Xpress Reviews, Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, December 9, 2011

Week ending December 9, 2011

Anderson, Chris & Cullen Bunn (adaptation) & Shane Clester (illus.). The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. Writers of the Roundtable. 2011. 80p. ISBN 9781610660068. pap. $12.95. BUS/TECH
Originally a 2006 New York Times best seller, which was updated in 2008, The Long Tail is now presented as a fascinating and easily digestible treatment from SmarterComics. It entertainingly educates us in what Wired editor in chief Anderson (Free: The Future of a Radical Price) refers to as the market of multitudes. With clean, simple illustrations from Clester, this graphic adaptation clearly introduces us to the idea of a hits market versus a niche market and explains how the Internet has allowed those niche markets to receive global attention. Our cultural shift toward minority tastes can now be satisfied on an individual basis thanks to the new virtual marketplace.
Verdict Especially good for teens or anyone who would like a quick, clear understanding of the new long tail bazaar. Recommended for business readers sick of the usual fare.‚ Beth Nerbonne, Rochester P.L., NH

Azzarello, Brian (text) & Rags Morales & Phil Noto (illus.). First Wave. DC. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9781401231354. $29.99. F
Eisner Award winner Azzarello (100 Bullets; Joker) is well known for writing hard-boiled fiction and complex action stories featuring tough guys with blazing guns and smart mouths. Those qualities make him perfect for reimagining nonsuperpowered DC characters such as Batman and the Blackhawks and introducing a new generation of readers to pulp heroes Doc Savage and the Spirit, among others. Set in a timeless universe that merges advanced technology with the motifs of early 20th-century America, this collection follows the first meeting of these characters and their unlikely collaboration to stop a wealthy and scientifically advanced secret society from taking over a postwar world. Keeping up the plot’s nail-biting pace proves tricky when so many characters need to be introduced and explored. Even so, Azzarello’s dialog is complemented by Morales and Noto’s crisp art; together, their elements make for an enjoyable read overall.
Verdict While Batman purists might initially be put off by this gun-toting iteration, he fits in well with the other characters. Recommended for pulp aficionados, Batman fans, and anyone looking for an exciting action story.‚ Peter Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib., Carlisle, PA

Carey, Mike (text) & Clay Mann & others (illus.). X-Men: Age of X. Marvel. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9780785152897. $29.99. F
Set in a darker version of the Marvel universe, this tale offers radically new interpretations of familiar characters: Cyclops is a loose cannon with a vengeful streak; Wolverine is a humbled and depressed bartender; and Magneto‚ the longtime X-Men rival‚ is the ruler of Fortress X, the last bastion of mutant safety. What’s left of mutantkind has taken refuge in the massive structure and must repel daily attacks by oppressive human forces. When a mutant dares to step outside and manages to come back alive, everything once accepted as true is called into question, and the last of the mutants stand on the brink of self-destruction as loyalties are questioned and secrets revealed. Mann and Steve Kurth bring us a fully realized postapocalyptic world that is detailed enough to draw the reader into the action while providing a wide view of battles and conveying a sense of survival and desperation.
Verdict For lapsed comics readers, the reinvented characters may be too much of a change from their cherished memories, but this is a great book for fans of psychological sf and the perfect book for those who crave an exciting and unique story‚ even if they’re not X-fans.‚ M. Brandon Robbins, Wayne Cty. P.L., Goldsboro, NC

Casali, Matteo (text) & Kristian Donaldson (illus.). 99 Days. Vertigo: DC. (Crime). 2011. c.176p. ISBN 9781401230890. $19.99. F/CRIME
Casali (Silent Dance; Bonerest) and Donaldson’s (DMZ; Supermarket) collaboration begins like a standard police procedural: a woman in South Central Los Angeles is hacked to death with a machete, the first in a series of victims. The investigating detectives, Valeria Torres and Antoine Boyd, banter and flirt as they investigate the crimes. However, this stereotypical police story is deepened by another element. In 1994, a Rwandan boy was forced into participating in that country’s ethnic violence. The boy turns out to be young detective Antoine, and the Los Angeles serial killings bring back his past. Here, the mystery element falls away, and the story becomes a psychological drama about his inner turmoil. Donaldson combines photorealistic backgrounds with stylized, geometrical figures, which may initially turn off some readers. However, Casali’s excellent storytelling abilities give the art a sense of motion and intensity.
Verdict Beginning like a stereotypical cop show, the story becomes a deeper, psychological tale. Donaldson’s intriguing style is similar to that of comics legend Jack Kirby, but with a noir atmosphere, and is worth trying out. Recommended.‚ Robert Mixner, Bartholomew Cty. P.L., Columbus, IN

