Xpress Reviews: Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, March 23, 2012

Week ending March 23, 2012

Barry, Lynda. Blabber Blabber Blabber. Drawn & Quarterly. 2011. 176p. ISBN 9781770460522. $24.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
What It Is and Picture This tell us how she does it; this collection of Barry’s early work shows us how she got there. Focusing on 1978 to 1981, it includes Ernie Pook’s Comeek, Sisters, and Girls and Boys, with a scrapbook-style introduction by Barry outlining early influences. The black-and-white art showcases her jagged line, which progressively becomes stronger and takes over the white space. Though the characters are different and the concerns more adult than those in her later work, her delight in the weird and her ear for strange but convincing dialog are here. Mostly, the comics speak for themselves. If there is a unifying idea, it is Barry’s quest to balance the bitter and the sweet in her work‚ and she does, managing to be both sensitive and vulgar, so we can laugh about things that should make us cry.
Verdict This collection of early work by Barry is a treat for fans and newbies alike. From the beginning, her offbeat characters, bizarre action, and chatty style add up to a crazy kind of reality with great appeal. Recommended for adult collections.‚ Julia Cox, Penticton P.L., BC

Brubaker, Ed (text) & Butch Guice & others (illus.). Captain America: The Trial of Captain America. Marvel. 2011. ed. by Tom Brevoort. illus. ISBN 9780785151203. pap. $19.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
James Bucky Barnes has served as Captain America since the supposed death of Steve Rogers. Even after Rogers returned, Barnes kept the shield and served with valor; but he has a dark secret. During World War II, the Soviets rescued, brainwashed, and trained Barnes as an assassin, the Winter Soldier. When the truth comes to light, Rogers must find a way to save Captain America’s reputation as Barnes faces a brutal trial for his actions. Rogers must also find a way to stop Sin from getting her own form of justice for her father, the Red Skull. Written by Eisner Award winner Brubaker, the story is well paced and full of twists, but the sheer number of characters, subplots, and old story lines makes it feel clumsy. The artwork by Guice (the first issue features Daniel Acu√±a) is solid, even though the ink work is uneven.
Verdict Die-hard fans will enjoy this one, but casual readers may find it too mired in the past.‚ Ellen Goodman, Art Inst. of Pittsburgh

starred review starCase, Jonathan. Dear Creature. Tor. 2011. 192p. ISBN 9780765331113. pap. $15.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Much has been learned from 1960s beach horror movies: that secluded seaside rendezvous often end deadly, that one sea monster spotting terrorizes a community and ruins an otherwise freewheeling summer, and how to do the twist. But what is known of the notorious sea creature? In this debut, Case, a member of the Periscope Studio comics cooperative, dives into this question and introduces Grue, a well-read, romantic, and idealistic sea mutant whose burgeoning love affair is quelling his appetite for humans. Bottles containing a series of Shakespeare writings find Grue and inspire him to speak in iambic pentameter and find romance with the bottles’ source. Discovering the charming Giulietta, the agoraphobic human bibliophile bottle-tosser, isn’t as big of a problem for Grue as learning that Guilietta’s nephew is taking the fall for Grue’s beach snacks.
Verdict Case’s debut is beautifully composed using clean, fluid, high-contrast black-and-white line art that gives this original story a classic feel. This clever and humorous narrative demonstrates stunning visual storytelling. Highly recommended.‚ Willow Fitzgibbon, Fayetteville P.L., AR

Coker, Tomm & Daniel Freedman. Undying Love. Image Comics. 2011. 102p. ISBN 9781607064381. pap. $14.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Another vampire story? Yes. And it’s about a human falling in love with a vampire? Yep. But all credit to Coker and Freedman, cocreators of the creative studio Corvx, for taking a well-worn plotline and making it their own. The human is military contractor John Sargent, who falls in love with vampire Mei while rescuing her from sex traffickers. The two set off for Hong Kong, planning to kill the vampire who created Mei and cure her vampirism. But Mei has skeletons in her closet, not the least of which being that her sire is one of the oldest and most powerful vampires on the planet. The art is heavy and dark, establishing a mood that any film director would envy‚ fitting because the story has been optioned by Warner Bros. The authors also make great use of sound effects to complement the art. The setting and Chinese mythology (involving fox spirits, shape-shifting crow vampires, and prepubescent healers) add a lot to a story that could have been routine.
Verdict Recommended for vampire and horror fans. Faint of heart, be warned‚ this book earns its mature rating.‚ Pete Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

