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
 
 
 
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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
 
 
 
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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.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fully realized sci-fi space drama beautifully realized by artist Dustin Nguyen cashes in on all of its previously offered potential with this excellent third installment. The first two volumes of this series centered on a 9-planet star system rife with humans and aliens 10 years after an unnatural apocalyptic event wasted large portions of the planets and populations. In that short-lived but huge event, planet-sized robots called Harvesters laid waste to carbon lifeforms. In its aftermath, the survivors declared genocide on all robots working and living within their interplanetary collective despite the lack of evidence that Harvesters and the system’s robots had any connection.

The story centers on a naive, pre-teenaged companion bot named Tim-22 that survived for the 10 years in a sleeplike charging state on an outer mining moon while the populous was evacuated during a poisonous gas leak. His human “brother,” Andy, evacuated, while his mother died on the moon. Tim-22 is wanted by both robot scrappers and the government for his potential link to the decade-old event.

The episode takes a smart step to the side. The component stories each tell the 10 year back story of many of the filler characters, and it’s fascinating. One could sense the richness of the world and its development beforehand, but now it’s laid out clearly and many characters have stepped up from being mere fillers. Expect the story to proceed forward again when the 4th installment comes out.

This series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.

The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.

Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??

The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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