Books  |  Reviews

Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (9/7/11)

September 6, 2011  |  5:16pm

Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.

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Troop 142
by Mike Dawson

Secret Acres, 2011
Rating: 8.8

Mike Dawson’s first book, Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, was a decent read, but Troop 142 shows him having matured exceptionally well and quickly as a writer. The art was there already, nicely cartoony without crossing the line into grotesque and with a fairly cinematic style that owed some to Alex Robinson’s composition, but at that point the narrative was jumpy and needed some editing. This new work, on the other hand, is far tighter in its structure and better rendered all around while still allowing for some of the bagginess required by realism. Nothing is wrapped up all that neatly in the story, which takes as its subject the week-long camping trip of Boy Scout Troop 142 in the mid 1990s, but each of the many characters receives moments of sympathy and cruelty, including the adults. These boys and men do things you don’t quite understand, even when you have all the information (they don’t). It’s neither pro nor anti camping. It recognizes the flaws in the Scout philosophy, but it doesn’t harp on them. It also shows the Lord of the Flies-type behavior of the adolescent male in an almost Margaret Mead fashion, observing with a neutral but fascinated eye as they experiment with profanity, drugs, new identities, and more. Troop 142 is a terrifically subtle book that is as funny as it is intelligent, painful, and touching, and Dawson never flinches in his role as its creator. (HB)

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Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales
Animal Man #1 by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

DC Comics, 2011
Rating: Action Comics — 6.4, Animal Man — 7.5

Week two of the new DC universe brings the first overwhelming avalanche of new comics. DC released thirteen number one issues today. Action Comics and Animal Man are probably the two most interesting. In Action Comics #1 Grant Morrison and Rags Morales introduce a brash young Superman whose trademark idealism is tempered with anti-authority cynicism. Without the cape and logo this Superman would be almost unrecognizable, a smirking hothead who spouts bad action movie one-liners. Superman standing up for the poor and working class is a nice conceit, what with a real-life class war in full effect today, and recasting Clark Kent as Peter Parker is a sensible take on Kent’s earliest days in Metropolis. Still, almost any Morrison Superman comic will pale in comparison to All-Star Superman. Jeff Lemire tackles a character most closely associated with Morrison in Animal Man #1. Lemire apparently aims to unite the animal rights activism and domestic life of Morrison’s Animal Man with the supernatural horror that defined that book’s run under the Vertigo label. The first issue succinctly runs through Animal Man’s homelife and a brief superhero jaunt before veering into a disturbing dream with Morrison-esque antagonists and a last-page shocker that introduces horror directly to the family dynamic. It’s a good start. (GM)

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Feynman
by Jim Ottaviani and Leyland Myrick

First Second, 2011
Rating: 5.9

Comics are such a quick read that it’s rare they’re too long. Usually they’re over before you can even prepare yourself for the finish. Jim Ottaviani and Leyland Myrick’s topic is an interesting one (a biography of physics genius and countercultural hero Richard Feynman) and their approach makes good use of the man’s own words, but at 262 pages, it drags a bit. If you’re into physics and can better comprehend the quantum electrodynamics stuff, it may do so less, but I imagine that part of the audience is smaller than the portion who will read those sections with impatience, even while recognizing and appreciating the authors’ choice not to dumb things down too much. The constant skipping about in time and place (mostly forward), signified by text boxes, could be made a little clearer, although perhaps it’s meant to mirror Feynman’s work on QED. It’s lovely that the whole thing’s in color, and Feynman himself remains a fascinating character: a visual thinker, almost compulsively modest, interested in new experiences and not mired to contemporary mores (his habit of working in strip clubs comes to mind, as does his encouragement of his younger sister to go into the sciences). On the whole, though, it’s a bit too sciency for a general read and possibly too general for those more interested in the science. (HB)

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Haunt: The Immortal Edition
by Robert Kirkman, Grep Capullo and Ryan Ottley

Image Comics, 2011
Rating: 2.8

Todd McFarlane has always struck me as the Roger Corman of comic books. Like the godfather of B-Movies, McFarlane loves supernatural schlock and waxing on the business side of the trade. The main difference between the two is that McFarlane never quite got the knack of consistent low budget immortality. His languishing Spawn empire seems relegated to a perpetually-delayed monthly while he toils on a perpetually-delayed movie script. The closest the outspoken creator has ever come to skirting relevancy again is with Haunt, another gun-toting wraith covered in busy line work and sophomoric taste. Though McFarlane managed the project, the actual labor of the title fell to writer Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) and pencillers Ryan Ottley and Greg Capullo, all capable auteurs. How one title and such talent can capture all the frivolous shit of the 90’s is completely impressive in its own right. For example, the plot: a lapsed priest merges with the ghost of his secret agent brother to disembowel lab experiments designed to live forever. Sure. OK. Similar to Spawn in all the wrong ways, some cool designs front an empty, grating experience that’s shallowly written and inconsistently drawn. The characterization is bizarre at best —how exactly did the depressed priest become a bloodthirsty demon shrieking “I AM YOUR DEATH” in the course of nine issues? With a load of simplistic dialogue written at a 7th grade reading level, the illustrations vacillate between grotesque violence and unnecessary T&A, resulting in adult material written for adolescents that’s insulting to both. This hardback collects the titles’ first 12 issues, but it would be far wiser to check out issue #19 later this month when new creators Joe Casey and Nathan Fox take over. (SE)

If you have a comic or graphic novel you would like to submit for review, contact your friendly neighborhood Paste Comics Team at comics@pastemagazine.com>

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