I read a couple of graphic works last month. One gets a thumbs up. One gets a sideways thumb at the most.
The Gist: If you’re following Fables–the best darn comic book out there right now–get ready for an epic battle between Mr. Dark and Frau Totenkinder. Meanwhile, Rose Red must put aside her grieving over the death of Boy Blue and pull herself together in order to organize the Fables for the coming conflict with the dark master. We learn about Snow White and Rose Red’s past, more is implied about Ghost (Snow White and Bigby’s invisible child), and Beauty finally births Beast’s baby! If you haven’t been following Fables, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Status: Devoured! Volume 15 includes the wonderful 100th issue of the comic book with lots of fun extras.
Summer Escapism: Yeah, baby!
Strength of Writing: A
Stimulation of the Little Grey Cells: B (I get totally immersed in this world when reading a Fables volume.)
Social Relevance: B (Yes, we’re talking about good versus evil, but Willingham’s Fable characters are too complicated and rich to be relegated to simple black and white.)
General Reaction: The best Fables story arc of the last couple of years. Can this comic get any better?!
The Gist: Hapless geek Jimmy is a mama’s boy and librarian in Oakland who thinks he knows more than he actually does about computers and the Internet. When he loses his best friend Sara to an internship in New York, he realizes that he has romantic feelings for her. So… it’s off to New York!
Status: Read cover to cover
Summer Escapism: Meh…
Strength of Writing: C (Yes, it was satisfactory.)
Social Relevance: B (Jimmy has a job but he’s still a step or two away from being a self-actualized adult. He represents the Emerging Adult, an increasing trend in our country.)
Generation Reaction: Reading this made me feel as empty as Jimmy must feel. Oh yeah, I chuckled in a few of places, but it was generally a solemn read for me. Following Jimmy’s trip to New York and his last interaction with Sara, the reader is left with no idea if the protagonist will begin to gain confidence and take charge of his life. In reading a book, at the very least, I want to know that something has changed for a character, that some revelation about life has been earned. You won’t get that reading Empire State. (Jimmy is a continuing character for Shiga, so maybe we’ll be rewarded in future books.) I’m a great believer that every read does not have to leave you feeling good, and I suppose this story has something to tell us about the state of twenty-somethings in the world today. Maybe I’m just becoming an old fuddy-duddy!
By the way, Shiga continues to have great promise, despite my lukewarm review of Empire State. After all, he did create this! It features Jimmy, too.
Visit ShigaBooks to find out more about this talented artist and writer.
Don’t forget to hit your nearest comic book store or library on May 7 to pick up your free comic book. There will be lots of titles for all ages to choose from.
All this talk about comic books started me thinking about the recent controversy over Superman, which Matt Price addressed on his excellent Nerdage blog. In Action Comics #900, seems the Man of Steel is ready to renounce his U.S. citizenship because he’s “tired of having (his) actions construed as instruments of U.S. Policy.”
Well, for starters, he was raised as an American. He arrived as a child and was nurtured by Ma and Pa Kent in smalltown Kansas, where he was taught all those Red, White and Blue values.
But what if he had arrived elsewhere on Earth? I dug out my copy of Mark Millar’s spectacular Superman: Red Son—because that’s the exact premise of this work. Little Kal-El lands in Soviet Russia, and Millar uses this idea to create one of the most fascinating reimaginings of the beloved DC universe. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luther, Braniac, Bizarro Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern Corp are all here, and all reinvented; for if Superman really did work for the Soviets, nothing would be the same.
Superman as Big Brother is chilling enough, but Millar doesn’t simply play this one-note theme; he’s smarter than that. Instead he creates a new world where the reader is challenged to reconsider the ideas of communism, socialism, capitalism and American Exceptionalism. It’s a provocative ride, and it’s not always comfortable.
From the opening panels—where President Eisenhower announces to the American People that the Soviets have “an alien superman committed to communist ideals whose very existence threatens to alter our position as a world superpower forever”—to a surprising twist at the end, Millar has created an unforgettable saga.
I didn’t forget it. That’s why all of this talk about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship sent me digging down into a bedroom drawer to pull out and rediscover this comic gem.
I typically don’t carry grudges, but I still haven’t forgiven HBO for canceling Carnivale, and that was years ago! There’s nothing worse than being in love with a story, only to have economics take the tale away from you before it’s finished.
This fabula interruptus happens in the comic book world as well. Comics long ago adopted the serial form. (When I was a youngster, there would occasionally be a two-part story; and a three-part story was a *really* big deal.) Original comics are now born to tell a specific story that may run dozens of issues before the “series finale.” Alas, comic book series are as susceptible to cancellation as your favorite television show.
I only recently discovered Book of Lost Souls, Vol 1 (a compilation of the first six issues of the comic with the same name). I loved it, only to find out that there is not and never will be a Vol 2. The comic died after that sixth issue. We will never find out the ultimate fate of Jonathan or his new friend, the cat named Mystery. And is the Dark Man god or the devil, or something else? Nope. Won’t ever know. Rats!
Then there’s A Distant Soil. I’ve been waiting and waiting for the final installment. Will it ever come?
But the most disappointing story interruption for me is the great comic book Drafted. In this story, the entire human race is forced into military service by an alien race in order to save Earth from a hostile extraterrestrial threat. Twelve issues were released, and a stunning revelation was made in the final full-page panel of issue 12. And then… nothing! I can’t find any information on the web about future issues. Searching for the author Mark Powers turns up nothing about plans for Drafted. There is a report that the work is being turned into a movie, but I can’t find additional information about that either.
In the meantime, I wait, wondering if these great stories will ever find an end.
Have you been affected by a story interrupted?
Omega, the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem or why I’m not very good at reviewing graphic novels (or comics). First, I’m never very sure if it is a comic or a graphic novel. Because in the case of Omega the Unknown, apparently it started out as comics written and illustrated by some other people (Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, illustrated by Jim Mooney ) and ended up in this graphic novel looking format by Lethem. At the end of the novel, Lethem and Karl Rusnak, co-writer, discuss the original work.
Which brings up the second problem, people reviewing comics and graphic novels always seem to know the history of the series, the author, what strange publishing diversions occurred, etc. I just picked this one up because I saw Jonathan Lethem wrote it, and I think he’s a great author full of thoughtful ideas. See website. Futher insight on Lethem at Powell interview.
But when I starting reading it, I immediately became intrigued by Edie the sympathetic nurse from Oklahoma. Why refer to her as “the nurse from Oklahoma”? Are we a particularly empathtic (currently used as an unpleasant adjective, but only in relation to supreme court judges) lot? Was that a way of saying she was naive? I mean none of the other characters had a state attached to their persona. Maybe Lethem just understands, like the rest of us Okies, that Oklahoma is the center of the universe. I’d like to ask him why he picked Oklahoma for Edie and what does it mean? Characters also refer to Rumblefish. Another Oklahoma connection. Someone must have been an S.E. Hinton reader.
This is a story about a kid, Titus Alexander Island, whose parents were apparently robots. He has a relationship with the superhero Omega, who spends a lot of time being locked up. Omega seems to hang out in a mobile fry kitchen eating Bald Eagles. There’s the particularly annoying and nasty pseudo-hero, Mink, who is coincidentally dating Edie. Women are always suckers for the wrong guy. The history of Omega is slowly unraveled, as Omega is unravelling. There’s the omnipotent statute, “There are those who ask: If you know and see so much, why not lift a finger to alter the outcome? Believe Me, I ask myself that question every day.” There’s the sad story of the high school kid being bullyed and beaten. There’s nanotechnology and Mink’s hand growing legs. There are so many issues, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Four stars later ****,maybe a five. I liked this strange comic/graphic novel. The illustrations worked with the captions, dialogue and characters. At the end of the novel, Karl Rusnak, explains how Gerber raised caption narration to an art form. Well Lethem and Rusnak are genius at it as well. There is so much here that you just have to read this one for yourself. Farel Dalrymple is very clever, and I would like to see more graphic novels he has illustrated. It takes a long time for revelations to begin, hey, I’m in comic VIII before I really start to see the light. And comic X doesn’t leave much hope, the girls are alone, Titus is trying to recreate his parents and the heroes have been “warehoused”. I suspect I could read this 20 more times and find things I’ve missed, and still find it strangely compelling.
Links to people that know how to review comics, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?id=155&page=user_review
I’m reading Watchmen,
okay, I feel a little quilty because everyone I know at work is re-reading it to get ready for the movie. Somehow I have yet again missed that moment of reading what’s important at the time everyone else is. I’m going to blame it on my age, except I just looked and Alan Moore is just a year younger than me. (I hope I look a lot younger)
And along with my aging process, I’m not sure if I like my heroes as flawed as Watchmen. I like those guys/gals with super powers, the good vs. evil caricatures, and the sides are clearly delineated. Flawed, old, crazy is how I feel why do I want my superheroes to be the same, I think fantasy is a good thing. Am I totally against the grain with this thinking.
But I do get the angry, cynicism, irritation with the, forgive the word, “establishment”. So I’ll read on even if I’m a day late and a dollar short as my grandmother would say.
As Sadie’s Extremely Graphic blog reported, the demise of the Dick Tracy comic strip may be at hand. The creater Pawnee born Oklahoman, Chester Gould started the comic strip in 1931. For a very interesting interview with Gould, read The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy.
Libraries or Amazon.com should have other books on Gould and Tracy; Dick Tracy: The Official Biography by Jay Maeder, Dick Tracy: America’s Most Famous Detective by Bill Crouch, Jr. and for a more scholarly approach, read Dick Tracy and American Culture by Garyn G. Roberts. The last has a fantastic bibliography.
And there is a series of collected strips called Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy , Volumes 1-6 (so far), published by IDW.
Did you know that when a signed picture of Chester Gould was taken from the Oklahoma State University (later recovered) the Oklahoman accidentally declared him deceased and Gould took issue, being very much alive at the time. Here’s the note sent to the Oklahoman and all was corrected and forgiven.
In case you can’t read the print under the note:
‘VERY MUCH ALIVE’ as the author of the Dick Tracy comic strip, Chester Gould sent this message to The Oklahoman from his Woodstock, III., home to prove it. Last week a framed picture of the crimestoppor extraordinaire was taken from the student union at Oklahoma State University, and Gould was erroneously ideniified in the early edition Aug. 31 as “the Late” on the word of a student union official. The Oklahoman and OSU, Gould’s alma mater regret the error.
There’s a Chester Gould/Dick Tracy museum in Woodstock, Illinois.