Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Spaceman is a stiff cocktail of sci-fi paranoia and environmental despair that savagely mocks pop culture and society in general. So, y’know, it’s one of those stories. It’s an all-encompassing worst case scenario view of a future that may come to pass, but despite the deep and thriving pessimism there’s a kernel of hope beating in its heart. Azzarello’s scathing script at least lets his characters maintain their dignity, and although hyperkinetic plot theatrics (and ill-advised made-up future slang) overwhelm quieter human moments, there’s still a power in the two central relationships by the book’s end. Azzarello might pack in too many ideas, but the parallel between the brutish softie Orson (a lab-created man-beast whose litter made headlines when “born” and who was designed for making Mars hospitable for us regular folk) and the kidnapped orphan Tara (the winner of an extremely popular reality show in which Hollywood’s biggest power couple annually adds another multicultural urchin to their bounteous breed) lends a crucial emotional component to the apocalyptic Waterworldliness. Risso’s stark landscapes and exaggerated figures are shaded largely in black and various shades of red and brown, creating a ruined Earth that looks as alien as Mars. Heavy use of angled perspectives hint at the perpetual unsteadiness of life at sea, but along with that slang and occasionally cluttered layouts it can occasionally obscure the story. Spaceman is an uncharacteristic aside for a team best known for noir mysteries, but despite the sci-fi trappings it’s easily as gritty as 100 Bullets. (GM)
Top Shelf, 2012
Diana Thung’s atmospheric graphic novel August Moon does an admirable job of continuing the ages-old war between Pagan animal gods with absurdly spherical bodies and guys in suits bent on turning every forest into an extension of Detroit. The character designs, plotting and soul of the book owe a great debt to Studio Ghibli (which Thung fully acknowledges), retaining the awe and wonder of imaginative masterworks like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. The plot follows Fiona, a lovable scamp with oversized hipster headphones who visits her deceased mother’s birth island Calico, a supernatural haven whose dead float around as bioluminescent orbs carried by plush cartoon critters. Fiona soon witnesses a group of corporate ape men attempt to suck up the forest with vacuum-mounted cars, only to be stopped by a vagrant street urchin with mad parkour skills. While the details are wonderfully realized, the broad strokes are left intentionally vague, leaving the audience to feel much like the children wandering into a surreal future brimming with intrigue and mystery. Once it catches its rhythm, August Moon is a charming storybook for all ages. The caveats are luckily few: The storytelling occasionally fails to establish a flow between establishing shots and detail and some of the violence betrays the whimsical tone of the narrative. But ultimately, August Moon is a winsome slice of escapist reading primed to combat winter cabin fever. (SE)
BOOM! Studios, 2012
When you’re best known for a groundbreaking graphic novel that addresses important social issues (Stuck Rubber Baby, which chronicles the gay rights movement through intelligent autobiography), it’s understandable that your goofier work might be overshadowed. Much like Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, which certainly has plenty of levity, is much less well known than her outstanding Fun Home, Howard Cruse’s beginnings in college newspaper strips and silly alternative comics have fallen by the wayside. This nice little collection from BOOM! should remedy that a bit, and what’s notable is how well it all fits together. Cruse’s style, all exaggerated curves and stippling, reminiscent of R. Crumb’s work, always seemed a little caricaturish for his more serious subject matter, and these pages get to show its evolution over time and its application to strips more focused on jokes. Some fall flat, and the drug humor is pretty dated, but a surprising number retain some charm and Cruse’s meditations on art remain astute and relevant. (HB)
Collecting the first five issues of what Image has promoted as “Watchmen for the Kick-Ass generation,” this volume has ample time to establish the series’ strengths and its considerable weaknesses. The premise is a smart one, and it’s just getting started: young Benjamin Day, whose father was rescued by superheroes during the Gulf War, an event that changed life as we know it, encounters three mysterious ladies from an alternate universe who inform him that he’s been assassinated not only in their home world but in pretty much every other one out there. That’s a bit of a mouthful, and there are a lot of other things going on, an origin story being unfolded slowly foremost among them. Keatinge can be abrupt in his transitions, the dialogue is a bit adolescent, and he relies too much on violence, to the point where the reader becomes bored with it, but the bigger weakness is with Szymanowicz’s art, which focuses on awkwardly rendered breasts and hindquarters (female and male) to the detriment of everything else. The coloring is ugly in the standard digital way, and the characters all have the same kind of doe eyes and pillowy lips. Hell Yeah may improve with its no doubt inevitable cinematic adaptation, and it’s certainly readable, but it would do better to take a step back toward realism. (HB)