Genre Mashups & Original Retellings | Graphic Novels Reviews

Maybe it’s owing to graphic novels being a hybrid form to begin with—mixing illustration with text to present a story—that they lend themselves so well to blending elements of different genres. The popularity of the recent film Logan, which tempers the superheroics typically associated with the key Marvel Comics character Wolverine with Western and dystopian fiction, is a recent breakout example of this, but the books have been at it for a while.

Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s classic The League of ­Extraordinary Gentlemen (Xpress Reviews, 9/6/13) plucks famous Victorian characters such as Alan Quartermain and Captain Nemo from various literary tales and recasts them as secret agents fighting criminal empires or threats from outer space. Mike Mignola’s long-running “Hellboy” series combines horror, folklore, sf, and historical fiction, and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s modern hit Saga (LJ 9/15/13) delivers sf by way of fantasy and romance. Kelly Sue ­DeConnick and Valentine De Landro turn the often exploitative women-in-prison genre inside out by adding an sf twist in their empowering Bitch Planet. Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine (LJ 1/16).

Many of the books reviewed this month feature genre mashups and showcase how in the right hands such works can completely transcend their origins. Fabian Rangel Jr. and Ryan Cody’s The Complete Doc Unknown filters an early 20th-century pulp sensibility through sf and horror lenses to create something distinctively modern. The graphic adaptation of Craig McDonald’s novel Head Games runs its hard-boiled noir hero through a historical plot, complete with plenty of cameos by real-world figures. Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost: Complete Edition owes as much to Samurai epics as it does cyberpunk and the classic British serial Judge Dredd, but in the end is an original tale with a lot to say about the way we live now. [For more on graphic novels, see the interview with ­Fantagraphics Books associate publisher/editor Eric Reynolds (LJ 9/1/17, p. 105).—TB

Davodeau, Étienne. The Cross-Eyed Mutt. NBM. (Louvre). Jul. 2017. 144p. tr. from French by Joe Johnson. ISBN 9781681120973. Rated: M. F

Fabien is a guard-cum-guide at the Louvre museum in Paris, enamored of the frisky Mathilde Benion. But then he meets the Benion clan, a pushy crew who ask him to use his position to get great-grandfather Benion’s all-too-amateur portrait of a cross-eyed dog hung in the museum. Now what? For although the Benions haughtily distinguish highbrow from lowbrow in their furniture business, they do not recognize such distinctions in the arts. French creator Davodeau (Lulu Anew) constructs an amusing sitcom out of the story’s premise, incorporating a Louvre-based secret organization as bizarre as Mathilde’s relatives. Underneath the chuckles, the plot meditates on art culture and who decides what “great art” is and why. A closing essay acquaints readers with the Louvre’s actual acquisition policy to discourage Benion imitators. Davodeau’s black-ink-with-grey-wash drawings excel at depicting realistic people via simple lines without excessive caricature, and the background features numerous real artworks beautifully rendered. ­VERDICT Romance fans might complain that Fabien’s relationship with the independent Mathilde is not more fully resolved, but amateur and professional art watchers alike will be amused and challenged. Some nudity and suggested sex. [Previewed in Douglas ­Rednour’s “Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17.—Ed.]—MC

Evans, Kate. Threads: From the Refugee Crisis. Verso. Jun. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781786631732. $24.95. graphic novels

Over the course of five months, from 2015 to 2016, British creator Evans (Red Rosa) volunteered with her husband at refugee camps in the French port cities of Calais and Dunkerque, where thousands fleeing violence in Africa and the Middle East hope to secure passage to England. Yet nothing is secure in these shelters. In vivid color-pencil illustration, Evans records sweeping vistas of camp life: rich in fellowship and mutual aid among the inhabitants yet brutalized by police. She hears stories about deaths and disappearances and befriends many, including the Kurdish Hoshyar, who cooks wonderful food but cannot enter England despite his brother’s living there legally. And although donated supplies pour in, much is forbidden by local authorities. Despite compassionate aid efforts and human resilience, this corner of Europe is only marginally less dangerous than the places the refugees are escaping. Wrenchingly, Evans intersperses this intractable tragedy with antiimmigrant cell phone messages from angry British. ­VERDICT ­Evans’s raw, bright drawings of dark outcomes will attract anyone interested in the international refugee crisis, as she allows us to walk briefly in her—and their—shoes.—MC

Fraction, Matt & Jonathan Coulton (text) & Albert Monteys (illus.). Solid State. Vol. 1. Image. Jul. 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781534303652. pap. $19.99. MYS

Based on a concept and album of the same name by singer/songwriter ­Coulton, and written by Fraction (ODY-C), this first volume in a new series intertwines the tales of two men separated by hundreds of years: Bob, a worker tasked with charting the course of the moon across the sky in a futuristic world, and the more contemporary Robert, an employee at a popular search engine and social media company disillusioned with his employer’s unethical approach to customer privacy. One of them may or may not be dreaming the other, or something. What’s certain is that when an accident results in Bob questioning his place in society, and those questions instill a sense of rebellion in Bob’s robot friend Robogrande, everyone involved is forced to reckon with the consequences. Artist Monteys (El Jueves magazine) provides innovative page design, expert pacing, and cartooning that makes a cohesive whole of a story that switches between lighthearted satire and heady philosophical exploration as well as centuries—and maybe even planes of existence. VERDICT An intriguing, engaging start to a series that excels at raising interesting questions and remains satisfying even as it falters a little when it comes to providing answers.—TB

Grayson, Devin (text) & Sean Phillips & John Bolton (illus.). User. Image. May 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781534301597. $29.99. F

Meg Chancellor’s world is falling apart—her mother has walked out, her father’s best friend Cal is sexually abusing her younger sister Annie, and her father will do nothing about any of it. So Meg finds a new online world of paladins and princesses where she can become the hero she needs in real life. Eventually, the two worlds come together, with Meg taking control and finding hope. Grayson’s (Batman) parable first appeared as a GLAAD Award–nominated Vertigo miniseries in 2001 and is set in the mid-1990s when MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) role-playing games became popular. Meg and Annie are the most multidimensional characters, both fighting their way through their problems in different ways. Bolton’s (The Books of Magic) masterly gray-scale brushwork with only touches of color depicts the “real” world, while Phillips’s (Criminal) blocky, vividly colored fantasy art creates the online realm as a confusing yet compelling place. VERDICT This coming of age that can happen at any age reveals our heroine finding power and peers while exploring her own gender fluidity. Seekers age mid-teens and up will empathize and learn from her quest.—MC

Hennessey, John (text) & Justin Greenwood (illus.). Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father. Ten Speed: Crown. Aug. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9780399580000. pap. $11.99. BIOG

Born to a single mother on a culture-impoverished Caribbean island, yet with persuasive writing skills plus a dogged interest in learning, Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804) went on to become a soldier in the Revolutionary War, a U.S. founding father, and the first secretary of the treasury. Hennessey’s (The United States Constitution) script spotlights Hamilton’s dilemmas, skimming only lightly over historical details outside the leader’s personal and professional penumbra. Neither monkishly pure nor in agreement about the greater good, the nation’s founding fathers persevered through schism, scandal, and slander. Much turmoil concerned whether the new republic should have a strong, elitist-run central government hewing to a Constitution (Hamilton’s viewpoint) or a looser confederation with power given to states and the “common people.” We’re still struggling over that today, and it’s fascinating to read how it all began. Greenwood’s (The Fuse) real-ish color art takes on the pleasant quality of candlelight, spiked by sharper reds as tempers flair. VERDICT Unpacking the history behind the high-energy Broadway megahit Hamilton, this focused biography will get teen through adult readers to ask questions about the country’s past and present. Find copious source notes at ­ [Previewed in Douglas Rednour’s “Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17, p. 40-46.—Ed.]—MC

