Thursday, November 05, 2009

Six GNs That Won't Get a Full-Fledged Review

Because all I have to say about them can be said more succinctly:

Things Undone by Shane White (NBM/ComicsLit, November 2009, $12.95)

This is White's second graphic novel, after North Country, which I didn't see. His hero, Rick Watt, is a mopey twentysomething who moves jobs from Philadelphia to Seattle -- and, in flashbacks, moves from one girlfriend to a prettier model -- but is still mopey and depressed. White shows the mopiness and depression by having Watt slowly turn into a zombie, complete with body parts falling off -- and that's a great visual metaphor...except that it doesn't make up for the fact that Watt has no real reason to be mopey and annoying. His new job isn't going as well as he'd like it to, but he's also just being a jerk, particularly to his girlfriend, Natalie.

White is going for existential ennui, or maybe a quarterlife crisis, but, really, it's just that Rick is a passive-aggressive jerk who can't communicate effectively with either his girlfriend or his co-workers. He gets a happy ending of sorts by learning to have "backbone," which is precisely the wrong lesson -- Rick needed to be able to talk, not to fight and pretend to kill himself.

The zombie motif is artistically interesting, but the moments of greater zombification aren't consistently related to Rick being more beaten down and dehumanized; more often, they're a product of his own anger or lack of attention. There's nothing wrong with Rick that a but of slowing down and paying attention wouldn't cure; he's not a zombie, just a self-absorbed guy who thinks he deserves to get better than he gives.

Joe & Azat by Jesse Lonergan (NBM/ComicsLit, November 2009, $10.95)

Lonergan spent time in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan; the "Joe" of this graphic novel is a young man in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan. (And "Azat" is his driver/guide/best friend there, the usual super-energetic, vaguely entrepreneurial young man in backward or developing countries, always on the hunt for the next big thing, cheerfully forward-looking, and hugely outgoing.) But Joe and Azat is not autobiographical; it's only based loosely on Lonergan's own experiences.

That means, I suppose, that life didn't neatly turn itself into a story for Lonergan during his time in Turkmenistan, but, then, it never does. The story here is episodic and without much overall shape; the episodes are individually interesting, but they tend to turn into "look at these colorful people, so unlike bland American Joe! My, aren't people in the less-known parts of the world so much more ethnic than we are!" in the aggregate.

Lonergan does have a great eye for black; he has huge areas of inky black throughout Joe and Azat. His faces are also very expressive; his people really come to life on the page. (His body language is equally good; the cover is a good example of that.)

Joe and Azat is very enjoyable, but it's a pretty standard me-and-my-wacky-ethnic-friend comedy (crossed with here-I-am-in-this-weird-foreign-country). I have to think that Lonergan could have put together a stronger piece if he's kept closer to his own actual experiences; I doubt there was a "real" Azat -- and the people that he put together to make Azat would probably have been more interesting in their complexities.

Prison Pit: Book One by Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics, October 2009, $12.99)

I've only seen short Johnny Ryan strips before, so I wasn't adequately prepared for the apocalyptic, WWF-meets-a-disturbed-seventh-grader's-notebook quality of Prison Pit. There's no narration or scene-setting; a prisoner is about to be dumped on some hell-hole planet when the book begins, and it goes on from there, through ultra-violence and even less expected and palatable events.

It's a good thing for Ryan that comics don't have rating like movies do, that's all I can say -- the little box explaining the elements that went into the rating would be pages long ("decapitations, pervasive verbal obscenities, copious sadistic violence,..., disturbing imagery,....").

Prison Pit is un-reviewable; it is what it is, and most readers will loathe it. A few will actually enjoy it, and more will claim to like it, because they think they should like something as "transgressive" as this. