Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
You have to hand it to Robert Kirkman. Four years after challenging the creative community to abandon licensed properties, Image Comics’ bearded COO has grown his creator-owned zombie apocalypse into a synergy nova that includes a hit TV show, two videogame series and a bottomless pit of merchandise. He’s illustrated his point well. Even more impressive, his long-running horror epic can still twist and shock with acute discomfort one hundred issues in. Specifically: five pages of this entry elicited a physical reaction from me. My stomach churned, my pulse raced and I found it difficult to flip to the next page. It’s that harrowing. And not one zombie is included. While most readers would have expected a dynamic revelation in this centennial issue, Kirkman smartly chooses a different route. We’re finally introduced to the leader of the Saviors who have plagued Rick’s band of zombie-hardened survivors. Without spoiling the surprise, a special tool named Luciell and eight sordid panels plunge this content into the same hyper-violent terrain as Michonne’s torture porn spree and Invincible’s patricidal head butts in Image’s other flagship title. It’s completely unanticipated and shocking, and therein lays its genius: this isn’t a milestone, but a starting point. It’s a plot twist so unnerving that readers will struggle through the next six days that prevent them from resolving this gruesome cliffhanger. It’s a formula the title has employed frequently, but damn it if these characters haven’t made me care enough to raise an eyebrow when the last frame hits like a ton of bricks. Sadistic? Yes. Smart? Mostly. There’s no reason why this tortured road trip won’t ride the pop culture highway for another hundred issues with curves like these. (SE)
Complex, smart and lovely, Bloody Chester is almost one of the year’s best comic books. Unfortunately, it has some failings, too, mostly an ending that arrives with excessive speed and too little in the way of explanation. That doesn’t mean it should have tried to stick around too long and wear out its welcome, but it’s a shame to squander the goodwill built up over the previous pages with a burst of confusion. A bit more time invested in the explication would have left the reader feeling satisfied rather than adrift. Enough complaining. The story of Chester Kates, a.k.a., Bloody Chester, a.k.a., Lady Kate, hired to burn the town of Whale to the ground, is in the tone of the Coen brothers recent remake of True Grit or Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. That is, it aims for what feels like greater realism within the confines of its western genre, mostly in terms of more well-rounded characters than are the norm. Petty is drily funny without undercutting the importance of the actions—it’s not a farce—and Florido’s command of emotion is particularly impressive. There’s much promise here. (HB)
Vertigo Comics, 2012
Jiro isn’t just a chef— he’s a sushi purist. When a BlueTooth-talking jackass dips his sushi into a soy-wasabi slurry, Jiro quickly separates head from shoulders. Food is serious business to Jiro, and also to the rest of Los Angeles in the future dystopia of Anthony Bourdain’s debut graphic novel Get Jiro. Food has become the dominant cultural force, as all other forms of entertainment have died away. LA is bifurcated between the wealthy and everybody else, with a giant wall dividing the healthy, fit and self-satisfied gourmands of the city from the food trucks and overweight fast-food addicts of the “outer ring”. The city is controlled by two warring culinary tribes, one led by a fusion-mad chef/businessman, the other a communal band of organic vegan locavores. Will Jiro, an independent player with top-shelf skills and a mysterious past, align with one of these groups, or remain an outsider? If you’ve read Bourdain’s books or watched his TV show you’ll probably recognize his culinary philosophy within Jiro’s script (which he co-wrote with journalist and writer Joel Rose). He’s opposed to hyped-up bistros and rigid restrictions alike, dismissive of the tastes of the masses but quick to mythologize family-made comfort food from carts and small, out of the way outposts. Mix with a pinch each of Yojimbo and The Wire, a dash of 99% rhetoric, dress with the Darrow-ish art of Langdon Foss, and enjoy a light but filling read. (GM)
Drawn + Quarterly, 2012
Translated from the French-Canadian, this goofy children’s book has an Ikea aesthetic and the heart of something much darker. Like many of the best narratives aimed at young readers, it doesn’t waste any time preaching to its audience. Ricard isn’t interested in lessons, and although some characters get what’s coming to them, that’s as far as it goes. All five of its cast (Anna, Froga the frog, Bubu the dog, Christopher the worm, and Ron the cat) are self-centered, prideful, rude, oblivious, lazy, or gluttonous more often than not, but, as with Larry David’s universe, the results are better this way. Multi-page storylines alternate with two-page spreads rendered in a less flat fashion, but all feature Ricard’s bright primary colors and manage to be cute without being cutesy. They also make sense, which is where she distinguishes herself from Ben Jones, whose work can look similar. Charming and weird, this book should attract a small, fierce following. (HB)