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Graphic Novel Review – Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying by Alan Moore
illustrated by Gary Leach and Alan Davis

Miracleman A Dream of Flying

KIMOTA! With one magic word, a long-forgotten legend lives again! Freelance reporter Michael Moran always knew he was meant for something more-now, an unexpected series of events leads him to reclaim his destiny as Miracleman! The groundbreaking graphic novel that heralded a literary revolution begins here in A DREAM OF FLYING. After nearly two decades away, Miracleman uncovers his origins and their connection to the British military’s “Project Zarathustra” – while his alter ego, Michael Moran, must reconcile his life as the lesser half of a god.

I read two issues and one trade of Miracleman when my roommate worked for one of the guys that used to set prices in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. All of them were later issues. The trade was by Neil Gaiman. Apocrypha was weird and enticing and ultimately had to be returned.

Like a lot of folks, I wanted trades, collections, whatever. And like a lot folks I waited, and waited, and waited. When the legal issues with regard to the series were finally resolved, I was excited to finally see this masterpiece in the pulp. That’s the waiting talking.

This arc must be ground zero for grimdark. Frank Miller would spend a career trying to be darker and edgier than this. Watchmen, the gold standard for this perspective, is sort of thoughtful and melancholy by comparison.

There’s nothing here but anger and degradation. Planetary issue 7 spends a page parodying just how ridiculous it is and, well, I mean it adds sex midgets, but it’s otherwise pretty much accurate.

Planetary i7p18

It doesn’t so much deconstruct Superman as create an AU where nothing good is possible and every paranoid fantasy is true. Hate something, add it. Fear something, add it. It was inspired by a mashup of the old comic and Mad Magazine, so there you go. What if what might make Superman problematic was written for Mad fans?

Now I get it.

It’s not that it’s not well constructed. Moore was a craftsman even then. It’s just that the idea was toxic. There’s a lot to say about governments, weapons and war, the responsibility and danger of power, and the fragility of identity.

But it’s all been hashed over again and again for decades. Supreme Power comes to mind. And I think that’s because Miracleman wasn’t part of the conversation for twenty years. As a result, we got the heroes as bad guys torn apart when their lives were turned inside out. If you’re curious about where that came from and why, it was A Dream of Flying.

But it’s terrible. Don’t read it.

Recommended for fans of Dark Knight III: The Master Race, The Punisher, and Daniel Tosh.

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Graphic Novel Review – Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1

Darth Vader Vol.1 “Vader” written by Kieron Gillen illustrated by Salvador Larroca

Vader Cover

The original Dark Lord of the Sith stars in his first ongoing series! Ever since Darth Vader’s first on-screen appearance, he has become one of pop culture’s most popular villains. Now, follow Vader straight from the ending of A NEW HOPE into his own solo adventures – showing the Empire’s war with the Rebel Alliance from the other side! But when a Dark Lord needs help, who can he turn to? As Vader pursues a very personal vengeance against the Rebels and investigates the Emperor’s secret machinations, he clashes with weapons scavenger Aphra and deadly Battle Droids, and returns to Geonosis to build an army. But some very powerful people don’t want him to learn the truths he seeks! Guest-starring Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett and more!

 

I’m a hard, old, bitter curmudgeon. Sometimes, anyway. I was a Star Wars fan club member back when Bantha Tracks was still printing exclusive news about Revenge of the Jedi. There’s been so much new expanded universe stuff since then that it all sort of blurs together. And I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for it.

When the new Star Wars comic was announced the only interesting thing about it was that John Cassaday was the artist. We didn’t even consider picking up Darth Vader or Princess Leia. A year’s gone by, now. Things have changed.

One thing, really. We read The Wicked + The Divine. Usually when I like something a lot I reread it over and over again. Then I enter into the broader conversation in some way. I’m okay for a little while. And then I become Galactus.

So that’s why I picked up “Vader.” I’m on a binge. The thing is, it’s great. I mean, I’d heard that. There’s a good chance you’ve heard that. Anyway, it’s true.

Darth Vader comes at the character from surprisingly varied vectors. It opens with some straightforward action. Vader is implacable and indomitable. The philosophical difference between the dark side and the light is clearly illustrated. This is the Vader you expect, that you secretly want from the broader narrative.

From there it skips back a beat, to an audience with the Emperor; a dressing down for the catastrophe of A New Hope. Vader, as the sole survivor, shoulders the singular responsibility. You can almost hear minor chords in the background as the comic begins to do the work episodes one through three were meant for and largely failed to accomplish. The first stirrings of sympathy for the Sith Lord.

Subordinated to an Imperial Grand General, suspicious of his master, and investigating the mysterious rebel youth who destroyed the Empire’s ultimate weapon, Vader negotiates a web of intrigues. Gillen ties this new interstitial story strongly to both the original trilogy and the prequels. The references are both strong and subtle. And they’re enabled largely due to Salvador Larocca’s attention to detail.

Scenes from each of the films are redrawn and juxtaposed, reframed and recast. There’s an extended sequence remixed from Raiders of the Lost Ark and rehabilitating the droideka that introduces the first of Vader’s new allies. I hesitate to spoil things, of course, but the supporting cast is a large part of the draw. Amoral Aphra is rule 63’s perfect answer to Indiana Jones. Triple Zero is Anthony Daniels’ HK-47, a sociopathic C-3PO. And BT-1 is, adorably, astromech Wolverine.

Two droids and a self possessed young woman. Narrative and structural parallels. From Tatooine to Geonosis, Darth Vader gets it. It’s of the Star Wars universe and among the fans. This is the dirge of Anakin Skywalker.

And it’s got space whales.

Recommended for fans of Farscape, Knights of the Old Republic, and “Bad Romance.”


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Graphic Novel Review – Finder: Third World

Finder: Third World written and illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil

Finder Third World

There hasn’t been a single place that Jaeger couldn’t infiltrate, escape, or loot—until now! Award-winning creator Carla Speed McNeil and colorists Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron create the very first full-color Finder graphic novel. Serialized in the pages of Dark Horse Presents, Finder: Third World now includes seventeen extra story pages and extensive annotations by McNeil!

I had Finder: Voice dropped in my lap. It was my birthday. A couple friends had been talking Finder up for awhile and finally took action when it became clear I wasn’t going to run out and buy it. As one does.

I loved Voice. I love Voice. I yield to none my love for Voice. I read it before going to bed that night and I’m still talking about it. Most fans will tell you Talisman is the best story, though.

But this isn’t about either of those. I just figured revealing my bias was warranted. I’ve read every Finder story a couple times. Voice and Talisman a few more. I had known that Third World was being serialized but had neither the habit nor the inclination to track down individual issues of Dark Horse Presents in order to get them. So I was surprised to, er, find the collected edition while visiting the library in our old neighborhood.

Like most Finder stories, you’re dropped right into the middle of a story in progress and kind of left to fend for yourself. You want desperately to know how the story came to this point but you’re swept forward through McNeil’s dense narrative. Third World follows Jaeger, an wandering sin eater and one of the perennial characters in these interwoven stories, as he tries to go legitimate. He gets a job with a common carrier and puts his unusual skills and abilities to the test trying to deliver undeliverable packages. There’s humor and pathos and longtime readers get a look at the depths and heights of the culture of the domed cities that dot this vaguely post-apocalyptic setting.

But, because it’s a single character and because it’s neither a flashback nor directly contiguous with previous stories, a new reader could begin here. Jaeger’s sense of humor and duty shines through. And, perhaps importantly to some, it’s in color. All the previous Finder volumes have been black and white. Here you get a sense of the vibrant visual world and the diversity of the cast.

There’s almost no chance of catching everything the first time through. And McNeil’s willing to reference her own work and dozens of others, along with an anthropology department’s worth of multicultural praxis. But don’t worry, there are endnotes for every page. They aren’t necessary, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to confirm everything you recognize and look up everything you don’t understand. The endnotes mean you don’t have to read with Google open.

If you like culturally advanced sauropods, creeping technological mystery, complex cultural intersection, and a bit of unexplained magic, this might be the comic for you. Finder: Third World is the first volume to really get out of the cities and show the spaces, and the peoples, in between. Carla Speed McNeil is a careful, thoughtful storyteller and a skilled artist. Check out an excerpt here.

Recommended for fans of Nam Jun Paik, Baraka, and Seveneves.


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Graphic Novel Review – Jem and the Holograms: Showtime

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell

Jem and the Holograms Showtime

Meet Jerrica Benton – a girl with a secret. She and her sister Kimber team with two friends to become… JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS! But what does it mean to be JEM today? Fashion, art, action, and style collide in Jem and the Holograms: Showtime!

So, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you won’t be surprised to learn that we wholeheartedly recommend Jem and the Holograms. We’ve devoted increasing attention to comics this year and Erin’s even doing some external writing for larger readerships. What you need to understand is that it’s all due to this masterpiece from Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell.

It’s not that we didn’t read comics. In my youth, I was guilty of encouraging the multiple cover foil embossed special card limited edition kind of thing that shook the industry. These days, we’re the folks with two shelves full of trades.

And we’ll get this one even though we own every issue. We’ll probably get a couple extra to give to friends and family during the coming holidays. The old theme song declaring Jem excitement and adventure, fashion and fame could not be more appropriate.

Collecting the first six-issue arc of this beautiful, heartrending comic, Showtime is basically the coolest thing to hit the racks since, um, probably superheroes. As a former fan of the cartoon, I feel confident saying the creators have as much or more love for the source material as anyone. And the characters are compelling enough to draw unfamiliar readers in.

The story’s simple enough. Struggling musicians Jem and the Holograms put their futures on the line by entering a battle of the bands contest hosted by established industry juggernauts The Misfits. With the help of a sentient holographic artificial intelligence, they overcome their lead singer’s stage fright and capture the public consciousness. Along the way they face danger, romance, and food fights.

Everything in Jem is full of high intensity bathos. A coffee house conversation has the same stakes as the collapse of a career. And while the writing, and especially the dialog propel the drama, it’s indelible largely due to the artwork.

Sophie Campbell depicts emotion like no other artist I’m familiar with. The comic could be silent and still provoke fiero or sorrow, cheers or tears. If that weren’t enough, each character is a distinct individual person with his or her, mostly her, own expressions and, more importantly, body type. In a medium where basically everyone tends to look the same, this is incredibly refreshing.

Jem Broadsheet

You’re more likely to see yourself in this title than pretty much any other. Strong, confident lines and an incredible eye for design make each encounter with a character an experience to look forward to. And when they come together, there’s no mistaking them.

Not only that, Campell uses a clever, fluid layout for musical scenes that combines text and music video montage along with abstract streamers to evoke the energy and tone of an experience that’s difficult to express in static pictures. So a poppy love song comes with rounded edges and almost bubbly shapes while a pop-punk anthem comes with sharp lightning.

Do yourself a favor and check this one out. Even if it seems silly. Especially if it seems silly. You’ll be surprised.

Recommended for fans of truth, beauty, and transcendence.


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Graphic Novel Review – The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw

The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw by Kurt Busiek illustrated by Benjamin Dewey

The Autumnlands Volume 1 Tooth and Claw

When a secret conclave of wizards brings a legendary hero back from the forgotten past to save their dying world, they get a hero unlike anything they expected, and trigger a crisis none of them may survive. From New York Times bestselling writer Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Marvels), rising-star artist Benjamin Dewey (I Was the Cat, Tragedy Series), and award-winning colorist Jordie Bellaire, The Autumnlands begins an epic fantasy tale of survival and adventure in a world of beast-wizards, sorcery, brutality, and hope. This specially-priced volume collects the first six issues of the hit series for adults that Wired calls “…deep, rich and quirky enough to stand leagues ahead of its competition.”

I picked this one up because I’m incredibly fond of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. So, seeing little more than a name and some anthropomophised fauna, I took a chance on it.

The story’s told in essentially three parts. Each issue opens with a few pages of mytho-historical imagery, followed by a page of fictive literature complete with attribution. These are followed by the story proper. Each issue thus leads the reader into the realm of fantasy, grounding her in a complex existing world and creating a space for semiological reverberation. How does the initial data inflect the panels to come?

Blade of the One Foretold

You get the sense of both history repeating itself and of the malleable nature of accepted wisdom. So when notions of privilege, perspective, and prejudice arise in the story they don’t have to be foregrounded. The reader does the work, sees the implications, remains immersed.

It helps that the seventeen floating cities are essentially populated by single animal tribes, of course, and that the dogs are loyal traditionalists, the owls are imperious know-it-alls. Our own preconceptions and even our myths influence our reading. So when a fox shows up, we know not to trust her.

Our hero, the main PoV character is Dunstan, a terrier and the son of the leader of Keneil. He makes daily obeisance to the gods of commerce, of housing and urban development, but he longs for more. Because this is epic fantasy, he gets it. Some of his illusions about race relations are shattered almost immediately when he accompanies his father on a trade expedition. and his world collapses when an ambitious warthog hosts a conclave of magicians in the westernmost city.

Benjamin Dewey performs a small miracle distinctly depicting dozens of creatures. He shows a range of emotion among his nonhuman faces. Whether it’s ursine unction, amphibian fear, avian arrogance, or rodent curiosity, its clear to the eye. But the cityscapes and natural vistas are just as powerful. Regardless of perspective and scope the stakes are always clear. With assistance from Jordie Bellaire, the panels scintillate.

Autumnlands Tooth & Claw

With a cast of diverse zoomorphs, it’s patently obvious that the legendary mysterious magical entity will be one of us. So why not give it away on the cover.? In fact, it’s important to the story only in that none of the animals might claim him as their own and assert their supremacy.

Recommended for fans of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Beasts of Burden, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.


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Graphic Novel Review – Supreme: Blue Rose

Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis, illustrated by Tula Lotay (July 14)

SUPREMEBRtpbcover

“You are not dreaming. We are trying to communicate with you. Local reality has been reinstalled. Things have gone wrong. The revision has corrupted. Finding Ethan Crane is your supreme priority. Do not trust Darius Dax. We are all going to die.” Supreme: Blue Rose re-introduces the central Image Comics character Supreme, in a multi-layered and often hallucinatory mystery presented by New York Times bestselling writer Warren Ellis and acclaimed new artist Tula Lotay in her astonishing graphic novel debut.

Normally, I’d save the hyperbole for the end, or the middle, or whatever. But I can’t. The only struggle I’m having is whether to call Supreme: Blue Rose my favorite graphic novel (or trade) or my second favorite. It’s that good.

It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. On three or four separate occasions, I suspected I’d need to reread it. In the end, though, it all came together. I’ll reread it because I want to. Again and again. But not because I have to.

So what’s it about? An unemployed reporter is hired by an unimaginably wealthy individual to investigate an indescribable mystery. Saying any more threatens to spoil something delightful. The author said pretty much the same thing in an interview before the first issue came out.

PREVIEWSworld: [C]ould you elaborate a little on the nature of your re-introduction?

Warren Ellis: I could, but that would kind of defeat the point of buying the book. If you’ve read Supreme before — or have access to the Internet to look it up1 — I can say to you that there’s been a new revision, and you’ll get it. If you haven’t or won’t, then, really, you’re going to have no problem coming in cold, because you’re going to be told a mystery story about the nature of the universe and its agents of stability. Also there are a couple of people who don’t really have heads. It’s fine. You’ll be fine….

Ultimately, I was fine. It’s a sort of genre blending work that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, drama, and noir. It’s arranged on a scaffold of time travel, metafiction, and the multiverse. It tells a story about itself and about the constant reinvention of characters and titles within the form. Don’t be intimidated. If you’re passingly familiar with, say, Superman, the basic cast will make sense.

This is really Warren Ellis at his best, incorporating many of the elements that made his previous work so outstanding. However, he also draws from his contemporaries and more or less steals their tricks, improving upon them in the process. If you want to pick up one book from the past forty years to demonstrate what the superhero comic can do, choose his one.

Supreme Blue Rose Doc Rocket

And that’s only half of why Supreme: Blue Rose is so impressive. Tula Lotay’s art is transcendent. I began with bold statements. I might as well run with it. The color palette subtly shifts depending on what genre’s making itself felt most prominently, but there’s a noticeabl reliance pastels, neons, and browns. In a sense, even the illustration is referencing and revivifying some of the most famous work in the genre.

Colors and patterns escape the panels and unite the pages, literally tying the story together. As the narrative comes to a resolution, so do the pictures. Styles blend together as genres collide. What seems like an interesting artistic choice reveals itself as an integral part of the plot of the book.

Beyond that, the characters are distinct, weighty, and individual. Seen from the back, they’re as recognizable as they are in close up. This is invaluable in a complex story like this. You never want to be confused about what you’re looking at when you’re puzzling through a difficult plot. I reckon we’ll be taking a look at everything she works on from here on out.

Supreme: Blue Rose tackles the central challenge of semiotics, defining meaning around the outside of an empty space. And it does it in the context of a superhero comic that’s come to be synonymous with both deconstruction and reconstruction. Our fictions meet, interact with, and redefine reality.

Recommended for fans of The Invisibles, Watchmen, and The Dark Tower.

 


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Graphic Novel Review – ODY-C Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithicaa

ODY-C Volume 1: Off to Far Ithicaa by Matt Fraction illustrated by Christian Ward

ODY-C

An eye-searing, mind-bending, gender-shattering epic science fiction retelling of Homer’s Odyssey starting with the end of a great war in the stars and the beginning of a very long journey home for Odyssia and her crew of warriors. The journey to Ithicaa begins HERE, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward.

We have close friends who have literally placed several Matt Fraction books into our hands. I’ve read and enjoyed several of them and sought out more on my own. So, when the opportunity arose to check out ODY-C, I was more than happy to give it a read.

I’d heard some good things about the series and I’m always up for reinterpretations. Especially if they do something new with the source material. And ODY-C definitely does that.

The reader learns, or at least thinks she learns, the primary conceit as the story opens. Iconic Odysseus is reimagined as Witchjack Odyssia, conqueror of Troiia. But it’s not exactly a gender flipped epic in space, though that was honestly enough to hook me.

Fraction seems to favor allusion to the primary text over strict adaptation. The major plot points are covered, though not always in their traditional order. It’s all in service of an unfolding plot, so familiar characters, mortal and immortal, can develop and murky motivations can become clear. It’s a story satisfying to the ignorant and the aficionado alike.

And it’s beautiful. I remember wondering in the first few pages if I was going to like the art. Really? This is one of those pages

ODY-C ships

There’s so much to say about Christian Ward’s work here. I could praise its clarity and precision. I could talk about the feminine ship design as opposed to masculine rockets reiterating the world building in the details. I could note the sense of motion and speed and energy. I could gawp at the mythic significance of the background imagery. And, yes, I’ve just done all that. But what I really want to do is compare it to Jack Kirby, favorably.

Everything about the book works. From the explanation of the gender environment to the varied page layouts. The innovative character designs to the emotional reality of the characters. The poetic narration to the thoughtfully color coded speech boxes. Ody-C is amazing.

Recommended for fans of Saga, Bitch Planet, and epic storytelling.