Bec & Co., D’Salete, Findakly/Trondheim, Longino & Others, Santos, Starks, & More | Graphic Novels Reviews

As comics slide more and more into the mainstream, publishers have increasingly been encouraged to take chances on critical and historical texts exploring the medium and its cultural impact.

comics’ cultural impact As comics slide more and more into the mainstream, publishers have increasingly been encouraged to take chances on critical and historical texts exploring the medium and its cultural impact.

Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s The Comic Book History of Comics (IDW, 2017) manages to streamline nearly a century of corporate politics, artistic innovation, and larger-than-life personalities into a comprehensive text, helped along by Dunlavey’s loose, lighthearted illustrations. Pair this with Sean Howe’s seminal Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (HarperCollins, 2013), a tremendously fun, informative, and anecdotal look at the House of Ideas from the 1930s to today. Readers will be clamoring for a Mad Men–style TV adaptation covering the chapters focusing on the 1960s.

A more sobering history comes in the form of David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague (Picador, 2009), which focuses on how the massive popularity of comic books among young readers in the 1950s resulted in a public backlash that found creators on the front line of a culture war that would come to dominate 1960s American life.

Grant Morrison, author of the groundbreaking series “The Invisibles,” swerves between a historical and sociological examination of the development of superhero characters and an autobiography of working in the industry in the fascinating Supergods (Random, 2012). ­Alvin Schwartz, a longtime writer of Superman comics, combines autobiography with Eastern philosophy and mysticism in An Unlikely Prophet: A Metaphysical Memoir (Inner Traditions, 2006). The result is a singular meditation on the intersection between art and life.

Jill Lepore’s best-selling The Secret History of Wonder Woman (LJ 9/15/14) is one-part biography of the unconventional creator of the iconic character while also functioning as a study of feminism in the first half of the 20th century. In Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (LJ 11/15/16), Michael Tisserand writes of the titular cartoonist, who, from 1913 to 1944, elevated the comic strip to new artistic heights and was revealed decades after his death to have spent his entire life hiding his African American heritage.—Tom Batten

[For more on graphic novels and nonfiction, see Emilia Packard’s Collection ­Development feature, “A Course in Comics,” LJ 12/17, p. 48-50.—Ed.]

Bec, Christophe (text) & Eric Henninot & Milan Jovanovic (illus.). Cathargo. Vol. 1: The Fortuna Island Lagoon. Humanoids. Feb. 2018. 286p. tr. from French by Quinn & Katia Donoghue & Montana Kane. ISBN 9781594654640. pap. $24.95. Mys

Spanning from the Miocene epoch millions of years ago to the current day, and featuring scenes set on nearly every continent, this tale of monsters, secret societies, and lost civilizations makes other stories that dare to reach for epic status seem like total wimps. After the mysterious Carthago Corporation accidentally drills into an ancient underwater cave, releasing a long-thought-extinct megalodon (an 80-foot-long great white shark), it takes no time before a cast of sinister billionaires, a monster hunter, a rogue environmentalist, and a brave researcher and her mysteriously gifted daughter are set racing either to cash in or save the world. Author Bec (Siberia 56) has a penchant for giving his characters big blocks of dialog that skew a little too often toward in-depth descriptions of submarine technical specs or magnetic fields. But he makes up for this with a story that moves at a breakneck pace, complemented by the dynamic, deepwater artwork of Henninot (The Chronicles of Legion) and ­Jovanovic (Ahe’ey), that constantly twists and turns in directions readers absolutely will not see coming. VERDICT Fans interested in spectacle in the Michael Crichton vein will totally flip for this volume. The cliff-hanger ending and promise of more will have them waiting with baited breath.—TB

D’Salete, Marcelo. Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom. Fantagraphics. Oct. 2017. 180p. tr. from Portuguese by Andrea Rosenberg. bibliog. ISBN 9781683960492. $24.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS

Before and during the time of the Underground Railroad and U.S. Civil War, Africans enslaved in Brazil fought for their freedom. Interpreted by Brazilian artist D’Salete (Encruzilhada) and based on historical documents, the four stories collected here are steeped in quiet horror and heroism. Lovers Valu and Nanu escape slavery, but only through suicide. Calu is impregnated by the slave owner’s son and knifes him after his mother, “the mistress,” throws Calu’s newborn down a well. Ganzo joins with his fellow slaves to rebel, but the only survivor is the slave who betrayed them under duress. In the sole successful rebellion depicted here, Damaio recalls his sister’s fate and leads other villagers to burn the homes of the Portuguese slavers preying on them. The angular, high-contrast black-and-white art plays the lush island foliage against dank shadows and sweaty bodies marked with fine scars. VERDICT These brutal and tragic tales, reported through the eyes of the victims, who have also been courageous aggressors, lend context to the ongoing fight for individual liberties worldwide. Good for teens and adults concerned with black lives and histories as well as broader ­contexts of human rights.—MC

Findakly, Brigitte & Lewis Trondheim. Poppies of Iraq. Drawn & Quarterly. Sept. 2017. 120p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770462939. $21.95. MEMOIR

The personal and political interweave in this sad yet charming memoir. Having grown up in Mosul, Iraq, 14-year-old Findakly (colorist, The Rabbi’s Cat and other French comics) immigrated in 1973 to Paris, where her mother was born. Like snapshots, ­Findakly’s story toggles back and forth in time, depicting memories mixed with historical background and “In Iraq” vignettes about customs in that country. With the father an army dentist, the author’s Christian family survives multiple regime coups and escalating civil unrest while submitting to shortages, government censorship, and increased repression. Later, life in Paris comes as a shock to the teen since incomprehensible bureaucracies exist there as well. ­Trondheim’s (Dungeon) simple, childlike drawings evoke the unquestioning acceptance shown by citizens forbidden from protesting anything and who avoid political discussions. Indeed, Findakly’s cheerful coloring exudes paradoxical normality. VERDICT Like Marjane ­Satrapi’s Persepolis, but for Iraq, this work demonstrates how the unthinkable and unexpected for some can be normal to those who live under such circumstances on a daily basis. For all readers interested in Middle Eastern issues.—MC

Fleming, Ian & James Robinson (text) & Aaron Campbell (illus.). James Bond: Felix Leiter. Dynamite. Nov. 2017. 152p. ISBN 9781524104702. $24.99. F

British superspy James Bond’s best friend and American counterpart Felix Leiter has retired from the world of cloak and dagger and is settling into a life as a private detective, until he agrees to do his old pal a favor by traveling to Japan to track down a Russian agent. Felix and the agent share a steamy past, but their reunion turns out to be exciting in a way far different from what Felix expected when he discovers her involvement with a deadly terror cult. The organization itself may be a pawn in a game that could have disastrous repercussions for the entire world. Writer Robinson (Grand ­Passion) and artist Campbell (The Shadow) pack this volume with all the sex, violence, intrigue, secret headquarters, and dastardly villains that Bond fans demand but filtered through a slightly more noir-tinged lens that fits Felix’s world-weary character. Collects single Issues 1–6. VERDICT A long-awaited starring role for a classically underutilized supporting character, as well as a thrilling adventure drawn more from current events than the typical Bond tale, which fans of the franchise should find enthralling.—TB

Lewis, Corey. Sun Bakery: Fresh Collection. Image. Sept. 2017. 200p. ISBN 9781534304352. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534306042. F

Lewis’s (Sharknife) artwork nearly explodes off the page, crackling with energy as he plays through a host of influences ranging from manga to video game design to graffiti art. His eclectic interests are on full display as an author as well, as Lewis isn’t content to present merely one story. This anthology features five tales, all drawing from different genres. Space opera gives way to a horror-tinged piece featuring a sentient skateboard; a gritty Western stands side by side with the narrative of a young woman mastering the art of swordplay in a city where blades have become the ultimate status symbol; elsewhere, a magic jacket that grants its wearer incredible power proves to be both a blessing and a curse. Lewis clearly has no shortage of ideas, and while his storytelling sometimes falls short of delivering on the promise of their concepts, he always keeps the proceedings fast paced and fun. Collects single Issues 1–4. VERDICT While some of this material might have worked better given more space to develop, the pace at which Lewis bounces among genres and illustration styles will thrill readers looking for hyperkinetic, lighthearted ­entertainment.—TB

Longino, Jay (text) & Canaan White & others (illus.). Son of Shaolin. Bk. 1: The Beginning. Image. Sept. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781534303232. pap. $16.99. F

An aspiring street artist with a job and a few good friends, Kyrie isn’t interested in some cheesy offer to fulfill his destiny as descendant of a Shaolin Elder and save the free world. But when the ­mysterious Master Fong connects the challenge to ­Kyrie’s absent father, the young man seizes on what all children of absent fathers wish to hear: that his father deeply loved him and stayed away to protect him, not from hate or disinterest. So Kyrie trusts his mentor, trains hard, and finally fights his adversary. Yet things are not as they seem, and Kyrie chooses to rise above Fong’s demands. Moreover, the battle is not yet over. While screenwriter Longino’s plot seems similar to many other martial arts dramas, the closing twists add depth and suspense. White’s (The Harlem Hellfighters) lively art hits the top of the scale for excitement, realism, and design. In addition, ­Diego Rodriguez’s colors imbue the settings from seedy hotels to Harlem sewers with moody, glowing ambiance. ­VERDICT Kung fu aficionados will enjoy this new variation on a beloved theme with hip-hop and urban trappings. [Film rights were recently sold to Sony/­Columbia ­Pictures.—Ed.]—MC

Mignola, Mike (text) & Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (illus.). Mr. Higgins Comes Home. Dark Horse. Oct. 2017. 49p. ISBN 9781506704661. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781506705972. HORROR

A pair of vampire hunters seeking a guide through the crypt of the nefarious Count Golga find their man in Mr. ­Higgins, an asylum patient whose encounter with the count years earlier left him tortured, broken, and perhaps even cursed. A promise to free Mr. Higgins once the vampire lord is eliminated coaxes him back to the scene of his previous torment, where much to our band of heroes surprise they find themselves invited guests to an annual vampire celebration. Mignola (Hellboy; B.P.R.D.), comics’ greatest practitioner of horror and supernatural tales, pens something between homage and lighthearted satire of classic Hammer vampire films. This story is perfectly suited to Johnson-Cadwell’s (Solid State Tank Girl) creepily angular illustration style, which manages to be at once slightly cartoonish and darkly atmospheric. Readers might feel as though the tale here is a bit slight as they approach its conclusion, but the ending has bite. VERDICT Every release by Mignola is an event, and while this lacks the epic scope or foreboding ­darkness that most of his work is known for, fans are sure to find a lot to love.—TB

Perrissin, Christian (text) & Matthieu Blanchin (illus.). Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary. IDW. Sept. 2017. 368p. tr. from French by Diana Schutz & Brandon Kander. maps. ISBN 9781631408694. $29.99. HIST

Calamity Jane told tall tales about herself, winning acclaim as a storyteller-­performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The real life of this daring gal was probably less heroic but just as fascinating. As told by Perrissin (Cape Horn), Martha Jane Cannary (1852–1903) grew up caring for five siblings, traveling west with her widowed father but refusing second-wife status when a Mormon proposed. Going off on her own, often in male garb, she drove oxen teams as a bullwhacker, rode for the Pony Express, and worked as a scout, nurse, laundress, waitress, and barkeep. Danger was always close: drunken men, Indian parties, sickness, accidents, enticements of alcohol and gambling, plus unsanitary conditions and childbirth. Jane had several children, one reportedly fathered by Wild Bill Hickok via a passionate ­romance. Blanchin’s (Quand vous pensiez que j’étais mort) smudgy ink drawings capture beautifully the realism of frontier life, with its unrelenting grime and its outcasts and eccentrics. VERDICT As a mature-readers supplement to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, this Angoulême Award winner makes a splendid volume for those interested in the Old West, women’s history, and American history of the 1800s.—MC

redstarSantos, Victor. Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case. Dark Horse. Oct. 2017. 160p. tr. from Japanese by Katie LaBarbera. ISBN 9781506703176. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630088989. Mys

When a samurai is found murdered and his wife ravaged along the road leading to a farming village in feudal Japan, Det. Heigo Kobayashi is called in to investigate. Yet, none of the witnesses tell the same story, and too many of the suspects take credit for the crime, so our hero finds himself faced with a puzzle that will test his wits and resolve and might just put his life on the line. Inspired by the classic short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, later made famous by the film adaptation directed by Akira Kurosawa, ­Santos’s ­(Polar; Violent Love) dynamic illustration and tremendous use of color and compelling page design make this well-known tale feel absolutely fresh and relevant. Imbuing the proceedings with a noir flair, the art evokes Frank Miller’s classic Sin City as well as Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s beloved manga Lone Wolf and Cub. ­VERDICT Every page of this volume is stunning and should entrance fans of the original text and its famous film version as well as the ­uninitiated.—TB

Starks, Kyle. Rock Candy Mountain. Vol. 1. Image. Oct. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9781534303171. pap. $9.99. F

Hobos, bums, tramps, vagrants—the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain” promises enticements such as “cigarette trees” and a “soda water fountain” to these downtrodden itinerants. Yes, it’s only a song, but Jackson the hobo believes it’s real, and he’s going to find it. Impediments include a middle-class, down-on-his-luck sidekick; the hobo mafia; the FBI (notably, kickass assistant director Babs Bardoux); and even the devil. But ­Jackson hacks and punches his way toward his dream by laying low whole squads of attackers, jumping freight cars, and getting himself and “Pomona Slim” in and out of trouble. Getting back to his family is at the root of his journey. Starks’s (Rick and Morty; Sexcastle) chunky art is perfect for this two-volume caper, with Chris ­Schweizer (The Crogan Adventures) bringing out the dirt and malevolence of Jackson’s world through dusty coloring leavened with fighting reds and nighttime blues. ­VERDICT An entertaining blend of martial arts action and oddball humor, Jackson’s epic quest will appeal to readers of American tall tales in comics or prose. Rated Mature for amusingly uninhibited language and graphic if cartoony violence.—MC

Williamson, Joshua & Tom King (text) & Jason Fabok & others (illus.). Batman/The Flash: The Button Deluxe Edition. DC. Oct. 2017. 104p. ISBN 9781401276447. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401282004. superheroes

When a mysterious, blood-stained artifact from an alternate universe (that readers might recognize from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s seminal Watchmen) appears in the Batcave, followed by a powerful villain willing to kill anyone who stands in his way of possessing it, Batman and The Flash join forces in an adventure that transcends time and space in search of the solution to a mystery that threatens the very fabric of reality. The superstar creative team of Williamson (Justice League vs. Suicide Squad), King (The Vision), Fabok (Batman), and Howard Porter (JLA; The Flash) provide enough action for an entire summer’s worth of blockbuster movies and hint at a larger story that’s set to unfold across the DC universe over the coming year. What really stands out is the shocking and intensely moving finale, which offers rare insight into ­Batman’s psychology and motivations and might just change the character forever. This hardcover volume collects single Issues of Batman, 21–22, and The Flash, 21–22. VERDICT Readers excited to see two of their favorite characters interact will be delighted, as will those intrigued that this is ultimately a prolog to the upcoming “Doomsday Clock” series, which promises to explore how characters from Watchmen are influencing the DC ­superheroes.—TB

