Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Dark Horse, 2011
Team-ups tend to follow a reliable cookie cutter formula used since the Golden Age: two heroes are duped by a baddie into fighting each other until they experience a shared ‘ah-ha’ moment that leads to an impromptu partnership. Fan service in every way, it’s not the worst of set ups. After all, we get to see which hero would win in a cage match and the testosterone fireworks when they combine their haymakers to send an anonymous punching bag into off-panel heaven. Anything deeper belongs in an Ayn Rand thesis. Dark Horse’ specialization in supernatural brawlers makes these books a nobrainer, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise to see burnout investigator Cal McDonald crossing paths with Depression-era strongman The Goon. Any real fun between this cross-breed is going to come from the characters, which the Goon admittedly has a lot more of. Aside from the fisticuffs, the dialogue is where this one-shot shines through the most, as seen through gems like this:
McDonald: Check it, The Little Rascals did steroids like Carrot Top.
Goon: Nobody talks sass about the “our gang” comedies of Hal Roach!!
Writing aside, Christopher Mitten has the unenviable job of drawing characters that have fallen under the hyperstylized pens of artists like Eric Powell and Ben Templesmith. Instead of trying to ape either, Mitten sticks to his own angular instinct. While the storytelling isn’t always clear during the action sequences, his layouts are dynamic while the details retain a heavily-shaded finesse typical of Marcelo Frusin or Mike Mignola. The result is a spirited super play date with a twist ending that hints at even more cross-label mayhem in the coming months.(SE)
Remember what I said last week about Franco-Belgian comics? Like that Gil Jordan volume I reviewed, Sibyl-Anne vs. Ratticus is the American debut of a strip originally serialized in the middle part of the 20th century (this time the 1960s). It’s in the thin, oversized album format common to Franco-Belgian comics and familiar to anybody who’s ever read any of Tintin’s adventures. Instead of the derring-do and detective instinct of Tintin or Jordan, though, Raymond Macherot’s Sibyl-Anne series (known as Sibylline in Europe) focuses on funny talking animals. Sibyl-Anne is a young mouse with Laura Petrie hair and a string of white pearls living in a chummy country village with her fiance Boomer and various other animals. Their bucolic splendor is upended by Ratticus, a bullying castle rat fallen on hard times intent on stealing the village’s food. Macherot’s animals are cute and full of character, from the porcupine sheriff to the cigar-smoking, shop-keeping bird. Visually they resemble Walt Kelly’s Pogo, with backgrounds that will look familiar to anybody who ever watched The Smurfs cartoon. (Indeed, the butler who drives Ratticus out of the castle in the first page looks almost exactly like Peyo’s Gargamel.) There might be more slapstick than the average post-elementary school reader can appreciate, but the adorable art, amiable characters, and a thrilling late-story air battle will keep you interested until the end. Best of all are the brief glimpses at domestic country mouse mundanity, like Sibyl-Anne’s love for baking pies and the aside where she and Boomer talk about how nice a certain table and its parasol are. (GM)
Drawn + Quarterly, 2011
Usually, self-awareness grows as one ages, but Pascal Girard has an amount disproportionate to his years. The Canadian cartoonist isn’t 30 yet, and he hasn’t been doing comics for that long, and yet Reunion is one long, hilarious, semi-autobiographical howl of pain at the ways in which we delude ourselves. High school reunions apparently aren’t that different in Canada, just smaller and more Canadian, and Pascal’s agonizing over whether to go to his, desperate (and successful!) attempts at last-minute weight loss, and obsessive Facebook stalking of his former classmates are very familiar. Sometimes his serious case of foot-in-mouth disease is almost too excruciating to keep reading about, but we press on anyway, horrified and fascinated as he alienates yet another friend, acquaintance, or stranger. Like the work of Joe Matt and Joe Ollman, fellow D&Q artists, Girard’s tale goes deep into venality without making the protagonist so off-putting we stop reading. Instead, we recognize our own baser instincts and resolve to let our superegos have a bit more control in future. (HB)
The idea behind Sean O’Reilly and Kevin Hanna’s YA graphic novel (steampunk robot girl meets mutant wolfboy in a star-crossed-lovers situation) is a good one, which is why it’s such a shame the execution fails it throughout. Originally published in six issues a few years ago and newly reprinted as a collection by HarperCollins, it’s also scheduled to be released in an animated 3-D film version, which might end up making better use of the concept. As a comic, the pacing is weird, the art often unattractive, the coloring a textbook example of what not to do (with deliberately computer-smudged backgrounds). It reads more like custom publishing than a real, professional comic. The names are clever (Tesla’s robot brother T-Bolt sounds like Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet), and the actual events of the plot aren’t bad — they just need some work. Panel after panel of tree-climbing, for example, gets old in a hurry, and the tone flutters from kid-oriented comedy to serious Mary Shelley-esque musings on the relationship between technology and nature. I’d wait for the movie. (HB)
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