Graphic Novels Reviews | July 2013

Alternative Unrealities “What if Peter had NOT caught the wolf?” grumbles Grandfather at the end of Sergei Prokofiev’s beloved 1936 composition Peter and the Wolf. While no cartoonist (that I know of) has explored that particular notion, plenty of comikkers have taken other established characters and stories into new territory, following similar trends in print literature. Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen “pastiches,” for example, have long since outnumbered the original stories. Particularly clever are Kaoru Shintani’s Young Miss Holmes casebooks: classic Holmes challenges given new plot twists and solved partly by Holmes’s precocious ten-year-old niece Christie (LJ 7/12). As for Austen’s world, Seth Grahame-Smith’s popular genre mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has appeared in panel layout and as prose (LJ 5/15/10), and an attractive Pride and Prejudice graphic sequel entitled Mary King has been published through CreateSpace by Sophie St. Clair. Austenmania is by now unstoppable, so we may surely expect more Janeite comics hijinks.

Well known to librarians, Bill Willingham’s Fables series has featured inventive adventures of fairy tale and folklore characters for over ten years (LJ 5/15/07). More recently, Kill Shakespeare (LJ 1/15/11) imagines the Bard’s entire dramascape caught up in epic struggles between the good guys and not-so-good guys from multiple plays. In a similar vein, megacomikker Stan Lee cocreated a beautiful, futuristic variation on Romeo and Juliet (LJ 5/15/2012), while Ron Wimberly has focused on Juliet’s touchy cousin Tybalt, setting the doomed life and romance of the “Prince of Cats” in a multiracial 1980s Brooklyn (LJ 11/15/12). Coming soon: Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon’s Family Ties: An Alaskan Crime Drama—a version of King Lear with a bit of The Godfather.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Cervantes, Miguel (text) & Rob Davis (illus.). The Complete Don Quixote. SelfMadeHero. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781906838652. $27.50. LIT

He dons a silly costume to save the world. Sound familiar? This antisuperhero, a demented knight-errant-wannabe, charges off into hilarious battles that invariably end with him and his dopey squire, Sancho Panza, getting beaten up. Cervantes’s saga became wildly popular in the 1600s, encompassing two volumes totaling a thousand pages. Today, this classic is admired for its slash-and-burn satire of human frailties mixed with tragedy and wistful sweetness. Davis has done a superb job with the adaptation. His loose, active art plays the picaresque plot for laughs and action while varying the drawing style in the numerous secondary tales told by the characters themselves. Drawing on multiple translations plus renderings in other media, he incorporates modern English-language puns and colloquialisms when they serve the story. VERDICT Many Don Quixote adaptations render only the bare bones of the novel, but Davis gives us a full version in atmospheric color that should entertain readers as much as the original. This excellent work will appeal to students of literature as well as to fans of comedy and historical satire, teen through adult. Plenty of violence and some bawdry but nothing explicit.—M.C.

David B. (text & illus.). Incidents in the Night. Vol. 1. Uncivilized Bks. 2013. 100p. tr. from French by Brian Evenson. ISBN 9780984681440. $19.95. FANTASY

After an odd dream, David-as-character goes on a surreal quest to find a mysterious 19th-century journal entitled Incidents in the Night. He finds his prize in an enchantingly baroque Paris bookstore after expeditions through monoliths and pyramids of volumes. But complications ensue: Travers, the still-alive editor of the journal, has acquired the power to enter books and demands that David hide him in a volume to avoid the Angel of Death. David finds that he himself can enter the strange world, bumbling after Travers amid side tales of death gods, flood myths, occult conspiracies, and allusions to actual and imaginary literature. This story is a loose metaphor for life, capturing a visual tale of dreamy intrigue and building on the existing tension among layers of the real and unreal. The ending leaves both Travers and David supposedly dead, but a second volume is promised. VERDICT Best known from Epileptic, David B.’s black-and-white art depicts unrealities and realities with equal zest, teasingly holding out a journey that’s more about getting there than the destination. A treat for sophisticated adult story omnivores with a taste for bizarre mysteries. Some minor nudity.—M.C.

Flitcroft, Ian (text) & Britt Spencer (illus.). Journey by Starlight: A Time Traveler’s Guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything. One Peace. 2013. 204p. ISBN 9781935548232. pap. $18.95. SCI

This engaging popular-science work for younger readers is based on a blog by Dublin eye surgeon and creator Flitcroft and narrated by a fictional Albert Einstein as he rides a ray of light toward Earth. Along the way, Einstein explains (to an unnamed companion full of questions) foundational science ideas, discoveries, and terms in the areas of physics, astronomy, biology, and genetics, from the big bang to evolution to his own theory of relativity. Flitcroft’s personable Einstein, appealingly rendered by illustrator Spencer in a big-nosed caricature, provides many concise descriptions of scientific phenomena, including a particularly nice explication of the Schroedinger’s cat paradox. He relates unusual or humorous anecdotes from the history of science in the manner of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon Histories, and occasionally waxes philosophical. A few bits seem forced, some explanations are not entirely clear, and Spencer unfortunately keeps changing the number of color bands in his rainbows. VERDICT While not quite as charming or outstanding as the best books of this type (see Gonick or Jay Hosler’s Evolution), this is still a worthwhile addition to popular-science collections.—S.R.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Hennessey, Jonathan (text) & Aaron McConnell (illus.)The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation.Morrow. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780061969768. pap. $15.99. HIST

