Books  |  Reviews

Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (10/26/11)

October 26, 2011  |  1:00pm

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

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Wolverine and the X-Men #1
by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo

Marvel Comics, 2011
Rating: 6.8

Why is it so hard to write a good X-Men comic? Even good writers like Ed Brubaker, Mike Carey, and Matt Fraction get flummoxed once they take over Marvel’s mutant franchise. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men was fantastic, but otherwise the series has rested solidly in the shadow of Chris Claremont since well before Claremont quit writing it. Wolverine and the X-Men is the start of yet another new X-era, and even though the elevation of one particular character (and especially that particular character) over the rest of the franchise is incredibly annoying, it sets up an intriguing new status quo. I have no idea what happened in the Schism event, which lead directly into this new comic, but Wolverine and Kitty Pryde are now in charge of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, a mutant academy built on the same site as Professor Xavier’s long-gone school. This first issue introduces us to the school’s layout and faculty as Logan and Pryde escort school inspectors through the facility. The situation and stuffy, stereotypical inspectors are straight out of a bad sit-com, but Aaron’s roster of characters is an inspired mix of the classic and new, and his new villain is a compelling twist on an old favorite. As always Bachalo’s art can be a bit hard to follow during action sequences, but his fluid line and cartoony figures remain a treat. I’m tentatively optimistic even if Wolverine has been thinned out into one of the least interesting characters in any medium. (GM)

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Chimichanga
by Eric Powell

Dark Horse, 2011
Rating: 7.8

Originally self-published in three black-and-white issues, Eric Powell’s charming tale of a wee bearded lass and her monster has now been collected Dark Horse and colored by [insert name]. It’s a lovely book for most ages, with a goofy sense of humor reminiscent of golden-era Warner Brothers cartoons. Powell has a gift for sweetness blended with fart jokes, and his choice of villain (big pharma) is a smart one. Your kids may not get the text’s position on our national priorities in research and development of drugs, unsubtle as they are, but they’ll be happily amused, even as much of it goes over their heads. Lula the bearded girl makes for a spunky protagonist, and the story moves at a sprightly pace, with panels full of exaggerated characters who behave in a deadpan manner. Are you a fan of Don Martin, with his marvelous sound effects? How about Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth,” with its jokes about relativity? Powell follows gleefully in their footsteps, cartooning with verve and joy. (HB)

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Turf
by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards

Dark Horse, 2011
Rating: 5.0

For those across the pond, spicy media personality Jonathan Ross is a household name for his work in radio and television, rubbing elbows with the royal family and pissing people off as celebrated radio folk are wont to do. After leaving the BBC in 2010, Ross decided to spelunk into the comic trade he publicly idolizes with Turf, a hilariously inept graphic novel of Don Quixote proportions released last summer. First, a brief confession: I don’t want to give this book a bad review. Why? It’s obvious that Ross is having an absolute blast and is terribly smitten with his material. This Gangs of New York meets District 9 meets Interview With a Vampire clusterfuck is dense with back story and plot detail, belying countless notebooks run ragged by early morning imagination orgasms. But like most long-form writers new to the medium, Ross doesn’t know when to stop. Word balloons and description boxes pollute the oversized pages with secondary information, burying any plot momentum. Not that it makes much of a difference as the story consists of 100% recycled genre tropes in a blender: a reluctant gangster bandies with an alien in a mech suit to fight vampires. No joke. The result is adorable like a toddler’s drawing or an Ed Wood movie. It’s all untamed, derivative fan fiction with a few good ideas. If Ross wants to continue though, he could do worse than bringing penciller Tommy Lee Edwards with him. Edwards’ line work borders on perfect with pinpoint anatomy, architecture and detail immersed in prohibition New York. Also: $40 for 180 pages is infinitely more criminal than a goodfella with a space ray. (SE)

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Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking
by Philippe Coudray

Toon Books, 2011
Rating: 7.0

Even without seeing the author’s name, you would know this new offering from Toon Books is thoroughly European just from its sensibility. Each page stands alone as a four-to-six-panel strip narrative on the various adventures of Benjamin Bear, directed at grades 1 and 2 according to the publisher’s handy multi-level system for indoctrinating your kids into the comics scene. Benjamin is neither realistic as a bear (he’s very simplified) nor overly cute, although the impression as a whole is exceedingly cozy and sweet. What he does have is an odd way of problem-solving. When his friend the fox karate chops a stack of bricks in half and says “I bet you can’t do that,” he responds by using the fox’s hand to repeat the feat, a strangely logical way of achieving the same goal. When a rabbit asks if he can help with the dishes, Benjamin uses his fur to help dry them. The book is surprisingly funny for adults even as kids should appreciate its goofy view of the world that is rather similar to theirs, and it makes use of its medium seriously. This is not just a picture book; it is definitely a comic book. (HB)

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