Thor, Batman ’66, Daredevil, plus World War I in Comics, & Much, Much More | Graphic Novels Reviews

AT THE GREAT WAR’S CENTENARY, it’s time to survey graphic narrative tributes. For younger readers up, Alan Cowsill and Lalit ­Kumar ­Sharma’s World War One: 1914–1918 (Campfire, 2014) briefly recaps the entire conflict with maps and explanatory tidbits. From the “Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales” series for kids, the excellent Trenches, Treaties, Mud, and Blood (Abrams, 2014) renders the war with Maus-style talking animals plus judicious goofiness leavening the horror. Philippe Glogowski’s all-ages, Ypres Memories (T.J. Editions, forthcoming), focuses on recollections haunting an elderly Scottish veteran.
For adults, Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s classic Charley’s War (reprint; Titan, 2004–13) serves up unsentimental fiction about a simple, decent Britisher enduring daily life in the trenches. French artist Jacques Tardi has created It Was the War of the Trenches (LJ 5/15/10) and Goddamn This War (Fantagraphics, 2013), devastating glimpses of French soldiers fighting. Fellow Frenchman Barroux’s Line of Fire (Phoenix Yard, forthcoming) adapts a French soldier’s diary recently discovered in the trash.
American war reporter Joe Sacco dramatizes one day of combat that resulted in 20,000 dead, displayed over a 24-foot wordless foldout: The Great War–July 1, 1916–The First Day of the Battle of the Somme (Norton, 2013). Rob Morrison and Charlie Adlard’s White Death (AiT/PlanetLar, 2002) fictionalizes fighting at the Italian Front high in the Trentino Mountains, where frozen corpses helped shore up trenches. Wayne Vansant’s The Red Baron (Zenith, 2014) introduces the most infamous and skillful of German pilots in the air war, whereas Max Brooks and Caanan White’s The Harlem Hellfighters (LJ 3/15/14) follows a repeatedly decorated “colored” regiment fighting in France.
The forthcoming anthology To End All Wars (Soaring Penguin Pr., Sept.) extends the panorama still further by collecting stories that range widely across genres, characters, themes, and viewpoints.—M.C.

Aaron, Jason (text) & Nic Klein & others (illus.). Thor: God of Thunder. Vol. 3: The Accused. Marvel. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9780785185550. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781302377441. GRAPHIC NOVELS
ThorThe exciting and superbly crafted “God Butcher” story line that filled the first two books of the “Thor” series was in many ways the apotheosis of the epic, high-stakes cosmic conflict that has characterized many God of Thunder serials. Among the three diverse tales in this more humorous volume is one lesser but still enjoyable example of that genre, in which Thor leads a motley and fractious fellowship of representatives from across the Nine Realms of Norse mythology—including a dwarf, a giant, a troll, and two very different elves—against the rampaging dark elf Malekith. The other two stories present contrasting portraits of the thunder god. In one fine episode, Thor tours Midgard (Earth), visiting people from all walks of life and acting as Superman might (except for the mead drinking and skirt chasing). In the other, set in 894 CE, a younger, more headstrong Thor deals with an adolescent dragon and acts more like Conan the Barbarian (except for the heroic answering of his followers’ prayers). VERDICT A bloodier, earthier take on the Norse hero than either the movies or classic older Thor comics—but well done and recommended.—S.R.

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics. First Second. Sept. 2014. 144p. ed. by Chris Duffy. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781626720657. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
abovedreamlessdead081514Veterans of mud, blood, and ink, the British soldier Trench Poets filed dispatches from the front that rejected any romantic nobility in war and cried out against the senseless murder of millions. This collection adapts 28 poems via the black-and-white artwork of Eddie Campbell (From Hell), Carol Tyler (You’ll Never Know), George Pratt (Paroles de Poilus), Peter Kuper (World War 3 Illustrated), Pat Mills (Charley’s War), and other contemporary comics creators. Often, the art adds subplots or rich details. For example, a Christlike image transforms into an angel of death in “Soldiers Dream.” In “Break of Dawn in the Trenches,” a rat escapes the battlefield to feed her offspring underground: life goes on. Some wrenching selections become oddly beautiful through the drawings, as when glittering dew renders magical a lifeless soldier impaled on barbed wire. ­VERDICT This visceral and haunting compilation will help concerned readers understand the costs of war, particularly World War I, our planet’s first industrialized war. A solid choice for classrooms, too, high school and up.—M.C.

Bieser, Scott (text & illus.). Quantum Vibe. Vol. 2: Murphy. Big Head. 2014. 161p. ISBN 9780985316754. pap. $19.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Originally a web comic, this lively space opera stars three wonderful women characters: Nicole Orasme, a brilliant, tawny-skinned techie; Murphy, an android sex slave; and Buford, a hulking beltape (genetically engineered hominid). Through cleverly written adventures and near disasters, the trio help genius inventor Seamus O’Murchada with his mysterious project despite enemy interference. Creator Bieser (Escape from Terra) gleefully stir-fries countless ingredients into the series, from sf stereotypes to class-based dialects to references evoking history, mythology, and pop culture—Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books, M.C. Escher’s stairways, Osamu Tezuka, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and U.S. presidents all get tagged. Volume 1 saw Nicole successfully lobbing explosives into the sun. In Volume 2, Murphy shakes off her pacifist programming and helps foil a plot to start an interplanetary war. Bieser’s cheerful art, enhanced by brother Zeke’s coloring, is semirealistic and often satiric in portraying beings and cultures, from multi­armed “Spyder” humans to a hoop-field gym for low-gravity dwellers. And although characters can change appearance, readers won’t lose track of who’s who. VERDICT This picaresque series should be especially enjoyable to new adult readers. For older teens and up, owing to sexual content.—M.C.

Busiek, Kurt (text) & Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (illus.). Astro City: Through Open Doors. Vertigo. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9781401247522. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781401249960. $16.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
astrocity081514When this Eisner and Harvey Award–winning series returned after a hiatus, it relaunched with four excellent stories of the human side of superheroes, collected in Shining Stars. In this succeeding volume, preeminent comics scribe Busiek (Marvels; JLA/Avengers) reveals the reverse: the extraordinary side of more ordinary folk living among superpowered movers and shakers. Introduced here are an app developer and a mob lieutenant who dare to approach an alien ambassador, and a help-desk staffer on a superhero team’s emergency contact line who deals with guilt over a mistaken judgment call. More closely straddling the boundary between “super” and “typical” are the apparently nonpowered early 20th-century steampunk adventuress Dame Progress, and a remarkable group of powered individuals who eschew the conflict of the hero/villain life and use their abilities in other ways (e.g., construction or movie special effects). And even here Busiek is not short of great ideas for new heroes and villains, presenting anime-esque supergirl American Chibi, ­Vertigo-esque occultist the Broken Man, and wannabe villain-­master the Majordomo. VERDICT With such compelling characters, Anderson’s outstanding artwork, and Ross’s iconic cover, what’s not to love?—S.R.

Hobbs, Eric (text) & Noel Tuazon (illus.). Family Ties. NBM. 2014. 184p. ISBN 9781561637294. pap. $13.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
When mobster boss Jackie Giovanni develops dementia, his disinherited son Cain, a nurse, tries to get dad into residential care. But greedy daughters Shannon and Kim scheme to get rid of Jackie and take over the business together with Edmund, the illegitimate son of Jackie’s henchman, Francis. Soon overeager attacks and backstabbing among the young people set off a cascade of mayhem as Jackie’s condition worsens. Tuazon’s scratchy black-and-gray-wash art makes the story seem as dirty as the characters’ hands and is especially ominous in depicting struggles and gunplay outdoors during the Alaskan winter. The rain and snow almost seem to dissolve as ink on the page, making artful murk of surroundings and sometimes characters. VERDICT Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hobbs’s tight, nasty plot unrolls inevitably, one more example of how universal the Bard’s characters still are, even with trappings recalling Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. (Two film versions of a mobster Macbeth have been produced.) This makes juicy yet sobering reading for high schoolers and adults, many of whom will eventually confront dementia in the family themselves.—M.C.

starred review starKleist, Reinhard (text & illus.). The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft. SelfMadeHero. 2014. 200p. ISBN 9781906838775. pap. $22.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
theboxer081514Shrimpy but scrappy, teenager Hertzko Haft helps his struggling Jewish family survive Nazi occupation of Poland. But just before he is to marry his love, Leah, Hertzko is sent to a work camp and then to Auschwitz. Over four years, he keeps alive by canny friendships, smuggling, and learning to box in tournaments held to entertain Nazi camp officers. Finally, Hertzko escapes and turns professional boxer, seeking the missing Leah. Stark black-and-white drawings from Kleist (the well-received Johnny Cash) convey ­Hertzko’s single-minded calculus of survival. An excellent concluding essay from German sports journalist Martin Krauss further explicates boxing in concentration camps. VERDICT Based on son Alan Scott Haft’s Harry Haft, this wrenching biography coupled with stunning high-contrast story­telling put this title on a par with ­Nathan Powell’s much-praised art for March (LJ 7/13). Moreover, the characters are drawn with the energetic nimbleness so admired in Will Eisner’s work. Sports fans and history readers, teen and up, will find this mesmerizing.—M.C.

