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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.

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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 – Supreme: Blue Rose

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

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“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.

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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: Jupiter’s Legacy, Vol. 1

Jupiter’s Legacy, Vol. 1 by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely

Jupiter’s Legacy Vol 11932: Sheldon Sampson’s dreams about a mysterious source of power lead him, his brother Walter, and a group of loyal followers on a quest around the world. What they discover sets them on a course that will wrench a family apart and alter the world’s political stage!

Decades after their journey, Sheldon and Walter are superpowered legends, world renowned for their heroism. But the offspring trained to live in their image have fallen desperately short. Rocked by one public scandal after another, Chloe and her brother Brandon are a dishonor to the generation before them. The rift reaches its breaking point when one branch of the family overthrows the government and struggles to rule at any cost – while the others must flee for their own safety. But when the failures of the corrupt leaders catch up to them, the world hovers on the brink of collapse – and the hidden heroes must emerge to take back their legacy!

I’ve read a lot of Mark Millar books over the years. And like millions of people, I’ve seen a few movies based on his work. I haven’t fallen head over heels for it, but it’s a solid bet that any new project will be worth checking out.

Add Frank Quitely’s art to an already dependable storyteller and you have what seems like a sure thing. All-Star Superman and We3 are among my favorite comics of all time. He’s a blessing and a curse because his work is beautiful, but his involvement can delay schedules.

Luckily, this is already a trade and they plan to finish the series before releasing the second arc on a predictable schedule. I’d say it’d be worth the wait, though.

This is a sprawling global story told via the interpersonal relationships of a single family. In the midst of the Great Depression, Sheldon Sampson received a vision of an uncharted island and, like Carl Denham, arranges an expedition to find it with his friends. He believes they’ll find the key to saving America, or at least helping the nation he loves through a rough patch.

Flash forward eighty years. Jupiter's Legacy 2Sheldon and his confraternity are aging heroes. It’s not clear what role they played on the world stage, but it seems like the appearance of superbeings has had little practical effect. America has suffered another economic downturn. His brother Walter is agitating for intervention, but Sampson is having none of it.

With an aquila shield emblazoned on his chest, curly hair and beard, The Utopian could not embody imperial patriarchy and the eponymous Jupiter more. And yet he sees his role as one of service and protection. He’s living the American Dream.

The trouble is that that’s easy when you can survive in a vacuum.

It’s not so easy for the second and third generations begat by these titans. Their offspring grew up in a world where their parents removed all the threats worthy of their attention, and missed out on the formative years while doing it. Seeking distraction and meaning, they struggle for attention and relevance.

Jupiter's Legacy 1It’s the perfect setting for Shakespearean drama. Internecine fraternal rivalry. Intergenerational angst. Rebellion and rejection.

The Sampson family’s problems spill onto the world stage and hold a dark mirror up to late capitalism in the United States. How far will people go to protect their ideals and their loved ones. What are they capable of in the service of their greater good?

Millar’s work is usually about incredibly violent people, but it’s always about people. It’s never been more about the relationships between parent and child, brother and sister, and the family you choose for yourself. And it’s deftly woven into a story about truth, justice, and the American way.

Can that most treasured cliche be saved?

Recommended for fans of Millar & Quitely’s Authority run, Watchmen, and Othello.

 


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Graphic Novel Review: Trees Volume 1

Trees Volume 1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

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Ten years after they landed. All over the world. And they did nothing, standing on the surface of the Earth like trees, exerting their silent pressure on the world, as if there were no-one here and nothing under foot.

Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe, but that they did not recognize us as intelligent or alive.

Trees looks at a near-future world where life goes on in the shadows of the Trees: in China, where a young painter arrives in the “special cultural zone” of a city under a Tree; in Italy, where a young woman under the menacing protection of a fascist gang meets an old man who wants to teach her terrible skills; and in Svalbard, where a research team is discovering, by accident, that the Trees may not be dormant after all, and the awful threat they truly represent.

Collecting issues 1-8.

We’re fans of Warren Ellis here at The Dinglehopper. Erin’s favorite comic prior to the advent of Bitch Planet was, and maybe still is, Planetary. I have a shelf full of trades that’s seen a lot of wear. Even so, since our toddler was born we haven’t seen the inside of our local comic shop more than a handful of times.

What I’m trying to say here is that Trees is something that I should have known about for almost a year now and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t. Like all of Ellis’s best work, there’s a mystery at the center of it. A mystery that the reader, and the characters, have a small piece of. Enough to wonder, to want more.

The mystery is, of course, the Trees; immense mineral cylinders stretching up into the sky, plunked down in the middle of Rio or the middle of nowhere. Their tantalizing power owes a debt to Jason Howard’s renderings of the cityscapes and natural surroundings. The sense of comparative scale evokes a sense of wonder that’s in direct contrast to the representation of life in the shadow of the Trees.

For most of the characters on the page, the Trees are quotidian. Less important than the local authorities, border disputes, mayoral campaigns, or even sexual awakenings. And it’s there where the real story lies.

It’s less about the Trees than it is about us. All science fiction, whether its about the future or aliens, or space travel is really just an exploration of what it means to be human. Here, all the Independence Day heroics or disaster movie chaos happened a decade ago. The Trees are a context within, or beneath, which human dramas play out.

Trees Cefalu

Trees isn’t structured like a typical comic. In particular, reading it as a collection it wasn’t exactly clear when one issue ended and another began and that’s an incredible strength. This is really one long narrative that I got sixty pages into before even asking that question.

While there are more than half a dozen locations and attendant casts to keep track of, much of the story is about how they’re interrelated. United by similar circumstances. Here again Howard’s art provides crucial assistance. similar but not identical faces subtly elide the separations between Cefalu, Shu, and Svalbard.

Multiple concurrent narratives initially alternate in service of introduction but come to score and comment on one another. Informing and elaborating, echoing off the page. The wreck of Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema flows effortlessly into Blindhail Station on Spitzbergen, sharing imagery and intent. The plight of Rio youth is inconsequential to the massive indifferent power of the Trees, which, frankly, might as well be us.

The sites aren’t chosen haphazardly, though it might seem so. They’re a representative sample that provide a stage for tense juxtapositions. In Norway, strange flowers bloom in the permafrost as a single man’s obsession endangers an isolated crew. In Mogadishu an economist-cum-president gambles his country’s future atop the world’s shortest Tree. In Italy, the vestiges of two Golden Dawns vie for supremacy. In China, the citizens of a free city explore the boundaries of art, gender, and sexuality.

Within just a few pages, I’d already experienced shocks of recognition, intense curiosity, pathos, humor, and awe. Ellis has once again teamed up with the perfect artist for a project. Howard’s sketchy lines give the pages and what they depict a rough, lived in world with a vibrant kinesis.

Recommended for fans of Orbiter, Ocean, and the ineffable other.

 


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Graphic Novel Review: Strong Female Protagonist Book One

Strong Female Protagonist: Book One by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag available November 25th

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With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around.

Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun — until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy, showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important.

Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero….

After a phenomenal success on Kickstarter, Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag bring their popular webcomic into print, collecting the first four issues, as well as some all-new, full-color pages!

I love Strong Female Protagonist. I’ve been reading the biweekly pages since almost the beginning. The story of a twenty year old college student that happened to have been the world’s most famous super hero would have been difficult to pass up.  It’s an idea the reconstruction had somehow failed to explore. That that hero was a woman made it impossible.

The first issue was dense, compelling, and emotional right away. It dealt with freshman life, super powered grudges, merchandising, celebrity, the kind of questions Jason Lee asked his dad in Mallrats, heroism, villainy, and identity. Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag had created a vibrant relatable world in shades of gray.

And they didn’t skimp on the superhero action.  The first flashback to Mega Girl’s teenaged superheroics features a battle with giant robots.  They’re no match for someone with autonomic somadynamism.

Did anyone ever say you hit like a girl?  ‘Cause you don’t!

Strong Female Protagonist is a webcomic, which almost always makes some folks wonder why they’d want to buy a print collection.  This same bizarre question gets asked about comic book trades as well.  Having the entire text to hand is incredibly satisfying.  It’s a faster, more coherent, more enjoyable read.  Green has redrawn and colored the chapter title pages and they’ve added a sometimes informational, sometimes clever footnote at the bottom of each page. And, of course, you can loan it to your friends.

I’m pretty sure that’s something you’ll want to do once you’ve read and reread your copy.  The drama, comedy, and tragedy are too much to keep to yourself.

Recommended for fans of Astro City, The First Law, and Once Upon a Time.


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Graphic Novel Review: E.G.O.s Volume 1

E.G.O.s Volume 1: Quintessence, by Stuart Moore and Gus Storms, out today.

Deuce was once the toast of the galaxy, the teenage leader of E.G.O.s (Earth/Galactic Operatives), a team that defended humanity from evil forces. Now, he’s an aging egomaniac trying desperately to hold on to his former glory, while his wife Pixel, the image-obsessed daughter of a super-villainess, barely tolerates him.

When the E.G.O.s’ deadliest villain, the world-absorbing entity known as Masse, returns, Deuce’s goal of relaunching the E.G.O.s is no longer just a matter of pride: The future of the galaxy depends on it.

Collects Egos #1-4, plus the Twitter-exclusive issue #0.

I mostly miss the cool comics that get collected into trade paperbacks.  The only store I can be sure to visit on a weekly basis is the one with milk and eggs and bread.  Such is life.  So I suppose I’m the target market for trade paperback collections, the new reader that’s heard great things from those more in the know, capable of being pulled in by a blurb from Warren Ellis.

E.G.O.s is a new take on an old saw, getting the band back together.  It’s an old saw I truly love when played well, with enthusiasm and verve.  Here it’s played with passion and remixed with syncopated desperation.

The title is, of course, both an acronym and a description.  Every member of the original team, which disintegrated after defeating an incomprehensible enemy, is hopelessly caught up in his or her own internal drama.  What Deuce does to reconstitute E.G.O.s  is gonzo storytelling at its finest.

That it’s also intimately intertwined with and implicated within his marriage is a testament to the core conceit.  The new E.G.O.s are kind of the red sports car for the aging interplanetary superhero.  The kind of thing that looks like a great idea because it’s bound to get him into trouble.  When faced with a real threat, he crashes right into it.

Gus Storms presents a unified vision of the far future while occasionally riffing on images that subtly suggest everything from John Cassaday’s Planetary to Rob Liefeld’s X-Force while Stuart Moore crams as much science fantasy into each page as he possibly can.  The work is ambitious and personal and, frankly, a little weird.  The story occasionally comes up for breath with an unlikely, seemingly impossible, narrator.  Laid back and receptive as well as invested and interactive, the quirky interpolation tends to reliably mirror reader reaction.

I’d probably recommend this one for the title of the fourth chapter alone: “Ekpyrotica.”

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Graphic Novel Review – I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey

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I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey

The concept drew me in immediately–an online blogger gets an invitation to ghost write the memoirs of a mysterious man who turns out to be a talking cat who then goes on to detail each of his eight previous lives as a major player in various historical moments.

As the blogger and her friend learn more about this cat’s past, they get pulled into a global catspiracy.

The story starts out exploring the cleverness of how a cat could be behind the scenes of major time periods and famous events–pretending to be a god in Ancient Egypt, becoming the cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or being the brains behind Napoleon’s conquests. Each issue covers one of Burma’s lives–so warning for the squeemish–each ends with a depiction of his death.

This is a fun, multi-layered mystery of sorts that (I believe) is complete in this trade paperback, so the ending brings a satisfaction and closure.

I Was the Cat hit bookstores today. It is a conspiracy story for lovers of cats. If you’ve ever noticed your cat blankly staring off into the far distance out the window and imagined she was plotting world domination, this one’s definitely for you.

I-Was-the-Cat-ComiXology-53The art is like continuity editing–it works in such a way that it almost never draws attention to itself; it just tells the story. But looking back at some pages and panels, I realized there was much more artistry to tell the relationships of the characters, foreshadow events, and evoke emotion than I initially recognized. I’m an art snob with comics, but I felt Benjamin Dewey’s drawings were an excellent match for Tobin’s story. Furthermore, there are fun cameos–besides the obvious historical figures and celebrities, Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction show in one panel, Neil deGrasse Tyson in another.

With each issue/chapter of the graphic novel progressed, I became less interested in the story of the past cat life and much more engaged in the larger conspiracy as it was unfolding. If I have one complaint, it was that the flashback recitation for the memoir became more and more shallow and disengaging as I went on, and I wanted more of the present-day story telling.