Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Ever since the debut of his short story collection Voodoo Heart, Scott Snyder has proven himself to be the flaming unicorn of modern fiction, balancing searing creativity and disciplined craftsmanship with academic finesse. No writer has weaved foreshadowing and plot threads together with dynamite precision since DC’s British Invasion of the 80s. The latest feather in Snyder’s cap is his Court of Owls event running through the Batman Universe, introduced in the first seven issues of the relaunched Batman series. The bad guys are a centuries-old Freemasonish group who command an army of reanimated super assassins. While Bruce Wayne’s no stranger to clandestine cults (Morrison only wrapped his Black Glove epic a few years ago), this new threat is especially ominous. Aside from flexing some sociopathic bad guy muscle, the Court has built its operations into the heart of Gotham City for hundreds of years, including a bleached marble maze in the center of the metropolis where Batman completely loses his shit. It’s a bold redirection of geography etched into modern mythology, warping a fictional institution into a booby-trapped funhouse. As audacious as this retcon is, it’s a tad hard to swallow for the same reasons. For example, the reason for the villainous group’s emergence revolves around Wayne’s plans to gentrify the city. So there have been national wars and economic crisis, but the best way to get the man to crawl out from behind the curtain is to revitalize some slums? And wouldn’t the billionaire with the million dollar communications systems notice the aviary iconography covering his city? It’s best to suspend these thoughts, though, as this is one of the Caped Crusader’s most cinematic, atmospheric outings in recent memory. (SE)
First Second, 2012
Detailing the early years of the Fab Four, when they were the not-so-fab five, playing a dive in Hamburg, Baby’s in Black focuses on the story already detailed in Iain Softley’s film Backbeat—that is, the love story between Stuart Sutcliffe, at that time the group’s bass player, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer. It’s a gentler book than the film, although it comes at the narrative from a different perspective, giving significantly more attention to Kirchherr than to the band’s evolution and relationships. It’s also not as strong a work of art. The images are good at conveying mood, but distinguishing among John, Paul, George, Pete and Stuart is nearly impossible, which can make it difficult to determine the importance of a scene. The atmosphere captures to some extent the excitement of the era and the new sound, but Sutcliffe seems to undergo very little in the way of struggle between his role in the band and his desire to pursue fine art as a vocation. Consider Baby’s in Black a supplement rather than a first-line source, and you’ll enjoy it. (HB)
Boom! Studios, 2012
According to the biography at the end of Space Ducks, Daniel Johnston always wanted to be a comic book creator, much more so than he wanted to pursue a musical career. But, to quote Keith and Mick, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might find you get what you need.” That’s not to say the book isn’t interesting in its own right, but it makes Fletcher Hank’s narratives look coherent and well thought out. The art is compelling, as Johnston’s drawings always are, full of color and displaying the workings of an interesting creative mind. The dialogue is a weird mix of slang, obsessions, and occasionally rhymed couplets that could function as song lyrics. What story there is concerns the exploits of the space ducks as they defend Earth from Satan, but it’s more like 100 pages of collected art addressing the same subject rather than an actual comic book, like Henry Darger’s work minus the accompanying novel. This is for fans and art aficionados, not readers. (HB)
Image Comics, 2012
I am not the most confident of men. For a brief spell in my late teens and early twenties I wore indie rock t-shirts to both advertise my own self-perceived good taste and to hopefully attract the interest of strangers I would otherwise never be comfortable enough to approach. I have cried real tears, and not just at the end of Hoosiers. So yes, I know what the Li’l Depressed Boy is going through. Sadly that doesn’t make me cringe any less at his exploits. The combination of debilitating social anxiety, band name-dropping, and Deschanel-ish dreamgirls named Spike would rankle even without the fantasy summer camp pep-talk from Childish Gambino. I might shake my head at the details, but this story’s basic framework stands firm: Depression hurts, music can help, and you shouldn’t let your fear of what other people might think cripple you. Plus I just like looking at this cute little guy, who’s like a big, roly-poly, off-white Sackboy. (GM)