Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Of all the comparisons that might spring to mind to describe this debut graphic novel from two whipsmart and talented women, the most accurate might be the movie Easy A. Both have a somewhat standard cast of high school characters and an adolescent outlook, both feature an intelligent and original female protagonist, and both aren’t too proud to follow relatively predictable narrative lines, which exist in multitude for good reason. While Juno was a bit too writerly in its florid quips, Tina’s Mouth isn’t afraid to be vulgar or dangerous, and yet it has an essential sweetness at its core. Its Indian-American eponymous heroine has an ethnic identity, but it doesn’t overwhelm the book. It does the standard thing of laying out the different high school cliques, but they feel individualized, deriving from the liberal private school these kids attend, rather than the usual taxonomy of jocks, cheerleaders, etc. And that’s a good way to look at the whole picture: Tina’s Mouth results from a singular worldview, shaped by specifics, not lazy generalities, which is what makes it a real pleasure to read and leaves you missing its voice when it concludes. If it has a weakness, it’s that it’s not very panel-oriented, a small flaw in a well-crafted book. (HB)
First Second, 2012
Friends with Boys makes an interesting pair with . It, too, is written and drawn by a woman (in this case, the same one). It takes place in high school and follows the traditional coming-of-age structure. It features conflict between popular kids and outsiders. It has a strong female character at its center. I could go on… In some ways, it’s a stronger book. Hicks’s art is particularly notable. Her girls and boys seem like real people, with sharp edges and slouchy posture that remains balanced. There’s a weight to the way they stand and sit that doesn’t appear often in comics. Its story, too, is sadder and scarier. There’s no sense that everything will work out, and not all of it does. But it’s also less well crafted. Its main character, Maggie, is haunted by a ghost, an element that has been done well in other books (Anya’s Ghost) but here seems like a thematic choice that either should have been played up or removed. The pacing of the story’s events feels a bit off, and the ending arrives abruptly. Still, it’s a smart and interesting book, despite its minor drawbacks, and it has good but not preachy things to say about the need for greater flexibility in gender roles. (HB)
Cartoon Books, 2012
Congratulations, Jeff Smith: you’ve created some of the most disturbing imagery I’ve ever seen in a comic. Or possibly ever.
Even though his art sports an endearing Silver Age sketchiness, Smith’s brainy thrill ride RASL occasionally feels like a nightmare glossary co-authored by David Cronenberg. Previous issues saw men fatally bisected by ship hulls, but this latest gem will fill up your therapist’s dance card with shots of a town’s multiple realities collapsing upon itself. Painfully. These portraits of visceral chaos aren’t for the sake of shock: Smith’s kicking down the dominoes he’s assembled since the beginning, and while I’ve always enjoyed this series for its attitude and atmosphere, the plot is starting to pay off in major ways. The latest chapter sees ex-government scientist Rob enter a Mexican standoff where he points a self-destructing physics lab at his former co-workers who have just indulged in some crimes against science. The initial dimension-hopping, art-thief adventures bled cross-genre cool, but this last arc gives its anti-hero imperative purpose as he tries to bottle the hellish Tesla technology he co-created. If you were on the fence or weaned off this book, now’s the time to give it another chance. RASL is entering a new era of searing action and subversive sci-fi that’s more fun than the movies. (SE)
Boom! Studios, 2012
I’ve read good things about Mark Waid’s Incorruptible, but I’ve never actually read it. This month’s issue kicks off a new story (perhaps its last, as it’s apparently ending in May) and is pitched as a good jumping on point for new readers, so let’s take a look. Incorruptible spun out from Irredeemable, Waid’s other superhero book for Boom!, and its setup is just as high concept. Irredeemable is about a Superman-style alien superhero who turns evil and starts destroying the Earth, and Incorruptible is about his human criminal archenemy who decides to reform and protect his fellow man from this mad alien god. Max Damage is the human’s name, and he barely appears in this issue. Instead it focuses on his police commissioner friend, who struggles to maintain order in a lawless city within a world that’s apparently fallen apart. The final pages will probably shock longtime readers of the book, but as somebody with no connection to the characters or this world I didn’t have any particular reaction. Waid, who shows off his mastery of the traditional comic form every month in Marvel’s Daredevil, tries to quickly establish the city of Coalville, how its law enforcement and criminal kingpin work together and how the conflict between “hangers” who hang on to their old lives and jobs and a biker gang dedicated to preying upon them complicates daily life, while also introducing the threat of a roving cloud of nuclear fallout. Mostly though it’s a character driven drama starring a character I know nothing about. It’s hard to care, but this issue is well-written enough to make me consider reading the trade paperback collections from the start. Takara’s sketchy art almost dissuades me, though; either he had to rush to make his deadline or he’s not particular good at coherent action or storytelling. (GM)