Category Archives: Graphic novels

Bookhunter

Bookhunter / Jason Shiga

Cold open

The metropolitan library system is divided into two equally important groups: the Librarians, who facilitate access to information and the Library Police who investigate crimes against it. This is their story.

(Gavel sound)

The Library Police have finally tracked down the individual responsible for the disappearance of multiple copies of Judy Blume’s Forever. While preparing to break into the criminal’s apartment and recover the books they discover that the fiend is holding the books hostage. Thanks to the quick thinking of the inspector and the creative use of a shotgun, the books are retrieved unharmed. But this is only the beginning…

(Opening credits)

(Commercial break)

Law

(Dramatic glasses removal)

A Caxton Bible on loan to the main branch of the public library has mysteriously disappeared without triggering any of the security systems.

(Dramatic glasses return)

The Library Police are called in to investigate the case.

(Dramatic glasses removal)

They must discover the source of the replica currently in the display case, how the culprit managed to get the book out of the library without triggering the security system, and what

(Commercial break)

(Gavel sound)

(Dramatic glasses removal)

the villain’s ultimate goal is. They’ll use the most up-to-date technology to track down the culprit and retrieve the stolen book … by any means necessary.

(Gavel sound)

Continue reading Bookhunter

Uzumaki

Uzumaki / Junji Ito

It took me way too long to realize that as much as I might like the idea of horror I don’t really care for it much in practice. This is largely because many of the people I hung out with in college really liked horror movies. As a result, I watched a lot of horror movies. Even after college I still tried to convince myself that I liked the genre. It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to realize that I didn’t have to force myself to sit through media I didn’t enjoy because I thought that was what I was supposed to like.

I still like the genre in theory. It competes with science fiction for the “genre best suited for social commentary” award. It’s a genre where imagination is allowed to operate more freely than in other genres, where there are deeply entrenched tropes that tend to limit one to either following them or deconstructing them. Not to say that horror doesn’t have its own set of clichés (see the interesting but not exactly thought-provoking Cabin in the woods) but that in many cases there’s more room for experimentation. Theoretically this is also true of science fiction, fantasy, and graphic fiction in general but in practice the Golden Age problem shows up frequently.

I also like horror because on a fundamental basis it tends towards stories about people trying to survive in a universe that is at best wholly indifferent to them. There’s a sense that slasher films are like mystery novels in that they fundamentally serve to uphold social norms as those who are visibly or behaviorally different are murdered in creative ways (once again, see Cabin in the woods, as it serves a useful function as ur-text for the slasher genre). I’m more tempted to read them as an indictment of the way society as a whole punishes difference and enforces conformity and adherence to “appropriate” social norms (where being a visible minority or sexually active gets you killed first).

So in general I don’t really watch many horror movies. Living with someone with a low threshold for terror means I don’t have many opportunities anyways (not that I’d seek out opportunities at this point). I’ll check one out once or twice a year but in general Doctor Who is as scary as things get at home. I’ve also found that the more I’m exposed to real-life horrors the lower my tolerance is for fictional ones.

Which brings me to the actual subject of this post, Uzumaki. Originally published in 1998-1999, Uzumaki is the story of a small town plagued by spirals.

Plot summary

A small town in Japan experiences a series of strange events involving spirals. From snails to hair to smoke, spirals plague the town and its inhabitants. Kirie Goshima* and her boyfriend Shuichi Sato* appear, at least initially, to be the only people in town to realize that something very wrong is happening.

*Yes, purists I’m using the Anglicized name order. The English translation does it that way so I’m just reporting the names as presented in the book itself.

Continue reading Uzumaki

Saga

Saga / Brian K. Vaughan ; Fiona Staples

I’ve been trying not to review comics unless they are completed, but I wanted to review this one so here you go.

One of the reasons for this review is that Saga placed very well on the ALA’s most frequently challenged books list. 

One of the most common reasons it was challenged represents a hilarious misunderstanding of the story at its most basic level. I’ll address that later.

The other most common reason is “unsuited to age group”. Considering the “for mature readers” label and the fact that the first line of dialogue is “Am I shitting? It feels like I’m shitting” I’m really wondering who these complainants think the target audience is. Part of the fault here is probably on libraries who keep graphic fiction with YA and/or J fiction (I’ve worked in libraries where this is the case. At my current library we have a John Le Carré novel classed in LC class K (Law), so there’s obviously a continuum of how seriously fiction gets taken). The other problem is the association of comics with “kiddie stuff” which hasn’t been true in the history of the genre. There have always been comics targeting adults, and since the 80s at the latest more “mature” fare has represented a huge chunk of the market.

