Xpress Reviews: Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, December 16, 2011

Week ending December 16, 2011

Andreyko, Marc (text) & Patric Reynolds (illus.). Let Me In. Vol. 1: Crossroads. Dark Horse. 2011. 112p. ISBN 9781595827968. pap. $14.99. F/HORROR
Abby is a pretty but peculiar girl of about 12 with a complicated diet and lifestyle. She lives in a secluded rural setting with her father. They both keep odd hours. Owing to their unusual life choices, relocation is a common occurrence. This work is based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which was later made into a fine Norwegian film called Let the Right One In (2008). Hammer Film also released an American version called Let Me In (2010). This illustrated book acts as a prequel to these later, fully rendered vampire stories. The line art, heavy inks, and color work well together. There is also a nifty sketchbook tucked away in the back: a nice bonus feature.
Verdict Teens are going to love this. Although the characters are a bit wooden and the plot predictable, the story moves with an urgency fueled by the angst of its young characters. Unabashed crunching, bleeding, and spookiness soak these pages, and the clipped, relentless pace make it a quick page turner.‚ Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Ayuyang, Rina. Whirlwind Wonderland. Sparkplug. 2011. 128p. ISBN 9780979746550. pap. $15. MEMOIR
This sketchbook-style autobiography, nominated for the Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent, introduces readers to comic author and illustrator Ayuyang’s dry humor and lavish imagination. The collection, which includes original pieces as well as episodes from the author’s Namby Pamby comic miniseries, is a potpourri of quirky observations, incorporating tales of growing up American Filipino, stories of early morning commutes, and confessions of closeted Murder, She Wrote enthusiasts. Especially compelling are Ayuyang’s accounts of reconnecting with older generations of her family in the Bay Area and in Lapog, Philippines. The illustrations exhibit varying levels of confidence and maturity, pointing to Ayuyang’s growth as an artist over the period the pieces were created, and at times the illustrations are overshadowed by a high ratio of text to art per panel. However, given the spirit of this book, underground comic supporters should find these idiosyncrasies appealing, and fans of Lynda Barry, Gary Panter, and Belle Yang will be interested in Ayuyang’s contribution to the alternative comic world.
Verdict While this title may not have mass appeal, it is recommended for libraries with ties to the Bay Area and/or strong underground comic collections.‚ Willow Fitzgibbon, Fayetteville P.L., AR

Bendis, Brian Michael (text) & Michael Avon Oeming (illus). Powers. Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? Marvel. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9780785156710. $24.99. F
Since the Eisner Award‚ winning series was launched in 2000, Bendis and Oeming have put their vibrant stamp on the superhero genre with this unique world in which cops investigate situations involving powers‚ characters with superhuman abilities. The creators borrow elements from the police procedural genre, which makes for a noirish, foreboding atmosphere and puts a clever spin on superhero clichés. Veteran homicide detective Christian Walker is assigned to team up with newcomer Deena Pilgrim to investigate the mysterious death of a character known as Retro Girl. As the two hunt the murderer, Deena discovers that Walker is an ex-power as well as a friend and associate of Retro Girl’s.
Verdict Bendis’s scripts include a variety of innovative techniques and devices: cameos by characters from other comics; the incorporation of investigative procedures; adult language and subject matter; and a loose basing of certain plot threads on the lives and travails of notable rock stars and celebrities. Oeming’s cartoony but appealing and powerful art is reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s noted Batman: The Animated Series television show. His pencils successfully combine noir elements with superhero themes in an effective and compelling way. Highly recommended.‚ Jeff Hunter, Royal Oak, MI

Brubaker, Ed & Greg Rucka (text) & Michael Lark (illus.). Gotham Central. Bk. 1: In the Line of Duty. DC. 2011. 240p. illus. ISBN 9781401220372. pap. $19.99. F/POLICE PROCEDURAL
Brubaker (Captain America) and Rucka (52; Detective Comics) are two of the DC roster’s big dogs, having been nominated for or won a raft of Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz awards. Published in 2008 and repackaged here, this series depicts the complicated lives of the Gotham City Police Department’s (GCPD) working stiffs. When Mister Freeze kills a GCPD officer, detective Marcus Driver makes a belligerent commitment to conduct his investigation without Batman’s involvement. The Freeze case carries over to the death of a teenager and an unexpected unveiling of the Firebug’s identity. Later, Officer Renee Montoya is publicly outed as a lesbian and confronts harassment from bigots on the force and from the infatuated Two-Face in more sinister ways. Absent the bright colors and sharp lines of typical superhero fare, this series’ muted, dingy tones recall years spent at the precinct with Andy Sipowicz and NYPD Blue.
Verdict Though many characters play to familiar types, fans of police procedurals and high-tension, low-flash cop shows will gleefully gobble up these plots panel by panel. Devoted DC readers will value the continued expansion of the Batman universe.‚ John Gehner, Urbana Free Lib., IL

