Graphic Novels from Campbell, Martin/Hewlett, Debuter Sorese, Straczynski & Co., and Tyler | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 4, 2015

Campbell, Eddie & others (text & illus.). Bacchus. Vol. 1. Top Shelf. 2015. 557p. ISBN 9781603090261. pap. $39.99. Rated: M. BIOG/GRAPHIC NOVELS
This volume comprises the first half of Campbell’s (The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains) epic tale of the adventures of the Greek god of the vine. Bacchus is now 4000 years old, so the stories contained herein combine his current activities as well as his recollections of various past events extending back to the Homeric era (1100–800 BC). Some of Bacchus’s tales include the latter-day demise of most of the Olympians, adding to the selection of already well-known legends. Bacchus is accompanied by Mr. Simpson, a no-longer-dead expert on classical literature.  Other prominent characters include Joe Theseus (yes, that Theseus), three brothers who are the “gods of business,” and the Eyeball Kid, grandson of Hundred-Eyed Argus, Hera’s watchman. The stories in the modern era have a crime motif, while those in the ancient world involve the expected godly squabbles and seductions, battles and quests. Campbell shares artistic duties with several others, including Ed Hillyer, Pete Mullins, Wes Kublick (writing), and Woodrow Phoenix (lettering), but the quality of the black-and-white drawings remains high. The wrinkled face of Bacchus recalls the visage of a certain aged Dark Knight.
Verdict Uncork this jeroboam-sized collection and you will encounter a bold vintage with strong flavors of mythology accompanied by none-too-subtle violence and sex with a deeply absurd finish.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Martin, Alan (text) & Jamie Hewlett & others (illus.). 21st Century Tank Girl. Titan. Dec. 2015. 112p. ISBN 9781782766612. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781782768104. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Featuring the return of cocreator and artist Hewlett, this hardcover anthology celebrates the fan-favorite character and her various cronies in a series of short tales, pin-ups, poems, and prose pieces created by a variety of artists. Tank Girl is a bombastic, anarchic, vicious character, and the stories here skate the edge of absurdity, delving into goofy humor and epic action with a psychedelic twist. Not every story works, but virtually every page is packed with detail without ever feeling dense—instead, the culminating effect of reading this book cover to cover is of having attended a strange and unforgettable party.
Verdict A great read for fans of the 1995 cult film curious to check out the character’s continuing adventures, as well as longtime fans who have clamored for a reunion of the original creative team of Hewlett and Martin.—Thomas L. Batten, Grafton, VA

Sorese, Jeremy (text & illus.). Curveball. Nobrow. 2015. 420p. ISBN 9781910620052. pap. $19.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
[DEBUT] Curveball is an odd beast—an unrequited romance, a dystopian romp with gender ambiguity, workplace politics, and roommate drama thrown in. It’s the story of Avery, a cruise ship waiter, who is carrying a torch for an unavailable, clueless sailor named Christophe, and of Avery’s friends who want to help them move on. There’s something high schoolish about this premise—weepy nights, secret notes, and moping over mix CDs. On its own, this would not be much of a tale, but Sorese’s character development and visual choices push this story into new territory. The first choice is subtle. Avery’s gender is never specified. Visual cues such as dramatic hair and funky fashions keep Avery’s identity ambiguous, and this is further emphasized by robots identifying Avery as a Mx., instead of a Mr. or Ms. Along with other gender-fluid characters and queer romances, this strikes a note of conscious progressiveness. But this story truly intrigues in its visual riot—pages splattered with a wild neon orange, electrical surges literally full of emotion, crowds rushing past skyscrapers and scurrying across ship decks, bringing an exotic new world to life.
Verdict There’s a bit of stream of consciousness about Curveball’s construction, but that’s the best thing; it keeps you reading and moreover, looking, alive with an electricity that is just barely under control.—Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Straczynski, J. Michael (text) & Ardian Syaf & others (illus.). Superman: Earth One. Vol. 3. DC. 2015. 136p. ISBN 9781401259099. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401257354. SUPERHERO
Veteran TV/comic/screenwriter Straczynski and a fine crew of illustrators prove in this series of graphic novels that even after all the prior attempts, there are still aspects of the Superman mythos worth exploring. This volume features striking new takes on Lex Luthor and General Zod, and a sobering look at the world turning its back on Superman out of fear of his powers. Casual readers may be impressed with Straczynski and Co.’s modernizing of familiar characters and settings as well as with the superficial explorations of the geopolitical ramifications of a godlike being living on Earth. Those already acquainted with the superior visions of Alan Moore’s Superman and Miracleman stories and 2013’s Man of Steel movie may appreciate the effort while remaining unimpressed. Preliminary sketches by penciller Syaf are included.
Verdict The Man of Steel’s new handlers keep the rust away without making Earth One top-tier; still recommended to all superhero fans. Superhero-style action and fight scenes aplenty; suitable for all but the youngest of readers.—J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

starred review starTyler, Carol (text & illus.). Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign To Understand My WWII Veteran Father. Fantagraphics. 2015. 364p. ISBN 9781606998960. pap. $39.99. BIOG/GRAPHIC NOVELS
soldiersheart.png12315The phrase “soldier’s heart” is the predecessor to today’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the underlying theme in Tyler’s (Late Bloomer) biography of her father’s life in this book, originally released as the trilogy You’ll Never Know, between 2009 and 2012. Tyler tells the story of her father, Charles, his upbringing as a plumber’s son in Chicago before he enlists in the army during World War II; his war experience; after the war as he raises his family with his beloved wife, Red; and their lives into the present. The time line jumps between the current day, as Tyler deals with her own troubled marriage and raising her daughter, and the past (her own, her father’s, and her mother’s). She realizes that her father’s PTSD could be the cause of her own problems with relationships. The beautifully drawn artwork represents snapshots of the family throughout the years. Tyler’s dry, self-deprecating humor will make fans chuckle, and the more serious scenes will cause the reader to tear up.
Verdict In the style of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Sam Glanzman’s autobiographical A Sailor’s Story, this highly recommended book is for readers of World War II, mental health issues, and family drama.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI