Xpress Reviews: Graphic Novels | First Look at New Books, February 14, 2014

Week ending February 14, 2014

Casey, Joe (text) & Piotr Kowalski (illus.). Sex. Vol. 1: The Summer of Hard. Image. 2013. 168p. ISBN 9781607067849. pap. $9.99. Rated: M. ROMANTIC DRAMA
There’s something oddly quaint about Sex: The Summer of Hard. In our modern world, where hard-core pornography is available at the click of a button, reading eight single-issue comics of soft-core meanderings seems like lots of work. And that’s pretty much all Casey’s title amounts to in this volume. Simon Cooke is taking a break from his superhero gig as the Armored Saint, hoping to let loose and sample Saturn City’s abundance of escorts and high-class orgies, but he struggles with his conscience, his virtue, and his unconsummated love for his archnemesis (and Madame) Shadow Lynx. Less morally preoccupied subplots focusing on villains like grotesque Old Man, shady Prank Addict, and the slimy, effeminate Alpha Brothers offer a bit of excitement but not enough to turn this into a fleshed-out, compelling story. The conflict of the virtuous man dabbling in darkness feels antiquated and borrowed—Batman’s inner psychic struggle comes to mind. Kowalski’s artwork is serviceable and titillating but also repetitive and rote, and the trope of spelling out the sexual undertones lurking in the margins of mainstream comics is rather on-the-nose.
Verdict For adult fans of sexual subtext in superhero sagas and the erstwhile connoisseur of nudie pics.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

DeForge, Michael (text & illus.). Ant Colony. Drawn & Quarterly. Feb. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9781770461376. $21.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Toronto-based Eisner Award nominee DeForge (Lose) creates a demented tale of an ant colony and its uncertain end with just a handful of ants playing an active part in the plot. He alternates among the stories of a pair of worker ant lovers, a cowardly ant cop, a sociopathic father, and his prophet son. The ant queen also appears, as do other invertebrates including spiders and bees. A red ant colony and the colony of the main characters virtually annihilate each other leaving the protagonists to attempt, somehow, to begin a colony anew. The artwork is bizarre, bordering on the disturbing at points. Although the ant characters aren’t named, Deforge clearly distinguishes each ant visually. The black ants’ organs are depicted, while each has a distinctly shaped head and colored face. His spiders look like dogs and a centipede is some sort of stretch SUV. The color scheme is an odd mix of brilliant yellow and pink with duller earth tones and pastels. Verdict This may be of interest to alternative comics fans but will leave other readers scratching their heads.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Graham, Brandon (text & illus.). Complete Multiple Warheads. Image. 2014. 208p. ISBN 9781607068402. pap. $17.99. Rated: M+. FANTASY
Complete Multiple Warheads is set in a world where water can be haunted, cigarettes sing, and slug-like creatures are harnessed to provide guilt-free power. The main character is an organ hunter named Sexica who is determined to start a new life with her werewolf boyfriend in the Impossible City after one of World War III’s abandoned aircraft comes hurtling down from the sky and destroys their apartment. Meanwhile, another organ hunter named Nura is chasing a life form who is able to regrow organs and who is the ultimate catch but who also has a definite taste for melodrama and is not going to make things easy. Just like the story, the art is deceptively simple blending. Both line and shading are clean and subtle, but landscapes and perspectives are constantly shifting making the action sometimes difficult to follow. The cleverness of the writing, the sheer number of puns, and the hidden sight gags encourage readers to revisit this highly original book again and again. It’s like Alan Martin’s Tank Girl in the hands of R. Crumb.
Verdict This decidedly adult book will appeal to readers who are looking for something very different but may leave those expecting a standard sf dystopia wondering what just happened.—E.W. Goodman, Art Inst. of Pittsburgh

Novgorodoff, Danica (text & illus.). The Undertaking of Lily Chen. First Second. Mar. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781596435865. pap. $29.99. F
When Deshi Li accidentally kills his brother Wei during an argument, their mother demands that he find Wei a corpse bride, fulfilling the ancient Chinese tradition of “ghost marriage” that is still practiced in some provinces today. Unable to locate a suitably fresh body even with the help of middleman Mr. Song, Deshi sets his sights on the very much alive Lily Chen, who makes his job especially easy by begging him to take her away from her boring village. His plan to turn Lily into an eligible stiff goes awry, however, when his conscience—and his heart—inadvertently interfere. Meanwhile, Lily’s father is after them with the village’s finest men, and Mr. Song is determined to finish the job he was hired to do.
Verdict Novgorodoff (Refresh, Refresh) illustrates beautifully immersive watercolor scenes and detailed backgrounds that are tough to reconcile visually with her rather inhuman-looking characters. It’s hard to tell what mood she was attempting to set. Consequently, some readers might be moved by Deshi’s predicament, others might just enjoy the novel as a dark-humored adventure story. Recommended to teens and adults with an interest in Chinese culture or quirky graphic novels.—Heather Williams, Whatcom Community Coll., Bellingham, WA

Okazaki, Kyoko (text & illus.). Pink. Vertical. 2013. 249p. ISBN 9781939130129. pap. $16.95. MANGA
pink021414Okazaki (Helter Skelter) created the groundbreaking manga Pink in 1989, and Vertical’s edition is the first in English. It’s the story of Yumi, who sells both her office skills and her body to make enough money to feed her pet crocodile “Croc.” She develops a physical relationship with Haru, a budding novelist who had been sleeping with her stepmother. After Yumi’s apartment floods, she moves in with him and they fall in love. When Croc goes missing and Yumi’s stepmother later sends her a crocodile-skin suitcase, her consolation is Haru’s lucky win of a literary contest with a huge cash prize and the promise of leaving Tokyo with him for somewhere tropical.
Verdict Okazaki’s simple character designs lend a matter-of-fact, almost comical quality to Pink’s otherwise graphic sex scenes. Fans of typical women’s manga will be surprised by this honest and bizarrely charming read, while other adults may be drawn in by the unusual humor and the artist’s subtle meditations on what it means to live and love in a capitalist society.—Heather Williams, Whatcom Community Coll., Bellingham, WA