This title may be way shorter than Hennessey and McConnell’s earlier, successful graphic collaboration, the U.S. Constitution, but is no less meaty. Lincoln’s 271-word speech acts as a lens to U.S. history, economics, and politics. As Hennessey and McConnell present in a clear narrative, both visually and metaphorically, we follow the historical and philosophic sources of North-South bipartisanship, some stemming from disharmonies between the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Numerous quotations from the period plus additional primary source information support the discussion. VERDICT Not a simplification but a detailed and nuanced analysis of Lincoln’s famous speech, this excellent work will be much appreciated by educators and high school through postgraduate students. As the content reflects shades of gray rather than simple black and white, the realistic art varies the color for different periods and themes. A first-rate compendium of supporting references and information appears at—M.C.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Lewis, John & Andrew Aydin (text) & Nate Powell (illus.). March. Top Shelf. (March, Bk. 1). Aug. 2013. 128p. ISBN 9781603093002. pap. $14.95. MEMOIR/HIST

Comics artist Powell (The Silence of Our FriendsSwallow Me Whole) blogged that Congressman Lewis (Representative for the 5th U.S. Congressional Dist. of Georgia since 1986) “is the sole surviving member of the ‘Big Six’ of the Civil Rights movement, [and]…was integral in the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, and generally helped smack institutionalized white supremacy in the nuts and changed the face of 20th century American Society.” Growing up in the 1940s, Lewis rode a school bus down dirt roads because roads into “colored” communities weren’t paved. Sixty years later, he was a guest of honor at Barack Obama’s inauguration. Lewis’s remarkable life has been skillfully translated into graphics with the assistance of writer Aydin, a staffer in Lewis’s office and his capable Boswell. The art from Eisner and Ignatz Prize winner Powell is perfect for the story, ranging as it does from moody ink-wash to hand-drawn lettering. VERDICT Segregation’s insult to personhood comes across here with a visual, visceral punch. Suitable for tweens through teens and adults, this version of Lewis’s life story belongs in libraries to teach readers about the heroes of America. Two more volumes are forthcoming, and a teacher’s guide is available.—M.C.

Library Journal Reviews starred review Murphy, Sean (text & illus.). Punk Rock Jesus. Vertigo. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781401237684. pap. $16.99.FANTASY

In the near future, with global warming threatening coastlines, geneticist Sarah Epstein secures funding for her plan to engineer carbon dioxide-gobbling plants by participating in a new reality TV program. She implants DNA extracted from the Shroud of Turin into the womb of a young virgin, and so is born Chris, the new Jesus Christ. With holograms for classmates, and a surrogate family including Sarah’s daughter Rebekah, who is Chris’s age and a former IRA terrorist head of security, Chris grows up in an island compound in front of the entire world, his existence splitting Christians into two factions: those who believe he’s the Second Coming, and those who believe the “J2” project is an abomination. VERDICT Murphy’s spiky, detail-rich black-and-white artwork brilliantly illustrates an engrossing and surprising story that achieves a heightened sense of reality: a place where satire turns questioning and abstract, larger-than-life issues and conflicts are concretized on a human scale. An audacious, nuanced, and hugely compelling tale of science and religion, belief and rebellion, damnation and redemption—and, yes, punk rock—this work is highly recommended for older teens and adults.—S.R.

Seagle, Steven T. (text) & Teddy Kristiansen (illus.). Genius. First Second. 2013. 128p. ISBN 9781596432635. pap. $17.99. F

When it comes time to decide what to do with his life, quantum physicist Ted Hawker finds himself unwittingly in the same shoes as his kids. His off-the-scale IQ had brought him recognition from the scholarly community and a plum job at Pasadena Technical Institute. But the Big Ideas don’t grow out of his head anymore, and his boss isn’t happy. Then his batty, wheelchair-bound father-in-law boasts that Einstein once told him a devastating secret. Can Ted coax it out of the old man and use it to jump-start his own faltering career? With two teenagers and a sick wife to support, Ted dearly needs his job. Yet surprisingly, Ted’s own Big Idea shows him a different option. From the self-mocking physicist to his hilariously parodied slacker son, crusty father-in-law, and a wistful, imagined vision of Einstein, the engaging characters are what make this story. VERDICT Deep and gently witty, Genius asks us to consider what success means and how a “genius” might use his or her ability. Kristiansen’s minimalist, cloudy art mirrors Ted’s inner confusion perfectly. An entertaining read for twentysomethings up, with covert punch.—M.C.

Starlin, Jim & others (text & illus.). Avengers vs. Thanos. Marvel. 2013. 472p. ISBN 9780785168508. pap. $34.99. SUPERHERO

With the merciless alien villain Thanos set to be the adversary in the next “Avengers” film, Marvel has collected here his earliest appearances, from 1973 to 1977, mostly written and often drawn by his creator Starlin, who succeeded Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby as Marvel’s most cosmic storyteller. In truth, the Avengers (along with the Thing, Spider-Man, and Daredevil) are only supporting players in the book’s two sagas. In the first, alien hero Captain Marvel is gifted with “cosmic awareness” by the immensely old Eon in an effort to prevent Thanos from using the Cosmic Cube to become a god. The second sees the tortured, tragic spacefarer Adam Warlock opposing Thanos’s quest to extinguish the stars as a gift for the one he loves, Death herself, in a story involving time travel, a soul-devouring gem, and the personifications of Chaos and Order. VERDICT The earlier work here makes up for its plot contrivances and lack of coherence with wide scope, conviction, excitement, and some strong, imaginative artwork—qualities all heightened and sharpened in the excellent Warlock tale, which is among Marvel’s finest work of the period.—S.R.