Abdul-Jabbar & Co., Bocquet/Muller, Chabouté, Delisle, plus Debuters Ferris, Steele, and Sun | Graphic Novels Reviews

Sherlock Unlocked One of the classic odd couples of literature—Sherlock Holmes (the brain) and Dr. John Watson (the heart)—continue to captivate us, now through graphic variations. A time change from Victorian to 21st-century London in Steven Moffat et al.’s manga Sherlock: A Study in Pink (LJ 5/1/17), adapted from the popular BBC series, sees Watson, still an army medic back from Afghanistan, rooming with a very modern Holmes who lives on his cell phone and swears by nicotine patches instead of a pipe or cocaine. Karl Bollers et al.’s Watson & Holmes: A Study in Black (LJ 1/14) features the pair in modern-day Harlem, NY. Watson remains a veteran out of Afghanistan—now a pararescue medic—Holmes a former programmer with fedora and dreadlocks.

Action Labs’s forthcoming Kid Sherlock catches the clever tyke attending Baker Elementary School with Watson as a bespectacled, self-conscious talking dog and fellow student. Their “cases” involve bad odors, bullies, and stolen playground equipment.

In the original canon, Holmes admitted that his—unfortunately lazy—older brother, Mycroft, was the more brilliant of the two, and Mycroft takes center stage in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & others’ Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook (reviewed below). Kaoru Shintani’s charming Young Miss Holmes manga (LJ 7/12) supposes a niece for the detective, now ten years old and alarmingly precocious. The episodes are tweaked from the classic stories so that Christie might figure out the case first, add to Holmes’s findings, or even replace him as sleuth.

In Anthony Del Col & Co.’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini, Holmes experiments with hallucinogens and rubs egos with the famous magician. But the mutually hostile pair must cooperate to solve a series of mysterious crimes. The team of Legrand/Etien/Djian’s The Baker Street Four (LJ 4/1/17) spotlights the Baker Street Irregulars, canny gutter urchins who assist the detective as eyes and ears on the street. Now thoroughly experienced, these lively youths (three boys and a girl) solve cases mostly by themselves while Holmes is out of town. Elementary, my dear Holmes!—MC

Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem & Raymond Obstfeld (text) & Joshua Cassara & others (illus.). Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook. Titan Comics. Sept. 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781785853005. pap. $16.99. Mys

It’s Victorian London, and the British Museum collapses in a explosion triggered by mysterious inventions—a madman wants to hold the whole world for ransom. Forced by Queen Victoria to defuse the threat and find the blueprints, playboy Mycroft Holmes signs on as reluctant good guy, picking up dirty-handed accomplices en route: outlaw Jesse James, bounty hunter Lark Adler, and an unnamed girl whose aunt mysteriously dropped dead. NBA superstar author ­Abdul-Jabbar (Writings on the Wall), with writer Obstfeld (What Color Is My World?) cleverly crafts Mycroft as a brilliant scoundrel, far more interesting than his scorned brother Sherlock, introducing wonderful women characters who draw slyly on canonical regulars. And, yes, Moriarty turns up, but not as you’d expect. Cassara’s (The Troop) detailed steampunk-inspired art renders the story with zest, abetted by Luis Guerrero’s dark and rugged colors. VERDICT If Sherlock was a hero for his era, perhaps Mycroft better suits today’s attitudes. This picaresque prequel will attract fans of Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft Holmes novel and lovers of Holmes spin-offs.—MC

Bagieu, Pénélope. California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas. First Second. Mar. 2017. 272p. tr. from French by Nanette McGuinness. bibliog. ISBN 9781626725461. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250156167. BIOG

Ellen Naomi Cohen (1941–74), the self-dubbed Cass Elliot, spread her beautiful contralto and extravagant personality across the pop music scene of the 1960s and 1970s as part of The Mamas and the Papas and, later, as a solo act. Here, Bagieu (Exquisite Corpse) packs in all the relationship drama, body shaming, and bouts of intoxication (in multiple senses) that fed into Elliot realizing her dream to be a superstar. Large in body and personality as well as in vocal charm, Elliot gained fan adulation more readily than friendship or love. Today, her persistence and self-confidence encourages women—and men—to mobilize their talent despite setbacks. Narrating from the viewpoints of those close to Elliot, Bagieu drew the entire story in free-spirited black pencil that metaphorically references the spontaneity of those decades. The sassy, fluid art creates a slightly fictionalized yet paradigm-shifting portrait of the star as she might have wanted to be remembered. VERDICT Elliot’s story will charm boomers who remember the original songs as well as younger ages who can easily identify with Elliot, her starry eyes, and her struggles.—MC

redstarBocquet, José-Luis (text) & Catel Muller (illus.). Josephine Baker. SelfMadeHero. May 2017. 496p. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin & others. bibliog. ISBN 9781910593295. pap. $27.95. BIOG

