Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Rick Geary has made a career over the past 15 years out of focusing on historic murder. He researches diligently, then lays out the facts and theories with maps, diagrams, and deadpan narration, easily sucking in the true-crime buff. The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti is one of the less gruesome entries in his treasuries of 19th- and 20th-century murder, but it will fill in a lot of details in this case you probably only vaguely remember from your 10th-grade American history class. Really, Geary’s books should be required reading at that age. They demonstrate fair-mindedness and thorough research in action, as he lays out all theories with equal emphasis, and they help you recall events much better than a dry paragraph in a textbook, with Geary’s eye for context and details. Did Sacco and Vanzetti do it? Well, probably not. Or maybe not. The point, as ever, is the unknowability of so much in life, but being unable to firmly grasp the facts is no reason not to pursue them. (HB)
The last few years of the X-Men have felt weirdly contradictory to the point of a super-powered team of misfits. To recap, team leader Cyclops retreated to a rock off the coast of San Francisco with the entire mutant population, which is a bit like moving to California and then moving to California again. From there, the team has faced gene-harvesting monsters, warlord aliens and faulty plumbing. The metaphysics of the X have always revolved around confronting the complacent mainstream with the dangerous and the new. These Kevlar-wearing militants are the 2-dimensional analogues for every subversive idea that threatens the establishment, so a few years of Pacific Coast seclusion has felt oddly out of character. Luckily Jason Aaron (Scalped) is ready to shake up the status quo, which is what this group of feared freaks should be doing every month. After a punk-rockin’ mutate named Quentin Quire brainwashes the UN Council into publicly confessing their darkest secrets, every nation on earth is putting the mutant race on the defensive with giant robots. Even cooler? Cyclops wants to harbor the pink-haired villain as a refugee while Wolverine wants to do what he does best, leading to a divide that will apparently split the team in two. Aaron takes out the breaks with blockbuster action and snappy characterization. He deserves this title alone for a panel where a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caricature laments that the X-men have “sent their women here, just to humiliate us,” to which the sassy Kitty Pryde replies, “Did I happen to mention that I’m also Jewish?” These are the effortlessly cool, fearless rebels that deserve to be hung on the wall of every black sheep teenager, and they’ve never felt more like themselves. (SE)
Scott Snyder has been building a name for himself by crafting slow-burn, steamy genre mysteries with American Vampire and Detective Comics, showing a strong taste for the gothic underbelly of history. Severed, his new sepia-toned horror book with co-author Scott Tuft, finds the upcoming scribe in comfortable territory. The story follows Jack Garron, a lovable scamp who runs away from home to follow his dream of being a wandering street musician. Elsewhere, a gentleman with…suspect dentistry takes a young orphan to an abandoned farmhouse for sinister reasons hinted at in the issue’s cliffhanger. The aesthetic from this terse introduction overflows with retro creepyness, coupled with a heavy dose of nostalgic Americana. The one thing it strategically lacks is exploitive gross outs. As the authors have stated, this series is in it for the long haul; careening plot twists and viscera are second to mood and character. It’s much too soon to make any lasting judgements about a gradual, generation-spanning project like Severed, but the ingredients laid out in this introduction point to a sophisticated, unique horror epic well worth the investment. (SE)
The strangest thing about this book, a compilation of mostly three-panel strips by the Belgian cartoonist Nix, isn’t how shocking its content is (it thinks it’s more outrageous than it is), but how lovely the book itself is as an object. Covered in foil, with big googly eyes for both characters peeking through a die-cut in the cover, and rendered in excellent process color on uncoated sheets, it’s as much a demonstration of printing and binding techniques as a collection of humor. Nix goes out of his way to advertise the book’s adult content, and it’s definitely not for kids (despite a section of games at the end that involve matching, mazes, etc.), but, like Garth Ennis at his most flamboyant, some of it can’t help but fall flat. It’s deliberately bratty, but you know what’s eventually annoying? Brats. Luckily, plenty of the strips are amusing, with solid set-up and pay-off for quickly delivered gags. Others are merely surreal, in the way that causes you to wonder if you’re not getting something because you’re an American. The look is pretty great: simplified, easily recognizable, cartoony characters who interact in a colorful, well-thought-out universe. (HB)
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