Graphic Novels Reviews, May 15, 2012

starred review starBechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. Houghton Harcourt. May 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9780618982509. $22. MEMOIR

Using the twin lenses of literature and psychoanalysis to peer into both past and present, Bechdel examines her own and her mother’s lives, interwoven like M.C. Escher’s infinite staircase. Simultaneously, she incorporates a metanarrative about herself documenting this history to produce a complex, almost dizzying tour de force of storytelling. In the same way the fun in Fun Home, her award-winning memoir about her father, was intended ironically, the term comic drama is similarly multivalent. Certainly, the second work more than matches the first for its blend of drama, poignancy, humor, and an intellectual bricolage that folds in Dr. Seuss, psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, Bechdel’s love life and childhood journals, and her talented mother’s thwarted theater career. And as with Fun Home, her realistic black-white-gray inks are accented with color: here, deep red tones. VERDICT A rousing and even more intellectually challenging read than her previous work, Bechdel’s new masterpiece toggles between multiple zones of time and the psyche, culminating in a complicated and deeply moving happy ending. Highly recommended for those drawn to Fun Home, literary comics, memoirs, and mother-daughter psychologies. Adult collections. [See LJ‘s Q&A with the author.]‚ M.C.

Leavitt, Sarah. Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me. Skyhorse, dist. by Norton. May 2012. c.128p. ISBN 9781616086398. pap. $14.95. HEATLH/MEMOIR

The neurofibrillary tangles within the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients refers also, in this title, to the tangled boings of hair characteristic of the women in Leavitt’s close-knit, intellectual family. Her Harvard-educated teacher mother, Midge, began to show signs of the disease at age 52, and it progressed over the next six years through unpredictable stages of knowing to unknowing, recognition to cluelessness, beguiling affection to hostility to vapid cheer to no-being. Meanwhile, Leavitt cries, writes, and draws, finally crafting the whole into this debut composed of vignettes of family history and Midge’s decline. In dialog, she captures the oddly alluring poetry spilling from Midge’s compromised persona: Oh broccoli, who are simple. VERDICT Says Leavitt, Our parents taught us, as very young children, that language, words, and books belonged to us, that they were exciting and powerful. Pairing words with simply drawn, evocative line art, Leavitt has crafted a glowing, heart-wrenching memorial to the woman who gave her such a gift. Useful for anyone with an Alzheimer’s patient among family or friends, for health-care professionals, and for graphic arts programs as an example of how simple art can tell a powerful story. So far, the only published Alzheimer’s-related graphic novel‚ and highly recommended.‚ M.C.

Lee, Stan & others (text) & Skan Srisuwan & Studio Hive (illus.). Romeo and Juliet: The War. Viper Comics. 2011. c.152p. ISBN 9780983935018. $29.99. F

Lee reportedly wanted to turn the most famous love story into a book superhero fans would enjoy. Hence Shakespeare’s plot plays out in a future Verona where the Montagues have become megastrong cyborgs (a nice touch: bar codes on their cheeks) and the Capulets genetically enhanced humans of superior speed and agility. High-tech weaponry and gigantic guns equip the squabbling families, while Juliet reaches her deathlike state with a heart-slowing surgical implant. And in an allusion to suicide bombers, she kills herself not with a knife but by unlimbering a grenade. In one of the best touches, the holoscreen erected to transmit Juliet’s funeral to throngs in the street also captures the last moments of the lovers, which prompts their stricken fathers to make peace at last. The art is simply gorgeous, with sweeping vistas and numerous balletlike fight scenes that, unfortunately, upstage the lovers’ relationship. VERDICT With the extended combat sequences, the emotional aspects seem short-shrifted. But the adaptation is well done and inventive, and the art is splendid. With almost bloodless violence and only near nudity, this is fine for teens wanting a compelling entry into the Elizabethan era.‚ M.C.

The following titles are reviewed in the May 15 print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.

Araki, Hirohiko. Rohan at the Louvre. NBM/ComicsLit. (Louvre Collection). 2012. c.128p. tr. from French by Joe Johnson. ISBN 9781561636150. pap. $19.99. F

Backderf, Derf. My Friend Dahmer. Abrams. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9781419702167. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781419702174. $17.95. CRIME

Delisle, Guy. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. Drawn & Quarterly. 2012. c.320p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770460713. $24.95. memoir

Jefferson, Thomas & others (text) & Nadja Baer (adapt.) & Nathan Lueth (illus.). The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. Round Table. 2012. c.82p. bibliog. ISBN 9781610660259. pap. $12.95. HIST

Straczynski, J. Michael (text) & Chris Weston (illus.). The Twelve. Vol. 1. Marvel. 2012. c.144p. ISBN 9780785123248. pap. $16.99. f

Talbot, Mary M. (text) & Bryan Talbot (illus.). Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. Dark Horse. 2012. c.96p. bibliog. ISBN 9781595828507. $14.99. LIT