Well, I promised some kind of reviews this week, right? Luckily, I had more to review than just Mystery In Space… Don’t get me wrong; I’m more than happy to talk about last week’s weird science fiction revival from DC, but it’s more fun to get into two of the best graphic novels of this, a pretty great week for graphic novels. So, let’s get into it, shall we? MYSTERY IN SPACE #1: Or, as the logo says, “Mystery In Space With Captain Comet,” which may be my favorite thing about the entire comic – There’s just something about that that makes it sound like some PBS show, like the DC Universe version of Jacques Costeau or something. Sadly, the comic doesn’t follow through on the somewhat kitschy promise of the title, instead offering up something that doesn’t really fit together well – Shane Davis’s jagged Top Cow-esque artwork is a bit of a mismatch with Jim Starlin’s old-fashioned and very… well, Starlin-esque writing (Not that Starlin’s own art over his writing, in the back-up, is that much of an improvement, looking oddly quaint and with some crazy coloring). It has to be said, Starlin has his niche, this weird hippie take on space opera, and he’s made it his in a way unlike any other comic writer. You’ve got to respect that, even if – like me – you find that style to be overwritten and too reliant on “cosmicness” to explain away obvious plot devices; the four page sequence explaining Comet’s death and rebirth has some terrible narration to work through (“Quantum physics I understand and can explain. The spiritual and the occult are realms I never delved into - - Complete Greek. But I wasn’t operating, at that moment, on any kind of intellectual level. Fear drove me on, and chance allowed me to spot that tiny sparkle of light. There was something different about it. Something alluring.” And that’s just one panel!), and once you get to the end of the issue, you realize that not that much has really happened in either of the two stories, outside of exposition and backstory. It reminds me of the Rann-Thanagar War, in the way that it’s amusing that DC’s sci-fi books seem to be some of the more old-fashioned books they publish, writing-wise… Not that that’s a bad thing, but it makes for a pretty Eh comic book, it has to be said.
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE: You know it’s a good sign when one of the few faults that you can find with a book is that you don’t like the font that the lettering is done in, and that’s pretty much the case with Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel from First Second. In the same way that Eddie Campbell’s Fate Of The Artist was, for me, the “lead” book of First Second’s launch line, this feels like the lead of the second set of releases, which (again, like the launch line) includes a lot of other strong releases; Lat’s Kampung Boy and Joann Sfar’s Klezmer being the ones that are probably most likely to attract critical attention. This, though, is my favorite of the publisher’s fall releases; a book about personal and cultural identities that manages to talk about both in inclusive and specific ways all at once, playing with stereotypes (and, in the way it tells the story of the Monkey King, mainstream comic storytelling traditions) in such a way as to take advantage of, and undermine, them at the same time. By structuring the book in the way that he does – separating the themes into three distinct storylines that come together at the end – Yang plays slight-of-hand tricks with the true intentions of the story in such a way as to undermine the scope of what he’s doing. The difference in experience between reading the book for the first time and re-reading the book is greater than you’d expect, with the re-read solving what I’d felt was the largest fault of the book the first time around… which I can’t really explain here for fear of spoiling the story (It’s the nature of the reveal of crossover between the three parallel plots, and that’s all I can say. But for those who finish the book and feel as if something was off, re-read it and see what you think then). It’s a very strong piece of writing, though, and one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a year that was already a great year for graphic novels. Excellent, I would happily say.
PRIDE OF BAGDHAD: I think every fan of Brian K. Vaughan’s approached this with some level of trepidation, if only because it seemed so outside of his comfort zone – Where were the last page cliffhanger reveals going to be in a graphic novel? How could you get pop-cultural references into dialogue from lions in Iraq? – but that turns out to be a plus, surprisingly. It allows you to focus on everything else that BKV does well, which happens to be… well, quite a lot. Really, his characterization is still key, despite the lack of trivia titbits to be spouted; the animals have personalities that border on Disney but still ring true, and allow for the allegory to come through (although the allegory gets slightly too obvious for me at the climax of the book, but your mileage may vary). All of that is beside the point for me, though, because this is artist Niko Henrichon’s book. The artwork is beautiful, and sells you on everything that you need to believe in to work – The characters are distinct, but believable instead of cartoony, the surroundings atmospheric and the storytelling clear. Any talking animal book lives and dies on the artwork, and Henrichon’s stuff is so good that he could’ve made anyone’s script enjoyable; it’s just a plus that Vaughan’s script is pretty damn good, too. Another Excellent book, although, admittedly, I’m not sure that it’s worthy of the hardcover, $25, format. But Very Good, even at that price.
PICK OF THE WEEK, then, is American Born Chinese, which again makes you think that First Second really know what they’re up to when it comes to picking creators. PICK OF THE WEAK, well, it’s Mystery In Space, but that hardly counts, really…
This weekend: Reviews of some of them there comic books, as opposed to graphic novel books. And probably a lot more snark.