Dickens, Charles (text) & Dan Johnson (adaptation) & Rajesh Nagulakonda (illus.). Oliver Twist. Campfire. (Graphic Novels). 2011. 88p. ISBN 9789380028569. pap. $11.99. F/CLASSICS
It is no small task to condense one of Dickens’s most beloved and frequently retold stories from 400 pages into a mere 88 while maintaining the major plot developments. However, remarkably, this graphic novel version is generally a success in this regard, the only exception being a few hurried wrap-ups that may leave some readers a bit befuddled and in need of rereading the resolution of the many narrative threads. Overall, Johnson’s wordsmithing makes this edition an easy read, and it includes annotations when Dickens’s original phrasing may be unknown to modern readers. Nagulakonda’s use of color‚ and the lack thereof in the seedy underworld of Fagin and the Artful Dodger‚ adds vibrancy and a strong emotional tone to Oliver’s plight. Readers who are less familiar with the story will find this an engaging read and might even be persuaded to read the full-length tome.
VERDICT Owing to the minor violence and complexity of Dickens’s plot twists, this would be suitable for middle school students who like darker stories; think A Series of Unfortunate Events for older readers and note that 2012 marks the 200th birthday of the giant of English literature.‚ Joanna Schmidt, Fort Worth, TX

Edginton, Ian (text) & Christopher Mitten (illus.). Kane & Lynch. WildStorm: DC. 2011. 144p. ISBN 9781401231583. pap. $17.99. F/ACTION
This bloody follow-up to a 2007 video game finds the two escaped inmates marked for death after tangling with the fearsome criminal gang The7. The contract on their lives cuts short Kane’s reunion with his estranged daughter and makes it harder for psychopathic Lynch to stay on his diet of self-prescribed pills. To shake the hit men, Kane and Lynch enter into an elaborate scheme pitting The7’s consigliere against a villain known as the Butcher of Bosnia. Writer Edginton (Victorian Undead) turns in a script that reads like a decent action movie‚ and Kane and Lynch are way more villainous than your typical antiheroes, leading to some funny, four-lettered exchanges. Mitten’s (Wasteland) art works best in the frenetic action scenes but doesn’t live up to the promise of Ben Templesmith’s (30 Days of Night) covers.
Verdict First published over six issues last year, this is an interstitial work filling in some details between the original game and its 2010 sequel. Though enjoyable, it’s a nonessential title. Most libraries can skip it. If you’re looking for convoluted crime stories with gory gunplay, you’re better off picking up 100 Bullets: The Deluxe Edition.‚ Terry Bosky, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., West Palm Beach, FL

Helfand, Lewis (text) & Sankha Banerjee (illus.). The Wright Brothers. Campfire. (Graphic Novels). 2011. 72p. ISBN 9789380028460. pap. $9.99. BIOG/HIST
Through Orville and Wilbur Wright’s biographical narrative, Helfand (Conquering Everest: The Lives of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; 400 BC: The Story of the Ten Thousand) recounts the triumphant and historical events that surrounded the first occurrence of engine-powered human flight. From early on, the Wright Brothers had a propensity for inventing and as young adults partnered to run a printing business using presses they built. Free time allowed for mechanical experimentation that led to the Wright Cycle Company, a bicycle repair shop‚ turned‚ bicycle manufacturing shop. Eventually a shared lifelong devotion to flight inventions emerged. With a theme of ingenuity and persistence, the narrative chronicles events that spurred the first engine-powered flight as well as events that followed, combining compelling personal information with historical facts.
Verdict Geared toward ages nine through 12, this biography gives young readers an accurate and well-rounded account of an important historical event. A focus on the Wright Brothers as children also makes the characters more relatable for the target audience. Recommended to YAs as well as myriad adult readers of YA lit.‚ Willow Fitzgibbon, Fayetteville P.L., AR

