Abbott & Co., Anderson, Drnaso, Gipi, Kupperman, Prum, Rivière, Small, & More | Graphic Novels Reviews

JAMES BOND REDUX It’s been a few years since Cold War icon James Bond appeared on the big screen, but the British special agent has been busily traveling the world foiling evil villains in the pages of various comics series.

James bond Redux It’s been a few years since Cold War icon James Bond appeared on the big screen, but the British special agent has been busily traveling the world foiling evil villains in the pages of various comics series. From Dynamite Entertainment, Van Jensen and ­Dennis Calero’s Ian Fleming’s James Bond Agent 007: A Dynamite Thriller (Apr.) sees the character in an adventure inspired by ­Fleming’s original novels, while Warren Ellis and Jason Masters’s James Bond. Vol. 1: VARGR (Dynamite, 2016) presents a slightly more modern character, taking on enemies using cutting-edge ­technology for nefarious means.

Other recent series either inspired by or satirizing Bond include Garth Ennis and Russ Braun’s Jimmy’s Bastards. Vol 1. (Aftershock), which pits an extremely Bond-like protagonist against vengeful legions of his illegitimate children. Rich Tommaso’s decidedly more family friendly Spy Seal. Vol 1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix (Image) follows the titular anthropomorphic lead on a globe-spanning caper. Also from Ennis, this time paired with illustrator Goran Parlov, is Fury Max: My War Gone By, offering a grim and gritty tour of the Cold War through the singular eye of Marvel Comics’ classic character Nick Fury. In Zero. Vol. 1: An Emergency (Image), creator Ales Kot et al trace a tough, charismatic secret agent on a sf-infused journey of self-discovery.

Fans looking for more realistic espionage thrillers might try Greg Rucka and Steve Rolston’s Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition. Vol. 1 (Oni), in which British agent Tara Chase battles with terrorists and outmaneuvers bureaucrats.—Tom Batten

Abbott, Megan & Alison Gaylin (text) & Steve Scott & others (illus.). Normandy Gold. Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics. Apr. 2018. 152p. ISBN 9781785858642. pap. $19.99. thriller

Normandy Gold is a sheriff in small-town Oregon. When her sister is brutally murdered, and the police investigating are unable to solve the crime, Normandy travels to Washington, DC, seeking justice. Soon she’s undercover in a seedy prostitution ring that counts various notorious criminals and political powerhouses among its clientele. But Normandy is as tough as they come and never leaves home without her great big hunting knife. Citing the influence of 1970s neonoir films such as Taxi Driver and Dressed To Kill, coauthors Abbott (You Will Know Me) and Gaylin (What Remains of Me), two of today’s most highly acclaimed crime fiction writers, craft a vicious and gritty revenge thriller, unflinching in its depiction of the way men prey on women and the lengths one woman will go to balance the scales. Illustrator Scott (Batman; X-Men Forever) evokes classic 1970s comics artists Gene Colan and Paul Gulacy while also maintaining a thoroughly cinematic vibe. VERDICT The frank sexual content and grisly violence may shock even the most hardened readers, but anyone hoping for gripping, fast-paced suspense will be more than satisfied.—TB

Anderson, Ho Che. Godhead. Fantagraphics. Feb. 2018. 160p. ISBN 9781683960805. $24.99. THRILLER

This masterly mashup of sf, theology, and espionage opens with a blindfolded man being questioned and beaten by a masked gunman in a scene rendered in an expressionistic wash of black and gray. Yet over the next few pages, the illustration changes, allowing for more concrete shapes and designs. By episode’s end, in which the gunman loses interest and wanders off and the hostage returns to work as the CEO of a major multinational corporation housed in a spire reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, author/illustrator Anderson (Scream Queen) has shifted to a more definitive and straightforward cartooning style. This fascinating sequence perfectly sets the tone for the story that follows, in which detail and meaning emerge slowly but steadily. What is the connection between the business’s head of security and the CEO’s attacker? Why was the CEO assaulted in the first place? Is the corporation testing a machine that allows users to speak directly with God? Why does ­everyone who uses the device return violently insane? VERDICT This genre-bending, mind-dazzling first volume in a projected ongoing series will have readers desperately awaiting future installments.—TB

Bessora (text) & Barroux (illus.). Alpha: Abidjan to Paris. Bellevue Literary. May 2018. 128p. tr. from French by Sarah Ardizzone. ISBN 9781942658405. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781942658412. GRAPHIC NOVELS

“I’m prepared to drink urine, but only my own!” jokes Antoine, who, with Alpha, Abebi, and young Augustin have hired a rickety minibus to sneak them north from the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire (where there’s “no work, no hope”) toward Algeria, intending to cross the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe. And now they’re out of water. But that’s only one challenge during the harrowing trip. Border troops must be paid off with bribes known as “tranquilizers.” People die from police beatings or drown. Sex worker Abebi gets AIDS and becomes pregnant. Augustin goes missing to seek his mother. Inspired by an undocumented immigrant hanging around Barroux’s (Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier) studio, fiction writer Bessora (Pick Me, Pretty Sirs) lays forth the many forms of devastation suffered by lives adrift while introducing memorable characters who draw empathy, admiration, and chuckles. Barroux’s spare, marker-based style for the captions suggests an immigrant’s own graphic diary. VERDICT Winning prizes from PEN and Doctors Without Borders, this uncomfortable chronicle compels readers, tweens through adults, to identify with the world’s unwanted while yet savoring a rip-roaring if often futile adventure.—Martha Cornog, ­Philadelphia

redstarDrnaso, Nick. Sabrina. Drawn & Quarterly. May 2018. 204p. ISBN 9781770463165. $24.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS

In Drnaso’s enthralling sophomore effort (after the acclaimed Beverly), a woman named Sabrina vanishes from her Chicago apartment, leaving friends and family haunted by what might have befallen her. Unable to cope, her boyfriend Teddy takes refuge with his childhood friend Calvin, a U.S. Air Force airman struggling with the end of his marriage. When Sabrina’s horrific fate is finally revealed, our cast find themselves at the center of a news cycle quickly warped by a paranoid, apocalyptic radio host and his legion of online supporters who refuse to believe the official story. Cinematic and deeply timely, this tale is torn from today’s darkest headlines of fake news, terrorism, and the ultimately dehumanizing effect of the Internet. Drnaso’s artwork seems basic at a glance, but page to page, panel to panel it reveals depths of emotion that culminate in a reading experience guaranteed to linger. VERDICT More indictment of modern life than satire, and almost sure to be one of the most discussed graphic novels of the year—if not the next several, this should skyrocket Drnaso to the top tier of comics creators today.—TB

Ellis, Tyler. Chimera. Bk. 1: The Righteous & the Lost. Comicker. Jun. 2018. 160p. ISBN 9780997487336. pap. $19.99. FANTASY

DEBUT This Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity nominee sees a band of four thieves in a timeless space frontier planning to use a device called the Chimera in order to earn enough money to escape the ongoing interstellar holy war between the Resistance Coalition and the Zodiacal Conclave. Russell, a telekinetic, jackal-like alien; Alice and Charlie, human brother and sister with slowly revealed pasts; and an enigmatic, chameleon-like translator quickly find themselves facing off against a demon from the Conclave. A third figure, who simply calls himself “God,” is on his way to retrieve the Chimera and with his seven priestesses cleanse the galaxies by offering a choice: convert or die. While God has an ace up his sleeve in the form of a traitor in the group, even by stacking the deck, his plans are falling apart. ­VERDICT Reminiscent of Fiona Staple’s art for Saga but not as detailed, debuter Ellis’s digital illustrations get the point across well. Though the opening issues are rather static plot-wise, once the story gets moving, the motivations of the characters draw readers in, leaving them wanting to know what happens next. Contains strong language and mature themes.—Melanie C. Duncan, ­Washington ­Memorial Lib., Macon, GA

Gipi. Land of the Sons. Fantagraphics. May 2018. 280p. ISBN 9781683960775. pap. $29.99. sf

In a postapocalyptic world ravaged by deadly disease and blight, two brothers scavenge for survival. Their father, a pitiless and withholding man, is consumed with eradicating any weakness in his sons, punishing them for even daring to utter the word love. Following his death, and obsessed with what secrets might be held in his diary, the illiterate duo set out in search of someone who can read it to them. Award winner ­Gipi’s (Notes for a War Story) deceptively simple, scratchy illustrations make all the more disturbing the brutality the brothers encounter on their ensuing grim, violent adventure across a fallen realm inhabited by mutants and horrific marauders. While this might sound fairly boilerplate for the current dystopia genre, Gipi’s attention to psychological detail sets his story apart, as does what is ultimately an achingly poignant climax guaranteed to bring a tear or two to the eyes of even the most jaded readers. ­VERDICT Gipi (aka Gianni Pacinotti) is already a fan favorite, but this, his most fully realized and mature work to date, might be the breakout hit that garners him a much larger readership.—TB

redstarKupperman, Michael. All the Answers: A Graphic Memoir. Gallery 13: S. & S. May 2018. 224p. ISBN 9781501166433. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501166440. MEMOIR

Eisner Award–winning Kupperman (Tales Designed To Thrizzle) is best known for his deliriously funny, absurdist humor comics. Here the author/artist breaks away dramatically from that tradition to present a powerful and decidedly serious volume that doubles as a memoir of his relationship with his father, Joel, and a biography of his father’s life. In the years surrounding World War II, Joel Kupperman was the star of hundreds of episodes of the game show Quiz Kids, becoming wildly famous as a child prodigy. Urged along by his domineering mother, as well as a brilliant producer eager to fight anti-Semitism by manufacturing a lovable Jewish child celebrity, Joel traveled the country, met seemingly every major Hollywood star of his day, and even spoke as a representative of American youth at the first-ever UN assembly—all of which thoroughly emotionally crippled him. Author Kupperman explores his father’s experience with a mixture of melancholy and awe, as well as something between grief and rage at the way Joel was treated and in turn behaved toward his family. VERDICT A heartbreaking, deeply affecting story about fathers and sons that asks questions with no easy answers. ­[For more on Gallery 13, see the interview with the editors LJ 6/1/18.—Ed.]—TB

Maurel, Carole & Mariko Tamaki. Luisa: Now and Then. Life Drawn: Humanoids. Jun. 2018. 272p. tr. from French by Nanette McGuiness. ISBN 9781594656439. pap. $29.95. f

In 1995, 15-year-old Luisa enters a Paris bus and exits, somehow, in 2013. Or, in 2013, 33-year-old Luisa suddenly encounters a lost and confused version of herself at age 15. Either way, the younger Luisa is both mystified by cultural differences big and small in the 21st century but mostly taken back by her future self, a disillusioned food photographer living alone in a small Paris apartment. Moreover, the elder Luisa isn’t too thrilled at suddenly having to answer for more than a decade’s worth of compromise and disappointment. This tale from French creator Maurel (Apokalypse), adapted into English by Tamaki (cocreator, This One Summer), straddles both coming of age and coming to terms with middle age, sending a familiar plot in fascinating and bold new directions, as both versions of Luisa are forced to acknowledge their repressed sexuality in order to move forward. VERDICT A funny, touching, and beautifully illustrated and colored story about self-­acceptance with equal appeal to adult and YA audiences.—TB

redstarPrum, Vannak Anan & others. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery. Seven Stories. May 2018. 256p. tr. from Khmer by Lim Sophorn. ISBN 9781609806026. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781609806033. memoir

Meet one of the 40 million people held in 21st-century slavery, worldwide. A Cambodian self-taught artist and laborer, Prum tried to enter Thailand to find work but was sold for slave labor into the Malaysian fishing industry. His chilling memoir shows step by step how easily free people can be exploited when the financial need is great—Prum’s wife was pregnant—and jobs are scarce. Injury, starvation, torture, and risk of murder became the lot of Prum and his fellow slaves. Only trading his art for cash and advantages kept him going, until after nearly five years, a Cambodian human rights organization helped him escape. Prum’s great skill with colorful pencils and inks makes his ordeal captivating in character detail, background, and folk art–style design. Each vivid, tapestry-like panel fills a page, with small text blocks on the side, while accompanying essays provide additional context. This visually handsome work tells of great ugliness via a nail-biter tale of heroism. Explicit violence, nudity, and rape are depicted blatantly as normal and expected for enslaved people. ­VERDICT An essential wake-up call for adults and high schoolers about the present-day misery lurking behind comfy, tech-enhanced modern life.—Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

redstarRivière, Tiphaine. Notes on a Thesis. Jonathan Cape: Random UK. May 2018. 184p. tr. from French by Francesca Barrie. ISBN 9781910702499. $28.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS

DEBUT Burnt out from teaching, Jeanne decides to pursue a PhD under a renowned Kafka expert. But soon enmeshed in the labyrinth of the library, the eccentricities of faculty and staff, and reams of academic text, she’s caught in a Kafka-esque tale herself. Everyone around her is vain, obstructive, and indifferent. And, alas, her progress seems to lead only to a 64-page plan plus voluminous research—no dissertation. First-time creator Rivière, herself an “all but dissertation” veteran, embellishes Jeanne’s conundrum with surreal and remarkably funny visual metaphors in cartoony watercolors. Advisor Karpov suggests that Jeanne read extensively in Schopenhauer, all while visualizing her as a slobbery spaniel he keeps busy by sending it to fetch a ball, then climb rocks, and finally worm up a crevasse. Jeanne in turn imagines charging Vikings when confronting questions during her orals and afterward turns into a plant when the cognoscenti ignore her. Eventually, the thesis, fantasized first as a classical cathedral, morphs into a plaza of wondrously off-beat modernist structures. VERDICT This brilliant satire of academic dysfunction is not to be missed. Some nudity and adult language.— Martha Cornog, Philadelphia

redstarSmall, David. Home After Dark. Liveright: Norton. Sept. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9780871403155. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631493362. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Multi-award-winning writer/artist Small (Stitches) returns with an important novel about adolescence and the search for identity. In the mid-1950s, Russell Pruitt and his father, a Korean War veteran, flee Ohio and settle in the rural town of Marshfield, CA. His father takes a job teaching English to prisoners at San Quentin, and Russell spends his days exploring, eventually befriending a boy named Warren. After a sexual encounter with Warren leaves Russell shaken, he ends that friendship and takes up with some rough, smart-aleck neighborhood kids. Their days are filled with wandering, riding bikes, and fantasizing about their futures, and all is idyllic until one of Russell’s new friends hatches a sinister scheme to ruin the reputation of poor, rejected Warren. Small is a masterful illustrator, with an incredible ability to establish his characters’ inner lives through physical gestures or facial expressions, conveying a kaleidoscopic style of storytelling reminiscent of filmmaker Terrence ­Malick. VERDICT While the incredible success of Stitches, a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Alex Award, might have seemed almost impossible to follow up, Small has managed to create an even more resonant and stirring work. [See ­Prepub Alert, 4/9/18.]—TB

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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