Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Batman suffered one of the biggest casualties in the new 52 relaunch. Whereas DC was smart to press the big red reset button on most of its languishing books, the bat family was one of the few properties that was adding compelling new ground to its storied legacy. Grant Morrison first hit the ignition by sending Bruce Wayne on a global mission to save humanity with an international franchise of Batmen. Wayne’s festering hometown of Gotham City still needed rooftop patrols, though, so past sidekick Dick Grayson graduated to Bat-lite status, assuming his master’s position on the domestic front. Black Mirror collects the best of Grayson’s adventures in one volume, proving that the old DC Universe was filled with explosive potential under the right creative team. Writer Scott Snyder rivals Morrison’s creativity by introducing no less than four new villains in this 7-issue collection. All of the new rogues are initially intriguing (except for the dude with the robot legs – he’s completely lame) but Snyder’s real talents emerge when the last chapter shows a connection between the seemingly separate storylines. A satanic priest who sells villain memorabilia first steals the show, but the finale features an insidious footnote in bat history turned into a major plot point. Snyder elevates this twist from exploitative cliché to manipulative pariah with style and depravity. Saying who it is would ruin the fun, but don’t be surprised to see him (or her) pop up in the current series. Jock’s sketchy, angular pencils fit the stark desperation in this title perfectly, with Francesco Francavilla filling in some handsome work on flashbacks. (SE)
Dark Horse, 2011
Evelyn Evelyn is really a multimedia project, a comic book created to explain a musical collaboration between Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls) and Jason Webley, who perform as conjoined twins Evelyn Evelyn and whose music is described as a combination of New Wave and the Andrews Sisters. High concept projects have an automatic appeal, and this one attracts those interested in freakshows and the macabre, but the execution is rather disappointing, at least in the comic aspect. Most panels are two-page spreads, and the story is thin, with significant flaws. It feels very much like what it is: a way to convey background information. In other words, it doesn’t stand on its own as a narrative, and it feels more like a children’s book (albeit one full of violence and allusions to kiddie porn) than something that really comes out of the world of comics. Cynthia von Buhler’s illustrations have a certain dark charm, and there is some appealing weirdness in the details, but the book as a whole is minor. (HB)
Marvel Comics, 2011
With Shame Itself Marvel sequesters whatever scrap of humor might have momentarily leavened the dull Fear Itself event in a stand-alone one-shot special. Okay, despite the name this has little to do with that just-wrapped crossover, focusing instead on parodies of various facets of the Marvel Universe. Basically it’s a contemporary version of Not Brand Echh or What The—?!, mocking the self-serious soap operatics and general absurdity of superhero comics. The line-up of creators runs deep with comedians like Victor Varnado, Sara Benincasa, and Wyatt Cenac and Elliott Kalan from “The Daily Show”. Kalan makes the strongest impression with a hilarious two-page spread that deconstructs the modern comic book crossover in the style of a Chutes & Ladders board. He also co-writes multiple one-page gag strips with Cenac that confuse Tony Stark with Bruce Wayne and ask such important questions as why the Vision’s android brain isn’t plagued by spam e-mails. These “Wy If” strips are drawn by Colleen Coover, whose artwork is as inherently cheerful as always. The longer pieces are still brief enough to not overstay their welcome, and the entire package is classed up by a text piece from Michael Kupperman that looks at the early Claremont era X-Men with his standard surreal strand of Marx Brothers style irreverence. Not every joke in Shame Itself lands but the ratio is surprisingly high, making this a lark worth pursuing. (GM)
Feeding Ground isn’t brilliant, but its ideas are fresh and it has some promise. Most werewolf stories (most monster stories in general) are the same old same old: silver bullets, tormented souls, sexy times. This isn’t that. Set on the Mexico-United States border, the story focuses on the family of a pollero (a smuggler of immigrants) and the monsters that roam the desert nearby. Lang tends to be a light too light on exposition, expecting the reader to figure out a bit more than he should, but his evocation of the fear of the unknown is pretty good. Characters die unexpectedly. Not everything that happens is predictable. And, like Ginger Snaps, another clever use of the werewolf premise, Feeding Ground relies on the power of the feminine, just not as thoroughly or intelligently. Are these werewolves metaphors? They seem to be, but for what, exactly? The books are printed in Spanish and English, which may explain some of the storytelling sloppiness. Lapinski’s poster-like art, often making use of two-color composition, fits the material well, and although it’s a little messy, it grows on you over the course of these issues. A little more brainstorming, a nip here and a tuck there and Feeding Ground would have been much stronger; as is, it’s at least interesting. (HB)