Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (5/11/11)

Books Reviews
Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (5/11/11)

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


Chester 5000 by Jess Fink
Top Shelf 2011
Rating: 7.2

I imagine most of you will quit reading as soon as you get to the words “robot porn”—and it’s true that your opinion of those nine letters will pretty much determine whether you’re interested in Jess Fink’s book or not—but let me append eight more: “charming.” Yes, most of its pages are taken up with acrobatic copulation between woman and machine, and you probably shouldn’t leave this book where your kids can find it, but like the works produced during the high point of the adult film industry, Chester 5000 has both a narrative and a heart. Fink’s nearly wordless pages (the only text is that resulting from sound effects) provide plenty of wank fodder, sure, but they also spell out a gentle, subtle argument for sex before marriage, lest you find yourself with an incompatible partner, as well as the importance of regular boinking to one’s general happiness. The art is fluid and cute, and while the narrative is understandably a bit limited, it is beautifully and clearly conveyed. (HB)


Hellboy: Being Human by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben
Dark Horse Comics 2011
Rating: 6.3

Hellboy, a demon raised by humans who regularly saves man from supernatural threats, has always been a twist on the Thing’s “this man, this monster” duality. Hellboy’s a monster who thinks like a man, while Ben Grimm’s a man trapped in a monster’s body. Roger the Homunculus, one of the many paranormal entities that populate the Hellboy universe, exists to contrasts Hellboy’s humanity. Here’s a man-made man comprised of herbs and blood and propped up by electricity who, in this one-shot set in 2000, mopes around an abandoned manor in South Carolina complaining about his artificial nature. It takes Hellboy, a guy who knows a little bit about what Roger is going through, and the sordid past of a Faulknerian family of horrible undead louts for Roger to realize he’s maybe more human than he thought. Being Human is a minor footnote to Mignola’s BPRD universe, developing a side character by plowing the well-tilled soil of post-Civil War Southern race relations to hammer home how man is just all shades of awful. Richard Corben’s macabre artwork nicely evokes the physical and moral decay of the Old South, and Mignola’s story is well-told, but Being Human will work better as a side-note in a BPRD collection than as its own stand-alone comic. (GM)


Moon Knight #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Marvel Comics 2011
Rating: 6.1

Moon Knight #1 is a perfectly capable super hero yarn. It features an intriguing protagonist with a wicked costume design, some blowout fight scenes and more than a few lingering mysteries to warrant a future look. With this in mind, is it wrong to expect more? Contrary to popular belief, Marvel engineer and Moon Knight scribe Brian Bendis can definitely write fluent action, as proven on Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers. I just don’t consider these contributions particularly indicative of the genius the man cultivated in titles like Daredevil and the near-perfect Torso, which excelled in engaging characterization and cinematic dialogue. In the context of a struggling second stringer like Moon Knight (aka mentally-ill Batman), a gothic aesthetic and gritty illustrations don’t quite surpass Bendis and penciler Alex Maleev’s pedigree. One promising point of interest, though, is the character’s diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I don’t fully buy Bendis’ initial portrayal of the condition, though the nature of the disorder is certainly ambiguous and controversial, even in the mental health field. As long as the title’s lunar-endowed ex-mercenary can handle this twist with a degree of respect and realism, it could add a pivotal shade of depth to the ongoing series. (SE)


The Listener by David Lester
Arbeiter Ring 2011
Rating: 2.8

About a third of the way through David Lester’s ambitious graphic novel The Listener, one character says to another “a negative review seems a subtle fear. Maybe it means you are respected enough to be disliked.” Would that such a statement were true, at least from the perspective of the artist. Lester’s idea (parallel the artistic explorations of a young left-wing sculptor with the story she discovers about a pivotal moment in the rise of the Third Reich) is a good one, but the execution here is such that you really have to fight to get through the book at all. He references George Grosz, the German caricaturist who fled to the United States in 1933, and there is something in his smeary, messy black-and-white images that mimics Grosz’s deliberate ugliness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to read. Ovals of machine-set type float over disconnected images. Characters deliver lists of facts rather than talking to one another. Hitler sits on the toilet and screams “Nein!” in rage. There is something interesting here, and plenty of artists/writers, like Rick Geary, manage to deliver this kind theoretically dry historical content in a narratively intelligent manner, but Lester doesn’t seem to be the man for the job. (HB)

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