Saturday, February 27, 2016

Latest reviews

5/4/17 - Barbarian Lord
11/20/16 - Boxers & Saints
9/24/16 - Bandette
9/23/16 - Uncanny Avengers
2/26/16 - Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Look interesting

Asterios Polyp

You'll Never Know, Part 1: A Good And Decent Man

American Elf

Flash Gordon (Jeff Parker)

Punk Rock And Trailer Parks

The Love Bunglers

The Night Of Your Life

Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me

Friday, February 10, 2012

Graphic novel reviews A-L

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE - Gene Luen Yang [First Second]
Three intersecting, somewhat surreal fables about growing up an Asian-American amid prejudice and shame.  One concerns the Monkey King, who acquires great powers in an effort to deny what he is; one is about a Chinese-American who falls for a blonde beauty in his new school; and one is sitcom-like, featuring the loveable stereotype Chin-Kee.  Startlingly funny, confrontational, and powerful, with absolutely amazing art.  Read twice.  [5]

AMULET #1: THE STONE KEEPER - Kazu Kibuishi  [Graphix]
Emily, Navin, and their mother move into a mysterious old house built by an enigmatic inventor ancestor of theirs; the house is the doorway to another dimension.  A ghastly creature kidnaps their mother and the children set about rescuing her with the help of their great-grandfather's clockwork helpers and an amulet which appears to be sentient as well as magically powerful.  Great color drawings with endlessly inventive creatures and machines; fun characters and suspenseful plot.  [4]

A movie-ready re-imagining of Henry Pym's origin.  Unmarried to Janet, with Bill Foster at his side (sequel characters all ready to go!), he battles Egghead, who takes his powers and rides a wasp.  Pretty stupid all around, but probably the blueprint for a film.  [2.5]

AREA 10 - Christos Gage
Black-and-white horror noir about a troubled detective recovering from a brain injury who tries to track down a killer obsessed with the "second sight" granted with trepanning.   But the cop is having visions, and everyone wonders if it's all in his head --- or if he is the killer.  Nail-biting, dark, and suspenseful, with a couple of twists.  Plotted and drawn in a very cinematic fashion.  Read twice.  [4]

Very well done black humor; over-the-top but faithful characterizations of Bat-verse stars like Joker and Two-Face; several interesting new characters.  Sympathetic and competent good guys.  Several fun twists, but gets a bit out of hand at the end. Re-readable. [4.5]

Vol. 1: Spider-Man teams with Red Hulk, Hawkeye, and Captain America, in funny stand-alone stories that are more about character growth and friendship than punching.  Whether sacrificing everything for J. Jonah Jameson and teaching Red Hulk to let go of violence, or letting braggart Hawkeye take a win to keep his confidence up, this Spidey is a genuinely good person as well as a fast talking, self-effacing hero.  Good stuff.  [3.5]

AWKWARD - Svetlana Chmakova [Yen Press]
Peppi, an artistic girl at a new school bumps into a quiet science nerd and, in a desperate fit of embarrassment, yells at him to get away from her.  Ashamed of herself, she is mortified when she finds that not only is her art club rivals with his science club, but that he is working with her and a tutor.  As she befriends the genuinely nice science nerd, the rivalry deepens and pranks get out of hand; Peppi is torn between allegiances.  An absolutely spot-on depiction of the various pressures put on a smart, shy new kid at school, told with an optimistic slant and with a truly sweet lesson at the end.  Brilliant.  Library.  [5]

BABY-SITTERS CLUB - Raina Telgemeier
A faithful, B&W adaptation of the series for tween girls.  Makeup and boys and growing up and divorce and mom's new boyfriend issues.  Nicely drawn, easy reading.  I am not the target audience.  Library. [4] 

The club has new rivals, older girls who start taking the club's old customers; meanwhile Stacey is dealing with the trials of diabetes and her parents' over-protectiveness.  It's rather simplistic, but then it's not for me.  Enthusiastically and skillfully adapted.  Library.  [3.5]

BAD HOUSES - Sara Ryan
In a small Oregon town, a young man who works with his single mother selling items from estate sales falls in love with the daughter of a nurse who is secretly a hoarder.  As the two get to know each other (amid background plots such as a long-lost father, a boyfriend who steals and sells drugs from the old age home, and a gruff antique dealer who has connections to their past), questions of what we do and don't value, what family is and isn't, and what we can ultimately escape from are examined.  Wise and tenderly written, with B&W illustrations that fit the tone of the story.  Library.  [4.5]

BANDETTE - Paul Tobin + Coleen Coover [Dark Horse]
A freewheeling and impulsive young woman is a master thief and acrobat; with the aid of her street friends, she steals valuable items while aiding the police (personified in the grouchy, slow-footed B.D. Belgique) and sparring with her sometimes friendly rival, Monsieur.  As the names suggest, this is an homage to the French and Belgian tradition, and it hits the nail on the head.  The art is a perfect mixture of cartoonish and modern, while the story allows only the faintest sense of real danger to creep in and spoil the fun.
  • #1 PRESTO! - [5]
  • #2 STEALERS KEEPERS! - [5]
A grim barbarian lord is betrayed by his enemy the Skullmaster and flees to another land, where he performs great feats and returns with an army to reclaim his lands.  This is basically Conan, as drawn by Jeff Smith, set in the world of the Icelandic eddas with a few Bone characters thrown in.  Witty and straight faced, it's very well done.  Nothing original here, but fun.  [4]

