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]

AVENGERS - Brian Michael Bendis
1-5.  Standard superhero stuff.  In one volume, Wonder Man is cast as so against the idea of the Avengers that he leads a team against them, which is ridiculous.  [3]

AVENGERS A.I. - Sam Humphries
1. Human After All
2. 12, 000 AD
Two book, complete.  the new nano-tech Vision, Hank Pym, and a Doom Bot along with some others fight the new AI menace, a global army of AIs led by the urbane Dimitrios.  The ethics of AI are touched on with a fairly nuanced hand for a superhero book.  It's also exciting and funny; it has a Nextwave feel to it.  [4]

A dark look at what war does to people and whether you can come back from it, as exemplified by Captain America and Wolverine.  [4.5]

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]

DRAMA - Raina Telgemeier
A love triangle at school, with a twist.  Sweet, but not up to par with Smile.  [3.5]

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]

THE FADE-OUT - Ed Brubaker - three volumes, complete
In '50s Hollywood, a screenwriter with a secret (he's been relying on a blacklisted friend to ghostwrite for him) wakes up to find the ingenue star of his movie dead.  When someone makes it look like suicide, he's determined to get to the bottom of it.   Pitch-perfect Brubaker noir.  [5]  Library, but would own.

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]

FIVE WEAPONS - Jimmie Robinson - two volumes, complete
At a school for assassins' children, the son of a living legend assassin shows up.  He chooses no school of weaponry but challenges them all with just his wits.  However, not all is what it seems. In the second volume, his best friend is also enrolled, but now apparently set against him, knowing all his secrets.  It's not as gritty as it sounds --- it's both drawn and written in a slightly jokey, childish style.  The dialogue runs from clever to stilted to just awful, and the plot has more than a few holes in it.  Pretty fun, but not for adults, I think.  [3.5]  Library.

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]

HAN SOLO - Marjorie Liu
Solo is tasked by the alliance to run in the galaxy's most dangerous race while also attempting to flesh out a mole.  Decent story with a few surprises.  I think I'd have preferred street-level Solo action.  [3]

Black and white sketches in a cramped style.  The lettering is nearly illegible in places.  The stories, slices of life of small-town failures, self-loathers, and go-nowheres, are truly heartbreaking.  Extremely well written but tough to read, they're so grim.  [4]

Hawkeye - Kelly Thompson
Vol. 1: Anchor Points.  Owing a great deal to Fraction's run in art and writing style, this showcases Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye, as she closes in on an incel-type bro who feeds off of hate to become a sort of hulk-type bad guy.  Starts off strong with some real-world dangers, but the super-powered stuff here doesn't suit the material.  It would have been cool to see some social justice.  Also bringing in Jessica Jones seems less like a team-up and more like, Kate Bishop needs help.

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.
  • 1. 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]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. 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.