Friday, November 30, 2012

Powers, Volume 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?

In a world where superheroes are real, Retro Girl is the world's most acclaimed superheroine, part Supergirl, part Wonder Woman in power, stature, and popularity. Shockingly, this seemingly invulnerable, god-like being turns up dead on the street one morning, and it is up to the police to figure out what happened. Is her death connected to the mysterious graffiti "Kaotic Chic" that is appearing all over town? Was it the act of a supervillain bent on revenge? How did anyone even manage to harm her in the first place? These are the mysteries that the police, primarily main characters Christian Walker and his new partner Deena Pilgrim have to tackle.

Most of what's interesting about this book, to me, lays with the interactions between Walker and Pilgrim. He is obviously a dark character with a past who is strangely familiar with the typically aloof superheroes, and she is strong-willed, spunky, and perhaps just a little too willful and insightful for his liking. Consequently, Powers reads like an R-rated, mismatched buddy-cop book that just happens to be set in a superheroic world.

This volume and series was created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming. Bendis is a very successful comics writer best known for his use of dialogue and a multiple Eisner Award winner. He has been one of the primary architects of the Marvel Comics universe over the past decade, writing Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, Alias, and The New Avengers among other titles. He also has a number of original series/graphic novels to his name, such as Goldfish, Jinx, and Torso. Oeming has worked on a number of comics series, though he is best known for his work on Thor as well as his original series Bulletproof Monk and Mice Templar

Most of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive, though not always overwhelmingly so. Andy at Grovel praised Bendis's "snappy and tense" dialogue as well as Oeming's "deeply characterised" art style. Ken Zeider admired the book and wrote "Powers does a great job of bringing the Film Noir genre into comic books, and if you love mysteries you’re going to love this book." Alex Bernstein cautiously recommended the series' potential, stating that it "could easily be one of the strongest and most compelling books on the market. I just wish the creators would stop trying to be 'cool' and start exploring the hearts and minds of their cast."

Powers has been a well received series in general, winning an Eisner Award for best series. Also, it has been the subject of some pilot attempts for adaptation into a TV series. Currently it is under development for FX.

Who Killed Retro Girl? has had a varied publication history. Originally an Image series, currently it is published under the Icon imprint of Marvel Comics.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pete and Miriam

Pete and Miriam are twenty-somethings who are lifelong friends, and this book shows many episodes from throughout their lives. Flashing back and forth through time, we see them go to film school, date different people, go trick-or-treating, meet, pull pranks, drink, dabble in punk rock, and deal with high school. There is no single narrative thread, but we get several impressions about them and their lives that add up to give a fuller picture of these characters. I think that Pete comes off worse than Miriam, but what is palpable is the strong relationship between the two. Also, they really like movies.

Writer/artist Rich Tommaso has been creating comics for the better part of two decades. He won an Eisner Award for his work on the graphic novel Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, and he has a great variety of works available for preview at his official website. Currently he is also working on re-coloring reprints of classic Carl Barks stories for Fantagraphics. Tommaso speaks about his career at length in this interview at The Comics Reporter.

Reading this book, I enjoyed the idiosyncrasies of Pete and Miriam's relationship as well as Tommaso's expressive art. He has a great feel for the characters, and I appreciate how he shows them at different times in their young lives. I have found few reviews online about this book, and they have been mixed thus far. Matt Demers wrote about how the book was structured, "I was a bit perplexed after I read through it because... the stories jump around through different times." He added, "I really felt as if I had read a collection of stories with no connecting tissue between them." I would counter that there are connections between the stories, especially once you realize they are all about the same two people. The reviewer at the Stumptown Trade Review enjoyed the realism of the book and concluded, "Do yourself a favor and pick up Pete and Miriam today."

Pete and Miriam was originally published in France, and it was published in the US by Boom! Studios. Here is a sizable preview posted at the Graphic Novel Reporter.

On a side note, I met Tommaso at HeroesCon this summer and he signed my copy of this book and also provided a fun illustration. He is a great guy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Country Nurse

The third book of the Essex County Trilogy, The Country Nurse simultaneously looks backward and forward. Most of the story happens now, focusing upon Anne Quenneville, a widowed nurse who  "meddles" some in the lives of the townfolk in Essex County. She has lost her husband and is caring for her twentysomething-year-old son, who is distant from her. While she makes her rounds, she looks back at what has happened in the past, finding old wounds, lost relationships, and a present where people do not always know where they came from or even who their parents are.

Constantly, the reader is shown the bleak, spare landscape of the area, which takes up a role like a character among this cast of damaged and unfulfilled people. The book opens on a scene of sewing, and that metaphor runs throughout the book as Annie's trek across the county connects scenery, history, and characters into a narrative whole. This is some fine, subtle storytelling.

This graphic novel is the work of Jeff Lemire, a multiple award winning comics creator. He won a Xeric Award for his debut book Lost Dogs. He has also won a Young Adult Library Services Association Alex Award, a Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Award for Outstanding Cartoonist, and the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent. Currently he writes multiple series for DC Comics, including Justice League Dark and Animal Man. He also has recently published an acclaimed, original graphic novel, The Underwater Welder. Lemire talks more about his work on the Essex County Trilogy in this interview.

Reviews of the book I have read praise Lemire's craft but offer cautious approval. Hebdomeros wrote that Lemire's art is "more cinematic than ever here" but that this book "is completely dependent on what occurred in the first two; anyone new to this story will miss a lot of the subtext." And Andrew Wheeler concluded that it is "still a fine story about Canadians with truly epic-sized noses, and well worth reading for people who enjoyed the first two books – I just wouldn’t recommend starting the series here." I agree with these assessments: The Country Nurse artfully ties together the events of the first two books in the trilogy, but it is not as readable as they are as a stand-alone volume. Also, its revelations are not so impactful without a prior introduction to the characters.

A preview and much more is available from the book's publisher, Top Shelf.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dante's Divine Comedy

Seymour Chwast has had a long and distinguished career in art. In 1954 he co-founded the famous and influential Push Pin Studios with the all star artist team of Milton Glaser, Edward Sorel, and Reynold Ruffins. He has won numerous honors over his career, including the Augustus Saint Gaudens Award from The Cooper Union School of Art, a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and an Honorary Doctorate from Parsons School of Design. He was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame in 1983. He has art pieces in many major museums, and in 2010, he published this book, his first graphic novel, an adaptation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Typically seen as the pinnacle of Italian literature, The Divine Comedy is an epic poem from the 14th century consisting of three parts, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Dante himself is the main character in the poem, traveling through the afterlife with the help of a number of guides along the way. As they go through Hell and rise up through Heaven they encounter a number of figures, from well known mythical characters like Odysseus to historical ones like Emperor Constantine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Also, we see a number of Dante's contemporaries, with the tensions and pettiness involved in his exile from Florence cropping up in their final fates.

This adaptation highlights this work as both an allegory and a satire that combines theology and philosophy in an artful, provocative manner. In presentation it takes a few liberties, such as depicting the poet/guide Virgil wearing a bowler and Dante Aligheri wearing a trenchcoat and fedora like some kind of hard-boiled detective, but it all works stylistically and economically.

Reviews I have read about this book have been overwhelmingly positive. G. Chiaramonte from The Literateur offered that this book is not something to replace reading Dante's works but acts more like "a visual accompaniment, something to be enjoyed and sometimes even consulted in conjunction with the poem." In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews wrote that Chwast "makes the Divine Comedy irresistibly comic and inspirationally transcendent." In another starred review, Publishers Weekly praised the craft in this book, "With his signature mix of humor, artistry, and high-level design, he conveys a breathtaking amount of information in clear black and white line drawings."

This graphic novel was published by Bloomsbury. A preview page is available here from The New Yorker. A few more preview pages are available here from The Huffington Post.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Burma Chronicles

This is the third travelogue from Guy Delisle, an illustrator and animator who travels the globe for work and also to accompany his wife who is involved in Doctors without Borders. Thus, he gets around to some very interesting places. He is a Canadian and his primary language, as you can tell from his blog, is French.

This is his most best, most insightful book to me, as it delves into the political milieu in Myanmar as it relates to Doctors without Borders much more than the others. There is much discussion about whether the organization can operate in this country independently in ways that treat those in need or if it is being turned into an instrument of the state that openly discriminates against those the dictatorial regime deems enemies. Added to this political dilemma is the fact that Delisle is for the first time in a country along with his infant son, placing him in everyday contexts and allowing him to see the social conditions as both a citizen and a parent.

Reviews I have read about the book have been very positive. The Guardian's Rory MacLean praised the book, calling it "the most enlightening and insightful book on Burma in years," and adding, "The key to its success are Delisle's whimsical, black-and-white drawings, as well as his endearingly naïve and humorous self-portrait. Together his honesty and minimal line disarm the reader, drawing him or her into Delisle's life, learning as he learns the truth about the struggle for survival under the generals." J. Caleb Mozzocco called Delisle's work "highly evocative minimalism," going on glowingly, "He’s spent a decade in animation, and it certainly shows in his command of the page, and the time and space the panels suggest upon it." Kirkus Reviews called the book an "insightful, illuminating memoir."

This book was published by Drawn and Quarterly. Some preview images and reference material for the book have been provided here by the author.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Adventures of Venus

Love and Rockets month is over, but the fine books from Hernandez brothers just keep coming! This one is made up installments originally published in Measles, an anthology for children that Gilbert edited in 1999 and 2000, with one new story to introduce the volume. It follows Venus, a young girl who lives with her mother Petra. Venus is very active, playing soccer, shopping for her unique tastes, and having adventures with strange and fantastic aliens. She also has an ongoing rivalry with her frenemy Glinda Gonzalez that adds spice to the proceedings.

Gilbert (Beto) Hernandez is one half of the creative juggernaut that has been creating Love and Rockets comics for the last three decades. He has also been productive with self-contained graphic novels, like Sloth and  The Troublemakers. One of comics most highly regarded creators, Beto has won many awards over his career, including the InkPot Award in 1986, the Kirby Award in 1985, multiple Harvey Awards, and a 2009 Fellow Award from United States Artists.

Reviews I have read about this book have been very positive though somewhat cautious. Drew McCabe praised the book as occurring in "that special place in between that catches that transition from childhood into adolescence, which doesn’t get captured on the comic book page much, and is a rare treat that Hernandez delivers here to such perfection." Peter Gutierrez was more reserved about the book, writing "while certainly young readers should appreciate many aspects of the book, some of its content may land as so idiosyncratic (albeit playfully so) as to inaccessible." Sheena McNeil also praised the book, "It's a good, well-done, fun comic I definitely recommend giving to younger readers." In this case, younger means about grade 8. I think the book is quite charming, though Gilbert's often surreal visions might not be for everyone.

A preview, video preview, and even more is available here from the book's publisher Fantagraphics. Here is another preview from Robot 6.