Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (3/23/11)

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Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (3/23/11)

Every Wednesday, Paste looks at some of the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.


Dungeon Quest Book Two by Joe Daly
Fantagraphics, March 2011
Rating: 8.2

The second volume of Joe Daly’s stoner RPG epic Dungeon Quest begins immediately where the first one ended. Millennium Boy, a tough little bastard with a comically swollen head and a taste for psychedelics, leads a party of friends and adventurers deep into a spooky forest in search of the renown mystic Bromedes and an ancient guitar from Atlantis. Along the way they kill monsters, discover secret towers, solve Masonic puzzles, and eventually accomplish one of their two goals. Not that any of that matters. Plot in Dungeon Quest is secondary to ridiculous humor and Daly’s furiously hatched artwork. Daly’s black and white art is still striking , with his cartoonish figures swallowed up by intensely detailed fantasy backgrounds. Several pages are devoted to people walking in silence, but you’ll still linger hard on those pages to study the intricate environments. In the first Dungeon Quest Daly crafted something like beat poetry by undercutting the absurd solemnity of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with juvenile drug humor and constant slang from Daly’s native South Africa. Book two is slightly less human but just as hilarious, ramping up both the drugs and the meta role-playing game references. (GM)


The Unwritten Vol. 3: Dead Man’s Knock by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Vertigo/DC, March 2011
Rating: 8.6

Tom Taylor is having an identity crisis. His father used him as the inspiration for a blockbuster book series featuring a bespectacled boy wizard (yes, the -Books of Magic -Harry Potter allusion is intentional). He soon learns that he might actually be a fictional character. From there, his world spirals into a postmodern avalanche of confusion, as the definitions of real and make-believe twist and blur. Gloriously so—for those who have followed since issue one, the series has consistently proven absorbing and insightful. The Unwritten is a bibliophile’s delight. It swims in literary references ranging from the Villa Diodati to Beatrix Potter, creating a sophisticated crossword puzzle worth any bookworm’s time. Author Mike Carey is the biggest bookworm of all, though, taking on the formidable task of helming a series about the nature of fiction. This isn’t exactly new territory for Vertigo; Grant Morrison has been breaking the fourth wall since the ’80s and The Sandman tome deconstructed mythologies by the panel. But Unwritten is the most ambitious attempt to string the concept of storytelling into an overarching narrative about communications theory and magicians. Some of the initial exposition has been overtly thick, but Carey is cautiously revealing a grand narrative filled with a bewildering host of moving parts. Bonus: a chapter modeled like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. (SE)


Yo Gabba Gabba Comic Book Time, Vol. 1 by various authors/artists
Oni Press, March 2011
Rating: 8.4

Yo Gabba Gabba, the popular children’s TV show that has featured indie rockers Of Montreal, the Shins, MGMT and the Ting Tings, would seem a difficult choice to adapt to the comics format. The show’s appeal rests partially in its constant kineticism, its reliance on catchy music, and its frequent exhortation of its audience to dance, all things that can’t be captured easily in a static format. So, surprisingly, the comic does an excellent job. The level at which the stories are pitched is simple but not too simple, meaning parents will probably enjoy reading this as much as kids (although maybe less so by the 10th time). The colors throughout are lovely, bright and cheerful without crossing the line into obnoxious. The variety of artistic styles represented throughout end up more unified than not, a goal rarely met with anthologies directed at adults, and it means that far fewer of them are disappointing than is usual. The messages are reiterated to make sure they come through (there’s even a summing up section at the end of the book), but the stories and lessons also capture the non-preachy vibe of the show. Call it the nonsectarian (and better-written) Veggie Tales. (HB)


FF #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting
Marvel Comics, March 2011
Rating: 7.0

So the Human Torch is dead. Now every member of the Fantastic Four has died at one point or another, and soon enough every member of the Fantastic Four will have amazingly returned from death as only superheroes and soap opera characters can. It’ll be a damned miracle. Until then the surviving Fantastic Four have rechristened themselves the Future Foundation and now hang out with Spider-Man, a giant bifocals-wearing robot dragon, and a gaggle of brilliant scamps called the “science kids”. Hickman knows how to write comic book science, tossing out expansive and implausible threats with straight-faced certitude, and that’s absolutely mandatory for a good Fantastic Four story. If you can get past the annoying marketing, with the unnecessary relaunch, the overhyped death, and the addition of the overexposed Spider-Man, Hickman’s created exactly what anybody should want from the Fantastic Four: sweeping cosmic epics grounded by firm family ties, all with blatant affection for Jack Kirby. At least Spider-Man’s inclusion makes narrative sense here, as opposed to the Avengers, as the FF have served as his surrogate superfamily since the early ‘60’s. FF #1 ably fills its role as both a recap for new readers and a stage-setter for Hickman’s next arc. The art doesn’t quite fit, though. Epting’s pencils are as competent as ever but a book like this needs something more stylish and retrofuturistic. Based on his beautiful variant cover Daniel Acuna could’ve been a good choice. (GM)