Sassy and exuberant, Josephine Baker, born Freda Josephine McDonald (1906–75), clowned her way through her St. Louis childhood to become one of the first black stars on the world stage. Infamous originally for her Folies Bergère cabaret act wearing only a skirt of (fake) bananas, her fresh and alluring charm infused her half-century of dancing and singing in her adopted country of France and many other places. Pablo Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, Martin Luther King (who introduced a speech by Baker at the 1963 March on Washington), Grace Kelly, and Fidel Castro all admired her. She entertained troops during World War II and spied for the Allies, adopted 12 children, and crusaded for civil rights. Bocquet (with Muller, Kiki de Montparnasse) does Baker’s complicated life justice in both appeal and detail. A lengthy chronology anchors key milestones and a massive biographical appendix provides background about important people in the entertainer’s life. Muller’s high-contrast, black-and-white inks finesse a mostly realistic whimsy and is especially good at rendering people recognizably in few lines. VERDICT Highly enjoyable, this is a wonderful work. For teens and up; some minor nudity.—MC

Buck, Pearl S. (text) & Nick Bertozzi (text & illus.). The Good Earth. S. & S. Jul. 2017. 144p. ISBN 9781501132766. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501132780. F

Nobel Prize winner Buck’s (1892–1973) classic novel earned her a Pulitzer Prize for its timeless portrait of family members confronting change and one another. Wang Lung, a farmer caring for his aged father in prerevolutionary 1920s China, begs a bride from the wealthy House of Hwang nearby. The matriarch gives him O-Lan, a kitchen slave thought “somewhat slow and stupid.” But O-Lan’s ingenuity helps the couple’s hard work gain them prosperity, children, and land. Yet, as the pair age, political and social upheavals interacting with all- ­too-human desires disrupt their lives and marriage. Worse, Wang’s sons do not love the land as he does. Bertozzi’s scratchy realism spotlights the characters and their emotions, with just enough scene-setting for context. The limited colors—putty-pinkish and blue with red accents—give surprising scope for emphasis. VERDICT The focus on characters lets readers see Wang as Everyman and O-Lan as Everywoman across history. This sensitive adaptation makes the novel come alive for new readers, with likely appeal for fans of historical dramas such as Downton Abbey.—MC

Chabouté, Christophe. Alone. Gallery 13: S. & S. Jul. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781501153327. pap. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501154010. literary

Born horribly deformed to a lighthouse keeper and his wife and orphaned by their deaths, Alone has lived in total solitude for nearly 50 years. His only knowledge of the outside world comes from the objects he occasionally discovers washed up on the shore of his island and an old dictionary, which he studies daily, allowing his imagination to run wild as he ponders the universe hinted at within. When a fisherman learns of Alone’s existence, a chain of events is set into motion, which may just end our hero’s hermitage. Multi-award-winning author/illustrator Chabouté (Moby Dick) presents a beautifully illustrated and carefully paced tale filled with equal parts sadness, humor, and tender moments of human connection that examines the powers of creative limitations, made all the more memorable for its minimal dialog. VERDICT Already an international best seller and selected for the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival in France, available here in English for the first time, this ultimately moving story about an unlikely and surprisingly inspiring protagonist is sure to be embraced by all readers.—TB

Delisle, Guy. Hostage. Drawn & Quarterly. May 2017. 432p. ISBN 9781770462793. $29.95. literary

In 1997, Christophe André was working in Chechnya for Doctors Without Borders when armed men kidnapped him. Based on André’s firsthand account, prize-winning cartoonist Delisle’s (Jerusalem: Chronicle from the Holy City) work depicts the entire ordeal, as André is held in solitary confinement with almost no contact with the outside world for three months. This may be the most suspenseful book you’ll ever read in which very little happens—André spends most of his days ruminating on his kidnappers’ motivations, thinking about his family, and trying to find a comfortable position to sit with one arm chained to a wall. And yet the story is a true page-turner, as ­Delisle brings the reader so fully into André’s world that a simple change in his routine becomes either harrowing or hopeful, and the mundane details of his daily existence, saving a piece of bread from his morning meal for a snack, enjoying some music drifting through the wall into his cell, become heroic acts of defiance. VERDICT Delisle’s previous books have gained him a loyal following among fans of highbrow cartooning, but this may be the masterpiece that elevates his name to the ranks of legends such as Art Spiegelman and Lynda Barry.—TB

redstarFerris, Emil. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Vol. 1. Fantagraphics. Feb. 2017. 386p. ISBN 9781606999592. pap. $39.99. f