BATMAN: BRUCE WAYNE: FUGITIVE (vols 2-3) - various
Decent superhero crime fodder, mostly by Rucka and Brubaker.  The wrap-up story in which the self-loathing assassin is protected by Batman despite himself is a high point.  [3.5]

Including #1-8 of the series plus a one-shot called Leviathan Strikes!  Batman starts training operatives around the world in order to Leviathan, the head of a worldwide crime network.  Battling enemies such as the bizarre Lord Death Man and the senile Dr. Dedalus.  Fun at times (I really enjoyed the Native American Man-Of-Bats and Little Raven, presented as they are with respect and largely self-contained); at others, it is just too Morrison - all continuity porn, grand announcements of unstoppable esoteric terrors ("The city of numbers is on fire! All must kneel to the worm captain!") and deus ex machina resolutions that only open further layers of abstruse weirdness.  [3]

THE BEAST OF WOLFE'S BAY - Erik Evensen [Evensen Creative]
A blend of modern adaptation of Beowulf with Sasquatch legends.  Very creative idea, lightweight execution.  Too short to have in depth character development, too much Joss Whedon-style indie cool pop reference dialogue at inappropriate times.  The reveal at the end is clever, though.  [3]

BLACKSAD - Juan Diaz Canales
It takes Europeans to tackle the tough questions about America (race and class) head-on, while wrapping it all up in thrilling noir as performed by anthropomorphic animals.  The art is some of the highest quality I have ever seen; not only is the level of technical proficiency eye-popping, but the way Juanjo Guarnido makes these animals' faces show human emotion is uncanny.

  • AMARILLO - a decadent poet gets in over his head when he kills his bullying mentor; Blacksad, on vacation, tries to find him before he gets hurt.  [4]

BLUE - Pat Grant  [Top Shelf]
A generation ago, three delinquent Australian kids trek down the railroad tracks, where an immigrant blue man has been hit by the train.  In the present day, one of the kids, now a man employed in cleaning blue graffiti off the walls, bemoans the negative changes in his economically depressed town, brought on by the bizarre blue immigrants.  Intricate to the point of OCD drawing, in soft blue and brown, with ugly, cartoon people.  It's an interesting statement on xenophobia and the tunnel vision of childhood, but I think it's too flimsy a work to say anything really weighty.  [3.5]

BLUFFTON - Mat Whelan [Candlewick Press]
In a small Michigan town in 1908, a traveling show comes to stay.  Among the performers is a young Buster Keaton, who enthralls local kid Henry.  But while Henry wants to learns how to be like Buster,the tumbler seems to prefer baseball and talking to Henry's little girl friend.  Written in an understated tone, with no sound effects, and in rather muted watercolors, this is a quaint and tender period piece.  It's sweet, if inessential.  [3]  Library.

BOXERS & SAINTS - Gene Luen Yang [First Second]
Two volumes, telling two views of the vast historical epic that is the Boxer Rebellion.  Boxers follows Little Bo, who becomes a hero warlord when his visions lead him to victory after victory against the English and the converts.  Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, or Vibiana, who follows her own visions of Joan of Arc and becomes a Christian.  A sophisticated and powerful tale of wishing to make a difference, and the possible futility of fighting one's fate.  [5]

THE BOYS (3 volumes) - Garth Ennis  [Dynamite]
  • Vols. 1-2: Ennis' highly juvenile anti-superhero fixation is given free reign; he's at his worst and least mature when mocking superheroes.  Here supes are not only amoral and brutal, they are all, every single one, sexually neurotic or fags. There's even a scene where a gerbil crawls out of KO'd supe's rectum.  Gag.  The satire here is vulgar, cheap, mean, and over the top, but worst of all, childish.  [2]
  • Vol 3: Ennis plays to his strengths: outrage at political corruption and military conspiracy.  His characterizations of the supes are a bit less childish, even at one point nearly sympathetic.  A much more palatable book at this point.  [3]
BREAKING UP - Aimee Friedman [Graphix]
A teen girl drama about popularity contests, first loves, and testing friendships.  Well written and drawn.  Strictly for teen girls, however.  [3.5]

A skilled worker in a British factory is laid off, and he falls into a cycle of apathy and self-pity, while his fiancee sets up a financial plan and goes back to school.  Well-done realistic tale of economic woe and how money troubles affect romantic relationships.  Not terribly original.  Bleak but with tacked-on happy ending.  Watson (who is a male) uses simple, thick-lined B&W drawings to tell the story.  [3]

CARDBOARD - Doug TenNabel  [Graphix]
An out-of-work dad gets his son a cardboard box for a present, only to realize that the creatures they make from it come to life.  When the nasty bully next door sees that, he takes the magic cardboard, but it's too much for him to handle.  This is a pretty good book about friendship, offering a helping hand, and being content with what you have.  The plot goes a little off the rails near the end, but the kids will love it.  [4]

CONCRETE: THE HUMAN DILEMMA - Paul Chadwick  [Dark Horse]
Eisner-winning story arc about world overpopulation and the ethics of addressing it.  Chadwick is a great artist but his writing is a bit histrionic and self-important for me.  Bought used and sold.  [3]

CLUBBING - Andi Watson  [Minx]
A snarky teenage girl is sent to her grandparents' place in the countryside after being caught with a fake ID.  She chafes against the boredom but is soon caught up in a murder which may involve an occult coven.  Watson (who is a man, despite the spelling of his name) makes his heroine rather unlikely - model thin, in micro-skirts and halter tops, obsessed with clubs and shopping, but also casually name dropping Thomas Hardy, P.G. Wodehouse, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Evelyn Waugh, and using words like "emetic."  The plot starts well but ends a bit over the top.  Read twice.  [3]

CRIMINAL (6 volumes) - Ed Brubaker
Perfect gritty flawless noir.  Endlessly re-readable. [5]

DMZ (6 volumes) - Brian Wood
Depressingly realistic look at a new civil war in America, through the eyes of earnest reporter Matty Roth.  Gritty stuff, well told, unafraid to tackle controversial topics.  Re-readable.  [4]

DAREDEVIL (7 volumes) - Ed Brubaker
Brutal street noir mixed with superhero drama.  Nearly flawless.  [5]

DAREDEVIL (vols 2-3) - Mark Waid
Waid cuts down on the unrelenting tragedy and lets DD relax just a bit, throwing in some curveballs like an ethical dispute with Mole Man and Latverian agents stealing his radar sense.  Very enjoyable.  [4]

Crime boss the Hood struggles to balance his secret domestic life with leading an army of super-villains, as well as trying to rein in the ever-growing influence Dormammu has over his occult powers.  A decent Marvel U story, overly cartoonish art.  Sold.  [3] 

DAYBREAK - Brian Ralph
A zombie story.  Starting mis-en-scene and entirely from the POV of a nameless, silent protagonist, who meets up with a one-armed man; the two get lost and then fall victim to a crazy man who takes them prisoner.  Detailed brown-and-white pictures of rubble and broken cars, resembling woodcuts.  It's rather unrelentingly bleak.  Well-done but not for me.  Library.  [3]

EL DEAFO - CeCe Bell [Harry Abrams]
An autobiographical tale (in anthropomorphic rabbit form) of growing up with hearing aids and the search for a friend who can accept you for who you are, not avoid you as a weirdo or lay on the "you are a special wonder" nonsense.  Funny and heartfelt, with cute drawings.  [4.5]

ELMER - Gerry Alanguilan  [SLG]
Some sort of singularity brings sentience and speech to chickens, who then must fight against an incredulous, violent human race for the respect and rights that they deserve.  It's a human-rights allegory dressed in a rather outlandish premise.  Despite the originality of the setup, the allegory is not startling; it's surprisingly by-the-numbers. Library. [3]

THE ETERNAL SMILE - Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim  [First Second]
Three short stories, each dealing with fantasy life vs. reality, and how while the former is fragile and an escape, it also serves as a source of strength in dealing with the latter.  Well done but not exceptional, except the final story which goes in a slightly unexpected direction.  [3.5]

A young boy in Holland looks in his grandmother's attic for things to sell and stumbles on the history of a family split apart by the war, with one brother a collaborator and the other a Nazi, the young girl a friend of Jews and her father a policeman charged with rounding them up.  Realistic, grim, and educational. Art that owes pretty much every line to Tintin.  A character guide on the title page ruined the twist at the end.  [3.5]  Library.

A 6-issue miniseries.  A couple of villains come up with a plot that fools even Reed Richards.  Starts out in high gear with lots of cheery Kirkman notes, but lacking in tense drama (fights are crucial to the plot but glossed over; even when vastly outnumbered, the FF never appear to be in any danger) and ending somewhat abruptly.  Perhaps it could have stretched out to ten issues.  [3]  Sell.

Fun superhero silliness.  Fraction has a great understanding of character and he uses every bit of obscure weirdness in the MU.  His plots are over the top and sometimes goofy.  [4]  Keep for now.

FABLES - Bill Willingham
The first 10-12 volumes are superb.  [5]  After the Great Fables Crossover and the introduction of some eternal comic types, I think this title is losing steam.  [3.5]

FATALE - Ed Brubaker
Not up to the quality of his Daredevil run or Criminal.  Whether it's the disjointed chronology or the occult-horror-noir hybrid, this isn't really my thing. [3.5]

FOILED - Jane Yolen [First Second]
CURSES! FOILED AGAIN - Jane Yolen [First Second]
A teenage girl in New York who doesn't fit in anywhere but the fencing studio discovers that her practice foil is actually a faerie weapon that enables her to see the magic creatures all around, and the boy she was chasing is a troll in disguise, sworn to aid her.  I found the first volume a bit thin, from the overdone "teenage misfit becomes magic realm's protector" to the lack of any meaty conflict.  The second volume, wherein the heroine deals with whom to trust as she faces a shadowy enemy, is much better.  [3.5]  Library.

FRESHMAN - Corinne Mucha  [Zest]
A slight book about a teen girl's first high school year.  The usual worries about changing friendships, boy troubles, popularity.  Clunky doodle-style monochromatic art.  Aimed directly at teen girls; I found it simplistic and cliched on the first reading.  But on the second reading a year later I approached it with a more open mind, and conceded the touching side; the themes of uncertainty and desire to be something more are, in fact, universal.  Read twice.  Library.  [2.5] 

A GAME FOR SWALLOWS - Zeina Abirached  [Graphic Universe]
In war-torn Beirut, two kids and their neighbors wait patiently amid the shelling for the children's parents to return from visiting their mother.  A poignant portrait of the kids' games, the food, and the people who try to keep life going amid death and chaos.  Ink-heavy black and white illustrations reminiscent of Persepolis.  [4]

GEAR SCHOOL - Adam Gallardo  [Dark Horse]
Teen girl in military flight training must step up when the aliens attack the base.  Far too short to have any weight; there is no character growth or sense of drama.  Detailed colorful art is marred at times by unnecessary anime shorthand.  [2]

GIANTS BEWARE! - Jorge Aguirre [First Second]
In a medieval village, a blacksmith's daughter runs away to fight giants, bringing her friend the wannabe princess and her baby brother, the aspiring chef.  Funny and silly.  The art is at times like Eric Powell, at times a cartoony Darwin Cooke.  For kids.  [3.5]  Library.

GODS OF ASGARD - Erik Evensen  [Studio E3]
An authentic, earnest retelling of the myths.  Except for some bowdlerizations of the sexual aspects, pretty faithful, and skillfully put into a narrative so the character arc of Loki from mischievous helper to hated enemy is explained.  [4]

HAWKEYE - Matt Fraction
Fun, tongue-in-cheek, everyday street-level superheroics.  Bro!  You gotta read this.  Romance, sex, adventure, a dim-witted yet loveable hero.
  • LITTLE HITS - Clint lets a beautiful redhead with a suspicious story talk him into helping her against the bros, much to the disgust of the women in his life.  [5]
  • L.A. WOMAN - Kate ditches Clint and sets up as a detective for hire in Los Angeles, where she is found by Madame Masque.  Fun, full of winks and jokes, but also hard-boiled noir.  [5]
  • RIO BRAVO - an attack leaves Clint deaf, just as his trouble making brother comes back in his life to help him out / cause trouble.  But with the help of his tenants, and a newly returned Kate, Clint might just end the scourge of the bros once and for all.  Brilliant. [5]
A clever story of Hawkeye and Deadpool teaming up, reluctantly, to stop Black Cat from obtaining a list of secret SHIELD agents.  Over the top and funny, but with a genuine threat and a real sense of what drives the two anti-heroes.  Although I love  Fraction's work on Hawkguy, Duggan mocking the pacing and detailed pictorial maps of Fraction's book is pretty funny.  Library.  [4]


In a sequel to a story that I haven't read, Mirka, a young Jewish girl warns a witch about a meteorite, which them gets transformed into her double.  Mirka tries to continue with her life, but finds it hard to have a faster, stronger, willful alien double of her around, so challenges the doppleganger to a test to see which one will stay.  Detailed cartoony color drawings with lots of sly subtle humor; a cracked fairy tale leavened with the values of Jewish love and family.  Not flawless, but well done.  [4]

HOPELESS SAVAGES: GREATEST HITS 2000-2010 - Jen Van Meter  [Oni]
A compendium of stories about an extended family of retired punk stars given to getting entangled in spy dramas, punch-ups, and bad relationship drama.  The black and white art, from a very long list of contributors, is often shoddy, and even when the lines are crisp and clean, it's very difficult to tell the father from the son, or a daughter from a girlfriend (no one is old, even though the children are grown).  This combined with Van Meter's trying way too hard to make these characters tough, cool, insouciant, self-aware, and satisfied (only the youngest daughter is in any way fragile), made me fairly uninterested in what ought to have been my cup of tea.  Library.  [2.5]

IVY - Sarah Olesky
An artistic high school girl from a working-class single parent family tries to make it through high school.  But her friends start to drift away, and after a fight with her mother, she runs away to live as a nomad and squatter with an unbalanced boy.  Pretty grim stuff at times; painstakingly detailed, if cartoony, black and white art.  [3.5]

JLA: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT - Joe Kelly, Rick Veitch
Fast-paced, frenetic, very Morrison-style JLA.  The Authority in DC costumes.  Fun for superhero stuff.  Library.  [3]

JERUSALEM: A FAMILY PORTRAIT - Boaz Yakin [First Second]
A family in Jerusalem split apart over money issues fights the British occupiers, the Arab enemies within and without, and themselves.  A grim look at the cost of warfare in a very troubled region.  It's an sharp story with some twists and turns, but where the book loses some power, for me, is in its refusal to acknowledge the fault of religion in all this senseless death and suffering.  But Yakin makes it clear how easy it is to lose your empathy and humanity in such a place, and maybe that's indictment enough.  [4]

