Graphic novels with Tarzan, Atomic Robo, Salander, Hartlepool Monkey, & the Twelve | Xpress Reviews

Week ending June 13, 2014

starred review starBurroughs, Edgar Rice with Don Garden (text) & Burne Hogarth (illus.). Tarzan. Vol. 1: In the City of Gold: The Complete Burne Hogarth Sundays and Dailies Library. Titan. 2014. 208p. ISBN 9781781163177. $39.95. ACTION/ADVENTURE
tarzan061314This volume collects the first 155 strips of Hogarth’s breathtaking run on the Tarzan comic strip. Basing his work off of Burroughs’s classic character, Hogarth picks up the strip after Tarzan has discovered a lost city of gold populated centuries ago by Turkish nomads. Contending against sinister colonial treasure hunters and the royal guard of the fabled city, Tarzan must save its citizens and the princess from the outside world. In the story arcs compiled here, Hogarth takes Tarzan on many adventures involving pygmies, Amazons, the Boer settlers of southern Africa, and a Chinese fiefdom displayed in a similar way as the Turkish City of Gold. All the while Hogarth’s imaginative storytelling and dynamic art bring to life nuanced adventures characteristic of 1930s movie serials.
Verdict Hogarth (1911–96) proves in every panel of his Tarzan strip both his narrative prowess and his keen mastery of dramatic storytelling. This volume is highly recommendable for libraries and individuals with an interest in the history of graphic fiction and hallmark works in the evolution of the comics medium.—Alger C. Newberry III, Genesee Dist. Lib., Flint, MI

Clevinger, Brian (text) & Scott Wegener (illus.). Atomic Robo. Vol. 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur. Red 5 Comics. Jun. 2014. 140p. ISBN 9780986898563. pap. $18.95. SF
In this eighth volume of Clevinger and Wegener’s wonderful and zany series, Nikola Tesla’s atomic-powered creation must once again face the stupid genius Dr. Dinosaur. Atomic Robo is the CEO of Tesladyne, the corporation founded by Tesla, which, among other things, defends the world from the bizarre. Robo is currently being framed for the theft of nuclear weaponry, so he leaps at the chance to investigate a report of cryptids at the site of Marconi’s secret Nazi space program in Venezuela. Once there, he and the “fightin’ scientists of Tesladyne” discover that Dr. Dinosaur has taken up residence in the subterranean lost city of Atvatabar, where he controls an army of sentient rock creatures. Dr. Dinosaur has built a “time bomb” with the missing nukes, which he declares will wipe out the last few hundred million years of history. Wegener creates both interesting comic characters and distinct monsters, while Nick Filardi provides Day-Glo colors to liven up the work.
Verdict The title alone should sell this book, while the cover art of the khaki-panted robot hero about to punch a glowing-sword-wielding dino should seal the deal. The story is ridiculous, clever, and hilarious. Anyone who enjoys comics should read this.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Culbard, I.N.J. (text & illus.). Celeste. SelfMadeHero. 2014. 192p. ISBN 9781906838768. $24.95. SF
Who doesn’t love a Last Man on Earth scenario? It’s at once the most terrifying and most freeing concept imaginable. Sf and speculative fiction, books, television shows, and comics have mined the concept for decades to many fascinating ends. Celeste takes this premise and tinkers with it: three characters on three continents find themselves literally alone in the world—almost. A man in Los Angeles encounters one other man, who is trapped in the trunk of a nearby car. An albino woman on the London Underground finds herself falling for a woman named Aaron. And a suicidal Japanese biker is haunted in a forest near Mount Fuji by…aliens? Monsters? Demons? Each of them must learn something about themselves in their near solitude, and the story switches among them smoothly. The illustrations—traffic jams of empty cars, moonlit monsters, and the albino woman mesmerized by a pink flower petal—are lingering and mysterious, but the narrative threads don’t tie together enough to make Celeste stand out in a world where this story has been told over and over, with more conviction.
Verdict A beautifully drawn and paced book with a tentative narrative, enjoyable for an adult or mature teen who enjoys gentle flights of postapocalyptic fancy.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Larsson, Stieg & Denise Mina (text) & Antonio Fuso & others (illus.). The Girl Who Played with Fire. Vertigo. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781401237578. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401252168. Rated: M. F
Lisbeth Salander is an alluring mystery—one to be in awe of as well as one to fear. In The Girl Who Played with Fire, a window to her past is revealed, and it is tangled in a web that involves the seedy, underground world of criminals, spies, and secrets. Salander attempts to free herself from faulty implications but doing so may cost her life. Mina’s adaptation of the best-selling book by Larsson adequately translates the novel into the illustrated format but not without its share of faults. For those not familiar with the characters and general progression of the story, the graphic novel version may be difficult to follow, especially because the focus quickly shifts from one character set to another. To compensate for the frequent moves, Mina relies on hefty blocks of dialog for explication and reiteration. These dialogs are well transcribed for the format, and the characterization is very much preserved. The adaptation retains the same sense of thrill from the book, thanks to expert paneling and pacing, though the seemingly rushed artwork sometimes deters from the pace, forcing the reader to stop and figure out what is being depicted.
Verdict Mina (Garnethill; Hellblazer) offers an adaptation that is commendable, especially since she keeps many elements of the story. However, fans, or those who are at least familiar with Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), will best appreciate this work owing to the sheer volume of names, places, and points significant to driving the narrative, though these elements are not as developed in this format.—Laura Gallardo, St. Louis

