Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
I can’t even fathom what Jeff Lemire’s pitch for the new Animal Man must have been, but I’m guessing it went something like this:
Lemire: So, I’m thinking of having zoologically empowered everyman Buddy Baker bleed profusely through his orifices before fleeing to a nether realm of human flesh with his 10-year-old daughter. And I want towering parasitic bad guys with perpetually contorting appendages to burrow and then burst through their victims like a nauseous Gallagher joke gone very wrong. If David Cronenberg or Clive Barker saw what I had percolating in my head, they’d vomit for hours. Let’s do this.
DC Editor: Ummm. How about a team-up with Aquaman to talk about conservation? It’s a shared universe!
Lemire: Or how about Baker joins up with Swamp Thing to fight the metaphysical incarnation of decay? You let Morrison sew up the eyes of baby Orangutans during his run. Consider this a compromise.
DC Editor: Sigh. Ok.
In all honesty, Animal Man ranks as one of the top three best books to emerge from the New 52. Lemire runs with Alan Moore’s Parliament of Trees concept from Swamp Thing and expands it into the realm of visceral, organic life with the Parliament of Limbs. The development gives Baker, a once-tame hero with the power of every animal, a whole new world of story potential to explore. This first collection also features the haunting, hyper-detailed art of Travel Foreman. The seminal penciller recently left the title after he found the content too disturbing in light of personal events, but his sinewy anatomy and twisted backgrounds made him a perfect fit. This book is a harrowing, original experiment in modern horror with a metric ton of intrigue. At $15, there’s no reason to not check out this collection of the first six issues. (SE)
Dark Horse, 2012
If I tell you that, within the very first issue contained in this first volume of the collected precode crime thriller comic Crime Does Not Pay, both a dog and a baby get offed, without so much as a bit of weeping and wailing, you’ll know what you’re in for. Sure, much of the real violence takes place off-screen as it were. This isn’t Peckinpah. But it’s impressively lurid all the same, with a fabulous cover that shows a one-bit criminal pushing his dame’s head into the very much lit burner of a stove. You’re not really that surprised Fred Wertham and his buddies were appalled. It’s just titillation, though. As with Fantagraphics’ recent compilation of romance comics, the stories are generally compelling and well written, and in this case the art really gets a chance to shine. Yes, all the criminals come to a bad end, just as most of the romance stories end in happiness and/or a wedding, but what happens in between is often full of vibrant life and creativity. (HB)
Newly translated, this biography comic of one of the most famous muses in the history of art won the grand prize at Angouleme when it came out originally. But it’s not up to the same level as many of the other winners, including Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem. That’s not to say it’s not good or readable or interesting material, but it fails to enrapture completely. Kiki’s carrying on with half of Paris’s bohemians in the early part of the 20th century is intriguing as an insight into that fertile artistic era, and her character is worthy of attention, full of contradiction and desirous to live by her own rules. What fails the book is the sense that, rather than a larger narrative, it seems to be relating one thing after the other, an easy pitfall of biography. It’s hard to keep all her different lovers straight, and exposition can drag at times and be missing at others when it would be helpful. Still, if you want to know more about the time, especially from the perspective of a woman, it’s worth a read. (HB)
DC Comics, 2012
Sleep well, OMAC. DC’s first wave of New 52 cancellations took effect in April, and new series will debut throughout May. Don’t get too attached to the three characters on the cover of Earth 2 #1, though (Rating: 5.0). James Robinson’s alternate world boondoggle starts with Earth 2’s Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman dying to save their world from Apokolips. This isn’t the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-Two, where DC’s Golden Age heroes grew old, but another parallel world where World War II era Justice Society founders like Alan Scott, Jay Garrick and Al Pratt don’t become superheroes until after the big three are long gone. Earth 2 flies from unmoving carnage to brief and forgettable introductions of the not-yet-superpowered nouveau Golden Age Green Lantern and Flash. Backstory is important but Earth 2’s split between what was and what will be is unevenly structured, leading to an awkward first issue.
Worlds’ Finest: Huntress and Power Girl (Rating: 5.0) embraces the convoluted histories of its heroines, who have each had multiple origins over the years. All you need to know is that they’re basically just distaff versions of Batman and Superman from Earth 2. Levitz’s bantery, flashback-happy story fills in the basic details ably enough, but neither the plot nor characters are particularly compelling. It’d also look a lot nicer if Kevin Maguire didn’t have to split the art chores with George Perez, whose cramped panels and lifeless faces disappoint next to Maguire’s cleaner, more striking work. At least Power Girl no longer has the power of exposed cleavage, although they waste no time burning her cocktail dress into a rag that conveniently only covers her premium cable parts. (GM)