Books  |  Reviews

Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (1/11/12)

January 11, 2012  |  3:00pm

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

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The Silence of Our Friends
by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell

First Second, 2012
Rating: 7.9

The Silence of Our Friends is the first book I’ve read by Nate Powell, and it didn’t take much to see what the big deal is. The story itself is fairly solid, addressing a minor event in the history of the civil rights movement (Texas, 1967, a demonstration turns into a riot and five young African Americans are unjustly accused of killing a policeman), but it’s Powell’s artwork that takes it beyond a footnote. The pictures do a huge portion of the work here, establishing feel, conveying story through subtle details and intelligent choices. They also show what a difference hand lettering can make, as Powell gets a lot of interest and emotion into the speech bubbles. Song lyrics curve and swell through panels, emphasizing the importance of music to the movement, not least in its ability to bring people together; shared musical tastes serve as a bond between the two families (one white, one black) who connect at the center of the action, and although that point isn’t raised explicitly, it’s a crucial one and an example of what an artist can bring to the table. (HB)

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: War #1
by John Jackson Miller and Andrea Mutti

Dark Horse, 2012
Rating: 5.6

Calling my generation’s Star Wars tales “bad” isn’t fair. In all honesty, they’re not. They just operate in a shadow of obsidian resolve and infinite height. The original movie trilogy occupies a pristine nook in pop religion, cementing childhood memories with sweeping space-scapes and clashing celestial samurai. But this isn’t a review of the original trilogy. And I would like to say it’s not a review of every subsequent story, but books like STKOTRW are at the mercy of their mythology. The Clone Wars, the endless novels, the videogames (OK, the original Knights of the Old Republic was damn cool) and even the prequel films seem content to prop the scaffolding of a film released 35 years ago. So when this issue states that it “takes place approximately 3,9862 years before the Battle of Yavin”, I want to tell the issue Who cares?! Quit being a footnote and be yer own story! Then again, War probably wouldn’t have its appeal or problems if it was. A dual-edged lightsaber. This debut issue drops the Jedi and republic military in a war with the Mandalorians, who Wikipedia says are the same race as intergalactic badass Boba Fett (sigh). The script embraces the generic conflicts of war, featuring an aw-shucks pacifist telling a mean mustached captain to stop killing people. Never awful, it’s completely digestible and occasionally entertaining. The art doesn’t fare as well, with sloppy anatomy (what’s up with that guy’s arm on page 3?) and bland textures. At this point, Lucas should just create a new sci-fi universe rather than endorse more of this canon fodder. (SE)

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Black Fire
by Hernan Rodriguez

Archaia Entertainment, 2012
Rating: 5.0

Sometimes, when you read a comic, you think about what a good movie it would make, usually due to flaws in its execution, and that’s exactly the case with Hernan Rodriguez’s Black Fire. His illustration style is distinctive, certainly, but when a key plot point hinges on albinism and you wouldn’t realize characters are albino without them saying so, you might want to scale back the stylistic filters a bit. It’s difficult to remember who’s who, despite the fact that characters have ostensibly very different backgrounds and nationalities, and that leads to either too much exposition or, in some cases, too little. The story itself, set during the Napoleonic Wars, in Russia, is an interesting one, full of potential Lovecraftian grand horror and strange beasts, but the book is a frustrating experience. Action scenes slow down the story rather than adding punch. Two characters appear to have red beards and long hair, making it exceptionally difficult to tell them apart. The climax comes abruptly and feels as though all the tension built up evaporates rather than following a standard curve. But there is excellent potential here for someone to do something good with the material, which is spooky and fundamentally interesting. Someone should get Guillermo del Toro a copy of this book. (HB)

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Essential Marvel Two-In-One Volume 4
by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and others

Marvel Comics, 2012
Rating: 6.5

For a few years I was hopelessly addicted to Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase Presents, the big black and white telephone book reprints of old superhero comics from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I don’t recommend them to everyone; the best material, like Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange, are usually available in higher quality, full color hardcovers perfect for your home library, and most of the more obscure books are readily found in the cheap bins at conventions or stores that still stock back issues. From a price perspective it’s hard to beat 25 comics for $16.99 (now $19.99), even if they’re totally stripped of color. The best individual volumes remain such oddball DC offerings as Metamorpho and Superman Family, which are full of brilliantly nonsensical Silver Age genius that isn’t really collected anywhere else. Over at Marvel the Marvel Two-In-One series is one of my favorites. This monthly team-up book featured the exploits of The Thing and a rotating cast of partners back through the 1970s and early 1980s. It wrapped up just a year or two before I started regularly reading comics as a kid, and already felt like a horribly dated joke when I found a stash in a dime box at a convention in 1987. Through the Essential series a now-grown me discovered how breezily entertaining these low-stakes cape comics can be. It helps that Ben Grimm is probably the most easily lovable hero in comics, and also that some of the best issues (including the acclaimed “Project Pegasus” storyline) were written by future mainstays of my childhood like Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio. Volume 4 collects the final issues of the series, most of which were written by future Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco. DeFalco can’t quite live up to the classic Marvel-style adventure of the earlier volumes, but this collection is a good representation of the Marvel Universe of the early 1980s. Its appeal never quite peaks past nostalgia, unlike the highlights of the earlier volumes of Essential Marvel Two-In-One, but it’s a fun dip into the past for anybody who looks fondly back upon Jim Shooter’s Marvel. (GM)

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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