Zabus, Vincent (text) & Thomas Campi (illus.). Magritte: This Is Not a Biography. SelfMadeHero. Nov. 2017. 72p. ISBN 9781910593370. pap. $14.99. BIOG/arts

With a subtitle that plays on the caption, “This is not a pipe,” on Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s (1898–1967) painting The Treachery of Images, this work opens with humdrum office worker Charles Singulier, who buys Magritte’s bowler hat at a flea market and cannot take it off until he comes to understand the artist’s world. The adventure involves whimsical incidents alluding to Magritte’s art while conveying information about his life. Charles converses with paintings, encounters in three dimensions the painter’s characters and images, and becomes a second character watching himself. Along the way, he acquires several guides: an art expert resembling Magritte’s wife, Georgette; Magritte’s unnamed biographer; and the artist himself at various ages. Writer ­Zabus (several children’s series) and illustrator Campi’s (Macaroni!; Les petites gens) oil and watercolor scenarios unfold in naturalistic hues that evoke with puckish charm ­Magritte’s own designs and palette. ­VERDICT This total immersion of everyman Charles in Magritte’s work reveals the humor and complexity of these surrealistic images in an appealing and understandable way. Beginning art history students, high school and older, as well as more sophisticated readers will enjoy and learn.—MC

Genre-Bending Thrillers

Remender, Rick (text) & Greg Tocchini & Alex Maleev (illus.). The Last Days of American Crime. Image. Sept. 2017. 184p. ISBN 9781534304376. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781632155849. CRIME fiction

In the not-too-distant future, the U.S. government has responded to a rise in crime and terrorist activity by creating an exclusively digital currency and broadcasting a signal that will totally eradicate willfully illegal activity. ­Graham Brick is a career criminal determined to make one big life-changing score before it’s too late. When the team of thieves he assembles to assist in what may well be the last heist in history betray him, things get messy, and most of that chaos consists of blood and chunks of brain. Author Remender (Tokyo Ghost) is the reigning king of edgy, high-concept sf, and this gritty crime thriller is the leanest and most brutal vision he’s unleashed yet. A somewhat dim color palette sometimes muddies Tocchini’s (Uncanny X-Force) stylish, sensual illustration, but his storytelling is second to none. ­Verdict While slightly less fully realized than Remender and ­Tocchini’s earlier collaboration, Low, this vicious dystopian noir puts a fascinating spin on the done-to-death crime caper genre.—TB

redstarTalbot, Bryan. Grandville Force Majeure: A Detective-Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard Scientific-Romance Thriller. Dark Horse. Nov. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781506703800. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781630089849. Mys

If Sherlock Holmes were a badger with an itchy trigger finger and a sexy fiancée, you’d get detective inspector Archie LeBrock of ­Scotland Yard. Talbot’s (Luther ­Arkwright) masterly steampunk series, set in an alt-history Europe of anthropomorphic animals, concludes with this fifth volume. Psychopathic crustacean Stanley Cray has been attacked by overlord Tiberius Koenig, who controls the Paris crime world and now plans to annex the British gangs. Koenig is a Tyrannosaurus rex—the name (koenig and rex both mean “king”) is typical of Talbot’s sly wordplay throughout. It falls to Archie and colleagues in both London and Paris to finger Koenig’s spies in the Yard and take down the overlord himself with disguises, an elaborate charade, and explosive combat. Among Talbot’s numerous visual jokes, the Yard’s coroner is a vulture and the cancan girls are bunnies. His excellent coloring delivers emphasis while enhancing panel design. ­VERDICT Delightful and compelling, the entire “Grandville” series will enchant adult detective and fantasy lovers, likely including readers of Canales/Guarnido’s Blacksad, Gabus/Reutimann’s District 14, and Starkings/Kelly’s Elephantmen.—MC

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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