CLAMP. Magic Knight Rayearth Omnibus Edition. Dark Horse. 2011. 640p. ISBN 9781595825889. pap. $19.99. F
Fuu, Umi, and Hikaru are magically transported from a class field trip to the land of Cephiro, where thoughts and wishes have the power to change reality. Princess Emeraude, whose prayers maintain peace in Cephiro, has summoned the three girls to rescue her from her captivity and save Cephiro from the monsters that have overrun the countryside. To save the princess, the girls must acquire magical armor and awaken the Mashin‚ powers of fire, water, and air‚ and then confront the evil high priest Zagato, who has captured the princess. Using magical girl summoning and wielding fantastical mecha mashin, the girls overcome their inner conflicts and battle assorted powers as they attempt to rescue the princess. This volume collects the issues of a serial created in the mid-1990s by the manga team CLAMP. The art is in line in with 1990s-style shojo comics, very much like Yuu Watase’s Fushigi Yugi but with a cleaner style and less attention to ornamentation and the landscape of the alternate reality.
Verdict CLAMP has created many well-known and internationally best-selling manga series, such as Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles, so expect high interest in this omnibus from fans.‚ Christine Gertz, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton

Cornell, Paul (text) & Pete Woods (illus). Superman: The Black Ring. Vol. 2. DC. 2011. 224p. ISBN 9781401232030. $29.99. F/SF
Here’s what you should know: Lex Luthor will do anything to get what he wants, and what he wants is to destroy Superman, even if he has to become a god to do it. In this series (Volume 2 collects Action Comics issues 896‚ 900, Secret Six issue 29, and Action Comics Annual issue 13), novelist and comics and TV writer Cornell’s (Action Comics; Doctor Who) characterization of Luthor is spot-on, and his take on Lex’s interactions with various DC characters (Darkseid, Ra’s al Ghul, and others) offers an enjoyable glimpse at Luthor’s origins that readers normally don’t see. Woods’s action scenes can be confusing at times, but his use of color suits the more emotional scenes and overall enhances the story. Together, Cornell and Woods pull off a collaboration that, once again, will make readers root for the bad guy.
Verdict This volume concludes the Black Ring story line with gusto. Cornell gets Lex, showing him to be not only Superman’s greatest enemy but also his own. This and the preceding volume are especially recommended for Superman fans, but any reader who enjoys a good sf story will likely appreciate this as well.‚ Ryan Claringbole, Chesapeake P.L., VA

Lester, David. The Listener. Arbeiter Ring. 2011. 310p. ISBN 9781894037488. pap. $19.95. F
Lester’s (The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism) book follows Louise, an American sculptor, as she travels around Europe, visiting museums, biking through the countryside, and having brief relationships with two men. When not sleeping with them, she engages them in abstract conversations about history and art. In Germany, Louise meets an elderly couple who share their memories of the country during Hitler’s rise to power. After listening to their story, Louise bicycles around some more.
Verdict Lester has written part of a good book. Unfortunately, most of it reads like a satire of art film; Louise’s conversations might be appropriate in a graduate art theory class but seem stilted and unnatural here. The only exception is the old couple’s story, a fascinating portrayal of Hitler’s menace and absurdity that deserves more space. While the art is ambitious, showing Picasso’s influence, it often makes the story difficult to follow and the characters hard to recognize. Not recommended.‚ Robert Mixner, Bartholomew Cty. P.L., Columbus, IN

