Xpress Reviews: Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, October 12, 2012

Week ending October 12, 2012

Geary, Rick (text & illus.). Lover’s Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery. NBM. (Treasury of XXth-Century Murder). 2012. c.75p. ISBN 9781561636280. $15.99. F
The black-and-white linear artwork of cartoonist and illustrator Geary could not be more effective in evoking a sense of time and place as in this true crime story set in 1922 New Jersey. As part of the “Treasury of XXth-Century Murder” graphic novel series from NBM Publishing (Geary has authored all of them), this volume employs procedural narrative to explore the murder mystery of Reverend Hall and his paramour, Mrs. Eleanor Mills. Both were thought by many in his congregation to be cheating on their spouses with each other, and in this reserved Victorian climate, it was shocking. Even after their bullet-ridden bodies were discovered together with love letters strewn about, Mrs. Hall denied the affair. Many suspects were brought in, Mrs. Hall among them, but no definitive evidence linked anyone to the crime.
Verdict This is a fascinating account of scandal and a still unsolved murder that could have been ripped from today’s headlines. It would be an excellent suggestion for any true crime aficionado, even if they have never read a graphic novel.—Lucy Roehrig, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Lovecraft, H.P. The Lovecraft Anthology. Vol. 2. SelfMadeHero. 2012. 128p. ed. by Dan Lockwood. ISBN 9781906838430. pap. $19.95. F/HORROR
Creepy, horrific, and unnerving throughout, this collection of Lovecraft short stories appeals to the bent and creative imaginations of readers seeking dark tales and spooky beings. Here thrive monsters spun from cobwebs and neurons, with a dash of grave dirt, oil paint, and bloody fingernail scrapings. The second volume in the series includes classics such as “The Hound” and “Pickman’s Model.” These open-ended yarns are told in a stylized dialect of the turn of the 20th century, and though themes of forbidden knowledge, artistic ambition, and Gothic horror are rooted in the Victorian imagination, Lovecraft’s concerns will still resonate with contemporary readers. The variety of skilled artists involved gives each macabre tale a unique and haunting look. Hidden graphically in each rendered piece is a nod to the Cthulhu entity.
Verdict This is a first-rate anthology of stunning artwork, printmaking, and text. Vivid and disturbing, it is a must-read for any enthusiast of the weird, provocative, and scary.—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Morrison, Grant (text) & Rags Morales & Andy Kubert (illus.). Superman Action Comics. Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel. DC. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781401235468. $24.99. F/SUPERHERO
To enjoy the initial stories of the revamped flagship title that first brought us Superman, readers don’t have to enjoy the contortions that superhero comics go through to try to stay fresh, or the idiosyncratic style of prolific fan favorite Morrison (All-Star Superman; Batman: Arkham Asylum; The Invisibles). This relaunch earns respect for its brash new take on a well-worn character, reinventing his origin and look while acknowledging his storied past. The eight issues collected here are packed with clever touches, zipping along, daring readers to keep up, and sometimes leaving them behind. The art, courtesy of a small army of pencillers, inkers, and colorists, is smashing and kinetic. The plentiful extras, including cover art, interstitial stories, and author/illustrator notes, are top-notch.
Verdict Not quite definitive but better than just diverting, the new Action Comics should leave comics fans eagerly anticipating what comes next—when’s the last time one could say that about a Superman title? Recommended for all superhero-centric graphic novel collections, where it’ll be conspicuous in its absence. Suitable for preteens and up.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

starred review starShinkai, Makoto (text) & Yukiko Seike (illus). 5 Centimeters Per Second. Vertical. 2012. 463p. tr. from Japanese by Melissa & Taka Tanaka. ISBN 9781932234961. pap. $18.95. F/MANGA
This story of first love and its power to shape future relationships was first produced as a film that became a breakthrough hit for director Shinkai in 2007. Vertical’s manga adaptation of that award-winning animated film adds new scenes and layers of nuance to the tale of the young Takaki Tohno, a sickly and precocious teen whose memories and regrets come to dominate his romantic life. Themes of romantic ambiguity, miscommunication, and emotional paralysis add a modern edge to the timeless boy-meets-girl plot. Seike’s clean, expressive art and the Tanakas’ translation, which is as refreshingly free of romantic manga clichés as the source material itself, help to create an atmospheric, engrossing read. 5 Centimeters stretches the boundaries of its genre to deliver a poignant, authentic, and universally relatable story with a real emotional punch.
Verdict One of the most impressive film-to-manga adaptations in recent years. Highly recommended for fans of first-love stories, shoujo readers looking for a different perspective, and fans of the movie.—Neil Derksen, Huntington, IN

Sturges, Matthew & others (text) & Esao Andrews (illus.). House of Mystery. Vol. 8: Desolation. Vertigo. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9781401234959. pap. $14.99. F
This volume concludes the three-year run of Sturges’s House of Mystery. The titular house is the same House of Mystery from a classic DC series that ran from 1951 to 1983. As with the original series, Sturges’s work features short stories told by guests gathered in by the supernatural house, but in this new version there is also a richly detailed story that frames all of the individual entries. The short stories are written and drawn by a variety of guest writers, which results in some unevenness. Despite the varying quality of the content, Desolation is an enjoyable read with sharp writing, appealing characters, and big plot ideas. Since it is the final chapter of a long story, readers will strongly benefit from starting with the first volume in the series.
Verdict The art and storytelling is not quite as good as in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Bill Willingham’s Fables, but fans of those standouts will likely enjoy this similar read (Sandman fans will enjoy seeing some familiar faces). This series will appeal to readers who prefer engaging characters over a pat happy ending.—Tammy Ivins, Francis Marion Univ., Florence, SC

Vance, James (text) & Dan E. Burr (illus.). On the Ropes. Norton. Mar. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780393062205. $24.95. F
Fred Bloch stars as the teen assistant to escape artist Gordon Corey, a member of the WPA circus. Haunted by his past and damaged by alcoholism, Corey—a perfect foil to the idealistic Bloch—is as twisted as the ropes he uses in his death-defying stunts. An initial stop in Depression-era Illinois sets up a welcome opportunity for Bloch to revisit the work he began earlier with the Workers Brigade. Although no longer naïve and certainly no stranger to the world of 1930s organized labor, Fred finds his involvement hitting home harder than he bargained for.
Verdict Like the team’s award-winning predecessor, Kings in Disguise, this sequel rewards with grim yet insightful portraits of Depression-era personal struggles and societal conditions. While familiarity with Kings helps, On the Ropes can stand alone. Burr’s black-and-white illustrations are now more refined and more expressive. But readers familiar with Kings might find the story line a tad overreaching—others might find it disjointed. Some creative editing could have made this as powerful as Kings. Still, recommended as a notable period adventure.—David Garza, AWBERC Lib., U.S. EPA, Cincinnati

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"