Monday, April 26, 2010

Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess

With the release of the Percy Jackson books and movie and the remake of Clash of the Titans, it seems like Greek myths are coming into vogue lately. This particular book is the second in a series called Olympians being published by First Second. It is written and illustrated by George O'Connor, a graphic novelist whose prior work includes Journey into Mohawk Country, an illustrated version of 16th century Dutch trader Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert's journals.
The art is done in a clean, energetic style that brings to mind superhero comics. There may not be lush or many backgrounds, but the characters fly into action and are definitely expressive.

Athena's tale retells a number of classical myths and includes many characters. The narrative is told by the Fates, three immortal women who spin the threads that make up people's and gods' lives. The story is framed as the tale of how Athena's aegis came to be in its final, glorious, and impenetrable form. The first tale is of how Athena was born, fully grown and armored, out of Zeus's head. The second details how she got the name Pallas and also how she received her aegis. The third is about the Gigantomachy, a great battle between the giants and the gods over the cosmic order of things. The fourth tale retells the adventure of Perseus, the demigod who slew Medusa and Cetus the sea monster and then became the founding king of Mycenae. The book ends with the tale of Arachne, a boastful weaver who engages Athena in a contest.

The back matter of the book is chock full of helpfulness, including a notes from the author page which tells about how O'Connor came to tell these stories. There are also copious footnotes providing more details about the background of the stories, a bibliography of recommended works, and discussion questions that some readers may find engaging. Also, in the guise of pin-up/info pages from comic books, O'Connor provides profiles on four of the major characters in the book.

Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess is a faithful retelling of classical Greek myths. Reviewer Andrew Wheeler said it may be a tad violent for some younger readers but called it "damn good comics about the original warrior woman." A wider range of reviews can be found at Goodreads. And for more information about the entire series, O'Connor writes a blog about it.

An excerpt, reviews, and teachers guide can be found at the book's official page at Macmillan.

Thank you again to Gina at First Second for the review copy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vlad the Impaler

When your surname means "son of the dragon" one might expect you not to be a wall flower. Prince Vlad III of Wallachia, a large region of present-day Romania, was famous for two things in his life, fighting Ottomans and inflicting cruel punishments on his enemies. Vlad III became known as the impaler because he had his enemies placed on stakes as a sign of what would happen to those who opposed him. He had tens of thousands of people displayed in this manner, sometimes while they were still alive. It was this brutality and bloodthirstiness that led author Bram Stoker to use Dracula to name his now internationally famous vampire character.

This book details the life of the real monarch in all its bloody and sexy details. It turns out that aside from being a punishing and warmongering ruler, Vlad was quite a ladies man who had a wandering eye. Jacobson and Colón detail his exploits from childhood, with his living in exile but later returning for battle and reclaiming his land. He experienced many ups and downs in his conflicts, losing allies, being exiled, going through wives, and all the while leaving destruction in his wake. The legend of Dracula, even without the vampire trappings, is a pretty rich one.

The creators of this book, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, are both veterans of the comics world who first collaborated long ago on a very different character, Richie Rich. Jacobson is most famous for his long tenure as for Harvey Comics, where he was editor and editor-in-chief for a number of comic books starring Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Colón got his start at Harvey in the 1960s but has worked for every major comic book company since. He can draw in a variety of styles both realistic and cartoonish. More recently, the two worked on a graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report and a biography of Che Guevara.

Reviews for Vlad the Impaler seem consistently good. Ben Boulden called it "a disturbing yet intriguing story." A review at Grovel stated that "it’s an interesting drama-documentary of a cruel and vicious tyrant" though it did linger a bit long on the gory details. Danica Davidson wrote about how Vlad III is definitively painted as a villain and also commented on how gory the book was but also adds that given his real-life misdeeds, it could have been worse.

For those interested in more information about this book, John Hogan conducted a great interview with its creators. If looking into the creative process is more your thing, there is an author blog by Jacobson at that sheds more light on his aims behind the book and the tools he uses to make his work.

The book's publisher, Penguin, does not provide a preview, but one can be found at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tom Spurgeon and The Truth

Here's another well done review of Captain America: The Truth written by Tom Spurgeon. I think it's pretty even-handed to say the work was an "admirable" mess...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tim O'Neil and the Tao of Miller

I know I posted on The Dark Knight Returns a while ago now, but this blog post does a great job expressing a different take on Frank Miller and his now-classic work...

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Fatal Bullet:The Assassination of President James A. Garfield

The Fatal Bullet tells two parallel stories, one of James Garfield, the last US president to be born in a log cabin, and the other of Charles Guiteau, the attorney and charlatan who assassinated him. Garfield's tale is one of success, with him becoming an accomplished professor and president at Hiram College, a major general of the Union Army, senator from Ohio, and eventually president of the USA. Guiteau grew up abused and largely friendless, spent time living in interesting marital situations in the Oneida Community in upstate New York, and was publicly disgraced for his sexual indiscretions and shady business practices.

Still, Guiteau retained the idea that he was born for greatness and a grand political appointment. He pursued Garfield for an extended period of time, asking for the consulship of Vienna or Paris, but continually found himself put off and ignored. Finally, he hatched a plan to kill the president and also heal what had been a fractured Republican party. Although Guiteau did shoot Garfield, his death was not immediate. A lingering infection that resulted from the wound and several mistreatments, including one by Alexander Graham Bell, lead to Garfield's death.

Rick Geary, an artist and graphic novelist who has been working for decades on a variety of publications and genres, wrote and drew this book. He provides great detail, including hand-drawn maps, medical diagrams, and well-researched facts into the narrative. The black and white art is crisp and clean, and it delineates the parallel tales to great effect.

The Fatal Bullet is part of Geary's A Treasury of Victorian Murder series published by NBM. This series has been largely well received, and the praise for this volume is consistent with his past efforts, as seen by the responses at Goodreads. Individual reviewers such as R.R. Doister have called it "great comic book reading" and wondered why they didn't have history books like this when they were in school.

A short preview is available here from the publisher.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


The name is Booth. John Wilkes Booth. While there are no moments where he takes a martini shaken not stirred, Booth is a complicated character. It would be mind-boggling today to have a successful actor from a prominent family with his star on the rise to suddenly become an infamous assassin who kills the president. Yet this mind-boggling scenario happened toward the end of the US Civil War when Booth became involved in a conspiratorial plot of Confederate sympathizers.

An avid lover and quoter of Shakespeare, Booth is charming, debonair, and also passionate about the Southern cause. His fall from grace from a popular, well-regarded actor in his day to being the villainous killer of Abraham Lincoln, one of the most well-regarded US presidents, is a compelling and amazing tale, tinged with pathos and hubris. Granted, the story here is told in a more even-handed way, as the historical context is shown as a period of greater ambivalence created by the war and debates over abolition and states' rights. These debates are embodied by how the Booth family is divided during this conflict.

Booth was written and drawn by experts from different fields. C.C. Colbert is a pen name for Catherine Clinton, a respected historian who holds a chair at Queens University Belfast. She has written a number of books, most notably of late a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln. She is also a frequent contributor to the History Channel. Tanitoc is a bande dessinée artist. He is an active artist, writer, and lecturer who was a founder of the International Bande Dessinee Society.

Whereas Tanitoc is an experienced artist doing sequential art, Colbert is a novice in the medium. Reviews, while relatively positive, do point out some uneven features of the book. Kent Worcester thought the art tells a crisp story though in some sections footnotes could help the dense exposition. Tom Spurgeon opines that they do a better job with setting and mood than they do with characterization and motivation. Jared Gardner says that the story is fascinating yet told in a simplistic manner.

For folks interested in learning more about how the book was created, here is an informative article by Shaun Manning at Comic Book Resources.

A preview is available from the publisher First Second.

Big thanks to Gina Gagliano for the review copy!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ultra: Seven Days

If superheroes were real, they would surely be celebrities and perhaps they would also need to be deputized so they could work within the bounds of the law. This scenario is what frames this trade paperback detailing the exploits of Ultra, whose real name is Pearl Penalosa, a Latina superhero celebrated for her brave fight against crime and for her upright demeanor. She is held as a role model for teen abstinence, and her squeaky clean image comes under fire over the course of the story from a tabloid expose. Ultra is depicted as an everyday person. She has an uneasy relationship with her mother and also wonders why she can't find a good guy to date.

The narrative weaves together disparate features of Ultra's life, showing her on duty fighting threats and also at home in her civilian life. The title of the collection comes from a night out with her superheroine friends. Ultra is with Cowgirl (who is a humanitarian, like a super-powered Angelina Jolie) and Aphrodite (who embraces the wild side of celebrity life and is more like a supermodel), and they decide to stop at a fortune teller. She tells them that within the week Ultra will find true love, Cowgirl will receive what she has given, and that Aphrodite will suffer a great loss. If and how these predictions occur is woven through rest of the story, which also follows the heroines contending with a super-arsonist who is terrorizing the fictional metropolis of Spring City.

Seven Days was originally released as an 8-issue series by Image Comics. It was written and drawn by the Luna Brothers, Joshua and Jonathan, graduates of the Savannah College of Art and Design with BFAs in Sequential Art. It was the first series they created, and it incorporated lots of great touches to situate the story in a media-driven world. The covers of each issue are parodies/homages of publications such as Time, Maxim, Rolling Stone, and Star Magazine. Additionally, glossy magazine-type ads and the back matter articles of each issue ape these real-world publications.

Reviews of the book are mostly on the positive side, but do not appear overly gushing. Hilary Goldstein called it "a perfectly contained story that introduces a new world of superheroes that is immediately familiar and comfortable." Stephen Holland is attracted to the "sheer good will" of the book. Other reviewers, such as Alexander Zalben thought the book was attractively drawn but slow plot-wise.

A preview containing the entire first issue of the series is available here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

One! Hundred! Demons!

A casual reader who picks up a book titled One Hundred Demons might be surprised to find stories about hearing a meaningful song on the radio, head lice, bad boyfriends, and a first job, but those and more are inside this “autobifictionalographical” work. The eponymous demons come from a painting exercise Barry found in a library book, practiced by Hakuin Ekaku, a zen monk who lived in 16th century Japan. As she paints each demon, stories and memories came to hear and become the contents of this book. Some of the tales are sad, others funny, and almost all of them touch upon aspects of growing up, dealing with family, and finding one's place in the world.

Lynda Barry, the author/illustrator, is well known for publishing her weekly alternative comic Ernie Pook's Comeek for the better part of the past 20 years. Additionally, she is the eponymous "Funk Queen of the Galaxy" to whom Matt Groening dedicates every volume of his Life in Hell collections. Yes, that Matt Groening. Barry's most famous creation, Marlys, is a freckled faced young girl who appears to be a stand-in for Barry herself, and Barry certainly can remember and express the feelings of being young and concerned about everything around her.

The individual strips that make up One Hundred Demons were published originally in This collection won the 2003 Alex Award, which goes to ten adult books chosen by the Young Adult Library Services Association for their appeal to teens. Reviewers are very positive about the book as well. Andrew D. Arnold stated that it uses "acutely-observed humor to explore the pain of growing up." Derik Badman was so engrossed that he read the book in one sitting. More reviews can also be seen at Goodreads.

This collection was published by Sasquatch Books, and an extensive preview is available from Google Books.