Graphic Novels Reviews | September 15, 2013

Graphic Medicine While comics fans lose themselves in their favorite titles to fend off boredom, an obsessed cadre of health professionals and their clinical allies have discovered the format as a way to repair doctor-patient relationships, teach about health, and lead practitioners toward greater understanding and empathy for the ill. Annual comics and medicine conferences have brought together cartoonists, patients, patient advocates, and medical folks since 2010—Johns Hopkins School of Medicine will host a meeting in 2014. The value of graphic narrative for communicating about health issues is now taught at some half dozen medical schools, including Emory University, Northwestern University, and Pennsylvania State University. The medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine recently featured the comics memoir Missed It by Michael Green, a doctor who writes about a case study involving mistaken clinical judgment. Librarians should be interested in the “Graphic Medicine” series forthcoming from Penn State University Press that will encompass monographs, essay collections, and original comics.

But hear ye, hear ye: driving graphic medicine activism are striking patient stories, published as graphic novels, which belong in library collections. Many lauded cancer-related titles have become widely known among librarians, including Brian Fies’s Mom’s Cancer, Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner’s Our Cancer Year, and David Small’s Stitches. Newer cancer narratives include Judith Vanistendael’s When David Lost His Voice and Michel Rabagliati’s The Song of Roland. Stories about psychiatric conditions include Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (Alzheimer’s), Ellen Forney’s Marbles (bipolar disorder), and Katie Green’s Lighter Than My Shadow (eating disorders). In the completely unique I Am Not These Feet, graphic novelist Kaisa Leka tells about having her malformed, arthritic feet amputated. Leka’s frank and detailed account features simply drawn characters with Mickey Mouse ears and is perfect for anyone facing an amputation, tween through adult. Leka with her prosthetic feet now bicycles with her husband around the world.

Recently, I stumbled upon Aneurin Wright’s comic Things To Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park When You’re 29 and Unemployed, in which Wright’s emphysema-ravaged father is certified for hospice and the at-loose-ends Wright signs on as his caregiver. Wright draws himself as a Minotaur and his crusty father as a rhino in this amazingly original and devastating account of disease, love, and loss. For more medically related comics, check out—M.C.

de Pins, Arthur (text & illus.). Gretchen. NBM. (Zombillenium, Vol. 1). 2013. 48p. ISBN 9781561637348. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781561637461. F

Zombillenium is a vampire-operated theme park designed to inflict entertaining chills on the horror-seeking mortals who sample its rides. But the park’s goodies depend upon a 100 percent paranormal staff of werewolves, vampires, freaks, zombies, monsters, and an Egyptian mummy. And, unsurprisingly, neither the mummy nor his fellow park workers are tightly wrapped. The fun begins when the mummy tries to escape. While chasing him, the park CEO accidentally kills a human and then decides to make amends by converting the deceased into a paranormal and hiring him for Zombillenium with the assistance of park intern Gretchen. Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Everyone has a hidden agenda—especially Gretchen, who’s a witch with a powerful relative—and the plot careens hilariously from one unexpected misfire to another. VERDICT A stellar exemplar of the horror-humor subgenre, this series from French writer and artist de Pins (Artbook) will transfix teens and adults alike with its cultural insider jokes, twists on horror standbys, and superb art that resembles painting. Volume 2 received the Angoulême Award, and Volume 3 is in progress. Includes some mildly suggestive humor and inexplicit nudity.—M.C.

Goodwin, Archie (text) & others (illus.). Tales of the Batman: Archie Goodwin. DC. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9781401238292. $39.99. SUPERHERO

Comics veteran Goodwin (1937–98) was a respected editor for Warren Publishing, Marvel, and DC, but he did much writing as well, including 1970s Star Wars comics and newspaper strips. This classy volume collects his Batman stories from 1973 through 1974 and 1990 through 2000. The entries are notable for accomplished storytelling, a variety of top-notch artistic collaborators, and a near-complete absence of Batman’s traditional supervillains. Highlights include a vintage aviation–themed story drawn by Golden Age great Alex Toth and two excellent black-and-white shorts: a jazz trumpeter’s tale boldly cartooned by José Muñoz and a story of pre–World War II Nazi kidnapping illustrated with realistic detail and expert hatching by Gary Gianni (Prince Valiant). Also included is Night Cries, a striking and moving 1992 graphic novel about child abuse, with dark painted artwork by Scott Hampton, and the multi-award-winning 1970s “Manhunter” serial (guest-starring Batman only at its conclusion), a tale of worldwide conspiracy and martial arts with great art by Walt Simonson. VERDICT A couple of stories fall short in one way or another, but with a genuine classic in “Manhunter” and much other fine work besides, this is easily recommended.—S.R.

Harris, Joe (text) & Martin Morazzo (illus.). Trashed! Image. (Great Pacific, Vol. 1). 2013. 144p. ISBN 9781607066842. pap. $9.99. F

Bending the facts a little, Harris (Ghost Projekt; Spontaneous) morphs the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from a porous sludge of confetti-like particles into an agglutinating minicontinent of solid trash—which playboy petroleum heir Chas Worthington wants to turn into his own sovereign country dubbed “New Texas.” But Chas is up against a tribe of spear-carrying indigenous folk, a mercenary and her pirate employers, the U.S. government, lost Soviet Union–era nuclear missiles, and a lovesick giant octopus. There’s also an underlying environmentalist agenda, since Chas is in possession of an experimental technology that can clean up oil spills and other rogue polycarbons—which could make millions for Worthington Industries. Chas comes off as well developed with multiple motives, not simply tree-hugging fuzzy, and some of the other characters have edgy depth as well. The realistic color art is well designed, and Morazzo (Absolute Magnitude; The Network) excels with underwater views. VERDICT A wild ride with complicated underpinnings to entertain teens who like fast-paced, out-of-the-box adventures as well as those interested in the environmental theme; some violence and creative cursing.—M.C.

L’Amour, Louis & others (text) & Thomas Yeates (illus.). Law of the Desert Born. Bantam. Sept. 2013. 160p. ISBN 9780345528124. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345538567. F

As modified from a rather sketchy short story with clear good/bad polarities, a defense killing becomes a revenge murder, with both sides breaching earlier traditions of give-and-take camaraderie among ranchers faced with unpredictable weather and other challenges of the 1880s cattle business. The result is a longer, murkier, and more interesting tale of range rivalries turned bloody. Plentiful backstory via flashbacks provides the history and earlier relationships of killer-on-the-run Shad Marone and the posse after him—especially the Mexican Apache half-breed Lopez, whose motives keep everyone guessing until the end. Yeates (currently Prince Valiant strip artist; Conan; Tarzan) supplies excellent genre-appropriate art. However, character clarity and atmosphere might have benefited from either sepia or two-color tones instead of gray scale. VERDICT The action favorites of pulp-Western megascribe L’Amour (1908–88) make ready fodder for comics. Here, the richer plot and characters from L’Amour’s son Beau and collaborator Kathy Nolan add appeal and value in addition to the finely crafted visuals. Fans of L’Amour’s stories should enjoy this work, adults or teens; plenty of gunplay and occasional strong language in both English and Spanish.—M.C.

redstar Sale, Tim & others (text & illus.). Solo: The Deluxe Edition. DC. 2013. 608p. ISBN 9781401238896. $49.99. SUPERHERO

This oversize hardcover collects a multiple Eisner Award–winning 12-issue series, with each one spotlighting a different artist. All were given free rein to create stories in any genre, using DC characters if they wished. The results include Westerns, crime, horror, humor, autobiography, and bizarre alternative work relying on widely diverse approaches to writing superheroes. Highlights are many and varied, from Sale’s romance issue to Howard Chaykin’s enjoyable Entertainment Comics (EC)-inspired twist-ending tales to Sergio Aragonés’s tragic story of a Japanese sword maker, which shows another side of his usually comedic sensibility. Teddy Kristiansen contributes two deep, affecting psychological studies and a fine Deadman vignette (scripted by Neil Gaiman). Mike Allred follows a superfun Teen Titans romp with a surprisingly dark pop art–era Batman-and-Robin tale. Best is Darwyn Cooke’s issue, featuring a 1950s spy caper, the Question’s revenge for 9/11, and the wholly odd tale of an aesthete’s love for his vacuum cleaner. VERDICT Because this title contains such a wide range of material, every reader will likely find some work that doesn’t appeal, but the overall quality is high. Adventurous superhero fans and readers of other comics interested in sampling superheroes will be well rewarded.—S.R.

Smith, Jeff (text & illus.). Rasl. Cartoon. Sept. 2013. 472p. ISBN 9781888963373. $39.95. F

Famed for his all-ages “Bone” series, creator Smith leaps into a gripping adult adventure in the same way his shady antihero leaps among worlds. Military physicist Robert Johnson helps develop technologies to bend space and enter parallel universes, drawing on the electromagnetic work of Nicola Tesla for a classified defense project. But becoming horrified by the likely implications, he goes rogue to destroy the equipment and escapes across universes under the persona “Rasl.” Unfortunately, the military and their lizard-faced goon run him down while he steals art from the other galaxies to raise cash. Wild chases, desperate fights, time/space switchbacks, narrative twists, and semibaked technobabble keep the tension high in this hard-boiled tale of corruption and cutting-edge physics—Smith has said he wanted to write an Arthur C. Clarke book with Dashiell Hammett characters. Featuring material that was originally released in black-and-white installments, this expanded omnibus is colored by “Bone” artist Steve Hamaker. VERDICT With its sophisticated yet fringy premise, complex plot involving a high-tech romantic triangle, and well-­contextualized violence and sexual situations, this graphic novel, with its expert action sequences, provides intellectual as well as visceral kicks.—M.C.

Straczynski, J. Michael (text) & Joe Kubert & others (illus.). Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan. DC. (Before Watchmen). 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781401238940. $29.99. SUPERHERO

DC waited 25 years before exploiting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s masterpiece Watchmen with new comics featuring that book’s characters. But it finally succumbed to temptation, and this oversize hardcover is one of three collecting the new prequels produced by various creators. The most substantial story here is the “Nite Owl,” which details the origins of the original Nite Owl and his relationship to Hollis Mason, portrays his crime-fighting partnership with Rorschach, and tells the story of the Twilight Lady—a sexy madam who plays Catwoman to Nite Owl’s Batman—who is mentioned briefly in the original. The convoluted “Dr. Manhattan” tale places the hero in a bind involving quantum physics and alternate realities. Also included is the story of the deformed villain Moloch, who finds success but not solace in crime. VERDICT All of the characters receive some interesting, even compelling backstory, and the artwork by Adam Hughes, Kubert, and others is irreproachable. But not all of the writing is convincing, and with its sex and nudity, this title is not for kids. A decent work, but readers expecting the brilliance of the original will be disappointed.—S.R.

Vaughan, Brian K. (text) & Fiona Staples (illus.). Saga. Vol. 2. Image. 2013. 144p. ISBN 9781607066927. pap. $14.99. SF

Star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, with their interspecies child, made a huge splash in Volume 1 last year. In Volume 2, we learn enough about the freelancers hired to kill them that we want to root for both these assassins as well as their intended prey. We ache for The Will—a stoic bounty hunter—because of his doomed love for The Stalk—a very strange topless crab-woman now dead—and because he wants to free a child prostitute from bondage. And we begin to understand why Prince Robot IV has problems with his wife and may not have much interest in war despite his protestations against pacifism. This is suggested by two small explicit gay-sex images shown in the Prince’s monitor-face during a raging battle, giving us a nongratuitous clue about what was really on his semiconscious mind while being hit by Wreathean fire. As for our nuclear-family fugitives, we learn how they met and what happens when Marko’s don’t-mess-with-us parents track them down. VERDICT Hyping character development and emotional action on par with the narrative action, creators Vaughan and Staples maintain appeal and excellence in this adult series.—M.C.

Wiebe, Kurtis J. (text) & Tyler Jenkins (illus.). Hooked. Image. (Peter Panzerfaust, Vol. 2). 2013. 128p. ISBN 9781607067283. pap. $14.99. F

“To die would be an awfully big adventure,” says J.M. Barrie’s fantasy Peter Pan, but this Peter risks a real-world death. In Volume 1 (2012) of the series, a half dozen French orphans escape their bombed-out Calais orphanage in 1940 with the help of a daring American lad named Peter. A master strategist inspiring bravery, he leads these “lost boys” in sabotaging Nazi troops and escaping to Paris. In Volume 2, Paris is invaded, and the young men collaborate with the French Resistance to free Nazi prisoners, including one of their own. As narrated by the boys years later, the story becomes deeper as the characters mature. Wiebe (Green Wake) incorporates humor, poignancy, and tragedy into the tale but not magic. Yet the original characters slip seamlessly into real life, as if universal. Wendy and her brothers, Tiger Lily, and Captain Hook all appear, Wendy and Lily taking much more active roles than in the original. VERDICT A grim yet dashing find for adult and YA collections, this series captivates with both literary and historical hijinks. The murky art from Jenkins (Snow Angel) serves well, although the angular faces sometimes homogenize characters. Forthcoming volumes promise more adventures.—M.C.

redstar Yang, Gene Luen (text & illus.). Boxers and Saints. 2 vols. First Second. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9781596439245. pap. $34.99. F

History clashes with the idealizations of fiction in these interlocked tales of teens caught up in China’s Boxer Rebellion between 1897 and 1901. Who is “right”? The Western missionaries who preach the Christian gospel but whose ranks include bandits and exploiters? Or the boxers, who call upon their pagan gods to help kill the Christian intruders and their Western protectors? Little Bao is a peasant lad whose village suffers at the hands of the missionaries. Inspired by visions, he joins in violent rebellion with thousands of other angry and hungry Chinese who deplore the greedy Westerners. But in another village, unwanted Four Girl finds a home and new name—Vibiana—with Christian missionaries. Through Bao and Vibiana, we see how no crusade is “pure.” VERDICT This excellent two-part graphic novel teaches history through a double-lens narrative, showing how factors interact to create unwanted tragedies by both sides. The winsome, magical-realist art of Yang (American Born Chinese) plays ironically against the bloody conflict enhanced by artist Lark Pien’s colors. Heartbreaking and sometimes funny, this boxed set is for teens and adults interested in international politics and people’s rebellions.—M.C.

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009). Steve Raiteri is Audio-visual Librarian at the Greene County Public Library in Xenia, OH, where he started the graphic novel collection in 1996

Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).