Liu, Marjorie (text) & Will Conrad with Sana Takeda (illus). X-23: The Killing Dream. Vol. 1. Marvel. 2011. 152p. ISBN 9780785152958. $19.99. F
X-23 was created as a teen female facsimile of Wolverine, the no-nonsense mutant whose metal claws and berserker rage have made him one of Marvel’s flagship characters. And what with the claws, minor killing lust, and antisocial tendencies, she kind of is. But paranormal romance and urban fantasy author Liu (Dirk & Steele novel series) seems to have cribbed more from La Femme Nikita than The Uncanny X-Men‚ and that isn’t exactly a good thing. Mutant teenage outcast X-23, aka Lauren Kinney, is set up as a relatable avatar for disaffected teenage girls everywhere. The more her adult guardians try to make her feel welcome, the more withdrawn she becomes, to the point of running away. (That’s what happens when you’re raised by scientists to be a secret government weapon.) We follow X-23 as she wanders in search of her past and/or a sense of belonging. Along the way, we’re privy to flashbacks of her training to be a killer, her confusion over having a scientist as mommy, and the legacy of being cloned from a guy named after a vicious mammal. We feel as if we should sympathize with X-23, but it’s hard not to want more action and less daddy/mommy-issue psychobabble.
Verdict This collection of issues 1‚ 6 looks cool‚ the art blends elements of manga with a traditional American comic style‚ but the execution is hollow and falls into superhero comic clichés. If you want credible female-driven angst, reread Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World instead.‚ Robert Morast, Fargo, ND

McNeil, Carla Speed. Finder: Voice. Dark Horse. 2011. c.215p. illus. ISBN 9781595826510. pap. $19.99. F/SF
Author and illustrator McNeil’s Eisner and Inatz Award‚ winning sf series, published since 1996, is set on a far-future Earth controlled by clans in domed municipalities and populated with castes living in states ranging from opulence to squalor. This ninth volume in the series showcases the previously minor character Rachel Grosvenor, who has reached the age to secure favored status in her mother’s Llaverac clan by competing in a ritualized beauty contest. Winning means security for both Rachel and her younger sibling. On the verge of achieving her dream, she is mugged and loses a ring essential to her participation in the contest. She embarks on a quest to recover the heirloom and discovers, along the way, that life outside the clan bears risks but offers rewards.
Verdict Readers new to McNeil’s world may at first lack traction with the politics, sexual identities, and character conflicts running through the series. However, the top-notch pen-and-ink figures and compelling story lines make up one of the most distinctive imagined futures in comic form.‚ John Gehner, Urbana Free Lib., IL

Nilsen, Anders. Big Questions (Deluxe Edition). Drawn & Quarterly. 2011. 658p. ISBN 9781770460447. $69.95. F
Coming in at more than 600 pages and about five pounds, this is big in size and even bigger in content, the type of comic book that will change your mind about what a comic book can do. Representing 15 years of work by two-time Ignatz winner Nilsen (Dogs and Water; Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow), this work features a cast of birds who are perfectly happy pecking at crumbs until, one fateful day, two strange objects fall from the sky (think The Gods Must Be Crazy for the aviary set). How they react divides the flock into two camps. When tragedy strikes, some of the more philosophical birds start questioning destiny, free will, and the very meaning of life. The simple-minded birds never really figure out the answers, but in asking the big questions they encourage readers to come to their own conclusions.
Verdict Nilsen’s art is beautiful and sparse, but it can be difficult to tell the handful of identically drawn main characters apart, and at moments you wish the plot would move in double-time. Instant gratification it is not, but if you push through to the end, it is well worth it. A great selection for any adult collection.‚ Ingrid Bohnenkamp, The Library Ctr., Springfield, MO

Takahashi, Osamu. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project. Vol. 8. ISBN 9781595826947.
Takahashi, Osamu. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project. Vol. 9. ISBN 9781595828002.
ea. vol: Dark Horse. 2011. 184p. pap. $9.99. F
Beloved by fans, this series is also convoluted enough to make Lost seem straightforward. The original version is a dark, psychotherapy-themed anime set in a future in which traumatized middle school students defend humanity against angels. The Shinji Ikari Raising Project takes place in an alternate universe glimpsed in the ending of the original anime. This is a much happier place: kids who were orphans in the original version now live with their parents; instead of fighting for Earth’s survival, the characters play baseball and visit hot springs. The plot is very thin, mainly centering on which girl will end up with hero Ikari. What there is instead is fanservice: bikini tops fall off; males trip and inevitably land in girls’ breasts or crotches. Fanservice certainly isn’t unknown in manga, but Takahashi’s motto seems to be: I don’t need a reason to draw a panel from an up-the-skirt point of view. The serviceable art looks like a typical shojo school manga.
Verdict Buy only if you think your manga collection needs more gratuitous cheesecake.‚ Kit Ward-Crixell, New Braunfels P.L., TX

