Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (Paper Girls, #1)Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the writer of the brilliant Saga graphic series comes a new series that upon first introduction seems the lovechild of a feminist Stand By Me and Lovecraft. Four 12-y.o. girls newly break into the “Boys Only” club of newspaper delivery. One has also become the first local female altar “boy.” Tough as these preteens may be, they’re still suburban Cleveland 12 y.o. females armed only with their newspapers and bicycles. For safety’s sake, they pair up to avoid harassment and worse to get through Halloween pre-dawn as roving teen boys are still out pranking.

Set in 1988, the nostalgia factor is high for me from music and movie references to the levels of technology and video games. [My brother turned 13 within a week of this story setting.] It’s also accompanied by 1980s homophobia and AIDS-phobia, but not without getting called out by a couple more enlightened characters. This is no mere nostalgia ride, it’s divergent history and urban fantasy with most people seemingly disappeared or raptured away while the girls are on their routes. Also, massive pterodactyl-like beasts fill the air with riders no less, and alien-speaking mutant or mutilated teen boys lurk in the shadows. It’s almost Lovecraftian in its WTF-is-going-on approach, but then information starts to roll. Multi-dimensional time and space jumping pawns in a future[?] battle between teens and old-timers–this is metaphor in the extreme.

Artist Cliff Chiang makes good use of his material. The story sits in the “High Potential” box for this volume with the expectation that more answers and greater world-building will play out soon in subsequent volumes.

I’ve previously read Vaughan’s:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital MechanicsDescender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The newest installment to Lemire’s Descender narrows its focus brilliantly allowing three separate storylines to play out simultaneously across the page, sometimes in parallel and at other times in opposition. The haunting watercolor artwork by Dustin Nguyen pulls the pages together beautifully.

The theme running through the pages is one of self. Even as characters try to work and relate to each other, they may find themselves utterly alone. And yet hope resides in some interconnections between characters that isn’t broken by the vastness of space and the enormity of opposing forces.

The tensions between the artificially intelligent robots and the carbon-based living species in the star system have lined up their forces for all out war. And everybody wants to control the human-sympathetic Tim-21 companion bot that holds a greater AI codex hidden within.

I’ve previously read:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 3: Singularities–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Dry Spell by Ken Krekeler

Dry SpellDry Spell by Ken Krekeler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Addiction, Recovery and Relapse resonate throughout this graphic novel depicting a world of superheroes and supervillains. One man walked away from it all: the fame, the rush. Tom’s become a pencil pusher taking it one day at a time. Not even his girlfriend knows of his storied past. The public never knew what it took for him to perform–LCD. Anything to remove the self-doubts.

Then his HR rep, Walter, recognizes him for who he was. mire of Walter, too, dabbles in the world of Super hidden beneath a mundane facade. He takes Tom to a group of underperforming Supers. Tom’s not interested in unleashing his great potential again. He was too strong, too able. But Walter laces Tom’s drink to unlock the dormant Super . . .

The art is compelling, adeptly circumventing the mire of exposition and lengthier dialogues. Key images explode off the page with restrained use of color until necessary and with beautiful choreography of silhouette and drama.

However, it is the story that makes this highly recommended. Tom’s brooding and interactions with family members, friends, lovers, and potential colleagues feel real. Surrounded by well-meaning people, he’s alone.

I received this title directly from the artist when we met at Chicago’s C2E2 convention of comic and graphic novel artists.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Saga, Volume 7 by Brain K. Vaughan [w/ Fiona Staples]

Saga, Vol. 7Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Saga series consistently delivers a nuanced tale spanning a multitude of cultures, ideologies, personal motivations, and sexualities. Led by the brilliant artwork by Fiona Staples and the clever and canny writing of Brian K Vaughan, this epic tale follows the star-crossed lovers, their multi-racial lovechild, their few allies, and their many enemies across years and light years and they hop from star system to star system in an effort to get away from bounty hunters and the war that divides their respective races.

This installment sees much of the cast including the protagonists stuck on a comet embroiled in an endless civil war. Religious dogma takes center stage as multiple analogies to Middle Eastern conflicts play out across the page. The cultures of the hero couple also have hands in the civil war as the comet is fuel-rich, and to the winners go the spoils.

Most clear, is that there can be no winners in such a deeply embedded war. This issue is about loss and its many facets. There is loss of innocence. Loss of potential. Loss of loved ones. And even genocide.

This entire series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Angel Catbird, Volume 1Angel Catbird, Volume 1 by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Graphic novels have evolved into sophisticated, often dark tales exploring complex psychologies and critiquing entire social systems. When the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, itself a dark and sophisticated social critique, decides to write a graphic novel, one could expect more than this pulpy, pun-filled origin story.

Artist Johnnie Christmas adequately draws this superhero landscape of were-animals and shapeshifters in the uninspired style of decades of superhero comic books. The art matches the cheesy dialogue and paper-thin plot. Every character wears their role on their sleeve.

Strig Fleedus, hero and soon-to-be superhero, is hired to complete the formula for a gene-slicer elixir. But upon completion, he has an accident while chasing his indoor cat that’s escaped outdoors. An owl gets into the mix and we get a cat-owl-human superhero . . . who seems largely unfazed by his new role.

It becomes clear that nothing deeply psychological will be explored when the female love-interest and coworker of Strig calls him out the next day. Firstly, without prompting, she announces that she’s a half-cat who can transform at will. Then, she states “It was that super-slicer you’re working on. The secret project. You spilled some on yourself, right?” So much for it being a “secret project.” Nor for any sense of reveal or “coming out.”

The true purpose of this graphic novel lies outside of the plot and panels. Many of the pages contain statistics, PSA style, about domestic cats and the dangers awaiting them outdoors. It also cites stats about the impact domestic cats have on native birds in the Americas and British Isles. The odd juxtaposition of the PSA and comic fails to elevate the conversation within the panels.

The series is not recommended.
 
 
 
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Graphic Children’s Book Review: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

The Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dave McKean brilliantly illustrates this tale with a collage of photographs and drawings to create a dark and foreboding ambiance perfect for this modern folktale. The drawings could be too sinister for some kids. Cleverly, the wolves are depicted as children’s drawings as if emerging straight from wild imaginations . . .

The tale revolves around young Lucy when she’s convinced that she hears wolves in the walls of her family’s old house. Her parents and her appropriately annoying younger brother all try to reassure her that she is mistaken. And that what she really hears is mice [mom], rats [dad], or bats [brother]. Presumably, these are all acceptable alternatives . . . yikes.

But then again, maybe Lucy is right . . .

This tale is not very long–which is fine. But I wish it were cleverer. I wish young Lucy or perhaps her whole family were more clever in their addressing the disturbances to their abode.

I’ve previously reviewed one other Gaiman/McKean collaboration and I loved it:
Signal to Noise–5 stars

I’ve also read Gaiman’s:
     “Black Dog”–3 stars
     “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”–3 stars
     “The Sea Change”–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Birthright, Volume 2: Call To Adventure by Joshua Williamson

Birthright, Vol. 2: Call to AdventureBirthright, Vol. 2: Call to Adventure by Joshua Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sophomore slump drags down this graphic sequel as it abandons its strengths and unique points in favor of a fantastical chase and action sequence that manages to not move the plot more than a hair with its final panel and yet also manages to avoid further world-building.

The first volume establish a rich, dark tone depicting the grief of a father having lost his son in the woods. As days and weeks stretch to months and even a year, suspicions rise that the father must have killed his younger child. His wife leaves him, and the law is always probing him for evidence. He almost loses his older son in favor of his growing alcohol dependency.

Then one day a crazy man is found in the woods with a sword that claims to be the lost son, grown much older in the misaligned timelines of neighboring dimensional planes.

This volume barely shows the parents and fails to further their angle. The older brother, now much younger than the man his younger brother has grown into, is on a quest with the dimension-crossing warrior. Law enforcement now chases them, as do forces from the fantastical realm whence Warrior Mikey sprang.

We know Mikey has been corrupted into a character of questionable morality, as this was established in Volume 1. The interspersed flashbacks into Mikey’s decades off-world don’t show the cause behind the corruption. All we know is that his unrevealed plans include his still pre-teen older brother.

The father was “corrupted” in very specific ways: guilt, suspicion, accusation, abandonment, and alcohol. It’s time for the series to allow the same treatment for the lost son . . .

This series is co-created by author Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan. My rating for Birthright, Volume 1: Homecoming was 4 stars.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]