Collins, Max Allan (text) & Richard Piers Rayner (illus.). Road to Perdition. 304p. ISBN 9781401231910.
Collins, Max Allan (text) & José Luis García-López & others (illus.). Road to Perdition 2: On the Road. 296p. ISBN 9781401231903.
ea. vol: Vertigo: DC. 2011. pap. $14.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Vertigo present new editions of Collins’s original 1998 coming-of-age tale of a boy on the road with his father as well as the three-story sequel, first collected in 2004. The father, Michael O’Sullivan, aka the Angel, is a hit man on the run. Connor Looney, son of the Angel’s former mobster boss, has killed the Angel’s wife and youngest boy. The father and his remaining son escape and ally themselves with Eliot Ness and Al Capone in a bid for vengeance against the Looneys. The road that father and son take to reach a town called Perdition is fraught with peril. The Angel hopes to leave his boy in Perdition, but Looney’s henchmen are watching. Father and son complete a series of bank robberies that weaken Looney’s empire, with the boy at the wheel of the getaway car. Their journey is filled with murders, betrayals, confessions, and, oddly, love. Reminiscent of the manga series Lone Wolf and Cub, Perdition and its sequel each conclude on a somber and shocking note. The sequel fills in events of the road trip that were not included in the original.
Verdict Rayner’s art features blocky shadows and gritty crosshatching. Faces eloquently carry the heavy weight of burdened souls; every panel contains menace and dark foreboding. His illustrations emulate wood carvings and powerfully transmit emotion and plot in a gritty, hard-hitting manner. Incredibly sparse panels are counterbalanced with complex frames, creating mood and tension. The artwork by García-López, Steve Lieber, and Josef Rubinstein in the sequel is very good and approximates the style of the original but does not quite match it. The combination of Collins’s story with Rayner’s art is not to be missed.‚ Jeff Hunter, Royal Oak, MI

Ebine, Kazuki. Gandhi: A Manga Biography. Penguin. 2011. 192p. ISBN 9780143120247. pap. $15. GRAPHIC NOVELS
While there are many biographies on Mohandas Gandhi, later known as Mahatma Gandhi, few are short enough to read in an afternoon. Manga artist Ebine’s biography focuses solely on the major events in Gandhi’s life to give readers a brief overview. While the dialog is occasionally stilted, Ebine includes many of Gandhi’s most notable sayings and refers to the texts that influenced his beliefs. Ebine’s particularly well-done gray-scale illustrations move between action and stillness, often to highlight the difference between the violence used by Gandhi’s opposers and his commitment to nonviolent protest. The violence depicted is minimal and not graphic; instead, Ebine addresses Gandhi’s reaction to such measures and how he chooses peace as a unifying force for his country.
Verdict Middle to high school students might find this book a helpful introduction to Gandhi and all he accomplished, and even some adult readers may learn a bit more about Gandhi’s relationship with his wife or about his time in South Africa and how that influenced his future work in India.‚ Joanna Schmidt, Fort Worth, TX

Guay, Rebecca (illus.) & Holly Black & others (text). A Flight of Angels. Vertigo: DC. 2011. c.128p. ISBN 9781401232009. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
In this collection, created by fantasy artist Guay (Veils), a group of goblins, faeries, and other magical creatures gather around an unconscious angel who has fallen from the sky into their midst. Some of the creatures want to kill the angel, while others, taken by his beauty, want him to live. To decide what to do, the magical creatures hold a trial, and, as evidence, several of them tell tales they have heard about angels. These tales, each written by a different fantasy novelist or graphic novel writer‚ Todd Mitchell (The Traitor King), Louise Hawes (Vanishing Point), Alisa Kwitney (Token), Black (cocreator of Spiderwick Chronicles), and Bill Willingham (Fables)‚ and all illustrated by Guay, make up the majority of the book.
Verdict Guay, whose background as an illustrator complements these text-heavy stories, skillfully changes her style to suit the tale. Some of the narratives could have benefitted from further development, but their brevity means they can be read over and over again. The collection ties together nicely, and Guay’s art is uniformly beautiful. Recommended. (Some inoffensive nudity.)‚ Robert Mixner, Bartholomew Cty. P.L., Columbus, IN

