Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (2/16/11)

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Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (2/16/11)

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


Unlovable: The Complete Collection, by Esther Pearl Watson
(Fantagraphics, 2010)
Rating: 7.0

Containing both volumes 1 and 2 of Esther Pearl Watson’s loose interpretation of a teenage girl’s diary she found in a restroom while on a cross-country road trip, this box set is a quick read considering its heft (more than 800 pages). At one panel per page, with the occasional two-page spread, Watson’s Lynda Barry-esque images get a lot of room to get in your face. If your sense of humor is still intolerant of situations in which people embarrass themselves, whether or not they’re conscious of that embarrassment, Unlovable is pretty much your nightmare. But if you’re old enough not to care about remembering when you wanted to be cool, you’re its target audience and probably the right generation to get its references to the 1980s, down to its main character’s Lisa Frank-style drawings. If there are flaws to point to here, they are: 1) that no one could possibly be as clueless and as unintentionally revelatory of that cluelessness as Tammy Pierce (i.e., that there’s too much authorial interpretation here), and 2) that, like any diary, it’s not particularly structured but instead consists of one damn thing after another (i.e., that there’s not enough shaping). That may well mean Watson’s hit the mark just right. (HB)

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Scenes From an Impending Marriage, by Adrian Tomine
(Drawn & Quarterly, 2011)
Rating: 7.5

Our original plan for this tiny little book was to ship it down to Georgia and let Hillary tackle it. Pretty much every reaction I’ve ever had to Tomine has been adverse, and it seemed best for everyone involved to let a more receptive reader write this review. But one morning I was waiting around for a workman to show up and I started flipping through these pages. A half-hour later I was at the end and wishing it was a little bit longer. Scenes From an Impending Marriage is very slight, in both breadth and ambition. “Funny” is too strong a word, but it’s definitely humorous and charmingly low-key. Its observations will be familiar to anybody who’s ever planned a wedding before, from guest list wrangling to DJ hassles to the odd excitement of setting up your gift registry. Tomine occasionally strays into the anxious and insufferable voice of his fictional characters, but his wife cuts through the petulance, and the joke’s usually on him, anyway. Scenes From an Impending Marriage shows that Tomine is capable of enjoyable work when he lightens up and drops the cynicism and teenage sulk of Optic Nerve. (GM)

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Love from the Shadows, by Gilbert Hernandez
(Fantagraphics, 2011)
Rating: 4.8

If you’ve heard a lot about the Hernandez brothers and are looking for the ideal project to experience their work, please, please, don’t buy this book. For one thing, Jaime’s stuff is a bit easier to start out with than Gilbert’s. It’s more grounded, less aggressive and violent, and even its bosoms are less inflated. Love from the Shadows is weird even for Gilbert, who always seems to draw on the id more than his brother. That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, but you should know that Beto is capable of well-structured narrative before you dip a toe into this brief but miasmatic stew of gazongas, sex change, murder, unrequited love, and family soap opera. Fantagraphics is marketing the book as pulp, which is a smart move, but it should remind you that, while the aesthetics and politics of pulp fiction and film are often fun to talk about, a great deal of their content isn’t very good. Check out Hernandez’s Speak of the Devil if you’re looking for this kind of thing done better. (HB)

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Power Man and Iron Fist #1, by Fred Van Lente and Wellinton Alves
(Marvel, 2011)
Rating 7.5

We’re running a romance theme this week, what with Valentine’s and all, and for the final review we’re tackling one of the greatest platonic romances in superhero comics. There aren’t many genuine partnerships between superheroes, where two friends and equals work together for years without a sidekick in sight – oh wait, this is a new Power Man, not Luke Cage? And he’s a teenager learning how to fight alongside long-time Iron Fist Danny Rand? Okay, scratch all that. Here’s another master-apprentice relationship between a wizened pro and a headstrong young man realizing the depths of his power. Totally shopworn stuff here, but at least it’s written by Fred Van Lente, who’s put in years of work on a similar dynamic over in the great Incredible Hercules, and who writes some of the more amiable superhero comics of the moment. Van Lente is legitimately funny and capable of writing in the spirit of classic superhero action without losing sight of character or contemporary storytelling techniques. This young Power Man might be a little too much like every brand new impulsive teenage superhero ever, but Van Lente’s humor and believable dialogue pulls the character out of its generic shell. (GM)