Graphic Memoirs by Alden & Bell, Horror by Brubaker, Williams’s New Batwoman | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 11, 2014

Alden, Sam (text & illus.). It Never Happened Again. Uncivilized. Jun. 2014. 164p. ISBN 9780988901469. pap. $11.99. MEMOIR/F
Ignatz Award–winning writer/illustrator Alden has built a considerable following for the distinctive drawing style of his comic art ( Primarily pencil only, Alden’s work appears hasty and scribbled at first, but closer inspection reveals clear delineation and rich detailing. Likewise, Alden’s minimalist stories capture instances of mystery and magic in chance and quotidian events. This volume pairs Alden’s acclaimed strip “Hawaii 1997”—which recounts a momentous personal encounter at a vacation resort, capped off with a quietly stunning conclusion—with the previously unreleased “Anime,” the story of how an aimless fan of Japanese pop culture finally travels to Japan only to experience dislocation but also a sense of belonging. Alden’s strangely affecting work here and elsewhere doesn’t make him the Raymond Carver of his chosen form yet, but he’s off to a good start.
Verdict Individual comics fans can decide whether Alden’s approach is overrated or appropriate for his subject matter here, but his work is recommended to them nonetheless; the casual and curious can sample Alden’s oeuvre online for free. Some profanity; suitable for YA and up.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Bell, Gabrielle (text & illus.). Truth Is Fragmentary: Travelogues & Diaries. Uncivilized. May 2014. 168p. ISBN 9780988901452. pap. $19.99. MEMOIR
Known for her previous surrealist memoirs, Bell (The Voyeurs) continues to share her life with readers in an unfailingly honest fashion. This volume chronicles several trips the author took to international comic festivals and also includes her July Diaries for which Bell wrote a comic a day during the month of July in 2011, 2012, and 2013. While the work is occasionally humorous, much of the narrative revolves around the author’s insecurities and self-judgment in her daily life as a thirtysomething comic artist based in New York City. The book is manifestly a diary, rather than a story, as most of the sections start abruptly, with no introduction and only limited attempts to identify the people who appear. Although this approach is often confusing, it also gives the reader the impression of being privy to the author’s private thoughts, as opposed to a memoir where the details have been rearranged and polished for dramatic effect. The novel’s black-and-white clear-line cartoons are simple to the point of starkness. While text heavy, Bell’s work is peppered with comic-focused panels that show off her drawing style.
Verdict Readers who enjoy Bell’s earlier works (L.A. Diary; Diary; San Diego Diary) will take pleasure in this latest installment. It will also appeal to some memoir lovers, though the absence of a plot or central theme reduces its mainstream allure. The small type size will be an obstacle to those with lower vision capabilities.—Katherine van der Linden, Metcalfe, Ont.

starred review starBrubaker, Ed (text) & Sean Phillips (illus.). Fatale: The Deluxe Edition. Vol. 1. Image. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781607069423. $39.99. Rated: M. HORROR/MYS
fatale041114The first two volumes of Fatale (Death Chases Me; The Devil’s Business) by writer Brubaker and illustrator Phillips (both, Incognito; Criminal; Sleeper) is collected into this deluxe edition that includes an introduction by Megan Abbott (Dare Me), essays by Jess Nevins (pulp historian; The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana), extra art, and biographies. Phillips and Dave Stewart (colorist) are essential to the series—without them, the story would only partially be told. Our protagonist Jo is not the stock femme fatale character but a fully fleshed-out woman with needs, desires, and fears. She is also cursed. However, what exactly her curse may be is left to the reader to decide—is it her immortality; the inability to have romantic relationships without knowing her lover really can’t help but fall for her; perhaps it’s the man who hunts her and knows her as the consort; or is it her consciousness and conscious? The story is filled with dark twists and questions that spur the reader onward to the next page, the next issue, and the next volume.
Verdict This edition is important as a whole for scholars and fans; the introduction and essays shine a light into the well of Brubaker’s talent by illuminating the unimagined depth within this Raymond Chandler–meets–H.P.Lovecraft series of noir and horror. Readers who have enjoyed Brubaker in the past will savor this recent endeavor as will fans of noir who wish for a bit of fantasy.—Michelle Martinez, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX

Hernandez, Jaime (text & illus.). The Love Bunglers. Fantagraphics. May 2014. 104p. ISBN 9781606997291. $19.99. F
Collecting recent issues of his long-running series Love and Rockets, Hernandez explores the middle-aged life of erstwhile mechanic Maggie Chascarillo. Interweaving Maggie’s present-day struggles with Ray and Reno, men very much hung up on her since their youths, is the story of a brief period in her childhood when her family moved to a new town, suffered divorce and trauma, loss and sexual abuse. These events drive much of the anger, confusion, and, ultimately, the narrative, as moments of horrific violence both past and present explicate the characters’ natures and desires. The combination of simple and graceful black-and-white linework and richly developed characters creates an excellent, engaging book. Readers new to the series may struggle to get into the story and have as strong a connection with Maggie as veterans. This is particularly true of the fleeting references to her longtime lover Hopey, whose exceedingly brief appearance comes at the end. However, unfamiliarity does not preclude enjoyment automatically, as there is much here to applaud even for the uninitiated.
Verdict Recommended strongly for fans of the series as well as those readers interested in a mature, nuanced portrait of modern life and love.—Evan M. Anderson, Kirkendall P.L., Ankeny, IA

Johnston, Lynn (text & illus.). It’s One Thing After Another! For Better or for Worse 4th Treasury. Andrews McMeel. 2014. 216p. photos. notes. ISBN 9781449437176. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781449452728. COMICS
Current fans of Reuben Award winner Johnston’s long-running comic strip For Better or for Worse might be confused at this collection—whereas most comic strip characters stay frozen in time, Johnston always allowed her characters to grow, age, and change in relative real time. Collecting strips from the mid-1980s, this treasury features Elizabeth and John as young parents and Elly and Michael as rambunctious children. The content deals with subjects familiar to most suburban clans—coping with the first signs of aging, juggling work and children, and maintaining an identity of your own within the confines of a family. Johnston’s cartooning is loose and playful, and her sense of design and space result in panels perfectly crafted to deliver punch lines for maximum effect. In addition to the strips, the book is filled with family photos, autobiographical essays, and annotations on individual strips, providing notes on craft and other insights into the creative process.
Verdict Perfect for comic strip fans with a sense of history; aspiring cartoonists will be delighted by the insider’s perspective provided by the annotations.—Thomas L. Batten, Grafton, VA

Williams, J.H., III & W. Haden Blackman (text) & Trevor McCarthy & others (illus.). Batwoman. Vol. 4: This Blood Is Thick. DC. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9781401246211. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401251871. SUPERHERO
Kate Kane is dedicated, strong willed, and stubborn, much like the Dark Knight from whom she takes her alter ego’s symbol and name. Yet against Batman’s advice, Kane refuses to untangle herself from the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO). Convinced that Batman is a threat to national security, the DEO offers Batwoman a deal she cannot turn down: the safety of her family and the return of her once-dead twin sister in exchange for Batman’s identity. Never alone, Kate’s family and detective girlfriend Maggie Sawyer, equipped with resources from the DEO, work together to take the Dark Knight down. In the final volume written by the collaborative efforts of Williams and Blackman, This Blood Is Thick continues to offer readers a refreshing and contemporary take on the revamped Batwoman character written by Greg Rucka. Though spots in the story line can be slow and clunky, overall the narrative is gripping and fast paced, only enhanced by McCarthy’s art sprinkled with intricate paneling and memorable splash pages.
Verdict “Bat-family” fans will enjoy following another vigilante member of the pack, while new readers who are looking for something different amid the trite reiterations of well-loved characters will find Batwoman a breath of fresh air.—Laura Gallardo, St. Louis