Lupano, Wilfrid (text) & Jérémie Moreau (illus.). The Hartlepool Monkey. Knockabout. 2013. 98p. tr. from French by Frank Wynne. ISBN 9780861662265. $14.99. F
A yarn from the Napoleonic Wars tells of a French ship wrecked off the British coast, the single survivor a chimpanzee—the captain’s pet. The ignorant and bloodthirsty British villagers mistook the hapless simian for an enemy seaman and hanged the creature. Lupano expands this story with zest and inventiveness, working in a cabin boy, a young Charles Darwin, and the nascent naturalist’s doctor father. The resulting historically grounded parable crosses age groups and touches on racial prejudice (the French captain is a former slaver), mob justice, the tragedy of war, and the nature of “humanity.” Moreau’s painted-looking, beautifully composed art exaggerates all characters to both comic and tragic effect. Cleverly, he draws the none-too-bright French with moody mien and with blue/green coloring and the sea and the storm with dramatic sweeps of dark water overwhelming the tiny humans. The more jovial but equally daft British appear in a red/brown palette, the huge father Darwin in a frothy, lace-trimmed umber cloak.
Verdict This elegantly ghastly yet funny tale will appeal to adults who enjoy urban legends and off-kilter folklore. The story also has serious classroom potential, middle school and up.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

Pope, Paul (text & illus.). Escapo. Z2 Comics. Jul. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9781940878003. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Escape artists cheat death every day, simultaneously drawing in the audience with a cavalier attitude and taking onlookers to the edge of life with daring escapades. All escape artists face an intrinsic fear of death every time they appear in the spotlight, and the successful performer creates the illusion of defying the end. When Escapo, an accomplished but troubled escape artist, is rejected again by the same unattainable love interest, his defiance of death changes. Escapo should be dead, but he decides to bargain with his fate for one last get-away attempt. Published by Z2 Comics, collector of fine stories and graphic novels, Escapo is a perfect example of creator Pope’s (Batman: Year 100) highly acclaimed storytelling and art. Originally released in 1999 in black and white, this special edition is complete with beautiful colors by Shay Plummer (Magic Sword). Pope fans are in for a treat with the art and expanded content.
Verdict A quick must-read title from a talented graphic novelist. The story is over so fast that readers will ultimately want more, but the extra features of this new edition satisfy the desire for a longer work.—Teresa Potter-Reyes, Helen Hall Lib., League City, TX

Remender, Rick (text) & Matteo Scalera & Dean White (illus.). Black Science. Vol. 1: How To Fall Forever. Image. Jun. 2014. 152p. ISBN 9781607069676. pap. $9.99. Rated: M. SF
Imagine every alternate universe is layered upon one another like the skin of an onion and you have a pillar that can spike through them. With this pillar you can jump to—and borrow from—a universe that has cured cancer or solved global warming. This is the dream of Grant McKay, Remender’s Reed Richards (aka Mister Fantastic) read-alike if the Fantastic Four were led by a postpunk, philandering founder. However, Grant’s team of anarchistic scientists is thwarted from the outset, handing the team to the whims of a sabotaged Pillar. The Black Scientists are trapped, randomly jumping from reality to reality all the while emphasizing that Grant has doomed himself, his team, and his kids to an ego-driven series of quantum leaps.
Verdict Remender (Fear Agent), Scalera (Secret Avengers), and White (Uncanny X-Force) have taken a fresh approach to a standard sf trope, revisiting the classic pulp cliff-hanger but upping the stakes in a way modern audiences will appreciate.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI

Straczynski, J. Michael (text) & Chris Weston (illus.). The Twelve: A Thrilling Novel of Tomorrow. Marvel. 2014. 328p. illus. ISBN 9780785154303. pap. $29.99. Rated: T+. SUPERHERO
Straczynski (The Amazing Spider-Man) begins a tale set in Berlin at the end of World War II in which 12 misfit superheroes are fighting alongside the Allies against the Nazis only to become captured and cryogenically frozen. Fast-forward to modern-day Berlin, where during building construction following German reunification the Twelve are discovered. The Twelve, awakened after 60 years, are taken in by the military, who attempt to hide the time lapse from the group in hopes of recruiting them; after all, blindly patriotic superheroes would be a valuable acquisition for the military’s arsenal. Despite this, the Twelve become aware of the period change and must face the consequences six decades of lost time bring, whether it be the absence of loved family members or dramatic cultural events. Complicating matters further is a dark secret harbored by one of the Twelve that will soon lead to murder. The artwork by Weston (The Invisibles) is realistically detailed with minimal use of negative space in the panels.
Verdict Straczynski resurrects Marvel history by reintroducing characters from Timely Comics, a predecessor to Marvel. The contrast among these characters from the Golden Age of comics with the modern Marvel Universe provides an entertaining story while demonstrating some of the changing values in American pop culture.—Scott Vieira, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX