The fabled island of Isola lies far, far away and, they say, is surrounded by vast stretches of water. It is also said that the souls of the dead reside there. But no one knows if it actually exists.

The cat and the captain have a long way to travel, without any guarantee that they’ll ever get there.

That’s one of the reasons. There are so many more.

This first issue opens on a night of natural indigo, high up on a mountain range commanding spectacular views which are obliterated by sheets of driving rain.

 

 

The soldier sits guard outside the tarpaulin tent in a Moebius hat, fur-trimmed cloak, leather boots and leggings. Her lance-like spear is struck, up-ended and so ready in the ground. Under the tarpaulin sleeps the adult tiger, but its rump and tail stick out the back, so the loyal soldier shelters its hind with her shawl.

A ssssss-ssssssound from one side attracts her attention, luring the Captain from her vigil. Repeated, she falls for its call, cautiously following it, bent-over under gnarled, twisted tree-trunks which look more like roots rising from the craggy terrain. And there sits a fox with eyes glowing gold, perched upon what…? A stone seat upon a stone pole? There are others. Did they once house a feral parliament or perhaps a raised rail?

 

 

She follows the fox down into a major brook and the colours shift subtly, introducing more than a hint of lambent green. And there lies her charge: the tiger, shot dead on the river-bank with a flash-flurry of arrows.

“No! No! This is all my fault!”

“Yyyyyyessssss” the sound seems to say, backwards, upside down.

“I’ll kill you for this! You hear me?”

Then the tiger disappears… The arrows disappear… And she’s left standing  all alone in the water.

Hello! How are you doing? This is terrific!

Don’t worry, come morning, the big cat rises from the tent and braces itself against itself, stretching its back/spine and sinews under the more golden glow of an early dawn.

 

 

It leaps up the rocks to gain the best vantage point and take in the lie – and so lay – of the land. But it looks back. Back to an island from whose distant, highest peak rises a dark plume of dense, ugly smoke in front of the breath-taking aurora.

And it laments.

It doesn’t speak – this creature cannot speak – but it laments. It’s all evident in its ever so suggestive but underplayed body language.

 

 

Time and again, I’ve written about artist Sean Phillips as an exceptional character actor (most recently in KILL OR BE KILLED and THE FADE OUT reviews), and that’s what our best comicbook artists are. Karl Keschl does the same here for the feline, and it is done with quiet and controlled dignity but also decisiveness as befits the tiger’s true nature.

Like me, you too will be bursting with delirious conjecture yourselves. That’s exactly how it should be. This is both exquisitely beautiful and so supremely well judged, not least for throwing you in half-way through chapter two without a clue as to what has transpired so far. You are now embarked – and so invested – with the captain and the cat on their journey.

Neat trick #1: I love the luminous glow of the tiger’s inverse stripes once the sun hits their spots. But only then, for the lighting and shadow do so much to illuminate the big cat’s muscular form. There is a degree of tranquillity and calm which others would have jettisoned in favour of spectacle and show.

 

 

Neat trick #2: they’re a party of two, but only one of them can speak. This is pretty brave storytelling, and it is impressively successful. The Captain can only infer from the cat’s cool, calm but occasionally halting stares and glares, how she / he / it is reacting to what’s thrust against them. Nor can the captain know for sure that what she suggests is fully understood, though I think it is.

You will encounter others on your way, for they will encounter others on their way.

But you just know that they can never go home.

SLH

Buy Isola #1 and read the Page 45 review here

The Goat Getters h/c (£44-99, IDW) by Eddie Campbell.

 

This is enormous and I am such a slow reader that I cannot possibly do more than present you with the publisher blurb. I just can’t. It would take me over a month to read this anyway, which would leave you four weeks with no reviews.

If you want to know how highly I rate Eddie Campbell, please read my review of BIZARRE ROMANCE created with  Audrey Niffenegger (it’s only my book of the year), the ALEC OMNIBUS (I’ve only proclaimed it the greatest body of work ever in comics), BACCHUS (Lord, I wrote loads), FROM HELL, FROM HELL COMPANION, THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS, THE PLAYWRIGHT, all of which I’ve reviewed so this time you’ll simply have to excuse me.

It’s going to be a wealth of wit and a treasure trove of wonders.

“With more than 500 period cartoons, THE GOAT GETTERS illustrates how comics were developed by such luminaries as Rube Goldberg, Tad Dorgan, and George Herriman in the sports and lurid crime pages of the daily newspaper. This wild bunch of West Coast-based cartoonists established the dynamic anatomy and bold, tough style that continue to influence comics today, as well as their own goofy slang that enriched the popular lexicon. The Goats Getters also captures early twentieth century-history through the lens of the newspaper comics: the landmark 1910 boxing match in Reno, Nevada between Jim Jeffries, the ‘Great White Hope,’ and Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion; the nationwide race riots that followed; the San Francisco graft trials that culminated in the shooting of the Federal Prosecutor; and the trial of Harry Thaw for the murder of architect Stanford White, a crime of passion that centered on Thaw’s wife, show-girl Evelyn Nesbitt Thaw-all were venerated or vilified by Nell Brinkley, Jimmy Swinnerton, and their fellow directors of the ink and newsprint stage.”

SLH

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

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

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

The Art Of Edena h/c (£31-99, Dark Horse) by Moebius

Lazarus: X Plus 66 s/c (£14-99, Image) by Greg Rucka, Eric Trautman, various & Steve Lieber, Michael Lark, various

Family Trade vol 1 s/c (£14-99, Image  ) by Justin Jordan, Nikki Ryan & Morgan Beem

Ismyre (£8-99, Avery Hill) by B. Mure

They Didn’t Teach This In Worm School (£8-99, Walker Books) by Simone Lia

BPRD Devil You Know vol 1 (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie & Laurence Campbell, Dave Stewart

Aliens Predator Prometheus AVP: Fire And Stone (£22-99, Dark Horse  ) by Chris Roberson, Kelly Sue Deconnick & Paul Tobin

Attack On Titan vol 24 (£9-99, Kodansha) by Hajime Isayama

Battle Angel Alita vol 3 Deluxe Edition h/c (£25-00, Kodansha) by Yukito Kishiro

Deadpool vs Old Man Logan s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Declan Shalvey & Mike Henderson, Declan Shalvey

Unbelievable Gwenpool vol 5: Lost In The Plot s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Christopher Hastings & Irene Strychalsk, Gurihiru

Spider-Man Deadpool vol 5: Arms Race s/c (£15-99, Marvel  ) by Robbie Thompson & Chris Bachalo, Scott Hepburn

Superman vol 5: Hope And Fears s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi, various & Scott Godlewski, various

Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman Deluxe H/C (£24-99, DC) by Jerry Siegel, various & Joe Shuster, various

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews April 2018 week one

April 4th, 2018

Featuring Amélie Fléchais, Jonathan Garnier, Dave Shelton, Anna Haifisch, Dupuy & Berberian, John Allison, Ryan Heshka, Giffen, Abnett, Lanning, Mitch Breitweiser, more

The Lost Path h/c (£17-99, Lion Forge Cub House) by Amélie Fléchais, Jonathan Garnier & Amélie Fléchais.

“It is said that far from the world of man, lies a cruel and mysterious forest. It lures in lost travellers with the promise of safety, only to devour them for all eternity.”

We begin with a brief, animistic fable of a man and a woman who were indeed so enchanted, and discovered within the forest a majestic mansion which they decided to make their home. But dancing, singing shadows soon plagued the woman while “the roots played sinister melodies”. This divided the couple, for only the woman perceived the threat, and she was so terrified that she panicked and ran, to be swallowed whole by a “deep and thorny ravine”. Too late, the husband woke up to the reality of his situation and “collapsed, filled with guilt, and withered away at the centre of their home, unwilling to forget her.”

 

 

On the page, his hair becomes threaded with leafy shoots, sprouting from his skull, which break through the roof into branches, while below his feet sink deep into water, toes spreading down as roots in the soil.

“The trap had closed around them, like it had done to so many others. Their bodies were swallowed, their memories digested, and their identities consumed.”

Three boys have set out on a treasure hunt!

They wend their way across a mountain range’s meandering path, striding out east!

 

 

If you check the elaborate, ornate end-paper map, it might suggest to you that they should be heading north. You’ll quickly discover that you can follow their circuitous progress into the forest which promises the most extraordinary encounters ahead. Yup, those early broken branches are there, then all manner of strange birds and beasts.

Their leader is bursting with confidence! To be honest, he is bursting with a boastful confidence about his ability to navigate, eyes closed with self-satisfied pride. His superior route, his most ingenious shortcut, will have them safely back at the camp hours before anyone else!

His thick-hatted companion thinks their leader thick-headed, and is more than a little sceptical about his plotted course.