Jason. On the Camino. Fantagraphics. May 2017. 192p. ISBN 9781683960218. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

In 2015, Norwegian cartoonist Jason (If You Steal) set out on a 500-mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago across Spain to celebrate his 50th birthday. This memoir traces the author’s 32-day trek of taking in the sights, sleeping in hostels, and meeting strangers from all around the world. While fans of Jason’s previous books, many of which tend toward quirky, melancholy spins on romance and adventure stories, might not immediately embrace this more mundane and self-reflective tale, his distinctive melding of minimalist presentation and restless imagination is still on full display, and results in a strangely intimate portrait of the artist as he struggles with blisters, bed bugs, bad food, and social anxiety while searching for a meaningful and authentic experience. VERDICT This one might have slightly more appeal to Jason’s devoted fans than those not yet familiar with his work, but as he’s an internationally acclaimed cartoonist with a rabid following, that should not be a ­problem.—TB

Jodorowsky, Alejandro (text) & Georges Bess (illus.). The Magical Twins. Humanoids. Dec. 2017. 56p. tr. from French by Montana Kane. ISBN 9781594654084. $19.95. FANTASY

Princess Mara and her twin brother, Aram, live a life of luxury, exalting in their royal status and enjoying their magical abilities until discovering that Tartarath, the ruler of a kingdom of darkness, has kidnapped their father. In order to save their father, the twins must face a series of challenges loosely organized around the five senses. Virtually every page of this slim volume is packed with adventure, thrilling escapes, and wonderfully imagined realms as the twins and their sidekick, a goofy magical bird, combat an array of monsters, solve puzzles, and make new friends on their journey. Author Jodorowsky (The Metabarons) has a huge following for his decidedly adult sf and fantasy works but obviously delights in presenting this all-ages, candy-colored Dungeons & Dragons riff, brought to life with artwork from collaborator Bess (The White Lama). VERDICT Largely avoiding the pitfall of the kind of forced morality that often turns such all-ages adventures into a total drag yet with just enough focus on team work and responsibility to keep parents looking for a positive message happy, this one is a total blast.—TB

Kondo, Marie (text) & Yuko Uramoto (illus.). The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story. Ten Speed: Crown. Jun. 2017. 192p. tr. from Japanese by Cathy Hirano. ISBN 9780399580536. pap. $14.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

In this fictional case study incorporating the philosophy of Kondo’s best-selling self-help book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the practical techniques of its follow-up, Spark Joy, Chiaki is a messy, workaholic driven to hire Kondo when an encounter with the guy next door convinces her that her rats-nest apartment is sabotaging her entire life. Kondo first asks Chiaki to visualize her ideal future: How would she actually like to live? This simple challenge motivates Chiaki and hints at Kondo’s appeal: people refusing to tidy under a parent’s thumb are now tidying for themselves. Uramoto’s (Less Than Married) charming art makes Kondo into a winsome shojo character and assimilates Chiaki into the tradition of a young manga heroine finding happiness. VERDICT Readers reluctant to submit to word-heavy lectures may be beguiled—and even converted—by witnessing Chiaki’s success as played out in an enjoyable story that paints Kondo as more inspiring than inquisitorial. Both of the original nonfiction books were LJ “Most Borrowed,” so expect demand. [Previewed in Douglas Rednour’s “­Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17, p. 40-46.—Ed.]—MC

McDonald, Craig (text) & Kevin Singles (illus.). Head Games. First Second. Oct. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9781596434141. pap. $19.99. MYS

Aging screenwriter and pulp novelist ­Hector Lassiter thinks his days of hard-boiled adventure are behind him until he comes into possession of legendary Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s skull and finds himself thrust into a vicious, violent chase across the American Southwest. Pursued by treasure hunters, mercenaries, and rogue FBI and CIA agents who believe that Villa’s head holds the key to a lost treasure, as well as a nefarious Yale fraternity anxious to add the skull to their collection of macabre human remains, Lassiter and his companions—a young reporter and a haunted actress—must dig deep and fight dirty if they are going to stay alive and come out ahead of the pack. Featuring more than enough action (both pulse-pounding and sultry) to please pulp purists, as well as cameos by Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, ­Ernest Hemingway, and a young George W. Bush, author McDonald ably adapts his own novel, while illustrator Singles’s ­artwork brings a gritty edge to every page. VERDICT Good fun for fans of pulp, crime, or historical fiction.—TB

redstarNury, Fabien (text) & Thierry Robin & Lorien Aureyre (illus.). The Death of Stalin. Titan Comics. Jul. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781785863400. $24.99. satire/Hist

Having murdered millions of his countrymen without cause, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) suffered his own end entangled in the fear he inspired. Inert from a stroke, Stalin remained unexamined for hours since his staff thought him drunk and dangerous. When deemed ill, his highest political associates put off assisting him, and his doctors proceeded ineptly since he had arrested the top physicians on ungrounded suspicions. But his actual death was only the beginning of a spy vs. spy–type power struggle among the Communist Party’s Central Committee over who would now lead the nation. This darkly funny, satirical version draws on real events, originally reported only partially and with contradictions. ­Nury’s (coauthor with Robin, Death to the Tsar) script finds excellent realization in Robin’s strongly etched characterizations, crafted in sepia/grey splashed with blood-red. ­VERDICT Juicy and engrossing, this story speaks of a style in political machinations going back centuries and inspiring both revulsion and twisted admiration. Teens and adults following the current political scene will appreciate the background about our most powerful national frenemy. Note the forthcoming film from Armando ­Iannucci.—MC

Rangel Jr., Fabian (text) & Ryan Cody (illus.). The Complete Doc Unknown. Dark Horse. Aug. 2017. 360p. ISBN 9781506702889. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630088286. sf

Set in the mid-1940s and created in the tradition of pulp heroes such as Doc Savage and The Shadow, Doc Unknown was a fighter pilot until crashing his plane and discovering a secret temple guarded by an ancient order of warrior monks. After becoming a master of their discipline, Doc travels to Gate City and does battle with mad scientists, vampire ninjas, ghosts, Nazis, mob bosses, and monsters, investigates the haunted typewriter of a deceased sf author and the lingering legacy of the lost city of Atlantis, somehow managing to find the time to fall in love. A series of short stories from Rangel Jr. (Space Riders) depicting our hero’s adventures in the first half of this volume gradually wind together to form a larger narrative, as his various enemies combine forces in order to seek revenge in what turns out to be a rather sweeping tale. Cody’s (Monstrous) illustrations are a little more cartoonish than the sometimes moody scripts seems to call for, but they make up for that in dynamism and inventive character design. This hardcover collects material previously released in series volumes 1–3. ­VERDICT An action-packed romp refreshingly free of irony, perhaps slightly too macabre to be considered for all-ages but perfect for fans of superheroes, sf, or horror looking for something that combines all the best parts of those genres.—TB

redstarRemender, Rick (text) & Sean Murphy & others (illus.). Tokyo Ghost: Complete Edition. Image. Jul. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781534300460. $39.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534305489. SF

In 2089, Los Angeles is a partially flooded, toxically polluted wreck inhabited by a populace totally dependent on drugs, blood sport, and cheap thrills and in thrall to an evil corporation that rose to power by producing an endless stream of distractions and diversions. When Constable Led Dent, a hulking, bloodthirsty enforcer, and his partner and lover Debbie Decay are tasked with infiltrating Tokyo, a luddite paradise whose populace is committed to the ancient practice of Bushido, Debbie sees an opportunity for a fresh start. What follows is a stylish, bleak, action-packed, and deeply moving love story that examines how yearning for escape can keep us from ever being free. This complete edition collects single Issues 1–10 of the series and also includes supplementary material by the author and artist. VERDICT Remender (Seven to Eternity) and artist Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus) are two of the hottest talents currently working in comics, and this epic volume is sure to be a breathtaking modern classic, ranking among the most fully realized graphic works of the last decade.—TB

Smith, Juliana “Jewels” (text) & Ronald Nelson & Mike Hampton (illus.). (H)afrocentric. Vols. 1–4. PM. Nov. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781629634487. pap. $20. comics

Naima, who is biracial and Afrocentric, yearns for revolution amid her fellow Eurocentric students at Ronald Reagan University. Wearing a T-shirt of abolitionist John Brown and conjuring conversations with heroes Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer, Naima decides to fight gentrification and escalating rents by creating the social networking site She enlists eccentric friends and locals to help out, but setbacks lead to varied success. In a second story, she tries an internship as a “racial interpreter” but is caught between being frank and accomodating her white supervisor, with whom she disagrees on most things. Inspired partly by Aaron ­McGruder’s ­Boondocks, Smith (web series “Sasha & Condi”) aims to write from a feminist ­perspective about millennials of color squeezed among cultures. Her characters depict individuals who ­simultaneously wish to blend in and break out of social norms, while her masterly script satirizes attitudes black and white alike, trendy-chic niche preoccupations, political activism (note slogans on background signs throughout), idealism, and gender stereotypes. First-timers Nelson and Hampton provide realistic, energetic black-and-white drawings. ­VERDICT Rebels, phonies, fringe-mongers, and the simply clueless take wry hits in Smith’s insightful series. Culture watchers, teen through adult, will find their presumptions challenged as well as much to recognize in themselves. [Previewed in Douglas Rednour’s “Comics Cross Over,” LJ 6/15/17, p. 40-46.—Ed.]—MC

Wheeler, Shannon & others. Too Much Coffee Man: Omnibus Plus. Dark Horse. Jun. 2017. 600p. ISBN 9781506704029. $29.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS/HUMOR

This massive collection of cartoonist Wheeler’s magnum opus presents more than a decades’ worth of cult classic comics featuring the titular Too Much Coffee Man, a pudgy, red spandex–clad everyman whose life as a sort of superhero parody in the earliest material collected here quickly gives way to more autobiographical tales, as Wheeler uses the character to explore philosophical quandaries, satirize everything from politics to the creative process, and explore his own struggles. Serialized battles with nemesis Trademark Copyright Man and adventures through the afterlife, into the underwater world of Sea Monkeys, and to outer space provide plenty of fun, but Wheeler is at his best in briefer one-page stories featuring his protagonist sitting around pontificating at pals like Too Much Espresso Guy, Too Much German White Chocolate Woman with Almonds, and Underwater Guy. ­VERDICT Wheeler’s visibility is slightly higher in recent years, given his gig supplying cartoons for The New Yorker, and this hilarious, thought-provoking collection tracks a fascinating evolution as his early days as an angry outsider give way to more mature work.—TB

Additional Graphic Novels

Gonick, Larry & Tim Kasser. Hypercapitalism: The Modern Economy, Its Values, and How To Change Them. New Pr. Jan. 2018. 240p. ISBN 9781620972823. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781620972830. ECON

Harvey Award–winning author/artist Gonick, best known for The Cartoon ­History of the Universe, has also showcased his signature style in the “Cartoon Guide to…” series. In all of these guides, Gonick takes complex issues and explains them with patience, wit, and a healthy dose of humanism. Here, with Kasser (psychology, Knox College, IL), Gonick explains hypercapitalism and its deleterious effects on modern society. The first part of the book is dark, featuring a cast of characters whose motivations are often at odds with the community’s best interests. Gonick’s illustrations lend needed humor and a grounding influence as Kasser explores studies and statistics. The second section is a reader’s guide to fighting such an economic system, not only introducing major figures and protests in the history of the opposition to hypercapitalism but recommending ways to get involved. Including an extensive bibliography for further reading, the authors conclude on a surprisingly upbeat tone. Verdict A great introduction to the current state of the economy and what can be done about it, and a solid addition for Gonick’s many fans.—E.W. Genovese, Andrew Bayne Memorial Lib., Pittsburgh

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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