LUCIFER (11 volumes) - Mike Carey
Fantasy, morality, theology, world-building, story-telling.  Better than Sandman.  Endlessly re-readable.  [5]  Keep.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Graphic novel reviews M-S

MANGA MAN - Barry Lyga [Houton Mifflin]
Ryoko, a character from Japanese anime, comes through a strange rift to the "real" world, where he tries to fit in at school, where he is bullied but also meets a girl.  Will he win her heart before he is forced back through the rift, and will the kaiju (monsters) get through as well?  Illustrated with fun black and white art that takes full advantage of the story's interesting conceit (for example, when he is surprised, Ryoko emanates lines which then fall to the floor and must be cleaned up), as well as a clever twist in the plot.  Fun. Library.  [4]

MARCH BOOK ONE - John Lewis [Top Shelf]
The true story of John Lewis, former freedom marcher, head of SNCC, and Congressman.   Switching back and forth between past and present, it tells the civil rights story with calm wisdom, letting the facts speak for themselves create the drama.  Black and white, sketchy illustrations fit the tone.  [4.5]

Large hardcover volume containing four story arcs of the whimsical, silly comic strip about the easy-going Moomin family and the odd characters who disrupt their lives.  Lacking the word play and detailed art of Pogo, and the humor of Popeye.  Gentle kid stuff.  [3]  Library.

NOLA'S WORLDS #1: CHANGING MOON - Mathieu Mariolle [Graphic Universe]
Translated from the French.  A girl with a distant mother befriends two strange kids who are more than they seem, having strange powers and being hunted by strange creatures.  Bright, cheery, colorful illustrations with some anime and American cartoon influences.  The story is not presented well, with the character's relationships and actions changing abruptly and seemingly without reason.  Has some charm in the art, but no wit or suspense. Library. [2]

ODDLY NORMAL - John Schwartz
A half-witch hates her regular non-magic life, but when her parents disappear, she is taken to Fignation (great name) by her grandmother, where she finds to her disappointment that she doesn't fully belong either.  Funny and well done, but the volume is not planned intelligently.  It ends halfway through a story arc, in the middle of the action, and as such is pretty dissatisfying.  Library.  [3]

PEANUT - Ayun Halliday [Schwartz & Wade]
A teenaged girl in a new school decides to reinvent and distinguish herself by claiming a severe allergy to peanuts.  With mostly black and white, sketchy art (Sadie's shirt is colored throughout).  Has a good grasp on teen speech and social interaction; utterly clueless about how teachers think and talk.  Thoughtful and surprisingly potent emotionally.  [4]

PEDRO AND ME - Judd Winick  [Henry Holt]
The MTV reality television star turned cartoonist tells of how he met his future wife and best friend Pedro on the show.  Pedro became an AIDS activist and later died of the disease.  An honest, warm, harrowing, humorous, bittersweet tale.  Read several times, and it makes me cry like a baby every time.  [5]

THE PLAIN JANES - Cecil Castellucci  [Oni]
New girl at a suburban school mists some similarly-named misfits and they start a guerrilla art club.  More than the typical nerd-girl-wants-cute-boy tale there seem to be so many of these days; this story has several layers and contains a few unexpected turns. Clean black and white art.  Read twice. [4]

PRIMATES - Jim Ottaviani
A look at the adventures in science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas (who studied orangutangs).  Well researched and entertaining, with engaging cartoony color art.  [4] 

THE PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTER - Joann Sfar  [First Second]
Translated from the French.  Surreal tale, at turns whimsical and nightmarish, about a walking mummy in Victorian England who falls in love with the titular professor's daughter.  When the pharaoh's father (also bandaged like a mummy) shows up, he brings trouble with him.  Dream-like and bizarre, but charming as well.  Detailed art in sketchbook style.  Read twice.  [4]

VOL 2: GOIN' OUT WEST - Matt Fraction
Handles Marvel Universe history capably, offers lots of tough guy ass-kicking action, makes time for occasional Big Talk about right and wrong and obsession and courage.  The second-best Punisher there is.  [4]

PUNISHER MAX (10 volumes) - Garth Ennis
The perfect Punisher, free of gadgetry and silliness; a grim unstoppable killing machine going up against real-world evils like women trafficking and the drug trade.  Entire run read twice. [5]  Keep.

Translated from the French.  A Canadian animator's account of his supervision of Korean animators in Pyongyang.  Not exactly a startling expose, since Delisle was always with a minder or in the foreign-only compound, but a depressingly thorough look at what is visible: silent drone-like workers, translators who drank the Dear Leader punch, rusting monuments, empty theaters, propaganda, martial training on dummies made to look like American soldiers.  [3.5]

RAPUNZEL'S REVENGE - Shannon & Dean Hale [Bloomsbury]
A blend of fractured fairy tales and Old Wild West Action, with a modern take on the damsel who can take care of herself.  Rapunzel rescues herself and teams up with Jack (of giant-slaying, golden goose fame) to rid the land of its evil ruler, her adopted mother.  Colorful art, crazy situations, witty fantasy, and a social conscience all blended together.  Very well done and fun. [4]