The third member of their party is the leader’s small, younger brother. He’s gaily jumping and thumping about, oblivious to everything, lost in a world of his own. He likes to make beeping-booping sounds. When you’re five, you can be a robot whenever you like.

Golly, how I love the leader’s intense eyes, fiercely studying his map, cheeks flushed with determination. He kind of reminds me of Philippa Rice’s portraits of Luke Pearson in SOPPY. That works so well in black and white, while in full colour the high-altitude track is satisfyingly smooth and flat in contrast to the sheer drops on both sides, as well as the trees which gradually begin to bloom then loom over them, their branches spreading like multi-coloured coral fronds.

 

 

I don’t know why – unlike Fléchais’ THE LITTLE RED WOLF – half of this is in colour, and half in rugged black and white, or why specific pages haven been chosen for the full-colour treatment. People have thought themselves into suppositional knots over Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’, but personally I liked the suggestion that Anderson simply ran out of colour film. My guess in this instance is that Fléchais had some much fun with the forms and textures in black and white, while the full-colour flourishes are reserved for fantastical emphasis, as when the lads discover the corpse of a fallen stag in their path, wearing a bowler hat.

Some things should be left well alone.

 

 

Immediately afterwards (again, as foretold on our map), a bipedal fox in a smart white mackintosh introduces himself, apologising for intruding into “this sacred space”, and draws their attention to the trail of his bicycle which appears to have got away from him. The trail looks like a slithering tail and the fox is covered not in fur but the scales of a snake.

Now, how did that fable go?

One of my favourite episodes comes as rain starts to cascade down upon them, and they take shelter under a natural awning.

“What is your weirdo brother doing?”
“He thinks it’s his job as a super robot to hold the roots up.”

When you’re five, you hold up giant roots whenever you like.

It rang such a bell that I’m pretty sure I’ve done this myself.

 

 

You still have much more in store – as do our boys – all of it the stuff of dreams or nightmares as you burrow underground, or meet magical woodland beasties, knowing not which to follow, believe or firmly distance yourself from.

They even happen upon the couple’s now-empty mansion, into which nature has encroached in the form of fungi and branches and little white birds. Judging by the chandelier, the mansion’s on the electricity grid, which is unexpected. Don’t you think the tiled floor is ever so Bill Sienkiewicz? The lighting is too, streaming through the vast windows towering above them.

 

 

SLH

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

 Von Spatz (£12-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anna Haifisch…

“2pm. Penguin service. I hate touching fish.
“One of the penguins wanted me to slap him with a herring.
“Earlier I saw a little yellow leg peeping from under the blanket.
“Is it possible that Spongebob is here?
“If I wasn’t drawing, I would live vicious and would be a danger to society. Thus, I’m drawing.”

Walt Disney is having a nervous breakdown which requires hospitalisation in a mental institution – sorry, recuperating mini-break – at the Von Spatz Rehab Centre, entirely populated by other sensitive, artistic types, such as Tomi Ungerer and Saul Steinberg. Both of whom, I will be perfectly honest, I needed to Google…

 

 

The fact that Walt seems to be imagining himself dispensing a fishy spanking to a penguin probably is the clincher that he’s not quite in his right mind. That he believes he has spied Spongebob Squarepants, hiding away depressed under a duvet, should be the giveaway that this is a not a real biographical chapter in the life of the pioneering animator.

I don’t know exactly what this is. I don’t know why Walt is portrayed with an enormous cowboy hat, either. I like it a lot though.

 

 

Anna Haifisch is definitely not all there, in the best possible tradition of celebrated comics obscurants like Michael STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO DeForge and George GHOSTS, ETC. Wysol. In fact, if you are a fan of their gloriously incongruent, clashing colour palettes and determinedly unreconstructed illustration styles, you will love this work. It’s a real talent to make such unusual artwork seem perfectly normal and flow pleasingly across the eye, before then smashing your synapses to smithereens once lodged in the grey matter.

If your brain, like mine, is so inclined to allow such weirdness in, you will certainly find yourself delighted and perplexed in equal measure as Walt’s struggle to find his way back to normality becomes an increasingly surreal odyssey of testing artistic endeavours such as making a mini-comic and bemused, apathetic self-reflective commentary on his condition.

 

 

I also believe there is a wonderfully solipsistic aspect to the Von Spatz Clinic, if I have understood a certain clue and interpreted the ending correctly. Which I probably haven’t. It’s more likely I’m seeing something that isn’t there, like a pervy penguin, but I think I might be right. In any event, once Walt is sufficiently… recovered… to return to the real world and the Disney studios, is he prepared for what he will find…?

JR

Buy Von Spatz and read the Page 45 review here

It Don’t Come Easy (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Dupuy & Berberian…

“What will it take to get Dupuy & Berberian the respect they deserve?” –  Publisher’s Weekly.

A very valid question posed on the rear cover of this most recent collection of Monsieur Jean material which sees a shift away from the whimsical – well okay, whinging – story-telling of his dating disasters into a more serious, yet still frequently very amusing, exploration of his moderately disastrous long-term relationship with Cathy. Yes, believe it or not, Monsieur Jean is finally growing up! Mind you, the back cover does also features the following quote…

“A French version of an early Woody Allen film.” – NPR

Now, obviously, no one particularly wants to hear their name used in conjunction with Woody Allen these days, but it is a very apt analogy. For this work is all about the subtle interactions and emotional interplay between the characters, including inter-generational relationships as Jean finds himself all too frequently playing surrogate dad to his best mate (and mildly degenerate) Felix’s son Eugene, or Freddie Mercury as they persist on calling him, for reasons I never could quite puzzle out.

 

 

This work covers a good few years of Monsieur Jean material as eventually he makes an honest woman of Cathy and they have a daughter Julie, which of course, only serves to introduce a new chaotic element into Jean’s apparently relentlessly stressful life. As contemporary fiction goes, it is extremely well observed, feels completely real and minded me somewhat of Alex Robinson’s most recent work, OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE for its frequently amusing take on the travails of a man fighting the loss of his bachelor lifestyle to the very bitter-sweet end.

 

 

Artistically, fans of Michael Rabagliati’s exceptional fictionalised autobiographical PAUL material really should check this out as this is very much on the same page stylistically. Plus, this is an all-colour work to boot!

 

 

It is exceptional value for money too as the final quarter features a huge selection of what are effectively two-page gag strips, each on a different topic. Some, I suspect, may well be excerpts which didn’t make it into the final script, purely for reasons of smooth editing of the primary storyline. Others are just out and out rib-ticklers. But they certainly make for a very funny set of ‘after the credits’ bonus scenes.

 

 

So, what will it take for Dupuy & Berberian to get the respect they deserve? Well, I’ve done my bit with this review. Now you need to do your bit by parting with your hard-earned cash!

JR

Buy It Don’t Come Easy and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Case – An Emily Lime Mystery h/c (£10-99, David Fickling Books) by Dave Shelton.

“You survived your first day?”
“Oh, more or less, yes. The only problem is, I spent so long cleaning in the chemistry lab that I managed to miss dinner.”
“Well, that would explain why you survived.”

You won’t be so lucky come lunchtime, I’m afraid.

You can smell the stench coming off the pages. It hits Daphne “like a brick in a fetid sock” and that’s before what passes for the food has been served! You’re in for a merciless twelve pages of malodorous school dinner, described in such stomach-curdling detail that I strongly suggest you avoid eating immediately before reading chapter twenty-two, certainly not during it, and trust me when I tell you that you won’t want to risk anything for at least two hours afterwards.

As George suggests, it’s been Daphne’s first day at St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls, and that she survived Chemistry was nothing short of a minor miracle. Mrs Klinghoffer is as blind as a bat.

“Mrs Klinghoffer!”
“Yes, yes, child. Do not be worrying. Everything is being quite all right and I am being fine.” Mrs Klinghoffer raised her voice. “But if anyone is finding the fire extinguisher, then can they please be bringing it me so that I can be putting out my hair. Thank you.”

 

The long drive leading up to the school now boasts a substantial crater the size of a bomb blast. George explains:

“Chemistry experiment. Couple of girls messing about with stolen supplies. Mr. Klinghoffer was furious.”
“I’m not surprised! Were they all right?”
“Dunno. Nobody saw where they landed.”

George has a lot of explaining to do about St Rita’s School for Spirited Girls – not least, why he’s the only boy there. He doesn’t, nor does the author, which is exactly as it should be: far funnier to leave the oddity in this anarchic asylum for barely contained idiocy alone. It’s a private boarding school, by the way, during a time when trains still ran on steam, had porters to help you on board, and conductors with the power to throw you off – while in motion, apparently.

 

 

From the creator of the wonderful prose whimsy A BOY AND A BEAR IN A BOAT and the far more fearful THIRTEEN CHAIRS and the ridiculous graphic novel GOOD DOG, BAD DOG: DOUBLE IDENTITY (all in stock and reviewed) comes this very first ‘Emily Lime Mystery’. They’re all aimed at readers aged a few years either side of 11, but I’m the proud adult owner of both books of illustrated prose which we rack alongside all things Reeve & McIntyre, Gary Northfield’s JULIUS ZEBRA and Simone Lia’s THEY DIDN’T TEACH THIS AT WORM SCHOOL.

Whether or not it first appears so, every single scene here lies in service to the story – to the mystery itself – while other individual elements which you may initially imagine merely mined for their comedy gold will prove pivotal either to the unravelling of the crime or the unravelling of those caught in it. There is absolutely no fatty tissue (except served as meat), you won’t be subjected to every cross-country run, nor will you be sitting through every lesson. You’ll be out of your seat quite quickly during chemistry, either voluntarily or vertically propelled.

The only hours that may prove pointless are during detention. But then they usually are, aren’t they? Detention will be in Room 101, by the way, and at 4am. You’ve got to put some serious effort into being detained at 4am.

What’s so brilliant about this as an introductory case is that it’s a running comedic contrast between the naive and the new, so not knowing what to expect (us as readers, stumbling several miles in poor, bewildered Daphne’s shoes) and the blithely inured (George and Emily Lime). It’s all quite quotidian to them.

 

 

It seems we’re back in the dining hall. Do hold your breath.

“The younger girls were relatively subdued: loud and unruly, but mostly remaining seated and only occasionally indulging in petty acts of violence. The older girls, though, were wild. There were a number of minor food fights going on, one major fight with no food involved, and an improvised game of hockey using a bread roll as the ball. A chorus line of four sixth formers were dancing raucously on top of one table, which was annoying the girls trying to play poker beneath it.”

The very last thing you would want is to meet these miscreants on caffeine. You will, but you won’t want to again.

Every student and teacher seems on steroids. One of them is a nun who talks like a gangster. (She’s may well be a gangster.) Even Matron’s a force to be reckoned with. Actually, all school matrons are a force to be reckoned with.

“[She] possessed no shred of medical knowledge, training, or indeed sympathy, compassion or humanity. One of the less fanciful rumours about Matron was that she had only come to St Rita’s after her international wrestling career had come to a controversial end following the death of (depending on which version of the story you heard) an opponent, a referee or both. Certainly the force of her slap gave George no reason to disbelieve any of these theories.”

She has the touch. I’m not sure it’s a healing touch, but you certainly feel it.

“See?” said Matron to Emily Lime. “I told you he’d be fine. I am proper good at my job, you know. When I make someone better well, they stay well. Do you know, I don’t think I’ve ever treated the same girl twice.”

As well as his immaculate comedy timing, (“The bus was old, dirty and noisy; the seats were old, dirty and uncomfortable; the driver was old, dirty and terrible at driving.”) I love Shelton’s descriptive playfulness. George’s hair is “enthusiastically berserk”, head girl Cynthia click-clacks in “important-sounding shoes” and Emily Lime’s face “seemed to be built from twitches”.

There are also plenty of linguistic flourishes (“An expanse of cloud blocked out the moon and the darkness deepened and bloomed…”) and a theatre to it all which is so infectious that I defy you not to want to act this out to yourself:

“Yes. You know: accounts. Money and arithmetic. Numbers and so on.” She pronounced the word numbers with a mixture of bafflement and disgust.

I tried ‘numbers’ with disgust my first time round, then added ‘bafflement’. Brilliant!

 

 

That’s the semi-titular Emily Lime herself (never just ‘Emily’, but ‘Emily Lime’), ultra-studious, ultra-serious, hardcore Assistant Librarian. Aged 13 or something. She’s just peevishly (and unnecessarily) interviewed our Daphne and now reluctantly offers her a contact. This is what I mean about comedic timing:

“What’s this for?” said Daphne.
“Standard Assistant Assistant Librarian’s contract. Absolutely normal procedure. Just sign it. I haven’t got all day.”
“But it’s blank.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Well, yes. It is.”
“No, it’s not. There’s a dotted line. See? There.”
“Well, yes, I can see there’s a dotted line. But there’s nothing else.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll put the rest in later.”
“That,” said Daphne, “doesn’t sound right.”
“It’s fine. Trust me. Or don’t trust me and sign it anyway, I don’t care. And once you’ve signed, you get a badge. Two, in fact.”

Daphne considered this for a moment. She did like badges.

All of this is, as I’ve said, spun around a central mystery whose thread is sewn through each and every scene, whether you can see its narrative needle in action your first time through or not.

Daphne Blakeway has been offered a scholarship to St. Rita’s School for Spirited Girls. Which is a bit odd, since she didn’t even apply. Also, Daphne’s just been expelled from her own, local school because of an “incident”.  No matter, the school’s librarian, Mrs Crump, believes that Daphne has qualities which may be of benefit St Rita’s.

So Daphne, although reluctant to leave home, sets off solo by train. But on the very first page the station’s porter passes her a book called ‘Scarlet Fury: A Smeeton Westerby Mystery’ by J. H. Buchanan’ which was handed to him by an unseen, older lady who was apparently en route to St. Rita’s herself, but thought Daphne could save her the bother. This is also a bit odd, because Daphne wasn’t wearing an A-sign saying “I am en route to St. Rita’s”. Perhaps it was her school uniform that gave this away… worn on the opposite side of the country.

On arrival, Daphne discovers that St Rita’s is severely dilapidated in the way that most fee-paying schools actually were back then, has the cheapest and most foul cuisine, lesson attendance on a voluntary basis, and a remarkably lackadaisical attitude towards Health & Safety.

What it does boast, however, is an extraordinarily vast library. Or at least, it boasts an extraordinarily vast array of library bookshelves, largely empty on account of most of the books having been burnt to a crisp during a recent fire, except for an almost complete run of ‘Smeeton Westerby Mysteries’.  Only Daphne’s recently acquired copy is missing from that collection.

What. Even.

Things have already occurred. More events will take place. And they will do so in a thunderous, five-thousand-mile-an-hour stampede which will make you wonder how you could possibly read 300+ pages of addictive, so very satisfying Young Adult prose in fewer than five hours.

SLH

Buy The Book Case – An Emily Lime Mystery h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One s/c (£11-99, Oni) by John Allison.

 

New, small-hands edition! Yup, BAD MACHINERY is perfectly suitable for all ages!

It’s bought mainly by adults, mind.

“Is he your boyfriend now? Because pet food isn’t the only aisle in the supermarket.”

Some comedies are cleverer than others, and there are few out there who can spring from one sentence to another with such nimble dexterity as the UK’s John Allison who eschews the obvious cheap barb in favour of an unexpected epigram for life.

Allison is ever so good at observing and understanding the unspoken rules of school and young-teenage codes of practice over the last couple of decades. Then he’s ever so clever at transplanting them.

 

When new boy Lem arrives at the school gates, the girls hold back from tainting him with their company for fear that he’d be rejected by the boys, just as a fledgling bird might be rejected by its mother if handled too closely by humans.

“He’s wandering off.”
“He seeks the company of his own kind.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t have spoken to him?”
“No! We’d have put the stink of girls on him. The boys would have rejected him. Pecked him to bits.”

He’s also very good at remembering our priorities, like Little Claire’s horror at the school-wide one-ply toilet-tissue travesty!

On top of all that John gives voice to our wider silliness at any age when sizing someone up at a glance. Parents are particularly funny, aren’t they?

“He was very polite on the phone. Sounded very handsome.”

It’s a brand-new school year at Griswalds Grammar in the town of Tackleford and our six young sleuths are in gleeful form. Together Shauna, Lottie, Mildred, Jack, Linton and Sonny are a force to be reckoned with, but almost immediately the most exuberant of them all, Lottie, is separated from the group.

 

 

First, she simply doodled over the memo she was supposed to sign to join the others in Latin class and so finds herself sitting instead next to Little Claire whose “lithp” makes her sound like a bothersome wasp.

Secondly, she’s the first to fall for the charms of that peculiar new boy Lem who doesn’t appear to others to have any charm at all: he eats onions and only onions all day! Yet one by one the mystery-fixated group comes to the improbable conclusion that “He’s a right laugh once you get to know him”. Then their breath starts to smell weird.

“I’ve blown up like a dead sheep in a river, Shauna.”
“I told you! Onions are a sometimes food!”

Effectively ostracised from her friends as they start being led by Lem to some very odd games at his onion farm, Shauna finds herself alone and in need of new, unlikely allies like Corky, Blossom and Tuan of the role playing club. Desperate times call for Desperate Measures and Shauna may have bitten off more than she can chew. But at least she’s not gnashing down on onions. Yet.

 

 

As ever, the body language on offer is exquisite, like Tuan gesticulating wildly over Corky, casting a

“Break Enchantment” spell, or one of the brand-new pages (there are always new pages upon printed publication) depicting team captain Linton on the soccer pitch in his pristine white kit, hands on hips as he wiggles the football beneath one boot. Judging by the various other stances, though, I’m not sure that it’s going to be the most coordinated of matches.

Blossom has a face like thunder throughout (“I never really thought of Blossom as a girl. More of an unhappy cloud.”), Lem’s nose is as raw as the onions he’s eating, and when someone shelters under an umbrella one gets a very real sense of huddling and what’s still getting wet.

The comic kicks off late at night and halfway in, as Shauna clack-clacks and huffs-huffs her way hurriedly down an eerie, empty school corridor which echoes like an indoor swimming pool. She turns to face her enemy… and betrayal from within!

 

 

Allison’s comics and comedy are ever so British and each one is self-contained so you can start anywhere you like. BAD MACHINERY VOL 3 which we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month is drenched in our national, default meteorological condition (the drains “GLUG GLUG GLUG” in the background here), while his self-published BOBBINS one-shot (another Page 45 CBOTM) was our biggest-selling comic of its year.

Lastly: What’s up with the word ‘lisp’, eh? Why would you invent a word which those who suffer from it find impossible to pronounce? You are monsters, all of you.

SLH

Buy Bad Machinery vol 4: The Case Of The Lonely One s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn h/c (£14-99, Nobrow) by Ryan Heshka.

Page 45 has been with us now (At the Time of Typing) for twenty-three years and five months.

I was seven when we opened, obviously.

During that time I have, on average, enthusiastically presented some 50 shop-floor show-and-tells per week. You do the maths.

What happens is this: whenever someone asks for recommendations, if I’ve yet to become intimately acquainted with their taste in comics and memorised their credit card pin number, I ask them what they’ve already enjoyed in this medium or, if new to it, what they’ve adored in prose, television, cinema or interpretive dance. After considering their reply I whoosh round the shop like a seasoned contestant on Supermarket Sweep, snapping up between three and six comics or graphic novels tailored to their specific tastes, then proceed to show and tell them just enough about each to intrigue!

 

Miraculously, this illustration *is* from this book; the rest are not.

 

I know exactly which punchline to pull back on for maximum impact and the immediate induction of such seriously severe withdrawal symptoms that you’d think I’d mainlined them crack cocaine then kicked ‘em through a locked door whose only key lies in the depths of our till.

Did you do the maths…?

I’ve performed this task approximately 60,000 times. I am actually quite good at it, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken out your second mortgage (so sorry about that),”sexy” Jamie McKelvie wouldn’t have continued to read comics long enough to become one of this medium’s most lauded artists and dear Lenny Henry – an infinitely superior performer to me – wouldn’t keep popping back to Page 45 every time he’s on tour.

Yet occasionally the recipient will cut me off, a mere three sentences in, with “No Spoilers, please!”

It’s an entirely understandable worry but a wee bit insulting: I don’t even spoil the first collection of a series when reviewing its fifth! I want to intrigue you to buy, not impress upon you how much I know.

 

I know this much: the art above is from the previous MEAN GIRLS CLUB comic.

 

In the spirit of which, however, (because it just happened to me again today, but hey, he bought the book in question anyway), I present you with a tweaked review of Ryan Heshka’s previous MEAN GIRLS CLUB anarchic away-day (still stocked!) while telling you zilch about this brand-new material.

You make think this lazy. And it is.

But there’s bugger-all interior art online for this book that I could have used to illustrate it with anyway. All bar one image is from the previous pamphlet. So I told you a story instead.

 

Original MEAN GIRLS CLUB, then:

“Lurid, burlesque, groovy and grotesque!

“Meet the vamps of the Mean Girls Club: Wanda, Wendy, Pinkie, Blackie, Sweets and McQualude!

“Hahahaha!

“You’ll only do it once.

“These sisters are most emphatically doing it for themselves: self-examination, self-medication, on-the-spot diagnoses followed by auto-operations and even instant euthanasia, if you define euthanasia as putting someone else out of your misery.

“This is a pill-popping, binge-drinking, hallucinogenic adrenaline rush / overdose with snakes, rats, bats and Venus Flytraps everywhere. Innocence is upended, boutiques are broken into and lingerie scattered all over the road. Guns, clubs, hypodermic needles and, err, dress-up paper dolls.

“Imagine Bettie Page in a rage and you’re pretty much there.”

 

 

Suggested Soundtrack: The Cramps’ entire back catalogue.

If you love The Cramps, you’ll be ravished by this.

I constructed that sentence quite carefully.

SLH

Buy Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Annihilation Book One (£16-99, Marvel) by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Mitch Breitweiser, Scott Kolins, Kev Walker, Renato Arlem.

Nova: “Drax?”
Drax: “Yeah?”
Nova: “Any relation to Drax The Destroyer?”
Drax “No. That’s some other guy.”
Cammi: “Taller dude. Much taller.”
Nova: “So, no history of destroying in your past?”

The first collection of Marvel’s decade-old foray into outer space crash-lands on Earth, as Drax The Destroyer escapes from a space prison along with a shape-shifting Skrull and a couple of monstrous purple twins to cause a certain degree of upheaval in small-town Alaska. There Drax undergoes a bit of an evolution after he bumps into Cammi, a young girl with a fine line in pithy put-downs. She ends up accompanying him across the universe which is where the Annihilation saga properly kicks off. Nova himself gets a make-over when his base of operations is wiped out, and cautiously accepts Drax and Cammi as companions.

 

 

Mitch Breitweiser’s contribution to the first chapters (coloured to complementary perfection by Brian Reber) is an equally sturdy but grainy version of PLANETARY’s  John Cassady, and Renato Arlem (coloured with well chose contrasts by June Chung) in no slouch in space, with a terrific sense of scale when the Silvered One surfs over a dirty-brown industrial planet or when the insatiable, drink-‘em-dry Devourer of Worlds comes to call.

 

 

Seriously, Mars Confectionary missed out on quite the trick when they failed to secure Galactus’s endorsement for the Milky Way, which he at least can eat between meals in its entirety without ruining his appetite.

Meanwhile Lanning and Abnett turn Drax’s old reputation into a highly diverting running gag:

Nova: “This is Drax.”
Quasar: “Drax?”
Drax: “Just Drax.”
Nova: “Who may or may not have a past in destroying.”
Quasar: “Didn’t you used to be taller?”
Cammi: “It was a phase. He grew out of it.”

 

 

I’ve not read the rest, sorry, and wrote the skeletal structure of this ten years ago.

It’s always sold very well in the meantime, though!

Reprints DRAX THE DESTROYER #1-4, ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE then ANNIHILATION: NOVA #1-4, ANNIHILATION: SILVER SURFER #1-4 and ANNIHILATION: SUPER-SKRULL #1-4.

SLH

Buy Annihilation vol 1: Complete Collection 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’.

 

 

The Goat Getters h/c (£44-99, IDW) by Eddie Campbell

From Lone Mountain (£16-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by John Porcellino

Dinosaur Firefighters h/c (£12-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Dinosaur Firefighters s/c (£6-99, Scholastic) by Sarah McIntyre

Out In The Open h/c (£14-99, SelfMadeHero) by Jesus Carrasco & Javi Rey

Head Lopper vol 2: The Crimson Tower (£14-99, Image) by Andrew MacLean

Kabul Disco vol 1: How I Managed Not To Get Abducted In Afghanistan (£14-99, Humanoids) by Nicolas Wild

Kingsman vol 2: Red Diamond s/c (£14-99, Image) by Rob Williams & Simon Fraser

Your Black Friend And Other Strangers h/c (£17-99, Silver Sprocket) by Ben Passmore

Paper Girls vol 4 s/c (£13-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

Redlands vol 1: Sisters By Blood (£8-99, Image) by Jordie Bellaire & Vanesa Del Rey

Six (£22-99, 451 Media Group) by George Pelecanos, Andi Ewington & Mack Chater

Star Wars vol 7: Ashes Of Jedha (£15-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca

Batman: Detective Comics vol 5: A Lonely Place Of Living s/c (Rebirth) (£14-99, DC) by James Tynion IV, Christopher Sebela & Eddy Barrows, Alvaro Martinez, Eber Ferreira

X-Men: Grand Design (Treasury Edition) s/c (£26-99, Marvel) by Ed Piskor

Devilman Vs. Hades vol 1 (£9-99, Seven Seas) by Go Nagai & Team Moon

My Hero Academia vol 11 (£6-99, Viz) by Kohei Horikoshi

Princess Mononoke Picture Book h/c (£20-99, Viz) by Hayao Miyazaki

 

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