Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (6/27/12)

Books Reviews
Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (6/27/12)

Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.

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Crogan’s Loyalty
by Chris Schweizer

Oni Press, 2012
Rating: 8.0

With his third Crogan book (the series chronicles different adventures inspired by a fictional family tree, a jumping off point for historical graphic novels), Chris Schweizer takes another big step forward. Crogan’s Loyalty takes the Revolutionary War as its setting, but it’s one of the subtlest and most intelligent takes on the era I’ve ever read or seen. One Crogan brother remains loyal to the English Crown, and the other has thrown in with the American revolutionaries, but the conflict isn’t black and white at all. In fact, your sympathies may lie with the loyalist more than the rebel. Schweizer throws in plenty of period detail without pointing to it with giant arrows, and his dialogue is appropriate to the time frame as well. The narrative keeps things moving, and even if you’re not interested in the history, there’s much to hold your attention, including plenty of action. His style as an artist remains a little at odds with the material, rendering everything with a cartoony, caricatured look that doesn’t match the nuance of his stories and characters (especially when people are getting seriously injured or charged with treason), but it’s distinctive and chances are it’ll attract more people than straight-up realism. (HB)

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Fatima: The Blood Spinners #1
by Gilbert Hernandez

Dark Horse, 2012
Rating: 7.2

Gilbert “Beto” Hernandez is less known for sci-fi than his brother Jaime, but it’s not a stretch to imagine his take on it. The Love and Rockets icon sports classic pencils and soap opera sensibilities that snugly fit into the B-Movie template of femme fatales locked in creature feature battle. Fatima plays up these strengths with the introduction of its titular heroine, a government agent who dual wields guns and eyeliner in her fight against drug addict zombies. Barbarella would be jealous. The zombie logic deviates from the typical virus trope, relying instead on an addictive drug called Spin that mutates its users into bloodthirsty corpses following a euphoric high. After Fatima discovers thirty tons of the contraband poised to enter her city, she and her jock-strapped squad attempt to foil the sale through invisibility cloaks and double agents. The content is loaded with an odd visual irony, with Hernandez’ clean Silver Age aesthetic melted with scenes of kinetic graphic violence. The closest hypothetical example would be George Romero directing an Archie movie produced by Andy Warhol. The inclusion of the secret agent climax only solidifies the sixties timbre, if only for the sleazy drug dealer named Puggy Bittermeat. This first issue seems content to play in a baby pool of genre conventions, but the last panel alludes to a more emotional base in future stories. Either way, Fatima is another cool, quirky product from one of the most stylish artists on the market. (SE)

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Batman: Death by Design
by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor

DC Comics, 2012
Rating: 6.5

Graphic designer Chip Kidd has done a few odd jobs for DC over the last few years, designing the trade dress for Final Crisis and other books and writing a short story that Alex Ross painted. With Death by Design he can now add “graphic novelist” to his multifaceted resume. This 100-page Batman story could easily be derided as fan fiction (there’s even a pivotal character who looks conspicuously like Kidd; he’s a genius inventor and Bruce Wayne analogue with an abiding love for architecture). Kidd is probably ecstatic to write his own personal interests into a Batman comic, but the heavy emphasis on architecture and industrial design provides a voice and point of view unusual for the character. Yes, there have been multiple stories recently about how integral the Wayne family has been to the history and skyline of Gotham, but in Death by Design architecture isn’t just a framework for a superhero fight but an absolutely vital narrative element. Kidd’s story is a bit rushed, with dialogue that’s a little too expository and not snappy enough, and characters that hew too closely to well-worn stereotypes. Still, for a first time effort Death by Design is certainly commendable. It helps to be assisted by a pro as solid as Dave Taylor, whose largely black and white artwork reinforces the mid-century cinematic feel of Kidd’s story. (GM)

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by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari

First Second, 2012
Rating: 5.4

Experiments like this one, in which a screenwriter tries to make the leap to comics, often fail, but in the process they illuminate the differences among media. Some will tell you that page after page of blurry battle makes for an exciting book, but you can get away with that kind of action-centric perspective much better in film, which prioritizes visuals above dialogue. In comics, if you’re older than, say, 15, you want a little more in the way of dialogue. Infurnari has a nice line, but his characters in this telling of the origin of the marathon too often resemble one another, which makes it all the more difficult to figure out what’s going on in a given scene, and he seems to be handicapped by the absence of text. It’s as though the scipt just says, “they fight.” Don’t know how the story ends? You may not be able to figure out it from reading this book. In comparison with Chris Schweizer’s subtle evocations of the spectrum of political discourse in Crogan’s Loyalty, Marathon suffers. It’s a bit shouty and its characters broadly sketched, but it’s still an improvement over the usual Frank Miller-type nonsense the era has had to suffer. (HB)

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