Kim, Derek Kirk. Same Difference. First Second: Roaring Brook. Dec. 2011. 96p. ISBN 9781596436572. $16.99. F
When this was first published in 2003, it won every award the comic world gives out (the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz) and for good reason. Kim’s (The Eternal Smile) well-paced graphic novel stands out for his well-rounded, likable characters; sharp, realistic dialog; and pleasant, cinematic drawing style. The adventure centers on Simon and Nancy, two aimless twentysomethings struggling to cope with transitions in their lives and various missed opportunities, including a high school lie Simon still dwells upon with unresolved regret. Nancy, meanwhile, has been responding to letters of unrequited love, addressed to the former tenant of her new apartment. When the two track down the letter writer in Pacifica, CA, the lessons they learn are both sweet and poignant.
Verdict This wonderful work, now in a deluxe edition from First Second, will appeal to a wide audience. It is also a perfect choice to hand to a first-time graphic novel reader interested in the best the medium has to offer. Highly recommended.‚ John Piche, MLIS, San Francisco

Murakami, Takashi. Stargazing Dog. ComicsLit: NBM. 2011. 128p. tr. from Japanese by Atsuko Saisho & Spencer Fancutt. ISBN 9781561636129. pap. $11.99. F
In a derelict car off a forest road, two bodies are found: those of a man and a dog. The man has been dead for months, but the dog died only recently. In his first novel‚ a best seller in Japan now being made into a movie‚ Murakami (not to be confused with the author of 1Q84) tells us how they got there. Daddy is a middle-aged man, unable to change with the times. His inertia costs him his job, his wife and daughter, and his home. With nothing but an old car and a faithful dog, he takes a road trip without a destination. Told simply, from the point of view of Happie the dog, this is a touching story about the innocent devotion of dogs and their ability to transform human lives. Delicate black-and-white art, manga-style, expressively depicts characters and landscapes, matching the story’s wistful tone.
This sad but gentle tale of the unconditional love of dogs has appeal beyond the ranks of manga fans. Moving without being maudlin, this is accessible to teens as well as adult readers.‚ Julia Cox, Penticton P.L., BC

O’Barr, James. The Crow: Special Edition. Gallery: S. & S. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781451627251. pap. $18. F/HORROR
Originally released as a graphic novel in 1989, O’Barr’s best-known work spawned several films and left a lasting legacy in the pop culture landscape. Inspired by events in the author’s life and created as a form of catharsis, this work tells the story of Eric Draven, a man murdered along with his fiancée by street thugs. Eric is brought back to life by a crow as an unstoppable avatar of vengeance, systematically working his way through the killers. O’Barr’s black-and-white artwork fluctuates wonderfully between brutal, inky darkness and picturesque beauty, mirroring a narrative torn between Eric’s memories of his fiancée and the bloody task at hand.
Verdict A few nits can be picked with this special edition, such as the replacement of the song lyrics by The Cure printed in the original version with poetry by O’Barr. But these are minor quibbles, easily outweighed by the inclusion of all-new chapters and re-created sequences for which the original artwork was lost. A new introduction by O’Barr sheds additional light on the story’s conception. This is essential for longtime fans. For the uninitiated, it is recommended for readers of underground comics and action/revenge stories.‚ Pete Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

Outlaw Territory. Vol. 2. Image Comics. 2011. c.240p. ed. by Michael Woods. ISBN 9781607063216. pap. $19.99. F/WESTERN
Much of our country’s mythos grew out of the ramshackle settling of the American West. So it’s fitting that this collection of short, poignant, and gritty Western stories is built upon the type of moral lesson that still floats among our populace‚ warnings about how chasing the gold can lead you down the wrong path, or how the lady you lust after might be the first to turn a gun on you. Though these lessons may be as subtle as the butt-end of a rifle, they are delivered entertainingly via tales of double-crossing bandits and lesbian bank robbers, with enough character and realism to feel like an extension of the best spaghetti Westerns‚ no sanitized Roy Rogers cowpokes here. Still, while the quick-hit stories are great for episodic reading, the lack of recurring characters means the duller motifs aren’t carried by familiar faces. There’s just the common thread of revenge and justice; simple themes for a simpler time. The art is a hit-and-miss mishmash ranging from realistic cowboys and Indians to squiggly lined villains who look as if they always speak with exclamation points.
This works well as a pulp version of American history and will read better than 90 percent of the history books tackling the topic of the American West.‚ Robert Morast, Fargo, ND

