Books  |  Reviews

Giant-Sized Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (11/28/12)

November 29, 2012  |  9:00am

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Sunday in the Park with Boys
by Jane Mai

Koyama Press, 2012
Rating: 7.7

Jane Mai’s 52-page little black-and-white story from Koyama makes an interesting pairing with Eat More Bikes because I can hardly imagine two more different books. Apart from their brevity, lack of color and publisher, the two have nothing in common, which is part of what’s nice about Koyama’s offerings: diversity. Sunday in the Park with Boys is about what depression feels like from the inside, although it never explicitly says so. Instead, Mai represents what David Foster Wallace called “the bad thing” as a centipede-like creature, growing and devouring, slithering and embracing her protagonist. It’s almost unbearable to read and yet the book’s minimalism and Mai’s smart sense of pacing (some pages have many panels, some only one or two) contributes to the effectiveness of her story. (HB)

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Marked Man
by Howard Chaykin and Jesus Aburto

**Dark Horse, 2012
Rating: 5.6

The only real problem with Ed Brubaker is his unbelievable success, which, much like Quentin Tarantino’s gift for creating new stories within familiar genres, has led to a legion of inferior imitators in the field of crime narrative. Marked Man is a perfect example of this. It’s not so bad in its own right, I guess, but its self-conscious grittiness really wears on the nerves. Did innocents really need to get horribly murdered to prove a point? Does sexual assault need to be added to beating and killing? And the first-person narration by a criminal isn’t done badly, but it, too, is a cliché by now. Chaykin’s protagonist is somewhat interesting as a character, but he should have let someone else do the art, which makes every character rough and ugly, both cartoonish and too referenced from life. The whole thing feels like a tryout for a longer series, and it’s possible some of the problems would get ironed out in such a situation, but as is, the book just kind of sits there. (HB)

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City in the Desert: The Monster Problem
by Moro Rogers

Archaia, 2012
Rating: 7.5

The set up for City in the Desert, the debut of Moro Rogers, reminds one of nothing so much as an elaborate platformer video game: Long ago, in another world, man and god fought, due to man’s disobedience, so god created monsters to keep him in check. Monster hunters Irro (from a long line of same) and Hari (his assistant, a sort of monkey girl who may be part monster herself) encounter a religious sect with a plan to rid the world of monsters once and for all, but it may have a pretty serious downside. Interesting locations, big backstory, world at stake, a bit of collecting and fighting—it’s a bit corny to start out with, but Rogers generally has a light touch. Her visual style is, if anything, too simple, pleasantly monochromatic and based on a limited number of lines (marred only by a few panels with noticeable and ugly digital blurring), and discovering that she comes from an animation background explains her ability to convey a thought process in a gesture. Her writing is better, with a nice balance among plot, story arc, character development and dialogue, and, for dealing with complex and somewhat theological issues (free will: yea or nay?), it’s impressively laconic. It’s a good debut, one that makes you race to the end only to discover a cruel cliffhanger. Thankfully, volume 2 is coming up at some point. (HB)

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Eat More Bikes
by Nathan Bulmer

Koyama, 2012
Rating: 7.3

If you’re a fan of Nathan Bulmer’s webcomic of the same name as this collection, updated daily in an impressive display of mental fertility, well, you probably already know about this little book (36 pages/black-and-white) and want to buy it. The bonus here is that these strips haven’t appeared there, meaning it’s all new material. Bulmer’s visuals are loose and loopy, not overworked. His characters have big heads and torsos and long, skinny arms and legs, like children’s drawings. It’s a style that’s very familiar these days, but it works. His blog tends to stick to the four-panel format, but there’s more flexibility in the book, including a couple of two-page stories. That said, I’m not sure the longer comics are necessarily better. Bulmer has a great weakness for puns and silliness, which are best delivered with brevity. Marginally less profane than Ryan Pequin’s “Three Word Phrase,” and certainly less literary than Kate Beaton’s “Hark, a Vagrant!”, “Eat More Bikes” nonetheless belongs in the vicinity of their company. (HB)

This week we take a look at some of the more notable new titles launched during the Marvel NOW! promotion.

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Indestructible Hulk
by Mark Waid and Leinil Yu

Marvel, 2012
Rating: 7.7

After Mark Waid’s sunshine and lollipops revolution in the perpetually gloomy Daredevil, the question became what new character would the scribe tackle to continue his steady IV drip of Eisner Awards. The Hullk is such a logical fit that it almost hurts. Not only is the green strongman another of Stan Lee’s bedrock creations, but his WWF-meets-Jekyll & Hyde persona allows a wide canvas for Waid to work his revisionist magic. Though not as jarring a shift as Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk #1 is a coolly competent manifesto of unlimited potential for a character best known for monosyllabism and violence. The issue consists primarily of a contract proposal between alter ego Bruce Banner and Maria Hill, who leads the global defense agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Banner lays out a nimble analysis of who he is, and despite his best efforts, why he probably will always be a 1-man catastrophe. Hill recruits Banner to not only punch bad guys with engorged green fists, but also use his formidable brain to cure diseases and enlighten humanity. The character detail is deft (Banner leaks some tasty Tony Stark envy) and the action is pure Golden Age elation, filled with science fiction esoterica and maniacal robot men. And though his line work is more traditional than Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, Leinil Yu brings his sexy layouts and bustling action A Game. Indestructible Hulk is a strong debut for a difficult character and sets the stage for smart stories and cataclysmic action. (SE)

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Captain America #1
by Rick Remender, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson

Marvel Comics, 2012
Rating: 7.0

Few artists can create science fiction comics as crazed and expansive as Jack Kirby’s, but his most iconic creation, Captain America, remains relatively rooted and realistic for a superhero. At least it’s easy to think that until you remember that Captain America is where Arnim Zola and M.O.D.O.K. come from. And who leads the Avengers against Korvac and into the Kree-Skull War? Captain America’s history is full of outlandish science, and that will apparently be a focus of Rick Remender’s run with the character. And that’s probably a smart move, as it’ll pretty immediately set Remender’s work apart from Ed Brubaker, who just finished up a seven-year stint that’s easily one of the most important and acclaimed runs in the character’s 70 year history. Despite a brisk battle with the ecovillain the Green Skull (cute idea, but Marvel and DC have both thoroughly overplayed the “clever derivations on classic characters” card over the last several years) and a late-stage reveal that leads into the first sustained arc, Remender doesn’t neglect the character behind the shield, flashing back to Cap’s childhood in the 1920s and hinting at next-level status for his relationship with Sharon Carter. (Another tiresome trope deployed in this comic: heretofore-unrevealed children of long-running characters.) It’s a fine, pulpy superhero comic, with great blocky, Kirby-ish art from John Romita Jr., and it immediately distinguishes itself from Brubaker’s serious espionage epic. As a first issue, though, it’s more of a teaser and less of a declarative mission statement. In other words, I’m not entirely sold on this one just yet. (GM)

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Fantastic Four #1
by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley

Marvel, 2012
Rating: 7.0*
FF #1
by Matt Fraction and Michael Allred

**Marvel, 2012
Rating: 6.7

As the new steward of the Fantastic Four family, Matt Fraction deserves our sympathies. After preceding scribe Jonathan Hickman created a sprawling space-time travelogue of the Marvel Universe’s nooks and crannies in his 23-chapter run, where does one go? In Fraction’s case, not terribly far. In Fantastic Four #1 the four metaphysical astronauts realize the same radiation that gave them wacky powers back in 1961 (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby channeled their inner Sylvia Plath by giving the sole female character the power of invisibility, buh dum tish) is killing them. Patron Reed Richards whisks his family into a space-time machine to look for a cure under the guise of the coolest quantum road trip ever. Although Fraction has only had a cold open to lay out his road map, the content is devoid of the fluorescent ideas that defined Hickman’s work. Lest one thinks that Fraction is incapable of such imagination, we’re discussing the same writer who birthed an evil psychic kung fu blob made of merged Buddhist monks in Cassanova. There are still hints of enticing family drama, as son Franklin yearns for his absentee mother and Richards displays some rare vulnerability. Mark Bagley’s art flows warmly with inks from Mark Farmer, the frequent Alan Davis collaborator. If Fantastic Four suffers from wooden exposition, sibling title FF doesn’t stray far from its brethren. With the team’s impending sabbatical, each member picks a temporary replacement to protect a think-tank of alien genius kids. In all fairness, the roster is pure Silver Age fun. Somber Ant-Man leads an estrogen-heavy group including a pop star in a muscle suit and an alien princess with prehensile hair. Bravo. But a procedural formality stifles the eccentricity waiting to seep out of the panels (no fault of artist Michael Allred, who’s pulpy version of the Thing channels Kirby in the best way possible). These introductions may be slow, but Fraction’s been pumping new life into Hawkeye and there’s no reason to believe he can’t transport his indie sensibility into this golden property. (SE)

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