These must be the same people who complain about how R rated movies and Mature rated video game are inappropriate for children.

Overly basic plot summary

There’s a lot going on in Saga but this will keep it as simple as possible.

A war between a planet and its moon has been going on for generations. To save their local environment, most of the combat has been outsourced to other worlds. Marko and Alana are two soldiers on opposite sides of the war. After Alana breaks conscientious objector Marko out of the POW camp where she works as a guard, the couple find themselves on the run, hunted by both sides. Then they have a baby.

So how is it?

At the risk of hyperbole, Saga is one of the best things I have ever put in my brain. This is sff at its absolute best, and a landmark achievement in its medium.

There’s a lot to talk about here. The setting in particular is absolutely amazing, featuring a whimsical imagination combined with a great sense of adventure and some serious pathos.

The characters are exceedingly well designed, from the lovers on the run to the blue blood Prince Robot to the scene-stealing Lying Cat. They populate a universe with a fantastic diversity of characters in a universe that’s familiar (bored housewives buy bodice rippers from supermarket checkout stands) yet also unfathomably bizarre (one of said bodice rippers is about a couple who spends most of their time playing board games and ordering takeout).

There’s some fantastic details there: the moon dwellers have their own language that is fictional but that anyone with basic familiarity with a Romance language should have no problem deciphering. It’s that blend of exotic with the easily understandable that makes Saga so great.

It’s a serious, heart-wrenching story here that’s not above absolute silliness (wait until you learn what the opposite of war is …)

The third volume of Saga features the most emotionally powerful single page I’ve ever seen. In my most recent reread I had to put it aside for over a week before continuing. I cry just thinking about it. (Full disclosure: I also cried while rereading Shards of honor recently. So it doesn’t take much).

Saga is a space adventure with serious heart, where the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is exceedingly fine. Not because the good guys are grim badasses, but because the “bad guys” are just regular folks.

There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Saga as well, but I don’t want to spoil it.

I realize I still haven’t mentioned the artwork. Staples is great and the art is wonderful and is vital to making the story work.

The other reason why Saga has been challenged is that it is “anti-family”. Saga. A story about a man and woman struggling to raise their baby in the face I overwhelming opposition. A story whose most obvious theme is “family is important”. 

I can’t help but think that there’s a racist component to that complaint.

Recommendation

Saga is amazing. It is also very violent and “perverse”. There’s no denying that this is a “mature” title but as much as it revels in excess it’s not gratuitous. It’s a must recommend even for those who don’t normally read the format. I’ve won over more than one non-comics reader with Saga. 

It’s explicit which might be a stumbling block but it’s not intentionally offensive so I’m generally more willing to take a risk and recommend this one.

It’s something I encourage everyone to try for themselves.

Bookhunter

Since I did a fairly mainstream superhero series for my last “sequential-art-narrative” review, I’m gonna do something way more fun this time.

Bookhunter / Jason Shiga

Jason Shiga is an offbeat comics genius. He frequently attempts to push the structural boundaries of the format and generally succeeds at writing silly, exciting stories. Bookhunter is a true “graphic novel” rather than an ongoing series. It’s a combination police procedural/70s action movie/extended series of librarian in-jokes that works remarkably well.

Brief plot summary

It’s Oakland in the early 1970s. Technology is causing a rapid shift in the way libraries operate. Patron records are now stored on magnetic tape. Electronic library catalogs (initially created around 1967) are starting to pop up in public libraries. Enter the Library Police, a group of specialists dedicated to eradicating library-related crime. Summoned to the Oakland Public Library to solve the mystery of a forged Caxton Bible, the Library Police have only three days to solve “three concentric locked-room mysteries”, catch the thief, and recover the original book.

Continue reading Bookhunter

Ultimate comics: Spider-man

Ultimate comics : Spider-Man / Brian Michael Bedis ; Sara Pichelli

So, this is a series I’ve watned to review for a while but since it’s in “decompressed” Marvel style it’s been kind of difficult to do so because I wasn’t finding a good “cutoff” point for which volumes to review. It wasn’t until recently (I’m writing this in November) when I realized that the series called Ultimate comics: Spider-man had in fact been cancelled and was being continued under a new name with new numbering.

“Perfect!” says I, “now I’ve got a defined set of issues to review, since I already own the whole series”.

I also says to myself “that would explain why nobody ever has volume 6 of this series”.