Takenashi, Eri. Kannagi. Vol. 1: Crazy Shrine Maidens. 2011. 180p. ISBN 9781604962673. pap. $10.99. F/SHONEN
When a young boy named Jin carves the shape of a girl from the branch of a sacred tree that has been uprooted to make way for development, he unexpectedly becomes the guardian of Nagi, a local goddess who made her home in the tree. Despite losing her sacred tree, Nagi resiliently continues her quest to root out defilements, bug-like creatures that undermine humans and nature, while both exasperating and humiliating Jin, who seems to be the one human who can perceive and destroy these defilements. Along the way, Nagi turns a magic wand into an exorcism device, infiltrates Jin’s high school, and discovers a rival sister-god, all while trying to maintain her god status by becoming popular with humans.
Verdict The characters are depicted as sweet and almost childlike, complementing the story’s gentle themes and conflicts. With its light, madcap humor, slapstick, and mild fanservice, this will appeal to younger teen readers of shonen manga.‚ Christine Gertz, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton

Van Hamme, Jean (text) & Grzegorzi Rosinsk (illus.). Western. Cinebook. (Expresso). 2011. 72p. ISBN 9781849180849. pap. $15.95. F/WESTERN
The creators of the critically acclaimed Belgian comic book Thorgal team up again to reignite the cowboy genre. The story follows a narrator who goes by the name Nate Colton‚ a 14-year-old boy to whom fate has taken a strident dislike. He flees a botched plot in Fort Laramie that results in murder, loses his arm to gangrene, and lives for years as an outlaw. Meanwhile, he finds that the tragedies of the past are hard to escape. The plentiful art in this wonderfully rendered volume ranges from intimate, sepia-colored panels reflective of the 19th-century tintype to full-bleed color panoramas. The effect is often cold and bleak but always stirring.
Verdict Teens through adults will love this stand-alone tale full of gritty resilience, quirky characters, and fine panel-to-panel storytelling reminiscent of the glory days of comic books in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a dark and engaging tale, sweeping the reader along in what feels like a sagebrush-inspired legendary myth.‚ Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Wolfman, Marv (text) & George Pérez (illus) & others. The New Teen Titans Omnibus. Vol. 1. DC. 2011. c.684p. ISBN 9781401231088. $75. F
The Teen Titans ruled the 1980s superhero scene. Or at least this reviewer thought so while reading them at age ten. This collection makes a great introduction to a series that was full of dramatic fun and action. Volume 1 collects the comic’s first 20 issues plus a four-issue origins adventure, so there is plenty of material between these covers. Pérez’s (Avengers; Wonder Woman) art seems a bit dated and static in comparison to the recent page innovations of manga, and some of Wolfman’s (Blade; The Tomb of Dracula) story lines might seem hokey to more sophisticated readers, but that will not deter fans of the original series from picking up the book. Moreover, the Titans live on in new comic books and a recurring cartoon series, which should attract younger readers.
Verdict Both longtime fans and newcomers will enjoy the scope and content of this collection, though let’s hope a less pricey paperback version appears soon.‚ John Piche, MLIS, San Francisco

Ziadé, Lamia. Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975‚ 1979. Interlink: Interlink Pub. Group. Jan. 2012. 296p. ISBN 9781566568777. pap. $24.95. MEMOIR/HIST
Ziadé is seven when her carefree childhood ends. Her life in Beirut has been idyllic, a rich mixture of cultures and faiths, East and West, old and new. But 1975 ushers in years of civil war. When Ziadé’s family decides to stay in Lebanon, she witnesses the country’s rapid decent into madness with the attendant horrors of looting, kidnapping, and bombing. This is not a traditional graphic novel but an illustrated memoir. Rather than offering political explanation or insight, it explores a child’s personal experience of war. Instead of panel art, unframed gouache illustrations effectively contrast dark-toned scenes of war and destruction with bright pop art images detailing life before.
Verdict With words and pictures, Ziadé paints a vivid portrait of the shocking transition to civil war through the eyes of a child, of the million tiny losses that rob childhood of its joy and wonder. Those hoping to understand the politics of the conflict may be disappointed; those hoping to understand the experience of a people at war will connect with Ziadé’s story.‚ Julia Cox, Penticton P.L., BC

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"