Xpress Reviews: Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, August 9, 2013

Week ending August 9, 2013

Azzarello, Brian (text) & J.G. Jones & Lee Bermejo (illus.). Comedian/Rorschach. DC. (Before Watchmen). 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781401238933. $29.99. SUPERHERO
It’s not easy to follow Alan Moore’s best-selling Watchman, considered one the greatest graphic novels, but Eisner Award–winning writer Azzarello (100 Bullets) manages to bring back Moore’s gritty atmosphere in this volume of stories that serve as prequels to fill in the violent, flawed characters that inhabit Moore’s original—putting the Comedian next to the Kennedy boys pre- and post-Vietnam, while Rorschach hunts down a serial killer and a drug kingpin in 1970s New York City during a blackout. Illustrators Jones and Bermejo do a fantastic job with the visuals; Jones brings beauty to the grisly images of Vietnam, and Bermejo applies a layer of grime, conveying the filth of the city and Rorschach’s state of mind. The result is an entertaining and introspective look at the two characters. But the author doesn’t quite give fans what they desire by not bringing back the quality of the original.
Verdict Azzarello’s creation is not as good as its predecessor; then again, he isn’t trying to be. The book succeeds in giving readers a glimpse into the backstory of two of the more violent characters in comic book history. Recommended for readers of noir, crime, and the original Watchmen, with the latter being the ones to find flaws in the stories.—Ryan Claringbole, Chesapeake P.L., VA

Didio, Dan (text) & Brent Anderson & others (illus.). The Phantom Stranger. Vol. 1: A Stranger Among Us. DC. (New 52). 2013. 144p. ISBN 9781401240882. pap. $14.99. SUPERHERO
The Phantom Stranger is one of DC Comics’ most underused characters, so it’s a pleasant surprise that “The New 52” is treating him as more than an afterthought. In this collection of the first six issues of the Stranger’s latest ongoing series, he’s given a fresh, tragic origin story and a family and, consequently, something to lose when he crosses paths with the demonic Trigon and the Haunted Highwayman and with more familiar sparring partners the Spectre and John Constantine. The Stranger is as enigmatic as ever, but the effective plotting and moody artwork—especially the distinctive inking style—conspire to keep the reader’s sympathies with the Stranger while creating a palpable sense of dread, even when the scripting gets mired in mind games and threatening verbal exchanges between characters.
Verdict Although it may be tougher going for casual readers, this reintroduction to the Phantom Stranger is recommended for those who like their sequential art macabre but without excessive gore. Some mildly disturbing scenes of violence and the supernatural; suitable for YA and up.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., N.B.

Johns, Geoff & others (text) & Kieron Dwyer & others (illus.). The Avengers: The Complete Collection by Geoff Johns. Vol. 1. Marvel. 2013. 312p. ISBN 9780785184331. pap. $29.99. SUPERHERO
Johns (Justice League; Green Lantern) is closely associated with Marvel’s distinguished competition (DC Comics), but in the early 2000s he wrote for “The Avengers.” This compilation collects two arcs, a “Vision” miniseries, and two other comics (not written by Johns but necessary to complete the story line). Highlights include the Avengers taking control of the world after all the nations’ capitals go missing and a brutal slugfest between Iron Man and Thor.
Verdict While this set isn’t a legendary run, Johns is a huge name in comics, and Marvel’s movie universe continues to spotlight these characters making this a strongly recommended purchase. Even better, this book emphasizes lesser-known characters like the Falcon and Ant-Man, who will soon be making their big-screen debuts.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI

Simon, Joe (text) & Jack Kirby & others (illus.). The Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction. Titan. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781848569614. $49.95. COMICS/SF
This volume collects sf comics by Simon (cocreator with Kirby, Captain America) and Kirby (The Incredible Hulk; Fantastic Four) and others during the period 1940–60s. The book is divided into sections for each decade, each of which has an introduction placing the stories in historical context. The works are fast-paced, plot-driven adventures featuring alien life forms, space travel, and astonishing, unlikely technologies. Heroes battle evil villains, uncover Martian civilizations, capture galactic criminals, and travel the fourth dimension, while an unassuming man named Donnegan disappears into space on a strange man’s office/rocket chair before returning to Earth strangely dressed and speaking in an alien tongue. The art style is typical of its time, with square-jawed heroes, cigar-shaped rockets, and Ben-Day dot printing. Thick paper and bright colors add to the overall crisp production.
Verdict The heavy-on-plot nature of the stories will not satisfy the taste of fans of contemporary comics with more complex character-driven stories, but this book provides high-quality material for researchers and general readers interested in the history of comics and the work of two influential creators.—Brian Looker, Appleton P.L., WI

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"