Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Whoa, what's going on?! What's that?!"
"It's our friendship gauge!
"We just levelled up. I knew we had the potential!
"As our level gets higher, we'll become a stronger and better team.
"And now, as your better friend, I can tell that you really want to go... LOOT SOME DUNGEONS!
"We'll start by destroying the Treehouse Dungeon!"
"Aw, no, that sounds cute!"
"It's full of evil."
"Oh, okay then, let's smash it!"
Haha, are you one of those people like Izzy who dives straight into a new video game skipping straight past all those boooooring tutorials? Well if so, don't ignore the publisher blurb or you'll miss some vital knowledge that might just save you from likes of the pop-up exploding hand grenade on page 45...
Okay, you got me... there is no pop-up exploding hand grenade on page 45... BUT... do be careful when you open your copy that your Page 45 exclusive bookplate doesn't pop out. Limited whilst stocks last...
On with the blurb, no skipping now!
"From comics rising star Sarah Graley (KIM REAPER / OUR SUPER ADVENTURE / OUR SUPER AMERICAN ADVENTURE / RICK & MORTY: LIL' POOPY SUPERSTAR), a fresh and funny middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl who must save a virtual world and her own! Izzy can enter the world of her new video game!
She meets Rae, a robot who says Izzy is destined to save Dungeon City from the Big Boss. How is this possible? And how can she fight for this virtual world when she's got a whole real life to keep up with: her family (though she could do without her mom's annoying cat), and her best friend, Eric.
Things get even weirder when Izzy loses a life inside the game and worries about what might happen if she gets a Game Over for good. Meanwhile, Eric has been super upset with Izzy since she's been keeping secrets and bailing on their plans. Can Izzy survive Dungeon City and save their friendship?"
Tsk, tsk, tsk Izzy, you did promise you would wait for Eric before starting playing Dungeon City, didn't you...? But then... we do know how addictive video games can be, don't we, folks? They are up there with comics for their time-thievery capabilities...
Sarah has created an extremely enjoyable and often comedic tale for us here. As Izzy gets drawn deeper and deeper into the virtual world and gradually begins to lose touch with the real one, much to the dismay, bafflement and irritation of Eric, her parents and her teachers, it starts to become apparent that perhaps her new friend might not be all he's been coded up to be...
This is a great exploration of the nature of friendship; how we can take it for granted and just what extraordinary lengths truly great friends will go to in order to help save us from ourselves, running parallel with a cackle-inducing cautionary look at the crack-like levels of digital dependency that video games can induce.
Typing as someone who couldn't touch a keyboard for several months with repetitive strain injury after spending eight hours a day (and night) playing Soldier Of Fortune 2, I can completely understand how getting sucked into a video game for real would actually be intriguing, exciting and ultimately all-consuming.
Sarah's depiction of an excitable Izzy getting lured further and further into console calamity by her own desires to forget her real world woes and continue levelling up into a battle-hardened bad ass - with great atavistic hair of course - is entirely credible. Izzy chooses Space Witch as her character class by the way, as presumably PIZZA WITCH wasn't available!
Equally compelling is Eric's determination to get to the bottom of what is causing her best chum's new-found narcolepsy which is driving her teachers mad. Her parents, meanwhile, are wondering if Izzy's locking herself in her room all the time because she's being bullied at school again. Any attempts at gently interrogating her of course leading to an immediate all-too-typical teenage explosion!
There's a lot of fairly complex storytelling going on here for an all-ages work and it is to Sarah's great credit that she weaves the various strands together very neatly indeed. Artistically her cute style is perfectly suited to this heart-warming, fun tale and I love her character expressions, particularly the ones that go well beyond realism into the outrageously hilarious. I did also find myself chucking throughout as robot Rae reminded me a little bit of one Bender Bending Rodríguez, which once I had seen I couldn't un-see of course!
I think this is Sarah's best work to date by far. I've always appreciated the merits of her art and her characters, but her plotting here in particular is considerably more complex than previous outings and shows a really strong progression in her writing. I can see why Scholastic snapped up the opportunity to put this out.
I note she pays tribute to several people at the publishing house for their "...helping making this into an actual real book that exists in the world. Their guidance has been indispensable." With their track record in excellent all-ages material Scholastic are clearly obviously keen to work closely with emerging talent and help them advance, which is obviously brilliant to hear about and of course see the fruits of.
Make sure you pick up your levelled-up copy whilst we still have hand numbered and signed (and a little heart too, bless you Sarah!) exclusive Page 45 bookplates featuring a floating "but not fly, let's not get carried away" Izzy about to wield her magic staff to bash the bonce of the ultimate big bad boss! Or is he...?
Please see USER graphic novel by Devin Grayson, Sean Phillips and John Bolton for more games-based addiction.