Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (7/6/11)
Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Defiance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis
First Second, 2011
The middle volume of a planned trilogy about kids in the French Resistance during World War II, Defiance can be read on its own, but probably shouldn’t be. You’d do far better to pick up Resistance Book One first, which introduces the characters and lays out their situation. Otherwise, you’ll probably figure things out but you may miss some details. Jablonski’s writing is stronger than Purvis’s art, which features some ugly faces and characters who can appear plopped in front of their backdrops as though on a stage, but the visuals aren’t enough to detract from the story. The French Resistance is eminently sympathetic, but Jablonski is smart enough to provide some good questions at the end of the books, in authors’ notes, pointing out that even when it comes to the Nazis and their collaborators, nothing was black and white when it came to morality. Considering the series is aimed at kids, it’s an especially laudable move, the kind a skilled teacher makes to shape a nuanced perspective for life. (HB)
The Red Wing by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
Image Comics, 2011
Writer Jonathan Hickman tends to receive a lot of comparison to uber-legend Alan Moore, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Both scribes paint obsessively detailed, torturously researched bibles of their story arcs before diving in. By the time the first issue reaches stands, one gets the feeling that every character has been dissected down to their childhood crush and toilet paper brand. If this is the case, then Hickman must have spent quite a few late nights on The Red Wing, his new sci-fi time travel saga. H.G. Wells looms large as the muse in this series, which features an invasion from alien mollusks (ala The War of the Worlds) and humans piloting chronological jumps (The Time Machine) to fight back. The homage never feels particularly cheap, though; this plot mashup and its faux physics lend to some sweeping panels courtesy Nick Pitarra (who can definitely thank Frank Quitely as his muse). Knowing Hickman’s love of intricacy and time travel (see Pax Romana), this series is going to be rife with twisting, brain-bruising developments that need an Excel sheet to be holistically understood. As for its first chapter, this introduction paints a cool, well-designed snap shot of an alternate history that could fuel a whole lot more than the four issues this miniseries is slated for. (SE)
Queen of the Black Black by Megan Kelso
Originally printed in 1998, Megan Kelso’s collection of her early short work has just been reissued by Fantagraphics. Whether you think it’s a breathtaking look at the formative years of an artist or an annoying relic full of missteps and in desperate need of editing might depend on what you think about the 1990s as an era: golden age or thankfully long-gone days of glorified depression and sloppiness. In fact, the book is kind of both. Kelso refuses to arrange the stories chronologically, which means weaker pieces from before she gave up her harsh, block-lettering style (which dates them immediately to the age of zines) cozy up to later, stronger work, when she’s better figured out how to tell a coherent story and isn’t so concerned with being capital-I Innovative. Her interest in open-ended narrative is apparent and, while occasionally frustrating, important, and her gouache work in the title story is lovely and subtle, but the absence of cues as to when a story is drawing to a close is disorienting and the writing is often too elliptical. (HB)
99 Days by Matteo Casali and Kristian Donaldson
Vertigo Comics, 2011
99 Days is the sort of detective story where it takes the cops 63 days to question the last person to speak to the murder victim. Bad police work aside, Matteo Casali’s script awkwardly connects the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s to a fictional (and implausible) Los Angeles gang war-turned-citywide riot circa 2006. Antoine Boshosho Boyd, lead detective on a high-profile case with a potential serial killer nicknamed the “Machete Murderer”, has personal experience with the weapon of choice: he’s a former Hutu child soldier from Rwanda who saw his family destroyed before his eyes and committed horrible atrocities when he was twelve. Casali spoils that compelling background through poor pacing and by setting the bulk of this graphic novel in a Los Angeles that bears little semblance to reality, where the local racist talk radio blowhard can repeatedly say “shit” on-air and a single murder incites a spiral of violence that even the National Guard can’t eventually subdue. Every gang member is an interchangeable stereotype, and the out-of-nowhere third act corporate villain is so cartoonish that he might as well twirl an elaborate mustache dusted liberally with high quality cocaine. Boyd’s tragic story (and Kristian Donaldson’s adept use of shading) can’t overcome a weak plot. (GM)
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