Graphic Novels from Burns, Hickman & Pitarra, Marz & Sejic, and Peeters | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 11, 2014

starred review starBurns, Charles (text & illus.). Sugar Skull. Pantheon. Sept. 2014. 64p. ISBN 9780307907905. $23. SF/HORROR
sugarskull071114Only an artist as audacious as Burns would attempt a mashup of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and Tintin, the internationally beloved comic book adventurer; only a master storyteller would be able to carve a startlingly moving tale of love, loss, and regret out of that unlikely pairing. Completing the narrative Burns began in X’ed Out, here protagonist Doug is struggling with grief over the death of his father and haunted by a shattered romance. Doug’s story is intercut with that of a man wandering an eerie, decaying wasteland filled with freaks and monsters, obsessed with the beautiful broodmare for a race of lizard people. Burns demands and rewards attentive reading, letting the novel unfold in a fractured chronology and employing patterns of repeated imagery and color to draw connections between the two narratives. He brings them together into something altogether new that blends bildungsroman with visceral horror to elucidate the mental state of his protagonist. While Burns has long been known for his ability to make readers squirm, this volume highlights his skill as a compassionate observer of human folly.
Verdict Highly recommended, especially for horror fans unafraid of feeling a more nuanced range of emotions. [Five-city tour.]—Thomas L. Batten, Grafton, VA

Hickman, Jonathan (text) & Nick Pitarra (illus.). The Manhattan Projects. Vol. 4: The Four Disciples. Image. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781607069614. pap. $14.99. SF
Hickman (East of West) blends World War II and 1940s history with disturbing sf. Volume 4 furthers the story of psychopath Oppenheimer, narcissist Feynman, cyborg von Braun, physicist Einstein, and several other players as the motley crew of scientists develop a plan to take over the world. Feynman and Einstein travel through the portal monolith to other universes and dimensions to acquire undiscovered technologies and capture unidentifiable life. As Oppenheimer has kills, devours, and assumes the personalities of more people and other beings, he begins to take on the upper hand in the group. The focus of the ensemble is world dominance, but their efforts go a little awry when they bite off more than they can chew. Oppenheimer’s conflicting and expanding psyche interferes with his comrades’ goals, and the future of the company of scientists is uncertain. Pitarra’s art is intricate and a great fit for the details and frequent grotesque interactions.
Verdict While the story in here makes jumping into the series difficult for the casual reader, the overarching plot is interesting and recommended to history/sf mashup enthusiasts.—Teresa Potter-Reyes, Helen Hall Lib., League City, TX

Marz, Ron & others (text) & Stjepan Sejic & others (illus.). Progeny. Vol. 1. Top Cow: Image. Sept. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9781607067481. pap. $16.99. ADVENTURE/FANTASY
Jackie Estacado, imbued with the Darkness, has reshaped the world. Now his murdered girlfriend not only is alive but is the mother of his daughter, Hope. Hope’s mother in the previous reality, Witchblade-wielder Sara Pezzini, senses something is wrong, but Jackie’s actions have allowed an older evil to ooze through cracks and enter the world. Former priest Tom Judge has gathered Sara and other artifact-bearers in an attempt to stop both the Darkness and the Ancient Ones.
Verdict Progeny is a crossover collecting issues from Artifacts, Witchblade, and The Darkness that will have the strongest appeal to die-hard fans of Top Cow’s comic universe. The collection reads more like a middle chapter than a stand-alone event, making this a poor starting point for new readers. However, the artwork and writing are strong throughout, with Sejic’s photorealistic work being particularly notable.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI

Peeters, Frederik (text & illus.). aama. Vol. 1: The Smell of Warm Dust. SelfMadeHero. 2014. 88p. ISBN 9781906838737. $19.95. SF
The Smell of Warm Dust is the first volume in a four-part series by acclaimed Swiss author Peeters (Blue Pills). Verloc Nim remembers only his daughter when he wakes up alone on a strange planet. A robotic ape named Churchill arrives to rescue him and gives Verloc back his journal as an explanation. Having given up on a world where technology controls lives and has been integrated into human biology, corporations control the technology, and society has cleaved into the haves and have-nots, Verloc is found by his younger brother who convinces Verloc to accompany him on a mission. Told as flashbacks within flashbacks, Peeters’s work plays with the tropes of the sf genre as the author creates an unnerving commentary on the future and our obsession with it. Verloc is his antihero; disgusted by technology and shamed by a dark past, he is the strangely likable voice of reason in the madness.
Verdict Peeters’s Angoulême Festival Best Series prize winner is sure to please fans of moody sf.—E.W. Goodman, Art Inst. of Pittsburgh