Graphic Novels by DeMatteis & Johnson, Kleist, Stephenson, Willingham | Xpress Reviews

Week ending July 31, 2015

DeMatteis, J.M. (text) & Paul Johnson (illus.). Mercy: Shake the World. Dover. 2015. 114p. ISBN 9780486799056. pap. $14.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Drifting between life and death, a man undergoing critical care in the hospital after a stroke finds that his consciousness can float away from his body and he’s able to observe but not interact with other people’s lives. He witnesses individuals in difficult circumstances in such locations as London, a South American jungle, and Brooklyn and even perceives disincarnate demonic entities motivating hate, fear, and despair, unnoticed for their true natures. Most remarkable, he’s aware of the blue supernatural being known as Mercy looking in on each of the incidents. The immobile observer is unsure of Mercy’s motives, just as he’s unsure of why he’s seeing any of the events, as each one deals with life-threatening situations.
Verdict Created by veteran writer DeMatteis (Justice League) and beautifully painted by Johnson, Mercy is a mature work that succeeds in delivering an uplifting take on what makes human life worth living, while also achieving an otherworldly adventure with suitable drama and subtle emotionality. It will be well received by older teen audiences as well as adult readers who will appreciate the complex observations about life, or for people seeking a different kind of fantastic tale.—Douglas Rednour, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta

starred review starKleist, Reinhard (text & illus.). Castro. Arsenal Pulp. Oct. 2015. 293p. bibliog. ISBN 9781551525945. pap. $22.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
castro073115Acclaimed German cartoonist Kleist (Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness) presents a sweeping and deeply researched study of Fidel Castro (b.1926), moving from his days as a privileged child to his political activism as a student, through episodes of revolution and war to the struggles of leading a nation torn between superpowers. Along the way, Kleist crafts a powerful portrait of a singular man as well as a kind of counterhistory of the second half of the 20th century. The author wisely depicts Castro through the eyes of a German journalist who is thoroughly seduced by the leader’s charisma and radical promise upon first encountering him as a guerrilla fighter only to become slowly disenchanted as decades pass and vows are broken, producing a nuanced, epic, and ultimately tragic image.
Verdict Kleist’s masterly mix of pathos and politics is never less than compelling and results in a work that should appeal equally to history buffs, political junkies, and readers of literary fiction drawn to the timeliness of the subject. Destined to be a classic.—Thomas L. Batten, Grafton, VA

Stephenson, Eric (text) & Simon Gane & others (illus.). They’re Not Like Us. Vol. 1: Black Holes for the Young. Image. Jul. 2015. 144p. ISBN 9781632153142. pap. $9.99. Rated: M. GRAPHIC NOVELS/SF
A young woman, tortured by a lifetime of uncontrolled telepathy forcing her to hear the inner thoughts of everyone around her, awakes in a hospital after a failed suicide. At her bedside is a man who quiets the cacophony in her head, yet after leading a violent escape from the hospital’s isolation ward, he proves to be less than a savior. Calling himself the Voice, the man introduces the newly renamed Syd to a group of impressive young adults he has gathered for the purpose of dominating the humans around them. Forget the lighthearted school for mutants seen in the X-Men franchise; this band of superpowered youth take what they want from life and don’t shy away from beating the hell out of anyone who stands in their way. With the angry dissatisfaction of the outsider simmering beneath the surface of every encounter, Syd must decide if she has finally found acceptance, or if this is just a candy-coated poison pill.
Verdict While mighty antiheroes aren’t new, Stephenson brings an edge to the scene that is vaguely reminiscent in spirit of Mark Millar’s “Wanted” series. These are not good people, but you see them as more than monsters with each chapter. A solid choice for adult readers who like their protagonists morally ambiguous.—Mary E. Butler, Marion Cty. P.L. Syst., WV

starred review starWillingham, Bill & others (text & illus.). Fables #150. Vol. 22: Farewell. Vertigo. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9781401252335. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401260392. Rated: M. GRAPHIC NOVELS
The chronicler of this vast array of fables and fairy tales brings his “history” to a close with this volume. Tensions are running high among the magical, not-so-happily-ever-after citizens of Fabletown. Allegiances are struck and curses are pronounced simultaneously as the dynamic storybook characters converge for a final, horrific showdown. Battle seems inevitable. But, wait. For the sake of all that’s whimsical, will a truce be declared even in the midst of ruin, past hatreds, and potential chaos? And what about the fates of the fringe cast, like Boy Blue and Geppetto? Fear not, this work gently answers these pending questions marvelously.
Verdict Multiple Eisner Award winner Willingham has rendered a fine, classic, and smart conclusion to his joyfully engrossing series. The art is crisp, the color clean and sparkling, and there are bonus pages as well as a text story included to add variety. Bravo.—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