Graphic Novel Review: The Black Monday Murders Volume 2

The Black Monday Murders Volume 2 by Jonathan Hickman (words), Tomm Coker (art).
Image, 2018. 9781534303720. Contains #5 – #8 of the series.

Jonathan Hickman’s comics are always masterpieces of pacing and planning. They’re worth reading for the blank pages alone, just to see how he uses them to break up the story. This series about dark, demon-worshiping capitalists who use black magic to manipulate the world economy is full of redacted documents and unsettling imagery, including a specialized font used to show that characters are speaking words of power.

In this second volume, the detective solves the mystery, an economist gets the interview of a lifetime, and an eternal magic battle takes place in the blink of the eye. If you don’t like horror graphic novels this is not the book for you, but then you probably knew that from the skull on the cover.

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Graphic Novel Review: Oprhans Vol. 1

Orphans Volume 1: The Beginning by Roberto Recchioni and Emiliano Mammucari. English translation by Elena Cecchini and Valeria Gobbato. Localization, layout, and editing by Mike Kennedy. Lion Forge, 2018. 9781942367178. 352pp.

This is the beginning of an ultra-long military science fiction graphic novel series, currently in its 5th “season” in Italy where it was first published in 2013. (This seems to be the first third of the 1,100 pages of the first “season” mentioned in the introduction.)

After Earth is attacked by an extraterrestrial energy weapon, orphaned children are trained to be soldiers. The first step is to see if they can pull together and survive in the wilderness. The second step is to submit them to brutal and unforgiving training. The third step is to turn them into superheroes. A montage of training flashbacks are interspersed with an attack on an alien world in the present-day, when the kids are in their early 20s. There is, as you’d imagine, a lot of violence.

I’m sure you’re already thinking of a lot of things this recalls: Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game, and (if you’re as old as me) so many less successful comic series and direct to VHS movies of the 1980s. This graphic novel is entertaining and readable, and the aliens have a compelling design. The action is easy to follow and I never felt bogged down trying to sort out details as everything is right on the page. This was exactly the light, fast-paced read I needed around the holidays.

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Graphic Novel Review: Making Friends

Making Friends coverMaking Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9781338139228. 263pp.

7th grade sucks for Danny and she feels like she doesn’t have any friends and isn’t sure where she belongs. After watching Solar Sisters she draws the face of the blue-haired, misunderstood (aka evil) Prince Neptune in the sketchbook that she grabbed at her deceased great-aunt’s house, and his head pops from the page and comes to life. Prince Neptune refers to her as Princess Danielle, and is somewhat charming and snarky when he’s not feeding on her life energy or coaxing her toward being bad. Then Danny soon uses the magic of the book to draw a new best friend, and create a few magic items and cash. Nothing goes as expected and it would ruin everything to say more, though I want to add this: the few pages featuring a 1980s anti-bullying video had me rolling on the floor. Great book.

Making Friends 1 Making Friends 3

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Graphic Novel Review: The Old Guard Book One

The Old Guard Book One coverThe Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire written by Greg Rucka, art by Leandro Fernández, colors by Daniela Miwa. Image, 2017. 9781534302402. Contains #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: Mature Readers.

Andy is the oldest member and leader of a small mercenary team with a secret: they’re immortal. After trying to save a group of abducted schoolgirls, their secret is out, and they need to get the information back under their control. There’s one complication: they have to retrieve a new immortal, a young female Marine in Afghanistan who just “died” for the first time.

There’s a bit of romance, a fair helping of cynicism, and a whole lot of bullets. Is this all a bid to relaunch the Highlander franchise without the idiocy and the lightning of the Quickening? God I hope so. Rucka (Queen & Country, Gotham Central, many others) is one of my favorite comics writers because he delivers beats every page, issue, and book. Fernández’s art reminds me of Risso’s in 100 Bullets — it’s powerful, emotional, full of well-used black spaces, and really violent when it needs to be.

The Old Guard 1 The Old Guard 2

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Graphic Novel Review: Poppy & Sam And The Leaf Thief

Poppy & Sam coverPoppy & Sam And The Leaf Thief by Cathon.  Owlkids Books, 2018. 9781771473293. 48pp.

Poppy is a tiny girl who lives in a pumpkin in a garden, and she loves to hang out with her friend Sam, a tiny panda. When they’re out tending plants, Poppy hears some crying — it’s Basil (a plant of course). Someone has taken a bit of their leaf while they were sleeping! Poppy and Sam try to figure out who did it and they start by interviewing the insects.