Hester, Phil (text) & David Marquez (illus.). Days Missing. Vol. 2: Kestus. Archaia. 2011. 144p. ISBN 9781936393107. $24.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
In this sequel, Hester, a longtime comic book writer and artist (The Wretch), and Marquez (Fantastic Four: Season One) team up to continue the saga of The Steward. The principal character, gifted and challenged with the mission of guiding humanity to its best and brightest future, is now strangely thwarted by a creature, Kestus, much like himself. She is equally determined to anchor humankind to its own responsible history even if that means the complete annihilation of the human race. Will these two space/time anomalies ever agree? Does the extinction of humanity hang in the balance? You bet it does!
Verdict This cosmic parable injects bits of fact, exotic locations, and historical figures into the mix. It is all beautifully rendered and fun to read.‚ Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Hickman, Jonathan. The Nightly News. anniversary ed. Image Comics. 2011. 300p. ISBN 9781607064619. $34.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Celebrating the five-year anniversary of the Eisner-nominated Nightly News, this beautifully presented edition of Hickman’s story still packs a punch. The novel starts with a simple assumption‚ the media are controlling us, and they are corrupt. Their unfettered power ruins lives as reporters tell sensational stories and expose innocent people. A small group of victims who suffered at the media’s hands have banded together. Controlled by their unseen but all-knowing leader, the Voice, they are taking their revenge in grand fashion. The story, even when paired with a smattering of facts and asides, is gripping. But it is Hickman’s art that really drives this book. He abandons the panel layout of traditional comics in favor of layered action, graphic backgrounds, and modern info graphics, which serve as the perfect counterpoint to his violent, unsettling tale.
Verdict The original script, details on the process, and other extras will make this edition a delight for fans of the original, while the still-relevant story will capture new readers.‚ E.W. Goodman, Art Inst. of Pittsburgh

starred review starManning, Matthew. The Batman Files. Andrews McMeel. 2011. 308p. ISBN 9781449408220. $100. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Packed full of Gotham City newspaper articles, police records, criminal files, and blueprints, The Batman Files is the definitive compendium for Batman knowledge. Produced in conjunction with Warner Bros. and DC Comics, this distinctive collection showcases Manning’s knowledge as a comic book writer (The Attack of Professor Zoom!) and his passion as a historian and fan of comics (coauthor, DC Comics Year by Year). The beautiful packaging and layout seal everything together, giving the reader an in-depth and highly enjoyable look at one of the comics world’s most fascinating superheroes.
Verdict The high price tag may scare some away, but the details inside will wow anyone who gives this book a look. Libraries with robust graphic novel collections and fervent graphic novel fans will find this title a must-have. Great for teen and adult Batman fans.‚ Justin Hoenke, Portland P.L., ME

Spencer, Nick (text) & CAFU (illus.). T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Vol. 1. DC. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9781401232542. pap. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
DC has a winner in this tightly plotted, gorgeous 21st-century update of the silver age comic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. The heroes of here aren’t traditional supers; their powers come from secret scientific equipment that only a few people can wield (and that will eventually wear them down until it kills them). Who would choose such a fate, and why? And what responsibility do their superiors have‚ represented here by Toby Henston, whose job it is to talk people into joining THUNDER, and Colleen Franklin, who orders them on their missions‚ for what ultimately happens when they use their powers? The existential questions have the depth of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s excellent Kingdom Come, but the plot twists are pure page-turning Spencer (Morning Glories). CAFU’s lush art will have you convinced you can read characters’ minds by looking at their expressions‚ a perfect way to experience the layers of chemistry between Colleen and Toby.
Verdict Recommended for all libraries with graphic novel collections.‚ Kit Ward-Crixell, New Braunfels

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"