Archive for the 'Comic and Graphic Novel Reviews' Category

Horror of Collier County

Horror of Collier County (3/23/15) Graphic Novel (2001 **) Written and illustrated by Rich Tommaso. When a woman named Fran and her young daughter move in with her mother, they come to realize there’s something odd about the residents of the small Florida community. I actually acquired this book when someone left it and some other items out on the “free” table at work. That should have been a sign that it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece. I was very attracted to Tommaso’s illustration style, and so I was hopeful it would be a good, quick read. At least it was quick, and I read it over the course of a lunch hour. Unfortunately, the author wasn’t as accomplished a writer as he was an artist. Horror of Collier County suffered from lots of story problems, all of which could have been caught early and corrected. One of the most glaring issues was the inclusion of a seemingly major character who served no apparent function. However, the worst problem was probably a fundamental story flaw that resulted in a highly unsatisfying ending.

Batman ’66, Vol. 1

Batman ’66, Vol. 1 (2/10/15) Comics (2014 ***1/2) Written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by various, including cover art by Michael and Laura Allred. Originally published in Batman ’66 #1-5. The televised Batman universe from nearly fifty years past is recaptured in this series of new adventures. As a life-long fan of the Batman TV show that ran for 120 episodes between 1966 and 1968, I was very excited to learn of this comic series. While I don’t consider it to be an absolute home run, it comes quite close to capturing the campy spirit of the original show. Parker’s scripts were reasonably good at matching the tone of Adam West’s dialogue. My only regret is that the stories themselves weren’t structured more like the original show, and they were deliberately brief, feeling more like 8-minute animated cartoons than 1-hour 2-part episodes. While I can see why that choice was made, I still wonder what a “meatier” version might have been like. My other minor complaint was the artwork, which was perfectly functional, but I would have loved to have seen at least one story rendered by more skilled hands, such as those belonging to husband & wife team Michael and Laura Allred, who created the non-variant covers for the issues contained in this volume. I did, however, appreciate the respect given to the show that meant (and still means) so much to me. I especially liked the touch of pairing Batgirl with Season 3’s Eartha Kitt Catwoman. Still, earlier criticisms notwithstanding, I very much look forward to reading further installments in the series as they become available in softcover form.

Invincible, Vol. 20: Friends

Invincible, Vol. 20: Friends (1/15/15) Comics (2014 ***) Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Ryan Ottley, originally published in Invincible #109-114. Mark Grayson must find a way back from a parallel universe, where he’s been trapped by someone he thought was his friend, but was secretly plotting world domination. Following the six issues of Volume 19, which existed primarily to set up the events in this collection, life for Mark Grayson gets quite a bit more interesting, though to be honest, not by much. The most interesting character in Friends is not Invincible at all, but world-conquering friend-traitor (SPOILERS AHEAD)… Robot Rex. Kirkman seems to delight in characters who embark upon evil campaigns that are borne out of “greater good” arguments. The arguments invariably boil down to this “I know that what I’m doing is absolutely horrible, but if I can pull it off, everybody’s lives will be vastly improved. So, does that make me a villain?” Of course it’s the same kind of argument used by despots throughout history. Given the way the storyline ended at the conclusion of this volume, the question ahead will be if or when the dastardly Robot Rex will get his comeuppance, and whether or not Invincible will even play a part in that.

Invincible, Vol. 19: The War at Home

Invincible, Vol. 19: The War at Home (1/13/15) Comics (2014 **1/2) Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Ryan Ottley, originally published in Invincible #103-108. Father-to-be Mark Grayson must protect his family from bloodthirsty alternate universe versions of himself, Angstrom Levy and other threats that come from the unlikely of places. This was one of those Robert Kirkman volumes that contained a whole lot of plot set-up and talking and nothing significant really happened until the end. So, uh… need I go on?

Justice League: A New Beginning

Justice League: A New Beginning (10/29/14) Comics (1987, 1989 ***) Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, illustrated by Kevin Maguire. Originally published in Justice League #1-6 and Justice League International #7. A billionaire named Maxwell Lord decides it’s high time the world’s greatest super team (in the DC universe, anyhow) is re-assembled. I was a big fan of this series, which came out at a time when I was still buying comic books in serial form. I’m not sure if there’s any actual basis to it, but I’ve always felt a connection between this incarnation of the JLA and the TV show Moonlighting (1985-89). Just as the weekly adventures of Maddie and David brought a comic His Girl Friday dialogue sensibility to TV, Giffen and DeMatteis brought it to the unlikeliest of DC properties, the Justice League of (freaking) America! Even today I admire the audacity of whoever got behind that idea and gave it the go-ahead. It was fun to see the personalities of well-known (and some lesser-known) heroes clash like squabbling children, and a high point of the collection was Batman knocking out the Green Lantern Corps’ token A-hole Guy Gardner with a single punch. Having said (or, for you purists, written) all that, I regretfully admit that in the intervening decades the books didn’t necessarily hold up well. Maybe it’s simply a factor of the overall quality of comic book writing improving over the years. It’s also highly probable that my thorough enjoyment way back when was a combination of (a) The fact that I was in my early 20s and (b) the impact that always comes with the “shock of the new.”

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick (10/10/14) Comics (2014 **1/2) Written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. Originally published in serial form as Sex Criminals #1-5. Susie’s adolescent sexual awakening comes with a startling revelation: Every time she has an orgasm, time stops. Later, as an adult, she has sex with a Jon, who shares her odd superpower… and suggests they collaborate on a bank robbery. This book was heavily promoted on, and reading the description it seemed like a pretty awesome premise. I only wish it had been exploited in a stronger, more engaging way. The book began with an “on-screen” narration by Suzie, in which she appeared as a ghostly adult version as her younger self discovered masturbation and her sexual super-power. Unfortunately, the device (on-screen narrator), interesting at first, was overused and wore out its welcome. I also must admit that Zdarsky’s artwork, though proficient, left me flat. I also took a dislike to his effects for “The Quiet,” which were used to indicate that time had stopped. I can honestly say I wish I’d liked the book more, but there was little in the way the book ended (Susie & Jon’s antagonists held little interest) that made me want to read a second volume.

Battling Boy

Battling Boy (8/15/14) Comics (2013 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Paul Pope. The thirteen-year-old son of a lightning-throwing god is sent to defend Arcopolis from its plague of monsters. This is the third graphic novel I bought after an inspiring talk by Mark Siegel, the writer/illustrator of Sailor Twain. In particular, one of my colleagues in the audience reacted with much enthusiasm when Siegel mentioned Paul Pope. Though I found Battling Boy entertaining, it didn’t have the same impact as the previous three books (including Siegel’s) I’d read recently. It’s also the least “graphic novel-y,” as it’s clearly the beginning of an ongoing series, rather than a stand-alone book. In terms of the book’s premise, it has a fair amount in common with Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, in that it’s about a super-powered teenager with an even more super-powered father duking it out with monsters on an earth-like planet. In the case of Battling Boy, he gets his powers from a collection of T-shirts, which is a mildly interesting idea, but also a little strange. At any rate, I’m unsure at this time whether I’ll continue to follow the further adventures of Battling Boy, but I’m leaning toward not.

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese (8/7/14) Graphic Novel (2006 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. The story of a young boy named Jin Wang is told via three seemingly unrelated stories. As was the case of This One Summer, which I reviewed recently, I ordered this book from Amazon following a talk given by Mark Siegel, the writer/illustrator of Sailor Twain. Like the other books I ordered, this was published by First Second, the imprint for which Siegel works as editor. I was intrigued by his description of American Born Chinese, as having been a finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards and the winner of the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award. In the history of graphic novels, there are few that have been awarded prestigious awards outside of the comic book community, with the Pulitzer Prize given to Art Spiegelman’s Maus in 1992 as the gold standard. I was also interested in the fact that since its release, American Born Chinese has become required reading in a number of high schools and colleges. Having read it, I can see why, as it presents both valuable insight into the racial prejudices that continue to divide America, even in the 21st Century. The book also works as an introduction to alternative narrative structures, in that it tells three tonally different stories that don’t at first appearance have any relationship to each other, yet over the course of the book the connections slowly fade into view. I found Yang’s storytelling (both his words and visuals) to be quite clear, without ever feeling simplified to the point of losing power. As I approach my fifties, I’m probably not the right audience for this book, but can imagine young people who carry with them a daily feeling of alienation — even if not for reasons of their cultural heritage — will likely relate to Yang’s characters..

This One Summer

This One Summer (8/7/14) Graphic Novel (2014 ****) Written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Rose and Windy spend an unforgettable summer in a small town named Awago Beach. I picked up this book (along with three others) as the direct result of a studio talk given by Mark Siegel, the writer/illustrator of Sailor Twain and editor at the publishing imprint, First Second. Though I read Siegel’s book first (out of a kind of respect), This One Summer was the one I looked forward to the most. The book is nominally a “coming of age” story, told from the point of view of a pre-teen girl named Rose Abigail Wallace, who begins the summer clutching onto her childhood innocence, but has her eyes opened to the realities of the world by season’s end. The tone of the storytelling was gentle: slow but not plodding. There are events that happen, yet most of them are not particularly dramatic, and this book is the polar opposite of a superhero slug-fest. In many ways, the 300+ page book reminded me of an independent film, and that’s a testament to the cinematic visual style of Jillian Tamaki, whose clear artwork is never too realistic, nor too stylized. Though I obviously loved the book (giving it four stars), my only criticism is that there almost wasn’t enough of a story, and I imagine some might read it and dislike it for that reason.

Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson

Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson (8/6/14) Graphic Novel (2012 ****) Written and illustrated by Mark Siegel. Set in the late 1800s, a Hudson River steamboat captain helps a wounded mermaid back to health, but at what cost? I learned of this book when its author, Mark Siegel, gave a lunchtime talk at my studio about “The Great American Graphic Novel.” He is not only an artist and writer, but also an editor at First Second books, an imprint responsible for a number of mainstream graphic novels. I very much appreciated his thoughtful approach to describing the development of the contemporary American graphic novel, and so, immediately following his talk, I ordered a copy of Sailor Twain. Siegel’s large-format charcoal illustrations distinguished it visually from most other books in the genre, but they were a perfect match tonally for the work. I found myself very much drawn into the story of mermaids as both real creatures and metaphors. Siegel’s voice and pacing created a reading experience akin to reading good literature. This is precisely the kind of book you’d want to read on a sleepy, rainy fall Sunday afternoon. Highly recommended.