Mishkin, Dan (text) & Ernie Colón & Jerzy Drozd (illus.). The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation into the Kennedy Assassination. Abrams. Sept. 2014. 160p. bibliog. ISBN 9781419712302. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9781419712319. $17.95. Graphic novels
The 1964 Warren Commission report on President John F. Kennedy’s assassination set few minds to rest and energized conspiracy buffs worldwide. Rather than being an adaptation of the actual document, this “graphic investigation” describes the report’s findings and shortcomings, reviews other theories in historical context, and summarizes evidence for and against different conclusions. ­Mishkin (Dungeons & Dragons, numerous DC titles) has gone deep and wide in gathering background. Colón (The 9/11 Report; The Great American Documents) and Drozd ­( bring a fine mix of graphic techniques to the complicated story. Their basic approach of photo-realist and clear line drawings is intercut with sche­matics, time lines, and other instructive visuals. In showing, for example, the chaos of Kennedy’s hospital arrival, multiple text balloons providing testimony from witnesses float over the scene. In their effective use of coloring, a black-and-white Lee Harvey ­Oswald—the presumed killer, yet a “mystery man”—contrasts with overall subdued color broken by crimson-tinged violent moments. VERDICT Written for teens and adults, this dramatization of the murder mystery of the century integrates numerous narratives to make an excellent starting point for anyone interested in this American tragedy.—M.C.

Parker, Jeff (text) & Jonathan Case & others (illus.). Batman ‘66. DC. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9781401247218. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401251840. GRAPHIC NOVELS
It can be argued that, by playing things completely straight, the 1960s Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show (finally due for release on home video later this year) exposed superhero stories—or at least the kind that the Comics Code of the day allowed—as ridiculous, and thereby set back public acceptance of comics as a valid and valuable art form for many years. It can also be argued that the show was a lot of fun. This series does a fine job of reviving the show’s heroic and comical spirit, aided by use of the actors’ likenesses, including Frank Gorshin (the Riddler), Burgess Meredith (the Penguin), and both Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. It’s a contemporary “meta” take, decorated with pop-art effects and full of in-jokes relating to the show, its era, and other Batman stories. There’s not quite as much “Biff! Pow!” and “Holy halitosis!” as one might expect, and a Joker story falls flat—but Bat-gadgetry is on display, and when Egghead (Vincent Price) calls his eggshell-helmeted henchmen “my Eggmen,” all is forgiven. VERDICT A lot of fun.—S.R.

Waid, Mark (text) & Chris Samnee (illus.). Daredevil. Vol. 5. Marvel. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9780785161059. pap. $16.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
daredeveil081514For more than a decade, writers made the life of blind-but-superpowered lawyer Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, into a living hell. But Waid, in his highly enjoyable run on the series, has lightened its tone considerably—a shift aided here by Samnee’s versatile, dynamic, and cartoony artwork, a marked contrast to the highly realistic and gritty art of days past. Waid’s Matt wants to put the anguish behind him and enjoy life—and accordingly, here Matt and his business partner Foggy Nelson repair quickly a serious rift between them, as best buds should. Not that everything is sweetness—Foggy has bad medical news, Matt’s latest girlfriend breaks up with him, and an unknown villain has learned the secret of recreating Matt’s powers. In a touching and astute backup story, Waid makes some fine points about the nature of superheroes, and a group of kids teach Foggy a lesson about the difference between fantasy and reality—a lesson many adults seem to have trouble learning. VERDICT After so much grimness, this is a welcome breath of fresh air.—S.R.

Yoshinaga, Fumi (text & illus.). What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 1. Vertical. 2014. 153p. ISBN 9781939130389. pap. $12.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Yoshinaga (Ooku; Antique Bakery) is known for manga about gender drama and foodie culture, themes combined in this lighthearted, slice-of-life series. Top-ranked lawyer Shiro is buttoned up at the office, while colleagues speculate about his private life and age-defying good looks. Actually but less publicly, Shiro shares life, love, and his superb cooking skills with Kenji, a carefree hairdresser. Each episode introduces a situation—Kenji gets jealous of Shiro’s clients, or Shiro helps a domestic abuse victim—intercut with Shiro’s plans for making dinner. As the issue is resolved, a delicious meal is prepared, and the middle-aged couple rebonds happily. Yoshinaga draws characters with simple, clean realism, exaggerating faces amusingly for emotional moments. Yet the images of food are crafted in fine-line detail, making the ingredients and textures amazingly appetizing. Between episodes, the author provides brief recipes and cooking tips. However, cultural details lack explanatory notes. VERDICT While the recipes would be most useful to aficionados of Japanese cuisine, the story might appeal to anyone who enjoys food writing. Gay concerns surface but not much about sexuality. Up to seven volumes in Japan, the series has garnered award nominations.—M.C.

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  1. Hello!

    I work for Image Comics, and I just wanted to let you know that we are reprinting WHITE DEATH by Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard in a hard cover edition to commemorate the centenary of the start of WWI. Here is more information: