Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Here starts the “new” DC Universe, created both by the Flash running really fast at the end of Flashpoint #5, and by comic book sales generally flat-lining over the last several months. You’d think it would introduce readers to DC’s new status quo, but Justice League #1 barely attempts that. It takes place entirely “five years ago” and focuses almost exclusively on two members, Batman and Green Lantern, who bicker like an old married couple before almost getting blown up by a minion of Darkseid. There’s a brief aside to a pre-Cyborg Vic Stone and then a smug new Superman appears at the end to continue the hero-on-hero violence. It’s far too early to write anything off, but this feels like business as usual with a few dated cosmetic changes. What DC needed to reboot is how superhero stories are told in the 21st century. For four bucks this comic brings you basically four scenes, with little indication of where the story is headed. The big next issue hook is a fight between Superman and Batman, who I’m pretty sure have fought each other more often than almost any of their villains over the last few decades. It’s an incomplete experience. One of the goals of the reboot is to draw in new or lapsed readers, but it’s hard to see how this self-serious sliver of a story will appeal to anybody who’s lost or never had interest in reading comics on a per-issue basis. (GM)
First Second, 2011
Don’t mess with librarians. That’s the lesson in MK Reed and Jonathan Hill’s new YA-oriented tale of civil liberties challenged and fought for. The stereotype of the mild-mannered shrinking violet has some basis in fact, but if you know any library folk, you know that they are die-hard ACLU people, lovers of John Milton’s “Areopagitica,” and promoters of all sorts of reading. Reed is clearly inspired by the efforts to ban the Harry Potter series in many a small town throughout the United States, and her tale of Americus, Ohio, is a great read for a passionate reader. If you’ve ever been told to get your nose out of a book and stop being antisocial, you’re its audience, even if Reed sneaks in some subtler messages about the need to do exactly that. Hill’s art is lively and cartoony but not childish, drawn with an expressive brush. Most everyone in the story seems perpetually crabby, it’s true, but it’s kind of nice to read a take on the world that’s not all sunshine and extroversion. (HB)
John Constantine has been around for a while. Created by Alan Moore during his tenure on Swamp Thing, the nihilistic mage has been haunting Vertigo’s flagship horror title since 1988. It’s not terribly surprising that marriage has entered the picture now that the book is in its quarter-life lull. Once the destination for gruesome occult twists and ear-curdling profanity, Hellblazer has mellowed in recent years. Settling down with some nuptials is just par for the course now, same as with your retired drinking buddies. Former writers Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Brian Azzarello defined Constantine as a truly charming failure. No matter how much you wanted him to succeed, the British trickster would make the wrong deal with the wrong demon and end up with a dead girlfriend. Bloody Carnations is uncharacteristically upbeat, and it knows it. This trade treads new ground, obsessing over its title character’s elusive happiness and inability to progress until it finally grants its self-destructive lead some relief. The problem is that it’s pretty boring. Constantine recovers from bouts of insanity and corrupting succubi with breezy efficiency, making his alcoholic rants sound more melodramatic than desperate. The DC Universe proper recently adopted most of the Vertigo staples, so one can’t help but wonder if everyone’s favorite supernatural train wreck is being domesticated to hang with the super squares. For the time being, I’ll be waiting for Constantine back in the gutter – right where he belongs. (SE)
First Second, 2011
If Bake Sale weren’t so charmingly hipstery, it might be off-puttingly hipstery, but Sarah Varon’s book is just realistic enough—considering its story concerns a world populated by food items and its protagonist is a cupcake who lives in Brooklyn—to overcome even the hipster’s hatred of hipsters. Varon’s cupcake plays drums in a band, pals around with an eggplant, and runs a bake shop for a living. He dreams of meeting his idol, Turkish Delight, and spends months raising the money to buy a plane ticket to see her, letting many of his other hobbies slip in the meantime. There’s little to the plot, but Varon’s art is sweet and detailed, with little labels for many a background item, and she should be commended for not wrapping everything up perfectly. Sure, it has a happy ending, but things change—we’re not in a sitcom world or a children’s book, where everything reverts to its original condition, and that’s an important lesson to learn about life. Bake Sale also features a section of recipes at the end, making it a fine gift for, say, a cool high school student who wants to learn to bake from scratch. (HB)
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