Xpress Reviews: Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, March 30, 2012

Week ending March 30, 2012

Bendis, Brian Michael & Kelly Sue DeConnick (text) & Lan Medina (illus.). Castle: Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm; A Derrick Storm Mystery. Marvel. 2011. 112p. ISBN 9780785153276. $19.99. F
PI Derrick Storm is shot at during surveillance on an allegedly missing (and presumed cheating) husband. Derrick escapes but discovers that the woman who hired him is not really his suspect’s wife, and the man he has been following is actually rogue CIA agent Daniel Sanchez. Derrick is then hired by Clara Strike, another CIA agent looking to nail Sanchez and two others, Bauer and Urso, who stole money from Iranian arms sales to the Contras during the 1980s. Derrick winds up in Nicaragua without ID, money, or a safety network and then teams up with Clara to pursue Urso and Sanchez, a chase that concludes with a chaotic shootout. A violent yet somber surprise ending lends this humorous, jaunty tale a poignant final note.
Verdict Featuring trademark Bendis (Avengers; Ultimate Comics Spider-Man) dialog, puns, and fast-moving plot and clear, crisp, and lively illustrations that efficiently convey mood and action, this graphic novel spins off of the ABC television show Castle; the protagonist writes best-selling novels starring a character named Derrick Storm, and several Derrick Storm novels have been published (e.g., Richard Castle’s Heat Wave).‚ Jeff Hunter, Royal Oak, MI

CLAMP. Gate 7. Vol. 1. Dark Horse. 2011. 192p. ed. by Philip Simon. tr. from Japanese by William Flanagan. ISBN 9781595828064. pap. $10.99. F
High school student Chikahito is irresistibly drawn to the shrines, temples, and history of Kyoto. When he realizes his dream of traveling there, he meets three mysterious strangers, Tachibana, Sakura, and Hana. However, they are surprised when Chikahito can see them, since they are engaged in a magical conflict with supernatural enemies, which the apparently mundane Chikahito should not be able to perceive. Hana takes a liking to Chikahito and uses magic to draw the young man back to Kyoto, pulling him into their supernatural struggles. Gate 7 is an urban fantasy manga, which uses Japanese spiritual and magical practices and references Japanese historical figures. The spiritual field of combat is distinguished by a heavy black background, and magical combat is illustrated with fantastic swirls, ornamentation, and floral motifs; the scenery of the real Kyoto is rendered realistically with exacting detail. The characters are a mixture of shojo tropes and CLAMP’s stylistic androgyny, but the story, which will appeal to CLAMP’s fanbase, will also entice readers of shonen combat fantasy, such as Tite Kubo’s Bleach.
Verdict CLAMP is an established manga creation team with many well-known and best-selling series (e.g., Cardcaptor Sakura), and Gate 7 will appeal to teen and adult, male and female manga readers.‚ Christine Gertz, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton

Gaska, Andrew E.C. (text) & Daniel Dussault (illus.). Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier. Archaia. 2011. 168p. ISBN 9781932386981. $24.95. F
Two-thousand years in the future, most of Earth’s animal life has gone extinct, the North American continent is gone, period, and the dying world has been inherited by the cultures that were ascendant at the beginning of the 21st century. Some things are familiar, like the Internet slang that permeates the future’s vapid pop culture. Other things are wildly different, like the have-nots of society comprised of Caucasians who are derisively referred to as Ghosts. It is in this environment that young trillionaire philanthropist Thomm Coney seizes on new technological advances that will allow humanity to seek a new home beyond the solar system. Coney and his crew will get the chance only if the project can survive political agendas, racial unrest, and the unproven vessel being used for the voyage.
Verdict Gaska has an interesting take on the future, although the racial aspects of the story are not subtle and may make some uncomfortable. Dussault’s art is mostly sublime, with his cityscapes and water scenes standing out in particular. Mildly recommended for mature fans of sf.‚ Pete Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

Gaska, Andrew E.C. (text) & various (illus.). Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes. Archaia. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781936393367. $24.95. F
This is a strange book‚ it is a novel with fantastic illustrations by noted comic book artists, so it is not technically a graphic novel but a novel with graphics. Gaska, who usually helps write the stories in video games (like the Grand Theft Auto series), expands on the story told in the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. The book is the backstory of the doomed John Landon (played by Robert Gunner in the film), one of the astronauts who crash with George Taylor (Charlton Heston). You might remember Landon better as the astronaut whom Heston encounters‚ the one with the half-moon scar on his head. Gaska’s book tells us how he came to that fate. The writing is a bit clumsy at points and confusing in others, but the illustrations are painterly and interesting.
Verdict Beyond hard-core fans of the original Planet of the Apes film, this book will have little appeal.‚ John Piche, MLIS, San Francisco