DEBUT Combining elements of historical fiction, family drama, a coming-of-age-tale, and a murder mystery into an unforgettable and widely acclaimed debut, author/illustrator Ferris presents the graphic diary of Karen Reyes, an artistically inclined ten-year-old girl living in 1960s Chicago with her mother and troubled older brother. Drawing from Karen’s sketchbook journal, Ferris fills each and every page of this weighty first volume of a duology (Vol. 2 releases in October) with stunningly beautiful and virtuosic illustrations, exploring Karen’s fears, curiosities, and more through the lens of her fascination with pulp creatures and B-movie monsters. With an incredibly rich, sprawling narrative to match the luscious illustrations, Ferris creates an absorbing and demanding magnum opus that rewards every bit of effort it takes to comprehend the scope of her vision. VERDICT This debut has already netted Ferris comparisons to (and praise from) some of the lions of the graphic novel field, and it’s the rare title that actually lives up to the hype. Readers are sure to welcome, discuss, and meditate on Ferris’s accomplishment, anxiously awaiting what’s next. [A movie of Ferris’s work is underway, with Sony Pictures recently obtaining film rights.—Ed.]—TB

Lemire, Jeff. Roughneck. Gallery 13: S. & S. Apr. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781501160998. $29.99. F

Derek Ouellete is a disgraced former professional hockey player reduced to working in a diner and living above a skating rink in the remote northern Canadian town where he grew up. He’s an alcoholic with a vicious temper and no hope for the future until his long-lost sister, Beth, suddenly reappears in his life. Suffering from an opioid addiction and on the run from a dangerous ex-boyfriend, Beth needs Derek at his best, but is he capable of letting go of old wounds in time to be her savior? Award-winning author/illustrator Lemire (Essex County; Black Hammer) exhibits deep empathy for his characters, a keen understanding of difficult family dynamics, and an eye for the way that moments of grace can emerge in the midst of brutality. Full-color flashback sequences interrupt the main story, which is presented in washes of black and blue that highlight the sad state of the characters’ lives as well as the barren Canadian wilderness. VERDICT Prolific creator Lemire has written many superhero, sf, and slice-of-life stories, but this might be his most mature and accomplished work yet.—TB

Milligan, Peter (text) & Juan José Ryp & others (illus.). Brittania. Vol. 1. Valiant Comics. Mar. 2017. 112p. ISBN 9781682151853. pap. $9.99. Mys/horror

“I like to catch people naked,” confides the detective. “They often reveal a little more than they mean to.” But this isn’t Mickey Spillane country—it’s ancient Rome. By favor of the Vestal Virgins, war veteran ­Antonius Axia receives supernatural gifts of deductive insight to become Nero’s “detectioner.” Sent to the empire’s shaky outposts on the island of Britannia to investigate troop deaths, he confronts druid sorcery, corrupt local leadership, and a demon recalling H.P. Lovecraft’s shoggoth. If Milligan’s (Hellblazer; 5 Ronin) dialog sounds modern, his multilayered plot adeptly introduces the classical-era characters, interweaves their shifting agendas, establishes sex as a source of magic, and wraps up this “case” by volume’s end. Ryp’s (Clone) detailed art creates a slightly romanticized realism with strapping men and pretty girls—in togas, naturally. The dank fog of druid strongholds comes off especially well thanks to colorist Jordie Bellaire. However, brief notes would have helped with historical context. ­VERDICT Bearing distant kinship to Sherlock Holmes, the compelling Antonius and his exploits will entertain mystery and horror aficionados looking for novelty. Readers of Ruth Downie and Lindsey Davis’s “Roman Empire” crime novels might also enjoy.—MC

Sampayo, Carlos (text) & José Muñoz (illus.). Billie Holiday. NBM. May 2017. 80p. tr. from French by Katy MacRae & others. ISBN 9781681120935. $19.99. BIOG

From the plaintive “Lover Man” to the antilynching “Strange Fruit,” jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan (1915–59), lived the songs she sang—and worse. Her acclaimed talent persevered through violence, sexual exploitation, drinking, drugging, and discrimination. Sampayo’s narrator, an unnamed cynical reporter, scrambles overnight to write a story on the 30th anniversary of Holiday’s death. And, intercut, vignettes of her life emerge: abused as a child prostitute; heroine of the love song to her fans; arrested for drugs; an object of vicious racism. Simultaneously, another man recalls unexpected encounters with the singer in his past. ­Muñoz’s high-contrast, black-and-white artwork immerses readers in an overwhelming, strung-out reality, like after too many bourbons with a heroin chaser. Back matter offers additional expressionistic, almost garish scenes in jazz clubs. VERDICT Describing mostly pathos and pain yet little joy, this biography from the authors of Alack Sinner presents glaring flashes of Holiday’s songs and life, with stark, striking art that jazz lovers will appreciate. Inexplicit adult content.—MC

Steele, Hamish. Pantheon: The True Story of the Egyptian Deities. Nobrow. Aug. 2017. 216p. ISBN 9781910620205. pap. $22.95. lit

DEBUT This raucous, modern retelling of ancient Egyptian mythology focuses on the rivalries among Osiris, his brother Set, and their wives, and how their squabbling over the throne ultimately changed the world forever, paving the way for the rule of mortal man. Packed with all the unimaginable violence and sexual impropriety one might expect from mythology, this tale could have been a brutal, heavy read in lesser hands than those of newcomer Steele, whose lively, irreverent sense of humor makes even matricidal duels to the death and multiple poisonings seem like good fun. Steele manages to include dirty jokes and heavy snark while still making compelling points and raising insightful questions about the role of faith in the development of ancient civilizations and in daily life without ever taking himself too seriously. This elevates the title from an enjoyable to essential read. ­VERDICT With a visual style reminiscent of cartoons such as Adventure Time and Steven Universe but decidedly more adult content, this volume should easily find an enthusiastic fan base.—TB

Sun, Jonathan. everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too: a book by jomny sun. Harper Perennial. Jun. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062569028. pap. $14.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

DEBUT Sun, the playwright and artist famous for the popular @jomnysun Twitter feed, presents the story of an “aliebn” named Jomny who is sent to Earth to study humanity. Jomny instead encounters an array of forest creatures, including an owl with impostor syndrome, a kindly tree, an egg agonizing over what it’s destined to hatch into, and a hedgehog with artistic aspirations. Jomny and his new friends discuss death, love, art, depression, insecurity, and more, all with the outsider perspective and naïveté (expressed in the character’s interactions and observations, as well as the simple illustrative style and unique spelling and syntax) that have gained Sun a huge readership. Impressively sincere, at times insightful, and humorous, many of Sun’s observations and conclusions about humanity can also feel aphoristic or platitudinous rather than groundbreaking, as most of what’s here boils down to “what makes you different makes you special.” VERDICT Sun’s fans will welcome his first book with wild enthusiasm, while those not familiar with his online presence might be a little less excited. Still, even the most cynical reader will have a hard time not being somewhat charmed.—TB

Tagame, Gengoroh. My Brother’s Husband. Vol. 1. Pantheon. May 2017. 352p. tr. from Japanese by Anne Ishii. ISBN 9781101871515. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101871522. F

Yaichi, a divorced father, opens the door one day to a burly Canadian visitor: the widowed husband of his late twin brother, Ryoji. With LGBT issues still marginalized in Japan, Yaichi wants to welcome this bereft new member of his family but finds himself hog-tied by homophobia and ignorance. However, Yaichi’s lively daughter Kana takes her Uncle Mike to her heart, learning to hug him like a North American while he savors with bittersweet appreciation the country where Ryoji spent his life before emigrating. Yaichi’s ex-wife ­Natsuki accepts Mike without hesitation, now energized to become more involved with the family. Yet neighbors keep their children away from Kana for fear of her “bad influence.” Known for his gay erotic manga, Tagame (House of Brutes) here stays well within an all-ages, realistic “gay life 101” concept. His spare, naturalistic art conveys the poverty of Yaichi’s life without Natsuki, contrasted with Mike’s happy if disrupted bond with Ryoji. ­VERDICT This winsome look at culture clash compares the largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture with the West, underscoring a theme of universal yearning for family. Nominated for an Angoulême Award, it’s a great YA crossover.—MC

redstarTamaki, Jillian. Boundless. Drawn & Quarterly. Jun. 2017. 248p. ISBN 9781770462878. pap. $24.95. F

In a collection of stories that range from ruminations on fantastical cities and the way a cult film influences the lives of a variety of young men to a Hollywood producer reflecting on the legacy of a pornographic sitcom he produced in the 1990s to the tale of a mysterious piece of music that appears on the Internet and inspires almost mystical devotion in its fans, Tamaki (­SuperMutant Magic Academy) showcases her incredible skills as both illustrator and storyteller. Whether otherworldly or realistic, Tamaki’s stories are filled with humor, pathos, and empathy for characters who struggle to transcend their circumstances, histories, and limitations. Tamaki seems capable of drawing in almost any style, and at times it seems that the confines of the page are unable to contain the energy and inventiveness she brings to every moment of this volume. VERDICT The stories here could easily stand alongside those in any short-story collection released in any genre this year. Adult readers who might not already know ­Tamaki’s award-winning YA titles (This One Summer; Skim) will discover what they’ve been missing. [See the Q&A with the author, LJ 6/15/17, p. 87.]—TB

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009). Tom Batten is a writer and teacher whose work has appeared in the Guardian and The New Yorker. He lives in Virginia

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