Thursday, 16 October 2008

[51] Recent Library Graphic Novel Haul, With Comments/Mini-Reviews [Great Comics]

I have a lot in the pipeline. Maybe it will materialise in the next few days. Watch this space.

As a follow up to the previous post on Peckham Library's graphic novel selection, I thought I'd post the comics that I have taken out, and read, over the last 2 weeks. I might do another installment at some point. I'll say a few words about each book, although in some cases I will write a more substantial piece once I have the time and inspiration.

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Spiderman: Blue, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale



I am a huge fan of Loeb/Sale's work on Batman (The Long Halloween and Dark Victory). I recently picked up the preview issue of their latest collaboration, Captain America: White. That series starts soon, so I thought I'd read up on their previous colour-coded Marvel work. Spiderman: Blue tells of Peter Parker's early romance with Gwen Stacy, and the love triangle that develops once Mary Jane Watson comes on the scene. I was initially hesitant, especially regarding Tim Sale's artwork. I loved his dark, moody work on Batman, but there was a stockiness to the characters that, while brilliant for gangsters and heavies, I didn't think would transition well to the world of Spiderman. Boy, was I wrong! Sale's depictions of MJ and GS are beautiful. Loeb's writing, too, is first-rate, using a tidy narration structure, with an integral pull away from the final, harrowing action for emotional impact. I hope to write something more substantial about this at some point, so I'll leave my comments there for the time being.

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Coward, a Criminal Edition, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips



I've had an interest in Criminal since I picked up the first issue a few months ago. Sadly, I could only find the first two parts of the Coward storyline in single issue form, so I laid off the series for a while. Lucky for me, the library had the collected edition. The writing is sharp, and Phillips' smoky art style fits the book perfectly. What impresses me is that Brubaker and Phillips work with tight, economical issue runs, yet still manage to create compelling storylines, with varied and interesting characters. Action is present, but it is not excessive or gratuitous. Too many comics concerned with 'the real world' or crime often aim for 'brutality' or 'grit' in the form of violence or language. I think that Brubaker is too intelligent and skilled to resort to these easy, yet shallow strategies. Even though Brubaker and Phillips present Criminal as a series of storylines, not necessarily linked in any integral way (at least not to my knowledge), there is such a great deal of attention and care put into the issues themselves that you feel the need to buy them individually. Brubaker invites colleagues and friends to write excellent essays and articles on all things to do with film noir and detective fiction. Unfortunately, the collected editions do not include this wonderful extra material. I read this book, and almost immediately went out and bought the first issue of the next storyline, Lawless.

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Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger



I first read Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow a few years ago, when I first started reading outside of my comfort zone of Vertigo properties (Sandman, Preacher, Hellblazer, Transmetropolitan), and expanded into the general comic world. Now that I know more of the the history of both Superman and the DC Universe, I still enjoy this two-issue special, but I get more of the importance and resonance of Alan Moore's farewell to the Silver Age. Equally, it is more affecting, now that I have read more pre-1985 comics, to see Moore revolutionising the form. The use of abrupt, surprise violence and death to devastating effect. The lingering, inevitable doom that permeates the whole book. It is masterful. This, twinned with The Killing Joke, comprises Moore's most famous DC work. I think that both are important, not merely in their treatment of accepted canons and characters, but in their championing of the short form of the comic book issue. The comic book as a storytelling medium can work on so many time frame, from a 6 issue arc, or a 100 page graphic novel, to 12 issue 'year-long' series, or a planned, 60-100 issue epic (this is something that no other medium can do well, apart from television). Or even, as is the case here, one or two issues. I think that Moore's preface to the story is one of the best pieces of writing in comics:


This is an IMAGINARY STORY (which may never happen, but then again may) about a perfect man who came from the sky and did only good. It tells of his twilight, when the great battles were over and the great miracles long since performed; of how his enemies conspired against him and of that final war in the snowblind wastes beneath the Northern Lights; of the women he loved and of the choice he made between them; of how he broke his most sacred oath, and how finally all the things he had were taken from him save one. It ends with a wink….This is an IMAGINARY STORY … Aren’t they all?

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Invincible: Family Matters, by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker



I'm a huge fan of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. Invincible was created earlier, but is currently at around the same issue number. I am currently working on a piece that compares Invincible with another, very different, superhero comic, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s Kick Ass, so I won't exhaust all my points here. However, I will say that Invincible is a joy to read. It is funny, touching, and full of imagination. It makes a great case for comic writers to remember the time before The Dark Knight Returns, before 'mature' comics needed to be shrouded in black, bathed in blood, or foul-mouthed. Not that there isn't a place for those things, mind - it is just refreshing to read a well-written book with an eye on the fantastic.

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Y: The Last Man - Unmanned, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra



I was going to start reading Y: The Last Man not long after it first started. I found a run of early issues in a comics shop / porn shop / thriftstore in Manchester in 2003-2004, before I went to university. However, I could never find the first issue, so never jumped on. Unmanned, the first trade paperback, has stared at me from shelves ever since. I'm glad that I finally got around to reading this (although I'm already worrying that Peckham Library doesn't have the third volume). Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra start off with a brilliant idea: one day, the entirety of the male population of the earth (human and animal) are wiped out. Apart from Yorik, and his pet monkey Ampersand. This concept alone is full of potential stories; however, Vaughan and Guerra pack the first issue to bursting with characters, situations, side- and sub-plots. Again, with the economy, relationships and characters are communicated with a few scant pages each, however, when that first issue ends, when that plague hits, the loss is more than effective. The scope of the book is mindblowing - Vaughan brings in political dimensions, international intrigue, and meaningful, interesting pop-culture references. I don't read that many comics in one sitting, especially at the moment. I was feeling pretty burned out after reading the above, and had started to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X instead. However, Y: The Last Man has gripped me. Now I need hope no one has taken out the second volume in the last 2 days...

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I am yet to read the following comics, but I will post them here anyway:

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Invincible: Eight is Enough, by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley



I started this today. I've only read the first issue. However, I can safely say that Invincible#5 is one of the best superhero one-shot stories I have ever read. It is quietly radical, amending the structures of superhero fiction as opposed to aggressively lampooning or reducing it. It is also bookended with great exchanges between Mark and his family. I think that Robert Kirkman is the only writer I know who can make his characters' family relationships into something that is tender, warm, but also full of humour and familiarity. This is also seen in Walking Dead. It is sophisticated and mature, in a very real way. It is a far cry from the increasingly droll Fight Club knock-offs that satirise or outright reject the accepted structures of society with no real comment or reasoning (suchabody is a disaffected loner who is bored of his deskjob etc...). Ugh. Thank you, Robert Kirkman!

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Hulk: Grey, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale



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The Question: Zen and Violence, by Denny O'Neill, Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar



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