A Graphic Novel on Nelson Mandela; Moench on Batman; Vehlmann & Kerascoët | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 25, 2014

Cresswell, Matt (text) & Thom Vollans (illus.). End of the Rainbow. Vol. 1. Lethe Pr. Jun. 2014. 116p. ISBN 9781590214411. pap. $20. COMICS
End of the Rainbow, compiled from the web comic (endoftherainbow.webeden.co.uk) of the same name, has a lovely premise. It’s the name of a fictional gay-centric bookstore in Manchester, England, filled with unique and outspoken characters—homosexual, transgendered, polysexual, asexual, questioning, and even straight! Each character has a rich inner life, and most of them have colorful outer lives as well, complete with the challenges and adventures of their “alternative” lifestyles. With such a broad cast, it could be a really wonderful comic. However, as it’s written and drawn, these stories come across as a hopeless jumble, with very little narrative flow, both within individual page-long issues and through the comic as a whole. The bookstore setting is barely explored, and the interactions among the various characters are stiff or nonexistent. The cartoon style is bubbly and sweet, but the paneling is uneven and inconsistent. Perhaps if we knew the people the characters were based upon, or were familiar with the Manchester gay scene, the comic could be lots of fun. As it is, most readers won’t have the context or curiosity to sustain much interest.
Verdict Esoteric for the wrong reasons, End of the Rainbow promises great fun but delivers a superficial and puzzling final product.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Helfand, Lewis (text) & Sankha Banerjee (illus.). Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul. Campfire. 2014. 115p. ISBN 9789380741161. pap. $12.99. BIOG
Helfand is the author of several graphic biographies (The Wright Brothers) and adaptations of literary classics (H.G. Well’s The Time Machine). His latest work is a biography of Nelson Mandela (1918–2013), with emphasis on the years leading up to Mandela’s unjust 27-year imprisonment. The narrative provides a well-written, uncomplicated portrait of Mandela’s heroic struggle using language suitable for upper high schoolers. The illustrations are almost all dark ink washes, giving the book a somber, realistic tone rather than a comic book feel. To accentuate Mandela’s presidential victory and the recap of his achievements, the final six pages use color washes. Four pages of additional information (a glossary and facts about South Africa) are included at the end of the book.
Verdict This graphic biography does an excellent job of showing both Mandela’s development as a political figure and the injustices of the apartheid-era. Lovers of YA graphic nonfiction will enjoy; the story of struggle might even attract some readers of fictional graphic novels. The topic also makes it a strong choice for adult English-language learners, with the illustrations aiding comprehension when the vocabulary is too advanced.—Katherine van der Linden, Metcalfe, Ont.

starred review starMoench, Doug (text) & Kelley Jones (illus.). Batman. Vol. 1. DC. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9781401247645. $39.99. SUPERHERO
batman042514Batman has been in publication for 75 years and been depicted in varying shades of darkness. However, no interpretation has painted his world more hauntingly than the collaborations between Moench and Jones. This volume collects the first batch of issues from the Batman title put out by the pair in the 1990s. Immediately following the massive two-year “Knightfall” event, culminating with Bane breaking Batman’s back, the Caped Crusader returns to reclaim Gotham in perhaps his eeriest version to date. Set against him, following his reemergence, are a slew of classic Batman villains, as well as some brand new, never-before-seen foes, such as the “Sleeper.” Each story arc collected is fresh and showcases Batman in this new interpretation, as a twisted figure of the night.
Verdict Moench’s writing is stark and provides an extreme, almost supernatural version of Batman, while Jones’s artwork is creepy and completes the vision of a twisted, phantasmic superhero with hunched posturing, stiletto ears, and clawlike hands. For the Batman fan who craves extremes, this volume delivers the Darkest of Knights.—Alger C. Newberry III, Genesee Dist. Lib., Flint, MI

Vehlmann, Fabien (text) & Kerascoët (illus.). Beautiful Darkness. Drawn & Quarterly. 2014. 96p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770461291. $22.95. F/LITERARY
Beautiful Darkness opens on an adorable, doe-eyed elfin girl flirting with an equally darling elfin boy, a sure sign that we’re in for a sweet little love story in miniature. But things start to go wrong almost immediately, and just a few pages in a rainstorm reveals that these creatures are effectively living on, in, and around the decaying body of a little girl lost in the woods. It’s horrifying and eerie but also extremely well executed. The juxtaposition between the pixyish cast and the harsh realities of nature, in which they live alongside, and sometimes in bloody conflict with, mice, bugs, birds, and flies, is striking. In addition, a slightly sociopathic tale of romantic and political intrigue is woven through the story and builds slowly to a satisfying and shudder-worthy conclusion. The story and setting are just a bit Brothers Grimm–like in their melding of human and sylvan darkness, and the soft, soothing tones of husband-and-wife team Kerascoët’s (Miss Don’t Touch Me) watercolors make the mood that much more uneasy and sinister.
Verdict A subtly scary watercolor wonderland that explores the darkness of human nature, Beautiful Darkness at once celebrates and transcends the conventions of both the graphic novel and fairy-tale media.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX