Scalped The Gnawing Vol 6 by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera, published by Vertigo. Graphic novel series. More violent than 100 Bullets.
Spy, Military, Ninja
Queen & Country series: criticized by some because while the main protagonist (Tara Chase) is a female Brit, the writer is a male native of San Francisco. As a fellow native of San Francisco, I’m not qualified to judge the Britishness of the series – but since it’s in the same vein as James Bond I personally feel that it’s plenty ‘authentic’. What bothers me is the depiction of the female characters; all of them have exceedingly impractical Barbie-doll figures and often wear completely inappropriate and improbable outfits. For example, in Operation: Crystal Ball Tara Chase comes into the office wearing a vest that would trigger a Tom and Lorenzo baby-heads alert – ewwh. Not as gritty as 100 Bullets or Scalped, but still an entertaining shoot-em-up spy thriller with a conscience.
The Walking Dead
The graphic novel series written by Rob Kirkman is the basis for the hit TV series first broadcast in 2010. The setting is a post-apocalyptic United States in which most residents have turned into mindless, flesh-eating zombies. The mindful survivors fight to retain their sanity and continue the business of living in between battles with the zombies and with other humans over scarce resources.
This series is written by Brian K. Vaughan, an author best known for his graphic novel series Y: The Last Man and Runaways. His take on miscegenation, child prostitution, robot sex, and planet domination is greatly tempered both by his recent experiences with fatherhood and by artist’s Fiona Staples’ thoughtful and realistic renderings of the series female (and feline) as well as male characters – tough the heroine is comely she isn’t a Barbie doll. In Volume 1, I particularly appreciated the hindsight narration by the infant born in the opening pages – I like knowing how at least one part of the story is going to end before committing to the series.
The Museum Vaults
The Museum Vaults : Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert is an odd little graphic novel by Marc-Antoine Mathieu. The tale takes place in an indeterminate time in which the Louvre is no longer known as such and is no longer an active museum but rather an underground pyramidal structure of basements and sub-basements propped up by statue molds and, in some cases, navigated by boat. An expert catalogs the eccentricities in time to turnover his findings to the next expert who descends decades later. The illustrations are in an appropriate grey-scale. A key to the major artworks is provided at the end.
Watchmen written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons may be considered a classic but I found it somewhat cloying and annoyingly pretentious. It’s a graphic novel occasionally – and effectively – interspersed with other text medium including excerpts from one character’s auto-biography and documents from another’s police file. Is the role of superheroes to save the world… or to save the world from itself is the central question of the novel. Many of the real-time cultural references felt dated to me; I expect that many readers born later than the mid 1980s would miss those references. At least the philophy in this novel is less convoluted than Moore’s Promethea series.
The iZombie graphic novel series is an amusing twist on paranormal tales: a zombie with a day job as a gravedigger, a geeky were-terrier who works as an IT Tech in a retirement home, a ghost with a penchant for Mary Quant style clothing – and a good excuse for acting like a ditzy blond, and bodacious vampires running a paint ball business in order to recruit unwitting donors. The setting is Eugene, Oregon – a bonus for those familiar with its funky, quirky vibe of a college (home of the Fighting Ducks) town crossed with West Coast forest… birthplace of the Merry Prankster. While the artwork isn’t particularly detailed, it gets the job done, and not all of the characters are attractively buff. The dialog is witty without being overly erudite or dense. I appreciated the little side jokes like the “Shaun of the Dead” reference early on in Volume 1.
iZombie Volume 1: Dead to the World
We meet the characters and a couple of dead bodies that stay (physically) dead – killed by the two central male characters John Amon and Hoaratio. By the end of this first volume the triangle is in place with Gwen wary of both males and their life-ending proclivities I look forward to reading Volume 2.
iZombie Volume 2: uVampire
Bits and bites of origin stories, more great plot twists, revelatory stories-within-a-story (complete with different art styles), and new characters both monster and human. Great stuff!
iZombie Volume 3: Six Feet Under & Rising
The Dead Presidents enter the picture and by the end of this volume all of the characters are back in Eugene dealing with the aftermath of the mindless zombies except Gavin, Gwen’s brother, and the Phantasm… oh, and of course, Xitalu has not yet arrived.
References: Gwen’s best childhood friend was Tricia. They were high school freshmen in 2001.
Devils Lake Oregon (note that the name in the novel is spelled ‘Devil’s Lake’) exists and has an associated Native American legend of the periodic emergence of an aquatic creature.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote weird fiction including the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” – sometimes referred to as Lovecraft’s first great text. Perhaps Xitalu is based on Cthulhu? And is the tale of the aquatic monster in Devils Lake (in the novel’s opener) another Cthulhu reference? And ‘Adam Morlock’? To quote a post by Adam Greenwood, “A yarn set on Mars is science fiction, set in Oz is a fantasy; jetpack is science fiction, flying carpet is fantasy; a monster is fantasy, but a Morlock is science fiction.”. Another blogger opines that Adam Morlock is based on Michael Moorcock.
The five-volume Gloom Cookie series collects the stories of a goth-paranormal society written by Serena Valentine originally published in comic book form. Each volume pairs Valentine with a different artist; most fortuitously Ted Naifeh was the first and thus put his stamp on the depiction of the characters for the rest of the series.
Volume 1: The style, setting, and characters of Volume 1 are a much better match than are those in The Good Neighbors (written by Holly Black and illustrated by Naifeh; see the ‘Teen Manga’ post for commentary on The Good Neighbors). In this series the (human) characters are twenty-something habitues of (goth) nightclubs and cafes with none of the encumbrances of school or parents waiting at home and the art offers exaggerated features with lots of swoops and curlicues. Interesting that Queen Irene is shown relaxing with her beloved hairless Sphinx cat. On page 111 we see Max’s bookshelf which includes classic authors / titles (e.g. Byron, Yeates, Lovecraft, and Shelley), modern (such as Sunglasses After Dark, written by Nancy Collins and illustrated by Tom Ang), and the tweaked (Armand, presumably a reference to Anne Rice’s Vampire Armand (rather than baking soda magnate Armand Hammer), and “Pukemon”). On the next page in the room of the woman whom Max has met via www.BlindDate.com we see nary a book – but the wall is covered with posters of ‘Icky Martin’, ‘The Spice Sluts’, and ‘The Backyard Boys’; and her desk is shared with two stuffed animals and a lamp with a frilled shade. (Neil Gaiman has illustrated some great bookshelves.) On page 156 we see people having coffee (with chicory) at what looks to be the open air patio of Cafe Du Monde in the New Orleans French Quarter. My concern was for the fate of what I presume to be a plate of beignets at our heroes’ table when they leave for a carriage ride. But maybe they aren’t beignets since the standard serving is three on a small plate. On page 206 there’s a ‘there’ that should be a ‘they’re’; great grate.
Hellboy in Hell : The Descent by Mike Mignola and colored by Dave Stewart, published May 2014, is an interesting continuation of Hellboy’s adventures – but is definitely not for those new to the series… at least not without a deep background in mythologies popular in paranormal circles during the Victorian and Nazi eras. In his artwork Mignola strives for conjuring Gothic emotions rather than the realistic detail of standard superhero comics. This contribution to the series is not as compelling as earlier volumes – perhaps in part because the action all takes place in the nether-worlds and there are few humans for Hellboy to play off of.
The Dresden Files
Based on Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series featuring wizard Harry Dresden in modern-day Chicago this is one case in which the novel form is better than the manga.
Locke & Key
Locke & Key : Keys to the Kingdom (Volume 1) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is creepy, violent, and a bit hard to follow – no pages of exposition in this series. The core characters are three siblings, two high schoolers and one adolescent. The artwork is reasonable (albeit bloody) and consistent through the first volume. If you like Lovecraft references then try out this series; otherwise re-read the Sandman series.
Dystopian Paranormal Superhero
I picked up Marvel Zombies Return to check out the artwork of Nick Dragotta. The premise is that the Marvel superheroes such as Captain America and Spiderman in a particular Earth timeline have become flesh-eating zombies who consumed the human population in 24 hours. The rest of the collection concerns a search in other timelines for food and redemption. If you’re into the contemporary presentation of superhero physique and the gritty gore of zombies feeding on formerly loved ones then you’ll likely enjoy this series. A familiarity with the Marvel pantheon also helps. Otherwise for more thoughtful zombie fare turn to iZombie and for grit the 100 Bullets series.
Like The Complete Geisha, Sumo written and illustrated by Thien Pham is shelved in the library under Young Adult GN but is more ‘New Adult’ – the main characters are introspective mid-twenty somethings. Don’t let the title and sumo cover image mislead you: the story is very gentle centering on a very thoughtful gentle giant (outside of the wrestling ring / football field) seeking his right place and his lost confidence after not making it in the NFL and being dumped by his girlfriend – whom he’d been dating since high school. The story shifts back and forth in time and location but since each setting has a unique color and symbol around the page number the transitions are relatively easy to follow. The amount of text is moderate – Pham lets the images do a lot of the talking – and, in a much appreciated touch, an allegory is used to covey the outcome of the story’s climax.
The Complete Geisha
I suppose that the local library has The Complete Geisha by Andi Watson shelved in YGN (Young Adult Graphic Novel) because it doesn’t have nudity or overtly sexual scenes but I’m filing it here under adult manga because I’m dubious that the standard teen manga reader would be interested in characters in the twenties making their way in a big US city. The central character, Jomi Sohodo, is a painter who can’t get a break because she’s an android and thus is held in low regard particularly when it comes to creative endeavors in which an expression of emotions is expected. The setting is urban England in a parallel universe a bit ahead of our timeline – but the location clues are sufficiently subtle that without the tell-tale accents of an audio component, many American readers will likely not notice the English touches. The interesting philosophical question of whether an artificial being can be real is offset by facile resolutions to interpersonal conflicts, a threatening crime lord, and an obsessive stalker. The main story includes a subplot about a bunraku doll – which would have been used in Japanese puppet theater around the 18th century. The subplots involving Jomi’s cat Neko (Japanese for ‘cat’) and Jomi’s contribution to the Animal Shelter were nice additions.
The artwork mostly worked for me – the biggest exception was the supposedly beautiful super model who mostly looked like Norma Desmond. The story includes several art ‘mirrors’: caustic and controversial art critic Brian Sewell becomes Brian Sewer, Vermeer‘s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” becomes “Woman With a Pearl Necklace”, and the hoax of Modigliani throwing his statues into the canal in his home town of Livorno, Italy. I particularly liked the witty multilingual musical pun with the image of a modern Samurai musician, the partial title ‘AR AGATO’, and the (feline added) paw prints – ‘gato’ is Spanish for cat, ‘domo arigato’ is Japanese for ‘Thanks a lot’, and ‘Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto’ is the catch phrase in the song “Mr. Roboto” by STYX.
Fox Bunny Funny
Fox Bunny Funny is an odd graphics-only rumination on miscegenation and changing gender, race, and/or religion in the face of extreme prejudice… though the central character – a black, male, Christian-ish fox – finally finds happiness as a white, female-ish, Jewish-ish bunny in a hidden community in which the foxes and bunnies peacefully coexist. Disturbing scenes make for a hard ‘read’.