Cathon has created an innocent, lighthearted world of cooperation and smiles. Even the endpapers, with their bugs and snails and plants, are delightful.

Poppy and Sam 1 1 Poppy and Sam endpapers

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Graphic Novel Review: Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge (A Nestor Burma Mystery)

Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge coverFog Over Tolbiac Bridge (A Nestor Burma Mystery) by Léo Malet and Jacques Tardi. Translator: Kim Thompson. Fantagraphics, 2017. 9781606997055.

Detective Nestor Burma receives a letter from Abel Benoit, a man in a hospital who claims to know him. On the way to see him, he’s met by a striking woman, Bélita Morales, who tells him not to bother, that Benoit is dead. At the hospital, Burma is interrogated by a police inspector about his connection to the deceased man — it turns they were anarchist together decades earlier, when Benoit used another name.

Burma sets out to figure out why Benoit was killed, and by whom. He spends a bit more time with Bélita, and a lot wandering the shadowy streets of the XIIIth arrondissement. By the end he’ll have figured out who the man is with madness in his eyes, who was pacing on Tolbiac Bridge (an image that haunts the early pages of the story, and figures in its conclusion).

Tardi’s adaptation of this hardboiled detective story by Leo Malet, set in Paris’ XIIIth arrondissement, is a great mystery and gives a great sense of the locale. I’ve enjoyed Tardi’s adaptations of noir mysteries by Jean-Patrick Manchette, and this pulled me in in the same way as my favorite of those, Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot. Or maybe this was just easy to identify with since it’s been wet and cold in Seattle, and it always seemed to be raining in Tardi and Malet’s XIIIth.
Fog Over Tolbiac Bridge 1

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Graphic Novel Review: Land of the Sons

Land of the Sons coverLand of the Sons by Gipi. Fantagraphics, 2018. 9781683960775. 288pp.

Two boys eek out a living in a post-apocalyptic landscape under the tutelage of their father. Their father shows them no love, and at the beginning of the book, as they skin the dog they managed to kill in a fly-infested swamp, one of them considers skinning their father, too. They trade for food, they fish with dynamite, and are told not to touch the corpses they occasionally find. After the boys leave home, they encounter men much worse than their father.

Gipi’s black and white graphic novel is amazing in ways that snuck up on me. He draws the characters and their world in what at first glance looked like a bunch of black scribbles, but is in fact an expressive, brutal masterpiece. The boys harsh father clearly loves them, but is raising them to be uncaring and amoral because that’s the only way they’ll survive. He hasn’t taught them to read but keeps a journal. At one point Gipi even gives us a look at its pages, through the boys’ eyes, at text we can’t also read — an experience that reminded me of looking at art like Cy Twombly’s Untitled (NYC) (1968).)
Land of Sons 1 Land of Sons 2

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Graphic Novel Review: Girl Town

Girl Town CoverGirl Town by Carolyn Nowak. Top Shelf, 2018. 9781603094382. 156pp.

Not a graphic novel per se, but a collection of five excellent and entertaining comic stories of varied length that, together, are one of my favorite “graphic novels” of 2018.  Not many books have a first line this good (atop the first panel of the title story): “I have lived with Ashley and Jolene since we all got kicked out of astronaut school for being too good looking to be sent to space.” Three women make zines and clean houses while having a low-level conflict and friendship with the three women next door. The “I” of that sentence also harbors a serious crush on one of her neighbors that is oh-so-poorly expressed. It’s a great story, and like Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, it’s drawn in purple.  “Radishes” is an emotional tale of friendship and shopping with tigers and a magical food stall. In “Diana’s Electric Tongue” the broken-hearted title character orders a sex robot (it also stores her secrets) and refuses to be embarrassed about/by it.

I left the library’s copy around the house and I hope that my teenage daughter secretly picked it up when I wasn’t looking. Now I’m off to track down some of the issues of Lumberjanes that Nowak illustrated, plus her comics/prose combo Buffy the Vampire Slayer: New School Nightmare, which was just published.

Girl Town 1 Girl Town 4

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Graphic Novel Review: little moments of love

catana comics coverlittle moments of love: a catana comics collection by Catana Chetwynd. Andrews McMeel, 2018. 9781449492977.

Catana Chetwynd’s comics about her relationship with her boyfriend John started out with a discussion of the mere-exposure effect!  That alone would have been enough to keep me reading, though there’s a lot more to love — the comics are sweet and silly and filled with butt jokes. And it looks like they’re at the heart of a merchandise empire that I envy — the strip below is available as a print on canvas.

catana comics image

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