Books  |  Reviews

Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (5/4/11)

Incredible Change-Bots, Empire State, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, I Will Bite You!

May 4, 2011  |  12:35pm

Every Wednesday, Paste reviews four of the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.

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Incredible Change-Bots Two by Jeffrey Brown
Top Shelf Productions 2011
Rating: 8.2

Humor in mainstream comic books has struggled to find a stable foothold in recent years. Aside from a vibrant online community, the comedy genre seems to swell under the crest of comic-book culture. The unfortunate side of this equation is that few people will be exposed to Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots Two, which I promise will make you laugh until milk erupts from your soul. This is the closest thing we’ll ever come to an unproduced Adult Swim show on paper; the punch lines are clever, unexpected and borderline relentless. If you couldn’t tell from the title, Change-Bots is a straight up parody of the ‘80s-cartoon-franchise-turned-blockbuster The Transformers. In this sequel (the tagline reads “Twice As Much As Met The Eye Last Time”), the trigger-happy Shootertron awakes in an amnesiac daze and begins to work on a farm and keep a journal of fake binary code. Soon the government and the benevolent Awesomebots come together to duke it out once again. Brown’s art resembles the margins of a ridiculously talented high-schooler’s geometry notebook, but this informal, goofy take perfectly complements a story that revels in incompetent characters and sly non sequiturs. Each page delivers a smirk at the bare minimum, making Incredible Change-Bots Two one of the most delightfully accessible diversions in comedy today. (SE)

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Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga
Abrams Comic Arts 2011
Rating: 8.1

Jason Shiga’s semiautobiographical tale of a cross-country journey inspired by Sleepless in Seattle hits romanticism with a bucket of cold water. Like Chris Ware, his simplified characters and backgrounds focus on the failure of human beings to connect with one another, but unlike Ware, Shiga can leaven sad-sack misery with enough comedy to make you not want to slit your wrists. Yes, we are idiots with each other, and yes, your hopes and dreams are probably going to go up in smoke, but viewed from some distance, all that is kind of hilarious. There’s also some optimism here in the idea that one’s horizons keep expanding throughout one’s life; how bad can things be if there’s still more to learn? Empire State lacks the mind-melting complexity of Meanwhile, Shiga’s last graphic novel, which featured a choose-your-own-adventure structure and a bunch of color-coded tabs, but it’s far more accessible, and it includes its own clever touches, such as color used to indicate where we are in the timeline of the story. (HB)

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Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki
Drawn & Quarterly 2011 (originally released in 1973)
Rating: 8.5

Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is a powerful counterpoint to America’s enduring love affair with World War II. That doesn’t mean it belittles America’s involvement in the war or makes the Allies look disreputable. Even as American bullets rip through Mizuki’s characters, the true villains remain the Japanese leaders who send their men to pointless deaths. Mizuki, a World War II veteran and beloved manga artist just now being translated into English for the first time, based this 1973 book on his experiences at New Britain in Papua New Guinea near the end of the war. While the Americans in Noble Deaths mostly remain faceless, Mizuki personalizes his Japanese soldiers while making it clear they realized and resented their treatment as cannon fodder by glory-seeking officers and a military culture that viewed surrender or imprisonment as dishonorable. Mizuki makes Japan’s leadership look as bad as any jingoistic American World War II movie, but replaces the offensive racial stereotypes of western entertainment with realistic depictions of normal men trapped in a horrible situation. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is a brutally honest and human look at an unfortunate group of men more dehumanized by their own commanders than their enemies. (GM)

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I Will Bite You! And Other Stories by Joseph Lambert
Secret Acres 2011
Rating: 7.0

The first time I encountered Joseph Lambert’s work was in Wide Awake Press’s Piltdown anthology, in which his untitled, wordless caveman story appeared. It really annoyed me at the time. Stories conveyed entirely through visual means are difficult to do well, and I’m glad I’ve now seen more of what Lambert can do. The caveman story still has considerable flaws in clarity, but the rest of the material in this book is better executed. Lambert’s fluid style forces you to slow down and pay attention rather than speeding through, the way you (or I, at least) usually read comics, and his playfulness with the form is wonderful. “After School Snacks,” in particular, is strange, beautiful, gross, complicated, and full of goofs on the visual aspect of language. The focus Lambert forces on you is his overarching characteristic, and the variety of drawing styles on display here is impressive. I Will Bite You is uneven, but its highlights are worth fighting through the lesser stuff to get to. (HB)

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