Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
DC Comics, 2012
I wanted to eulogize all the good DC comics that ended prematurely due to the New 52 relaunch in this review, but Batman Inc. has returned and Nick Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is wrapping up as a miniseries, and that’s two out of the three. The other mainline DC series I read over the first half of 2011 was Xombi, which was starting to run out of steam by its sixth and final issue anyway. In hindsight it’s a little silly to criticize that introductory arc for being too long since it wound up being the book’s only arc. Between Frazer Irving’s macabre artwork and John Rozum’s story about secret societies, ancient religious conspiracies and mystical castles in the sky, this revival of an obscure Milestone character nicely presaged the Vertigo-esque superheroics of New 52 faves Animal Man and Swamp Thing. It could’ve fallen under either banner, although David Kim, the nanotech-enhanced unkillable hero of the title, is probably too polite and well-behaved of a lead for a Vertigo book. The surprisingly human core at its center grounds Xombi and adds depth to its pulpy sci-fi fantasy. This particular story could’ve wrapped up in four issues instead of six, but it’s a shame that all of Rozum and Irving’s Xombi can fit in a single slim trade. (GM)
Archaia Entertainment, 2012
Reading Spera, a planned series of graphic novels written by Josh Tierney and drawn by a wide variety of artists (switching off each chapter) is a disorienting experience. The material isn’t particularly strange, drawing on a variety of fantasy influences, but the way it’s paced and the lack of time devoted to exposition makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into the middle of something. In fact, you kind of have. Tierney started the project online, and this volume seems like an attempt to bring the world he’s created to a wider audience. At times, it resembles the experience of a Japanese-adapted role-playing video game, with nature spirits popping up here and there, a lot of unexplained and possibly inexplicable occurrences, interesting but again not explicitly explored variations on traditional gender roles and the like. What saves it is Tierney’s fertile imagination and, even more so, the wonderful range of artists on the project. Usually, collaborations of this type feature a couple of good contributions at most, but the nine different artists here each come up with something pleasurable to look at. Even if Spera only ends up as a visual showcase, it’s a nice one. (HB)
It‘s not unreasonable to think that fairy tales will be the next supernatural meme to overtake pop culture. Vampires have overstayed their unholy welcome and zombies are gradually shuffling away from the public eye, but the past year witnessed a cache of old world European legends jump from storybook page to primetime spotlight. Ex-Angel showrunner David Greenwalt takes a turn for the Grimm every week on NBC while Fables, er Once Upon A Time transports the public folklore domain to modern day ABC. Also in the works: two revisionist Snow White movies released within three months of each other and future Oscar bait Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. With all this fanciful fuss, it didn’t take a magic mirror to tell Image to reprint their rollicking, irrelevant anthology Fractured Fables, a collection of 30 fairy tales skewered by the likes of Jill Thompson, Ben Templesmith, Terry Moore and Peter David. Most of these entries work as quirky, expendable 5-page jokes perfect for derelict attention spans and bathroom breaks. A global warming newscast by Santa and his Elves is especially delightful as is Moore’s ribald take on the The Frog Prince. Not all of the contributions are pure gold, and the art rages from painterly to rushed, but nobody with a sense of humor will find this collection without charm. It’s at least the funniest offering from the genre since last year’s Red Riding Hood. (SE)
Considering Ernie Colón’s lengthy career and the variety of books he’s worked on (“Casper,” “Richie Rich,” “Vampirella,” “Creepy,” “The 9/11 Report”), it’s a surprise and a disappointment how inconsistent the art is in his adaptation of a handful of stories from the horror radio show Inner Sanctum. The stories are hit and miss, which is par for the course in the genre. Just think of how many fail in any horror anthology format, whether it be comics, movie or TV show. It’s tough to write a good, scary, short story with a solid twist at the end. A couple of these succeed to some extent, and most of them are at least weird, but much of the drawing is awkward. It’s not so much that anatomy is an issue and more that layout and placement of dialogue balloons make it genuinely difficult to parse the actual events. Some pages seem to have been both composed and laid out on a computer by someone in a hurry. Colón’s passion for the material is evident in his brief essay that also appears in the book but much less so in its pages that combine words and pictures. (HB)