Powell, Nate. Any Empire. Top Shelf Prods. 2011. 304p. ISBN 9781603090773. $19.95. F
This coming-of-age story intertwines the lives of three young characters‚ Lee, Sarah, and Purdy‚ as they face the effects of war, both domestic and foreign. Capturing the angst and social pressures of adolescence, Powell, who won Eisner and Ignatz awards for Swallow Me Whole, experiments with a loosely linear narrative by incorporating imagination sequences and by alternating between present and future events. This approach powerfully compares Hollywood and childhood interpretations of war to its gritty realities as readers watch the maturation of Lee and Purdy, who fantasize about being soldiers, and Sarah, who is hot on the trail of suspected turtle torturers. The illustrations are vivid and imaginative, often depicting complicated and weighty emotions and situations.
Verdict The timely, innovative storytelling and captivating artwork should particularly appeal to fans of Craig Thompson’s Blankets and David Small’s Stitches. Highly recommended for both adults and young adults; however, the subject makes it most fitting for teens as they may be facing the same choices as the book’s characters.‚ Willow Fitzgibbon, Fayetteville P.L., AR

Snyder, Scott (text) & Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco (illus.). American Vampire. Vol. 2. Vertigo: DC. 2011. 160p. ISBN 9781401230692. $24.99. F/HORROR
Snyder and Albuquerque return to their protagonist Skinner Sweet, the first vampire of a new type that is unaffected by sunlight, garlic, or crosses and is at war with a group of older European vampires who have all the traditional weaknesses. The previous volume’s cowriter, novelist Stephen King, is gone, and Santolouco (Fall of Cthulhu; Cover Girl) splits the art with Albuquerque. Despite the changes, readers who liked the first book will probably enjoy this one, although some might feel it’s too conventional. Volume 1 pieced together a narrative by hopping around in time; here, the progression is mostly chronological. Also, the story falls into cliché with the introduction of a secret society of vampire hunters whose members include a craggy old man with a crew cut and a woman with a crossbow.
Verdict Although this volume is less original than its forerunner, the characters are sufficiently developed. The art is excellent‚ horrifying in the right places‚ and colorist Dave McCaig adds the right historical atmosphere. Recommended for libraries that own the first volume. Note: there’s a little nudity and a lot of blood.‚ Robert Mixner, Bartholomew Cty. P.L., Columbus, IN

Tadano, Nobuaki. 7 Billion Needles. Vol. 4. Vertical. 2011. 204p. ISBN 9781935654162. pap. $10.95. F/HORROR/SF
The volumes in this series, inspired by Hal Clement’s 1949 novel Needle and distinguished by dramatic artwork and intense storytelling, tell a unique manga story that is part horror, part sf, and part coming of age. Hikaru’s body has become host to a pair of parasitic aliens, and the aloof, shy teenager is thrust into the center of a battle over the fate of the world. In the series’ conclusion, she must find the strength to save the people she loves as cosmic forces seek to change the evolutionary course of all earthly creatures. This volume also features the award-winning short manga Hikikomori Headphone Girl, a touching depiction of the isolation of modern teens, which served as the prolog to this series. Readers caught up in the conceptual and artistic aspects of the story will be satisfied with the emotionally resonant ending.
Verdict Buyers should be aware that Volume 4 does not stand alone. Libraries will need to invest in the entire series, but sophisticated graphic novel and manga readers will thank them.‚ E.W. Goodman, Art Inst. of Pittsburgh

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"


  1. Raymond W. Barber says:

    First of all I am a subscriber. It is very annoying that one can no longer save the xpress revidws and then print them. Well, one can but I am not using a color printer so the background and the print come out the same color and are unreadable. Thesame was true of the best lists, which I started working on before the rint issue arrived.

    Thank you.

    • Wilda Williams Josh Hadro says:

      Hi Raymond — the PrintFriendly button included at the end of every article might help with this a bit.
      At the bottom of each column, under a heading that says “Share and Enjoy!”, there is a button that formats specifically for printing the page — labeled “Print with PrintFriendly” when you hover over the first icon on the left. Please let me know if that helps, or printing is still an issue — feel free to email jhadro@mediasourceinc.com
      Thanks —