RAT CATCHER - Andy Diggle
A FBI agent is left for dead in a safe house where the rat and his guards are killed.  It's the infamous Rat Catcher, a snitch assassin, at work.  The agent is out for revenge, but finds no one's loyalty is unquestioned, even on his own side.  Solid noir work, but nothing extraordinary.  Library.  [3.5]

RELISH: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN - Lucy Knisley  [First Second]
A memoir of an eating life, by the cartoonist daughter of divorced foodies.  A lifetime of eating: street food in Mexico as a kid with her pornography-loving boy chum; baked goods in Italy that result in an obsession to recreate the perfect croissant; mushrooms fried crisp in olive oil with butter; the perfect chocolate chip cookies.  It's a loving, beautifully told story, with recipes.  [4.5]
RESISTANCE (3 volumes) - Carla Jablonski  [First Second]
A family from a village in Free France, 1942, gets involved in the Resistance.  Tensions run high and no one is sure who to trust and some of them do things they don't want to.  The first volume is a bit trite.  They are ecumenically blind to anti-Semitism and even the little girl's ideas are given weight, which seems unlikely.  The art is rather crude.  Well-intentioned but bland.  The second volume adds a bit more spice, and the third has real emotional feeling.  Library. [3.5]

ROLLER GIRL - Victoria Jamieson  [Penguin]
A young girl is mesmerized by the roller girls and joins a junior league.  But she really isn't very good at it, and her lifelong best friend has other interests, including boys.  As she struggles with finding an identity and making friends, she risks losing her mother's support.  At turns cheerful, silly, and poignant, this is a commendably subtle coming of age story and tale of determination in the face of adversity.  Some of the drawing is amateurish but the writing is very sharp.  [4.5]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Graphic novel reviews T-Z

SECRET AVENGERS vol. 1 - Rick Remender
A brash and too-cocky Hawkeye is picked to lead a team of mostly loner C-listers (Captain Britain, Toro, Flash Thompson-as-Venom, Valkyrie, Ant Man) to investigate the kidnapping of a Punjabi woman with supernatural abilities and her boy, and discover a city of super-Adaptoids.  Written with wit and an assured hand at the continuity wheel, this is an enjoyable piece of superhero drama slightened classed up by a nod to character development.  [3.5]

THE SECRET OF THE STONE FROG - David Nytra [Toon Books]
Two children wake up in a lush dreamworld of talking stone frogs, Victorian dandy bears and lions, and large-headed, angry people who command bees or ride rhinos.  Detailed black and white pictures owe a lot to Little Nemo in Slumberland and John Tenniel (as does the story, come to think of it).  Lightweight and simplistic but the silly surrealism is probably fun for kids.  [3]

SET TO SEA - Drew Weing  [Fantagraphics]
With one detailed, finely cross-hatched, ink drawing per page, this small and charming book tells of a large, impoverished poet who is press-ganged to sea and becomes an old sea salt despite himself, but never loses his poetic spirit.  With very little speech to mar the elegant Segar-like drawings, this bittersweet musing on life's adventure is a true graphic treasure.  [4]

SHE HULK (5 volumes) - Dan Slott
Great concept --- diffident lawyer has outgoing superhero personality, and both work in the field of superhuman law --- handled tongue-in-cheek, almost like an MU "Aly McBeal."  Slott's love for the outlandish in comics and continuity comes through even as he pokes fun at those very things.  He handles disparate personalities with great humor (his Heracles and Spider-Man are great), though his Wolverine is unnecessarily misogynistic.  Hilarious yet sweet.  [4.5]  Keep.

THE SHINIEST JEWEL - Marian Henley [Springboard]
Autobiographical tale of Henley's quest to adopt a little boy in Russia, just as her elderly father starts to deteriorate after an operation.  Black and white drawings with thin lines and minimal shading, but the story fleshes the characters out.  A sweet, well-written tearjerker.  [4.5]

SILLY DADDY - Joe Chiappetta  [Reed]
A semi-autobiographical account of being a single father, with some extended fantastical sequences.  Terrible black and white art, not very intelligent ruminations filled with typos, and a totally unsympathetic narrator.  The fantasy sequences were utterly unreadable.  [1]  Bought and donated.

THE SIXTH GUN (4 volumes) - Cullen Bunn
Supernatural horror western with a female lead, a woman paired with a rather bad man she doesn't particularly want to run with.  Spooky art, spooky characters, slightly out-of-control story.  Fun, and keeps getting better with each volume.  [4]

SMILE - Raina Telgemeier  [Graphix]
Eisner-winning tale of a sixth-grade girl who, after a fall, has a long and painful tooth reconstruction involving headgear, braces, and a retainer.  There is also girl drama: boys, friends acting like enemies, and the usual embarrassment at everything.  Cute, cartoony art and a sweet story.  No magical resolution, just a realistic, affecting teen-years slice of life.  [4]  Library.

STICKMAN ODYSSEY (book two) - Christopher Ford  [Philomel]
In black and white stick figure toons that do not show the charm and skill of Rich Burlew, Ford tells a story based on Greek myths, but using original names and characters, and the non-original characters (such as the gods) are given modern, sarcastic personalities.  His main character, Zozimos, is unpleasant to the point where I almost stopped reading; he's wrathful but also moronic, self-centered, and clueless.  Gradually he gets easier to take, and the end isn't bad at all.  [3]

STUCK RUBBER BABY - Howard Cruse [Paradox Press]
The tale of growing up a closeted queer in the 1960s American South.  As the times change and Toland gets to know unabashedly gay, progressive, and black friends who face violence and murder for being who they are, he realizes that he must be true to his ideals as well as to himself.  With intricate black and white illustrations, this is a vivid and moving portrayal of the evil that wraps itself up in patriotism and self-righteousness.  [4.5]  Read twice.

SWEET TOOTH (1 volume) - Jeff Lemire
Post-apocalyptic fantasy. Intriguing mystery-style presentation (what happened to the world?) combines with highly suspenseful action (what's going to happen to Gus?).  Not high in re-readability but compellingly page-turning.  [4]

Collecting #27-33 of The Brave and the Bold.  Terrific super-heroics, well written, aimed exactly at the nostalgia gland of old nerds like me.  Digging through the vault to feature lesser knowns like Dial H for Hero and Brother Power the Geek, JMS uses DC's heroes to tell very human stories of hope and joy and despair and love.  That's really the key to how powerful and well-done this is: the human qualities he explores, in the principals and in the normals that are touched tangentially by the heroes and villains.  The last story, featuring Zatarra, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl, is an honest-to-God tearjerker.  [4]

The somehow teenaged Thor, Sif, and Balder have adventures, bicker, and reconcile.  Teen Loki is unequivocally bad-natured, which is boring.  Lots of punching and smashing; very little cleverness.  Characters are fairly one-dimensional: Thor is hot-headed and brash; Sif is constantly trying to prove her worth as a female warrior, etc.  Juvenile and mostly uninteresting.  [2]

THE THREE THIEVES - Scott Chantler [Kids Can Press]
The adventures of a young girl acrobat, a goblin-type juggler, and a giant strongman on the run, trying to find out more about Dessa's past and her murdered family.  Exciting, vibrant, detailed color art that brings to mind Bone and Tintin; a stirring, suspenseful plot with many twists and turns.  Truly excellent.

  • #1 TOWER OF TREASURE - Topper the juggler has his sights on the queen's treasure, locked in a tower set with traps.   [4.5]
  • #2 THE SIGN OF THE BLACK ROCK - the three thieves take shelter from a storm in an inn where the queen's dragoons have also come.  Hiding from them proves difficult, as the innkeeper, a smuggler, tries to use them to his own advantage, while his scarred wife holds some secret that links to Dessa's past.  [4.5]
  • #3 THE CAPTIVE PRINCE - the three thieves rescue a kidnapped prince; Dessa falls in love with him, but the king scorns her common heritage, and they must run again when their past is made known.  [4]
TUNE (1 volume) - Derek Kirk Kim [First Second]
Very well told tale of a young art-school dropout recruited to be an exhibit in a zoo in another dimension.  The first volume, which is quite funny, shows his boring and stressful life until he is offered the "job."  Cute pictures.  [4]

THE TWELVE (2 volumes) - J Michael Straczynski 
An homage to the pre-Marvel WWII heroes, now largely forgotten, brought back to glorious life with a sympathetic eye.  Part murder mystery, part rumination on how the past shapes our present, and how some react to being taken out of their element.  Also a tribute to war heroes and the war comics.  One of JMS' best works.  [4.5]  Keep.

  • #1 THE RED SHADOW - Captain America taps Havoc to lead a group of X-Men and Avengers as a show of racial unity after Professor X's death.  Fast-paced, with intriguing new characters (villains).  Remender does a good job juggling all of the chatacers' motives and actions so everyone gets a time to shine.  Unfortunately the book is marred by some over-the top exposition and narration, bringing to mind Stan Lee at his most hyperbolic. [3.5]
  • #2 THE APOCALYPSE TWINS - even faster paced, with a story arc that sweeps across timelines and alternate realities.  The narration is dampened down, thank goodness.  In its place is some fairly strong dialogue about how each character sees the human-mutant issue.  The scope and frenetic pace of the story, gods trying to avert the end of everything, is Gaiman-esque.  [4]
  • #3 RAGNAROK NOW - the team is still trying to stop Archangel's twin sons, raised by Kang to hate humans, and things do not go well.  I was riveted, unable to guess what would happen next, and wanted to see how the heroes could possibly recover from a great deal of character death.  [4]
THE UNWRITTEN (4 volumes) - Mike Carey
A love letter to the power of literature, wrapped in a mystery story with horror elements.  A bit abstruse at times; needs to be read in one sitting, and I need to get further in to suss it all out.  I'll give  Carey the benefit of the doubt that this will be brilliant, however.   [4]

VELVET - Ed Brubaker
Superb captivating spy story, about a secretary who was once a superb field agent.  When one of her former lovers dies in the field, sher investigates, only to find a very complcated web of betrayals and former Cold War movers and shakers... not to mention the unwelcome memory of her ex-husband, whom she terminated for being a double agent. [5]
WALKING DEAD (15+ volumes) - Robert Kirkman
Good solid horror storytelling with lots of raw human emotion, but unrelentingly bleak.  Like getting repeatedly hit in the gut.  Makes you feel masochistic for reading.  Begs to be devoured, but not much  re-readability.  [4]

WHITEOUT: MELT - Greg Rucka  [Oni]
Carrie Stetko, badass, is called back to the Antarctic to chase down some Russians who have stolen nuclear warheads.  A tense potboiler, with the usual Rucka trademarks: tough woman agent toes the line between daring and unrestrained, who cares more than she lets on.  He really makes the dangers of the setting seem close and terrifying.  Read twice.  [4]

WILLIAM AND THE LOST SPIRIT - Bonneval & Bonhomme  [Graphic Universe]
Apparently called "William, the lost spirit" in French, so already I wonder about the quality of the translation.  A boy in a medieval setting tries to track down his sister, who has gone after their apparently dead father.  He meets bandits and is protected by a strange knight.  They find a goat which William forms a strange bond with.  Then he wakens in the land of Prester John and meets all manner of odd beings: talking fish, dog-men, and Blemmyes.  Unusual and interesting, but not very weighty or affecting.  [3.5]

Typically gritty spy superhero drama from Brubaker.  This volume is a bit thin, with a rather deflated resolution.  The combination of Bucky and Dr. Doom is enticing but maybe it just doesn't work; Bucky telling Doom to "shut your metal face" doesn't ring true, somehow.  [3.5]

The two heroes get kidnapped by Kraven, who has sold the rights to hunt them down and kill them to a bunch of clueless mercenaries.  Or is it Kraven?!  Silly fun, mostly.  A terrible portrayal of Spider-Man as a fool mars the first few pages.  Lush art.  Decent superhero stuff.  [3]

WOLVERINE WEAPON X (3 volumes) - Jason Aaron
Superhero drama, with black humor and a bit of human pathos.  Nowhere near as good as Aaron's epic Scalped, but he tries to carve a flesh-and-blood, sympathetic Wolverine out of the disparate elements of the Marvel U.  For example, Aaron has the character's over-saturation in books present itself as Logan driving himself to exhaustion in order to forget his brutal past.  He also gives Logan a girlfriend.  In the end it's still a superhero book with its usual limitations and superhero logic, but damn if it isn't the best Wolverine this side of Rucka.  [4]

An only slightly anthropomorphized look at a shark's migration to spawn, a journey fraught with natural peril and many signs of humanity's despoiling of the oceans.  Decent art, minimal dialogue, somber narration.  Well researched and depressing. [4]

ZAHRA'S PARADISE - Amir  [First Second]
A book-length black-and-white fictionalized portrayal of the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian protests.  A blogger's brother is arrested and goes missing, and he and his mother endure threats and an indifferent and contemptuous bureaucracy to find him.  A heartbreaking and wise look at the Iranian world, from its customs and poetry to the brave souls who resist the tyranny of the charlatans and hypocrites in power.  It's essentially an Iranian MAUS.  [4.5]

ZITA THE SPACEGIRL (Book One: Far From Home) - Ben Hatke  [First Second]
A young girl and her friend go through a portal to a planet filled with robots, giant mice, magic, and bizarre aliens of endless description.  The planet is about to explode, and some creatures have decided that her friend holds the key to its salvation; with the help of some defective, nervous robots, a giant mouse, and a sneaky inventor, she must rescue him and find her way back home.  It's a charming story with endless invention and silliness blended with the drama; the art is a cross between Calvin & Hobbes and Cobalt 60.  Fun stuff, worthy of a series.  [4]

Monday, May 31, 2010


HARD TIME [146-150] - Brian Azzarello
  • Well, this is a bit different, innit?  Constantine in an American prison.  Richard Corben art completes the alien feeling.  I'm not sure Azzarello's ghetto noir is a fit here, but it's interesting to se how he has JC deal.  [3.5]
GOOD INTENTIONS [151-156] - Brian Azzarello
  • Constantine continues his trek of America, trying to track down why some two-bit grifter framed JC for his murder.  He meets some hillbillies who get up to some rather distasteful things on the "World Wide Cum Web."  JC is far from appealing here, as he directly deals out some nastiness to people who don't really deserve it.  A bizarre Shirley Jackson ending leaves a bad taste.  [2.5]
FREEZES OVER [157-163] - Brian Azzarello
  • Constantine finds himself stuck in a small cafe during a blizzard with some townspeople and a trio of killers.  And perhaps a serial killer as well.  There's also a flashback scene in which a young JC cheats a naive young rich man who wants an occult object.  Creepy and well-done.  [4.5]
HIGHWATER [164-174] - Brian Azzarello
  • JC tangles with a bunch of small-town skinheads led by a supremacist separatists, in a fine vignette,  He then finally catches up with the rich American who's been pulling all the strings back to when he was framed for murder, and... uh.  He seduces the guy in a bizarre omnisexual game of perverse wills, fakes his own death, and drives the man mad.  Um.  It may well be a fine crime piece, Mister Azzarello, but we must not call it Hellblazer.  [3]