Monday, October 15, 2018

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil

This follow-up to the Black Hammer series delves a lot deeper into the complex history and intriguing characters of this alternative superheroic world. With the absence of the super team who have saved the world, there is great sadness and a vacuum as well. Lucy Weber, whose father was Black Hammer, has grown up and become an investigative reporter, and she begins exploring what may have happened to him and his cohorts. Her tactic is to trace the exploits of the extremely cool-named Sherlock Frankenstein, who was their greatest adversary, to find out what his role may have been.
I do not want to spoil much about the plot, but she has a lot of difficulty tracking the villain as he had gone underground soon after the heroes saved the world and mysteriously vanished. What is more, she finds that his actions are somewhat suspect but also puzzling. As she delves deeper and deeper into that mystery, she also finds herself being followed, and all kinds of other complications arise.
I know I am being purposefully vague, but I hope that it comes through just how well plotted this book is, with lots of twists and turns of the screw. My expectations were confounded a few times in the course of this relatively short volume. Also, I was thrilled to see all kinds of inventive new characters, most notably Cthu-Louise, who will get her own one-shot soon. If you are into superheroes but are sick of the same-old, same-old, this book and series are for you. I love how it plays with the conventions of superhero comics and weaves them into something fun, poignant, and unique.

This impressive bit of adventure and world-building is a collaboration between two of my favorite creators, writer Jeff Lemire and artist David Rubín. Lemire has a huge list of comics credits and has won a few major awards along the way to boot. Rubín may have fewer credits, but he has drawn an impressive bunch of comics, including the series Rumble and the graphic novel Fall of the House of West. Lemire speaks about his work on this book in this interview, while Rubín discusses his role in it in this interview.

The Black Hammer series has already won an Eisner Award, and this volume was nominated for another this year. The reviews I could find of this trade paperback have been very positive. Phillip Kelly called it "a truly satisfying emotional arc" and "also a necessary piece to the greater world of Black Hammer." A.J. Jones wrote, "The writing is quintessential Lemire, carefully plotted and filled with dialogue that amuses and intrigues by turns," and added further, "Rubín’s distinctive style is a joy to the eye, demonstrating the power of the graphic medium to transcend mere representation."

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil was published by Dark Horse, and they provide previews and more info here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Calla Cthulhu

Calla Cthulhu originally appeared as a webcomic on the Stela platform, but it has recently been published as a trade paperback. I know that H.P. Lovecraft has a lot of fans, but I have never read any of his work (I tried "The Color Out of Space" once, I just could not get into it...). Still, I know that this book/character title is a pun, and I am a sucker for those. Also, I am a big fan of the writers, so I checked it out. Spoiler: my lack of specific Lovecraft knowledge did not keep me from enjoying this book.

The plot here follows an orphaned, young woman named Calla Trifali who learns that she is descended from the Great Old Ones, elder gods/inter-dimensional beings who hope to invade Earth and spread destruction and mayhem. Of course, her being raised to respect human life brings her into direct conflict with her uncle, AKA The King in Yellow.

What results is a lot of action and intrigue where Calla finds herself battling tentacled beings in sewers, old houses, and other gruesome locales. I do not want to spoil much, but this book acts as a great introduction to the character and her world. Also, it concludes in very open-ended fashion, which is not so satisfying to those seeking definite narrative closure. Still, the door is wide open for her further adventures, and I hope we get more of them. This book is a fun read in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a badass young woman battling all kinds of vicious creatures.
This book is a collaboration between writers Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer (who are married) and artist Erin Humiston. Dorkin is most known as the writer of Beasts of Burden, but I am also partial to his work as writer/artist of the series Dork and Milk and Cheese. He is a multiple Eisner Award winner. Dyer is known in comics mostly for her edited series Action Girl. They have also done a bunch of television work, including scripts for Superman Adventures and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Humiston works primarily as an animator who has contributed to a wide array of works. Dorkin and Dyer speak more about their work on this series in this interview (or if listening is more your thing, this interview).

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, but the ones I found were very positive. J. Caleb Mozzocco called it "a pretty killer riff on Lovecraft’s labyrinthine mythology." Kittie Pop gushed that "this story brings me such a gravitational amount of joy that I want to share it with everyone I care about."

Calla Cthulhu was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more available here.

I saw Dorkin and Dyer this year at HeroesCon, where they sold me a copy of this book and were kind enough to also sign it. They are great!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cecil & Jordan in New York

Cecil & Jordan in New York is a re-issue of a graphic short story collection, with a few hard-to-find additions. I had never read it before, and I was very glad to experience it with fresh eyes. This book's creator is Gabrielle Bell, a comics artist's comics artist who is revered by many (or at least many of the people I pay attention to). Her semi-autobiographical series Lucky is regarded by many of those folks as a stellar work of comics, a touchstone publication, and I am a big fan of her latest book Everything is Flammable.

What sets this book apart from her other works is that it largely contains works of fiction. It contains 13 stories, which were mostly published in anthologies in the more formative years of her career. For me the most powerful one was "Felix," about a struggling artist who finds herself teaching drawing to the young son of a famous, successful artist. It features commentary on the world (and business) of art and undefined, palpable relationships between various characters. I found it deeply moving and somewhat troubling, with touches of irony and dark humor throughout.

I found this book to have a unique, idiosyncratic voice, with a keen sense of observation that colors many of the stories from this collection. The title story features a fantastic element, that a person can transform themselves into a chair, and the resolution is simultaneously sad and darkly humorous. Overall, throughout the book, it is the strongly defined characters situated in a random, often hostile world that really stands out to me. They are often positioned as outsiders, trying to somehow to fit in. Some try to forge connections with others, but they are often tentative, and the connections themselves strain, surprise, and often break. Nothing really comes easy for the characters in this book, but for the reader, I felt myself readily impressed by Bell's characters, storytelling, and world-creating abilities. She is a world-class comics maker.

I was not able to locate any reviews of this edition of the book, but the ones of a prior edition were mostly positive. Rob Clough wrote that "she's a master of subtlety, restraint, and repressed emotion--yet this volume sees her veering in some unusual, even fantastical, directions." Karin L. Cross was more critical of the stories collected here, stating that they, "though perceptively written and executed with technical skill, are weighed down by their relentlessly heavy mood and self-consciousness." Paul Doyle called the book "funny" and added that it "shows some inventive story telling ideas."

This expanded version of Cecil & Jordan in New York was published by uncivilized books, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.