Background info aside, here’s the review.

Ultimate comics: Spider-man is a 28-issue series about a boy who is bitten by a spider who then gains spider-themed superpowers. Spider-man must then attempt to come to terms with the fact that with great power comes great responsibility. Spider-man is also forced to juggle school, friendships, and the risks associated with keeping his Spider-man identity and his Miles Morales identity separate.

Wait, Miles Morales? I thought Peter Parker was Spider-man…

Well, here’s the point where it becomes necessary to dive into …

THE PLOT SUMMARY

While celebrating his acceptence at a prestigious private high school in New York City at his uncle Aaron’s home, Miles Morales is bitten by a mysterious spider and gains superpowers. Coincidentally, sometime later Spider-man is killed and his secret identity is revealed to the world.

With the help of a store-bought Hallowe’en costume, Miles Morales decides to continue the work Peter Parker started.

Continue reading Ultimate comics: Spider-man

Identity crisis

Identity crisis / by Brad Meltzer ; art by Rags Morales.

It’s been a while since I did reviewed any comics, so here’s a new one.

Identity crisis was one of DC’s pretty much annual summer crossover spectaculars, where Things Will Change Forever. Identity crisis was far more controversial than most of the other comics with “crisis” in the title, and (perhaps unintentionally?) set the mainstream superhero comics industry down a path of darker and darker stories that culminated in another big Summer Event, Infinite crisis.

I may or may not review Infinite crisis at some point in the future. It depends on whether or not I have the willpower to force myself to read it again.

Identity crisis is controversial mostly because of its unusually adult content for a summer crossover. I’ll be dealing with that in a separate section towards the end of the review so that readers who don’t want to read about it, either because they haven’t read the title or aren’t comfortable with it won’t have to.

Brief plot summary

(frustratingly vague to avoid spoiling much at all)

Identity crisis is a combination of domestic drama and mystery novel. The spouse of a member of the Justice League of America is murdered. The JLA bands together to solve the murder. When threatening letters are sent to the spouses of other heroes, the JLA must deal with the possibility that a serial killer might know their secret identities.

Continue reading Identity crisis

Bedlam

Bedlam / Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo. Began publication in 2012

Bedlam is a creator-owned thriller series from Image comics. I came across it when my wonderful spouse (who is not into the genre in the slightest) picked it up thinking I would be interested. I went into Bedlam with no expectations whatsoever, having never heard anything about the series. I’ll note right here that it’s incredibly violent, although less explicit than The boys.

Since the series is still being published, this review is based on the first two trade paperback volumes.

Brief plot description

(not really any spoilers but the exact premise isn’t exactly revealed right away)

Fillmore Press is a slightly unstable pacifist who wants to help make the world a better place. In the first volume, he does this by attempting to assist the police in their hunt for a serial killer using his special skills and knowledge. Press was previously (unbeknownst to the world at large) known as “Madder Red”, a serial killer who terrorized the city of Bedlam and had a death toll that reached four figures before his apparent death. In actuality, Press was detained by an underground psychiatrist and eventually rehabilitated before being released to live on his own.  Continue reading Bedlam

The boys

The boys / Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Originally published 2006-2012

Garth Ennis is perhaps one of the more interesting figures of the modern comics scene. Best known for his work for Marvel in the 90s and the Preacher series for Vertigo, his work is notorious for its transgressive content. Outspoken in his dislike for superheroes, The boys is Ennis’s farewell to the genre. Like Watchmen, The boys imagines what would “really” happen if superheroes were real. Unlike Watchmen, the superheroes in The boys are super-powered, thinly veiled caricatures of well-known DC and Marvel heroes. The boys features graphic, intense violence and depictions of virtually every paraphilia imagineable, but also a touching love story and in-depth examinations of masculinity, family, and friendship.

Brief plot description

(No end-game spoilers, but some early plot points will be revealed)

The boys follows Wee Hughie, a timid Scottish conspiracy theorist who becomes one of “The Boys”, a black-ops group charged with controlling and containing superheroes. The superheroes in the world of The boys are everyday people sponsored by the massive Vought-American corporation and granted superpowers through a drug called “compound V”. These heroes are largely vain, selfish, and unconcerned with anything but themselves. Super-hero battles generally result in massive civilian casualties as the super-powered combatants fight without any consideration for those around them. Billy Butcher, the teams leader, recruits Hughie for the team after Hughie’s girlfriend is accidentally killed during a superhero battle.

Continue reading The boys