Hopeless, Dennis (text) & Kevin Mellon (illus.). Lovestruck. Image Comics. 2011. 192p. illus. ISBN 9781607064473. pap. $16.99. F
This graphic novel’s concept sounds great: a punky rock ‘n’ roll photographer is granted the power to put people in love, or lust, and joins a band of social misfits, with similar abilities, who act as Cupid’s street team. Throw in gods that take the form of The Ramones and sly commentary about popular music culture, and you’d think this would become the favorite comic book of cynical rock music fans everywhere. Too bad the idea is better in short form. While the book starts out in a strong, compelling way‚ with photographer Kalli fighting off smitten rock stars while struggling with the reality that love might be real and something she controls‚ the story line shifts in an odd direction. Cupid uses his love team to influence business transactions so he can accumulate more power and cash. Meanwhile, Kalli is trying to comprehend the notion that she can make anyone fall in love, except herself. Then comes the news she’s Cupid’s replacement‚ and she sprouts the fire wings to prove it.
Verdict Skeptical, heartbroken people with serious rock culture fetishes will likely be curious about but not consumed by this book. Recommended for libraries with teen or adolescent populations who look like they shop at Hot Topic.‚ Robert Morast, Fargo, ND

Johns, Geoff & others (text) & various (illus.). Green Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns. DC. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781401232344. $29.99. F
This graphic novel continues the story arc of Johns’s Blackest Night and Brightest Day. All the Green Lanterns except Earth’s four are being controlled by a rogue Guardian. Because using their rings would make them susceptible, each of the four is forced to choose a ring of a different color and fight back with the emotions of fear, rage, hope, and compassion. Although the subject is the range of human emotion, this is an action movie within the pages of a book. Nearly every spread has a fight scene, with aarghs and aiees worthy of any shonen manga. Fans of Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan will love the one-liners they toss at one another in their strained attempt to work together. And the artwork is impressive, not least because it can’t have been easy to take a story that requires rainbows to bust out all over and prevent it from looking like a My Little Pony.
Verdict This title and its two aforementioned predecessors are recommended for teens and adults; those new to the series will want to start with the first book.‚ Kit Ward-Crixell, New Braunfels P.L., TX

Morrison, Grant (text) & J.H. Williams III & others (illus.). Seven Soldiers of Victory. Vol. 1. DC. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9781401229511. pap. $29.99. F
Morrison (All-Star Superman; Batman: R.I.P.) returns with his usual cryptic storytelling by digging through DC’s history and picking seven obscure characters to fill the starring roles. This volume features four of the Seven Soldiers: the Shining Knight, the Guardian, Zatanna, and Klarion the Witch Boy. Each character has his or her own miniseries; they never meet but are all tied together in the underlying theme of a coming cataclysm. Morrison’s writing is top-notch as always, as he gives each character an individual voice and takes readers through the labyrinth of the stories. All six artists do a decent job and match Morrison’s description to each character. The best is Frazer Irving, who soaks Klarion the Witch Boy’s world in blue tones.
Verdict This is a challenging read worth the time for anyone who wants an epic of mammoth proportions. Morrison always marinates his stories in the history of the company (in this case DC) and here rewards with Easter eggs throughout for those who do their homework. The multiple artists refreshingly give each character a distinctive look and feel. Recommended to those who enjoy comic books, fantasy, and sf.‚ Ryan Claringbole, Chesapeake P.L., VA

Satrapi, Marjane. The Sigh. Archaia. 2011. 56p. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin. ISBN 9781936393466. $10.95. F
Satrapi (Persepolis; Embroideries; Chicken with Plums) departs from her characteristic stark, black-and-white illustrations that often depict human responses to complex circumstances to create this all-ages picture book about beautiful Rose’s discovery of the fragility of existence. Upon her father’s giftless return from a trip, Rose’s sigh of disappointment summons Ah the Sigh, a floating, ghostlike being. Ah is able to produce Rose’s desired present and as payment requires that she abscond with him to a faraway castle. Rose adapts quickly to castle life and in time meets a shy prince just as charming as her new accommodations, and the two quickly fall in love. However, a sudden mistake abruptly plucks away her newfound love and happiness, and Rose embarks on a journey of reprieve.
Verdict Not employing the comic format, the book showcases simple color illustrations that balance with the text. The story speaks on many levels and is appropriate for all ages. Satrapi will continue to delight fans and possibly convert a few new ones.‚ Willow Fitzgibbon, Fayetteville P.L., AR

Tapalansky, Nick (text) & Alex Eckman-Lawn & Thomas Mauer (illus.). Awakening Omnibus. Archaia. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9781936393213. pap. $24.95. F
Imagine living in a typical city. Now imagine that the only leading news stories revolve around persons who vanish and persons found partially devoured. After months of investigations, the only citizens who seem to know the truth are the local eccentrics, and their explanations sound strangely like zombieism. Eagle Award nominee for Favourite Newcomer Writer Tapalansky creates a world in which the root of the problem lies within human DNA itself, and now this queer phenomenon is making itself manifest.
Verdict There is a jarring visual friction here represented with an energetic, painterly/collage style that gets as gooey and messy as the story being told. Sometimes a little confusing, this grisly fantasy still beckons readers to take the horrific ride. There are lots of nifty bonus bits, too, in the form of pinups, workup sketches, and story additions. All in all, a fresh contribution to the well-established living dead genre.‚ Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Thomas, Brandon (text) & Lee Ferguson (illus.). The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out. Archaia. 2011. 176p. ISBN 9781936393053. $24.95. F
Thomas and Ferguson have created two of the best original comic characters in a long time‚ Miranda Mercury and Jack Warning. These two young friends go out in the universe to help others, making the impossible possible. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, showing how Miranda Mercury has less than a year to live and pushes herself to do more, while her friend Jack Warning does his best to save her. The characters and their galactic environment are perfectly captured in Ferguson’s rich colors and striking action scenes.
Verdict This is a fantastic, original story for those interested in space odysseys and adventure. The two characters are great together, and the theme of friendship and adversity are handled well. With a perfect blend of clear, bright artwork and a story that is riveting and smart, this graphic novel should be read by all.‚ Ryan Claringbole, Chesapeake P.L., VA

Thomas, Roy (text) & Dick Giordano (illus.). Dracula. Marvel. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9780785149064. pap. $16.99. F
This vivid graphic novel adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was conceived over 30 years ago by Thomas (Avengers) and Giordano (former executive editor, DC Comics)‚ major forces in the comic book world‚ and is here collected and in color for the first time. While many people probably assume that they are familiar with the tale made famous in movies, this adaptation is closer to the original. Told through careful plotting, the graphic novel traces the story of Dracula’s encounter with Jonathan Harker in Transylvania to Van Helsing’s hunt in England for the mysterious creature who is abducting London’s youth. Although the project began decades ago, the overall feel is cohesive. Told through the distinct voices of the different narrators, it is written with much of Stoker’s original text, providing the authenticity that is sometimes lost when a classic is updated into modern language for readers. The illustrations are engaging and effectively complement the text.
Verdict Whether they have read the original or only seen the movie depictions, readers of all ages will find this an excellent adaptation that reminds them of why Stoker’s story is a classic.‚ Joanna Schmidt, Fort Worth, TX

Walters, Mac & John Jackson Miller (text) & Omar Francia (illus.). Mass Effect: Evolution. Dark Horse. 2011. 112p. ISBN 9781595827593. pap. $16.99. F
Humanity’s first contact with an alien race leads to intergalactic war. The human colony of Shanxi is decimated by the turians, but mercenary Jack Harper strikes a blow for the resistance, capturing a turian general and learning of an ancient alien artifact. The artifact has the power to spark evolution, and Harper’s passing exposure to it gives him mastery of alien languages and a psychic connection to the monolith. Now Harper and his mercenaries must track down the artifact before the turians use it to create supersoldiers. This is the second tie-in volume to the hit video game series; the lead writer for the game, Walters (Mass Effect: Redemption), provides the story, making these events canonical. Miller (Star Wars: Knight Errant) scripts an involved plot, and Francia (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II) meets the challenge of combining distinctive character designs and alien landscapes with convincing action.
Verdict Mass Effect is a popular video game series, and this graphic novel volume will mean a lot to its fanbase; however, it will overwhelm readers simply searching for a space opera.‚ Terry Bosky, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., West Palm Beach, FL

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"