Graphic Novels from Geary, Mulligan/Ostertag, Peeters, Sakai, Vachss | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 5, 2014

Geary, Rick (text & illus.). A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II. NBM. Jan. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781561639076. $29.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
The high quality that writer/artist Geary has maintained for his “Treasury of Victorian Murder” true crime series since its 1987 inception is easy to take for granted. This latest volume nonetheless delivers the well-researched goods on five vintage murder cases, including those involving the Borden family, the lovely and doomed cigar store girl Mary Rogers, and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Even readers who think they know these stories should take notice, as Geary is always ready with new perspectives and pertinent lesser-known facts. The spare yet finely detailed illustrations and the text do not shy away from grisliness, but Geary isn’t peddling sensationalism; these tales simply demonstrate that the human compulsions that lead to murder were with us then just as they are now.
Verdict As labors of love go, this series is an offbeat yet fascinating one; sadly, there’s no shortage of these stories for Geary to cover. Obviously not for all tastes but highly recommended for mature readers of graphic novels, mysteries history, and true crime; violent and disturbing content, suitable for teens and up.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Mulligan, Brennan Lee (text) & Molly Ostertag (illus.). Strong Female Protagonist. Bk. 1. Top Shelf. Dec. 2014. 220p. ISBN 9780692246184. pap. $19.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Strong Female Protagonist (SFP) is a webcomic which updates twice a week, one page at a time. Collecting a webcomic in a print volume can be a gamble, revealing the hiccups of a creative process that is very different from creating a straight-to-print graphic novel or comic book. Serial webcomic storytelling may seem disjointed, illustrations may not flow in a satisfying way, and/or the transition from web to print may seem self-congratulatory or unnecessary. But in SFP’s case, its slow and steady evolutionary process is quite appealing. SFP is the story of a college-aged superhero who has almost, but not quite, hung up her mask to live a normal life. She’s preoccupied with questions of justice and duty, discouraged by the special treatment she gets because of her superstrength, and unable to escape her inborn need to save the world. As the story develops, our heroine’s internal struggle becomes more fully realized; her relationships with her fellow superhumans gain depth and poignancy, and the illustration style grows more confident, to the point where you’re utterly involved by the end of the book. Luckily, the story continues online.
Verdict A satisfying webcomic transferred successfully to the printed page, a great and promising story of a superhero, and a strong young woman, in progress.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Peeters, Frederik (text & illus.). aama. Vol. 2: The Invisible Throng. SelfMadeHero. 2014. 88p. ISBN 9781906838836. $19.95. SF
The Invisible Throng is the second volume of the four-part “aama” series by Peeters (The Smell of Warm Dust). Verloc Nim travels to a strange planet with his brother Conrad in search of Aama, a nanotechnology experiment intended to kick-start life on the primeval world. Led by a robotic ape named Churchill, the brothers, scientists consigned to the planet, and a peculiar girl make their way across a rapidly evolving and increasingly deadly landscape. The greatest struggles, however, are character-driven as Verloc relives his estrangement from his wife and child and Conrad suffers from stress-induced breakdowns.
Verdict Peeters’s vivid alien landscape is a stunning backdrop for Verloc’s soul-searching. Readers interested in strange science and complex characters will appreciate this series.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI

starred review starSakai, Stan (text & illus.). The Usagi Yojimbo Saga. Bk. 1. Dark Horse. 2014. 632p. ISBN 9781616556099. pap. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS/FANTASY
usagi120414The first Dark Horse volumes of Sakai’s marvelous tales of rabbit samurai Usagi Yojimbo are reprinted in this deluxe volume. The complete art and text from the now out-of-print Shades of Death, Daisho, and The Brink of Life and Death are collected here, including guest introductions and Sakai’s own story notes along with a brief character introduction and color covers from the original individual issues and graphic novels. This generous-sized tome features some of Usagi’s earliest adventures with allies such as the rhino bounty hunter Gen and the foxy con artist Kitsune, as well as large doses of ninjas, brigands, and supernatural creatures. Sakai’s crisp black-and-white art splendidly captures the characters, society, and natural world of an imaginary medieval Japan.
Verdict Sakai’s list of cartooning awards is long and many are for his “Usagi” series. This affordably priced volume belongs in all libraries with graphic novel collections.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Vachss, Andrew & others (text) & Dominic Reardon & others (illus.). Vachss: Underground. Dark Horse. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9781616554163. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781621159346. GRAPHIC NOVELS/SF
Multifaceted writer Vachss (Heart Transplant) and artist Reardon (2000 A.D.) here depict an underground system of tunnels created to escape some undisclosed event known as “The Terror,” which drove all humankind to seek shelter deep underground. There are Rulers of the Underground; the Rulers create Rules, and the Bureaucrats in every tunnel answer questions only about the Rules with more Rules. Factions and crews are created to maintain certain standards of living and decorum. In spite of the neverending list of “rules” and “truths,” the Underground is full of incest, rape, pedophilia, and violence, presented as stories passed down through the indeterminate span of generations. The novel focuses on the question: Who watches the watchers? And it’s all through a dark shade of tyrannical organized religion. The stories and rules are dynamic and intriguing, the art is edgy and matches the narrative very well; however, the entire book would benefit from more background plot development.
Verdict While the premise is somewhat unique, the story is choppy and the writing is less than great, but it could be enjoyed by fans of dystopian graphic novels.—Teresa Potter-Reyes, Helen Hall Lib., League City, TX