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Reviews January 2013 week two

Self-awareness is key to this series’ success: its protagonists retain just enough self-knowledge to realise that their self-guidance is fucked whilst being unable to alter course. Clearly we’re in for a multiple pile-up and you cannot help screaming, “Nooooo!”

  – Stephen on Fatale vol 2

Fatale vol 2: The Devil’s Business (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips.

“It’s only after Claudia leaves and Miles realises that he feels sorry for her that he has a moment of clarity about how much he’s changed in the past week.
“He hasn’t used anything but pot since he first slept with Josephine. And he hasn’t even missed it. No cravings… nothing.
“Like she was all the drugs he needed.”

From the creators responsible for CRIMINAL, the best crime on the market, this too is noir but with a Lovecraftian twist, and the lure of a guilt-ridden femme fatale.

Los Angeles 1978, a dozen years on from FATALE VOL 1, and Josephine still hasn’t aged a day. Holed up in her luxury villa, she has – she realises – become that Hollywood cliché, “the strange old lady who stays indoors and watches old movies every night on TV. Except she doesn’t look old. She just feels it.” Everything she needs is fetched by Miss Jansen while her devoted gardener Jorge watches on from afar. Other than that she has successfully avoided the company of men. Given her history, it’s… safer that way.

Tonight she is watching the only decent film that failed movie star Miles ever acted in before being relegated to a life of B-movies, speedballs and subsequent self-loathing. And tonight is the night that Miles clambers over her walls with a wounded and bloody Suzy Scream in tow, clutching a reel of film. What they have witnessed is abhorrent; what’s on the film is worse. What Josephine knows is that in her life – of all lives – there is no such thing as coincidence so she takes the fugitives in. That’s when she holds strips of the film to the light and spies the prize that eluded her for years: a specific book being read by an acolyte of the Method Church before its ritual sacrifice. And as with all things, I’m afraid, Josephine simply cannot help herself – and subsequently neither can Miles.

Self-awareness is key to this series’ success: its protagonists retain just enough self-knowledge to realise that their self-guidance is fucked whilst being unable to alter course. Clearly we’re in for a multiple pile-up and you cannot help screaming, “Nooooo!”

Indeed, Brubaker and Phillips have concocted something uncanny in that its theme of compulsion is mirrored by its effect: FATALE is as addictive to its audience as Josephine is to those caught within her gravitational pull.

And yes, there’s plenty more on Nicolas Lash who’s succumbed to her charms in the present, desperately chasing her ghost and about to experience one hell of a flashback in a childhood memory which has somehow been blocked until now. Oh, but that’s clever – dovetails beautifully.

Also smart is Phillips’ art, whose rigorous self-discipline means his storytelling is instantly accessible (i.e. legible) even to those new to comics. You won’t notice this (which is part of the point) but each page is clearly tiered, with the lettering arranged at the top of each tier so that one’s eyes move swiftly from left to right rather than straying perilously down a row way too early. Oh, you won’t believe how many veterans now break that basic rule, rendering their books a real struggle for newcomers.

Sean Phillips’ male faces all have that lived-in look: slightly battered both by the years and what life has thrown at them. Interestingly (I’ve not seen this mentioned elsewhere), although most of the male faces in FATALE are as semi-shrouded in shadow as they are in CRIMINAL, Josephine’s isn’t, even at night. Makes her seem… slightly ethereal – not quite of the world around her. I like that.

SLH

Buy Fatale vol 2: The Devil’s Business and read the Page 45 review here

Land Lubber (£4-00, Freak Leap) by Joe List…

Signed and sketched-in for free!

Jonathan writes:

I had a lovely treatment from a true Reiki master this week. After a solid half hour pounding to loosen me up from hard days’ till monkeying and hard nights’ child-wrangling my daughter off to sleep, she asked me if was ready to get into the Reiki zone and uttered the incantation, asking if any spirit guides would like to join us. Then, already considerably more relaxed than I’d felt in months, as she laid her hands on me to begin the process of realigning my energies, I started pissing myself laughing. Intermittent, intense hysteria continued for about ten minutes before I managed to get myself under control. Used to her clients experiencing flashing lights, sensations of weightlessness, hallucinations and even visitations from the dearly departed, she presumed it was merely a by-product of her Reiki treatment. When she asked me about it afterwards I didn’t dare confess that in fact, one of the four hilarious ‘Find The Right Tattoo For You!’ strips from this work had popped into my mind…

The Cat Top: A great look for cat lovers who are also bald. People will stroke your head at every opportunity.

The accompanying illustration features a bald man with the outline of a meowing cat drawn, from shoulder to shoulder, right over his pate. There are no prizes for guessing who, in my mind’s eye, I could see sporting this particular piece of facial finery, and thus why I was reduced to tears of laughter…

The rest of LAND LUBBER is chock full of equally surrealist humour!

Stephen writes:

Shut up.

Also:

LAND LUBBER is squelching with ghastly urban or household oddities, glimpsed out of the corner of Joe List’s eye: feverishly imagined freaks of unnature like The Man That Sits On My Ear, The Half-Frog who hides behind lounge lamps, his body hunched under the umbrella of their shades, and the Speakerphone whose proclamations can never be more than others’ grating, static-strewn instructions. Most haunting of all is the Grey Man. He could be anywhere, absorbing the residual warmth of your abandoned bus seat or soaking up the steam in your shower only to shiver it off under a much needed towel that is now clammy and damp in your room.

There is a melancholy here that is so memorable that you will never unlearn what you know. And soon, my kitty-kins, ever so soon, you too will start seeing these creatures in the corner of your own eyes, and wondering if you left the oven on at home.

JR & SLH

Buy Land Lubber and read the Page 45 review here

Skimpy Jim (£4-00, Freak Leap) by Joe List…

Signed and sketched-in for free!

“Crikey! Look at that hair. Son!”
“EEEEEP! Not my hair again.”
“Yes, it’s your hair. It’s too wild son, you’re starting to look like your Uncle Busby.”
“Huff. Fine! I’ll comb up a storm.”

And he does just that as two crazy creatures pop right out of his barnet! He’s only gone and used an evil comb! But does mean that both of these two shaggy apparitions are evil then? Well, one of them reckons he’s a charmer, and the other one isn’t sure! Cue some bizarre adventures as Skimpy Jim decides he’d best go off and find out, by trying to prove to the world just how evil he is. After the likes of saving a couple from snarling dog (he thinks he’s stealing their beloved pet) and carrying someone’s heavy stack of books to rob them of precious exercise, poor old Jim is starting to suspect he’s not quite cut out for this evildoing lark. Maybe he needs some musical inspiration…

Hilarious extended short from Joe List, the creator of gag-fest LAND LUBBER, sees him take a typically bonkers idea and just run with it in his own inimitable crisp animation-esque style. My only complaint? I would have loved more, much more. We will be watching and waiting.

JR

Buy Skimpy Jim and read the Page 45 review here

Mara #1 (£2-25, Image) by Brian Wood & Ming Doyle.

When I first opened this up I ruminated about the bottom half of page one for five minutes. Now that I’ve finished, I’m doing so again.

I could be wrong, but there is a particular treatment in the art at the start which set my suspicions on fire, knowing not for one second what the climax would be. Having attempted to absorb that startling climax – as shocked and puzzled as the wider fictional world it is broadcast to – I’m not necessarily the wiser, but I am most definitely intrigued.

“I find sports culture, especially professional sports, to be rife with the worst of what society puts upon young women, while expecting the best out of them in return,” wrote Brian Wood in an interview. “That’s worth talking about.” It is.

So welcome to the future, and the future is volleyball! This is the sport which now attracts the largest international audiences, viewing figures and so sponsorship. Though there are some pretty dodgy sports sponsors in the future.

Top of the league is Mara Prince. Aged seventeen she is a global celebrity who’s already amassed greater wealth than she could possibly spent in her lifetime. She knows exactly how to play the media game without actually being manipulative. She ticks all the boxes: confident, humble, sexy and smart. But if she’s so bloody smart, what just happened in the final five pages? Five pages yet mere moments in time captured on camera and broadcast worldwide that which could and should destroy her reputation completely.

Also: what was that with the shooter in the crowd? And who’s in the shower?

Plenty of politics and personal punch as you’d expect from the writer of THE MASSIVE and NORTHLANDERS et al. Apparently we’ve got over racism (hurrah!) but not global conflict (boo), although we’re desperately papering over the cracks like we’re trying to sell houses with subsidence (still).

True fact: I was in our school’s volleyball team. It’s unlikely, I grant you, but it’s true.

SLH

Buy Mara #1 by lobbing one over the internet via [email protected] or shouting from the sidelines down (0115) 9508045

Northlanders vol 7: The Icelandic Trilogy (£12-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey, Danijel Zezelj.

“Nothing comes free or easy. The good life always requires a turn through the shit from time to time.”

Ain’t that the truth? Some turns are shittier than other, though, and the good life is not guaranteed.

Each one of these self-contained Viking sagas has been as exceptional as it has been varied: you never know what you’ll find dug up from its history and hammered into narrative next. Here Brian Wood conjures ten generations of family feuding beginning in 871 when its earliest settlers – a family of three – heaved their scant possessions salvaged from Norway onto its far from fecund soil. Life was hard but at least they were free. Within a year, however, they were followed by others driven out by the land grabs back home, fleeing the rule of hated King Harald. These were larger families bringing strength in numbers backed up by the weight of their swords.

So it is that Ulf Hauksson’s merchant father takes it upon himself to toughen his son up in the most brutal of fashions, thereby creating a monster.

“Neither of them could look at me for weeks.
“This was valuable time for me. It allowed me the chance to detail and catalogue my hatred, to fully articulate, in my mind, who deserved what and why.
“That morning my parents had a son. By that evening, as a result of my father’s efforts to teach me cruelty and violence, they had something very different on their hands.”

What follows is that afternoon’s legacy: two centuries of ever-escalating struggles for power as the population expands and sustainable self-governance crumbles under the weight of numbers, the influence of those still in thrall to Norway and corruption in the form of Christianity and its Holy Men with their insidious schemes to divide, conquer and then reap the spoils in the form of hegemony and wealth.

Marriage plays no small part in this. Indeed it’s all about family and two fathers are going to find out precisely how sharp the serpent’s tooth is before their lives are done.

Structurally, this is stunning. Three chapters each devoted to three separate snapshots spanning two hundred years. The first barely boasts a population to speak of, but by 999 a port has been established and the Haukssons have built a heavily fortified compound. It isn’t, however, impervious. Here is a daughter:

“I was taught to keep books when I was six years old. I am literate where Mar is not. The Hauksson men fight, the women administrate.
“And together we dominate. The society of Iceland is balanced on our stacks of silver and gold, our sword at its throat.
“Which makes the attempt on my life unthinkable.”

The family’s gained ground through guile and good judgement, but it’s not immune to being goaded and about to meet its match. As for 1260, it is to despair but then so it goes, eh?

NORTHLANDERS has played host to a magnificently strong set of artists and Azaceta is on glorious form in his tale of innocence bludgeoned to death, while Zezelj’s jagged plains of ice and snow and treacherous, shadow-strewn ravines are freezing. You wouldn’t cross them without a thick pair of boots. His hair and beards are as matted as you can imagine and probably crawling with lice. There’s one page which starts out with a lamb so startlingly lovely you wonder what it’s doing there – it’s quite the contrast to what’s gone before. By the time you reach you bottom, though, you’ll be thinking, “Oh, well, that makes sense!”

And that’s it for NORTHLANDERS, I’m afraid, cut down in its prime because short-sighted bean-counters failed to see we’ll be selling these books for years. For generations, I hope, as long as we don’t do anything stupid.

SLH

Buy Northlanders vol 7: The Icelandic Trilogy and read the Page 45 review here

The Book Of Human Insects s/c (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka…

Translated into English for the first time, this relatively late period work (1970) from Tezuka immediately captivated me, and I have to say I enjoyed this considerably more as a work of fiction than AYAKO,  even as good as that was. It’s just that this work has far more engaging a premise as we have the story of the ultimate social chameleon, the beautiful Toshiko Tomura, able to observe and then almost instantly imitate the skills of others, be they actors, designers, writers, photographers or indeed even hitmen, then cuckolding them out of their professional positions or plagiarising their work and beating them to prestigious awards.

But that’s not our pernicious central character’s only talent, as she’s also able to make her victims fall hopelessly in love with her, so even though they’re all too aware of her parasitic behaviour, they are unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Only one person seems immune to her amorous charms, though he too has suffered professionally at her hands, and given his choice of subsequent spouse, you have to question whether he has managed to completely break the spell he was under. But what drives such an unusual creature, one who seems to pay scant regard to the rules of society? What could they possibly want from life? Or are they driven to flit from character to character like a restless actor, seeking the role that will ultimately define their life?

I must just pass comment upon the art too. Tezuka is clearly at the polished peak of his powers here, employing his regular style which we’ve come to know and love. But also he does some things stylistically I’ve never seen him do anywhere else, so far at least. There’s a three-page sequence in a jazz club where he illustrates some black musicians (bearing in mind the retrospective slating he gets for his portrayal of black characters in many of his early works) with a realism that captures the soul of the performance. They are some incredible panels, and so utterly, utterly un-Tezuka-like I could scarcely believe my eyes. It’s a shame he didn’t let himself go beyond the boundaries of his usual style more often if that’s what he was capable of, though that rarely seems to be the Japanese mangaka way, particular with that generation. Such touches only add to the appeal of this work for me, and it’s certainly another essential addition to the Tezuka canon now available in English.

JR

Buy The Book Of Human Insects s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ninth Life Love (£9-99, June) by Lalako Kojima.

Arrived without shrink-wrap, therefore barely requiring my attention. Nudity, please!

Oh, wait, there is nudity, but also bath bubbles. I couldn’t see anything!

SLH

Buy Ninth Life Love and read the Page 45 review here

Love Makes Everything Right (£9-99, June) by Sanae Rokuya.

It really does, but rarely do I witness anything remotely resembling a healthy love affair in these yaoi power-plays. I don’t understand these people! They are, in the words of NEON GENESIS’ Shinji, “so fucked up”. But this arrived shrink-wrapped so I am duty-bound to peel off its modesty, prise open its pages and explore its tender secrets.

“Thank you for coming.”

Wait – what?! We’re only six pages in!

Hold on, our manipulative male secretary here was merely thanking college grad Mizuha for attending the suspiciously immediate and then intimate interview, not rising to the challenge of the company’s sex-toy industry he will henceforth be the president of and much-photographed mascot for. But he will need extensive hands-on experience of the product he’ll be presiding over, like the wrist-watch/handcuff combo. Also: he will be getting it.

“The concept is, “I want to be tied up with you, not work”.”

Cute. Cue much heated debate and equally hot cheeks, flushing and blushing while said secretary makes verbal innuendos and physical in-roads while Mizuha singularly fails to comprehend a word that anyone says. I’m with Mizuha. (Well no, I’m not. I left him waiting in a bath tub back home. It’s probably pretty cold by now but I doubt he would mind or at least do anything about it.) This is so WEIRD!

Thankfully 90% of this stuff is bought by adult laydees, not impressionable young men who might imagine that this is what gay relationships are actually all about. Although I should emphasise that Page 45 is all about equal opportunities and I consider it super-cute when guys do buy/place orders for this material, trusting that we are don’t give a fuck.

If we did, I would hardly be typing this, would I?

SLH

Buy Love Makes Everything Right and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.
Gun Machine (£13-99, Mulholland Books) by Warren Ellis

Delphine h/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Richard Sala

Castle Waiting vol 1 s/c (£18-99, Fantagraphics) by Linda Medley

Cherubs! h/c (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Bryan Talbot & Mark Stafford

Woodring: Problematic – Sketchbook Drawings 2004-2012 h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring

Gears Of Wars vol 3 h/c (£18-99, DC) by Karen Traviss & Pop Mhan

Dorothy And The Wizard In Oz s/c (Digest) (£14-99, Marvel) by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower & Skottie Young

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics vol 3 (£14-99, IDW) by various

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vol 1: Change Is Constant s/c (£13-50, IDW) by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz & Dan Duncan

Harbinger vol 1 s/c (£7-50, IDW) by Joshua Dysart & Khari Evans, Matthew Clark

Wonder Woman vol 1: Blood s/c (£10-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins

Wonder Woman vol 2: Guts h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang, Tony Akins

Batwoman vol 2: To Drown The World h/c (£16-99, DC) by J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman & Amy Reeder, Tervor McCarthy

War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath s/c (£12-99, DC) by various

Green Lantern vol 1: Sinestro s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke

Green Lantern vol 2: The Revenge Of Black Hand h/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke, Ethan Van Sciver

Supergirl vol 1: Last Daughter Of Krypton s/c (£10-99, DC) by Michael Green, Mike Johnson & Mahmud Asrar

Batman Incorporated s/c (£14-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham, Yanick Paquette, Michael Lacombe, Scott Clark, Cameron Stewart, Dave Beaty

JLA Deluxe Edition vol 3 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid & Howard Porter, John Dell

Animal Man vol 2: Animal Vs. Man s/c (£12-99, DC) by Jeff Lemire & Steve Pugh, Travel Foreman, Timothy Green II

Avengers Digest vol 2: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (£7-50, Marvel) by various

The Defenders vol 2 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Terry Dodson, Jamie McKelvie

Essential X-Men vol 11 (£14-99, Marvel) by Jim Lee, Chris Claermont, Fabian Nicieza & various

Carnage: Minimum Carnage s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Culle Bunn, Chris Yost & Lan Medina, Khoi Pham

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man vol 3 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez, Pepe Larraz

The Death Of Captain Marvel s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Doug Moench & Jim Starlin, Pat Broderick

Amazing Spider-Man: Ends Of The Earth s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, others & Humberto Ramos, Stefano Caselli

Fantastic Four vol 5 s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, more

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Chris Claremont, Len Wein, Roger Stern, more & Gene Colan, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Al Milgrom

Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro vol 3 (£8-99, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki

Fairy Tail vol 9 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 18 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 19 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 20 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 21 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail vol 22 (£8-50, Kodansha) by Hiro Mashima

The Heart Of Thomas h/c (£29-99, Fantagraphics) by Moto Hagio

Message To Adolf part 2 h/c (£19-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka

Sweeney Todd: The Graphic Novel (Original Text) (£9-99, Classical Comics) by Sean Michael Wilson & Declan Shalvey
Don’t know why this link was sequestered on my computer, but here’s an interview with Eddie Campbell around the time of THE LOVELY HORRIBLE STUFF.

And here is the most affecting radio interview with Maurice Sendak, beautifully illustrated (you’ll see what I mean), about growing old and being left behind by friends who’ve passed on whilst appreciating what’s in front of you. Big love to Joe Alessi AKA @alessismore64 who nudged it my way.

- Stephen

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