Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (6/29/11)
Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Knight and Squire by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton
DC Comics, 2011
Oh, Britain: You’re so much like us, but so thoroughly, inconceivably different at the same time. Paul Cornell is British, of course, and that perspective made the short-lived Marvel series Captain Britain and MI:13 stand out among the racks of standard superhero fare. In Batman: Knight and Squire Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton use the Grant Morrison-created British Batman and Robin analogues as our tour-guides to the UK of the DC Universe, where ages-old rivalries are put on hold at the local pub, and Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, puts a polite and panto-themed veneer of civility on the American original’s nihilism. Each installment of this six issue miniseries (now collected in a trade paperback) introduces a variety of superheroes and villains that riff on British culture. The references are often obscure to non-Britons, but that unfamiliarity nicely echoes that sense of exploration one feels when digging through the expansive and confusing history of DC itself. It’s like picking up a copy of some Silver Age comic you’ve never heard of and discovering a weird footnote of comics history. Knight and Squire isn’t just a fun superhero yarn; it’s a brief glimpse into a shadow comics industry that never existed. (GM)
Eager to Please by Danny Dresden
London Squared Productions, 2011
Yes, that is a self-portrait of a man with a parrot in his underwear on the cover of this new autobiographical collection of tales from Danny Dresden. If you don’t automatically find the image both amusing and perturbing, you’d better not actually open the book, which goes considerably farther into strange territory. Dresden’s accounts of his family’s weirdnesses bring obvious comparisons to Lynda Barry’s work in their deliberately crude form, but they lack the contemplative sadness frequently at the heart of Barry’s comics. Instead, Dresden focuses on transgression, relating stories about his epileptic and developmentally disabled sister (including her sexual relationships), his own failure to get laid due to an impending bowel movement, his series of horrible pets (hence the parrot), and his own experiences teaching English as a second language. It’s tremendously difficult to humiliate yourself and your family for the pleasure of others without coming off as insensitive, and sometimes Dresden fails, but he also often succeeds. It’s necessary, too, for art like this to exist to provide a corrective to the pervading romanticization of family. Consider Dresden perhaps the Louis C.K. of comics: It might look like a disgusting disaster, but that’s because life is exactly such, and we laugh in recognition as much as in terror. (HB)
Witch Doctor #1 by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner
Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment, 2011
A couple weeks ago Hillary and I both noted a trend where recent comics took a dumpster dive in the annals of ’70s and ’80s exploitation, trailing the grind-house homage of the theatrical crowd a few years. Witch Doctor is the first miniseries from Walking Dead author Robert Kirkman’s new Skybound imprint, and it drips with retro-gore fun. Falling somewhere between Doctor Strange, John Constantine and your childhood pediatrician, Dr. Vincent Marrow treats patients afflicted with supernatural maladies using a combination of technology and magic. Brandon Seifert’s script redefines the mystical in nifty scientific analogies, comparing the soul to a spiritual immune system and likening demonic possession to diabolic botflies. This inventive approach is married to an old-school horror aesthetic that would fit right into a Creepy anthology or Bernie Wrightson’s portfolio. All of the architecture is rendered in decaying-haunted-house brown and the creepy crawlies sport gooey appendages from every nook. Campy in all the right ways, it will be interesting to see if Witch Doctor grows past the kitsch on its sleeve into the introspective experience it hints at in its first 24 pages. No one can deny it’s an excellent cure for fright-night nostalgia, though. (SE)
Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book for Grown-Ups by Ken Tanaka
Maximum Pleasant, 2011
Ken Tanaka—who is not the actor and artist David Ury in the way that Tony Clifton was not Andy Kaufman—works in a different version of crudity than Danny Dresden. Both create childlike drawings, but Dresden’s stuff is decidedly post-pubescent and Tanaka’s, at least in this book, is definitely pre-. You’d think Everybody Dies might make you feel better about the fact it expresses in its title, but it’s too short and too simple to do more than poke at the surface of that terrible fact. It seems from the first few pages (“Cute animals die”) that it might convey a deep, true sadness with resignation and dignity, and that’s what Tanaka is going for, but when it comes down to it, it’s not enough for grown-ups. Sure, cute animals die, but so do your friends. So do your children. Maybe the real problem is that it’s difficult to get into the topic with any real teeth if you ignore the issue of an afterlife. It’s hard to call a book that’s less than 30 pages disappointing, especially when it’s so cartoony, but I don’t feel any better about dying having read it. (HB)
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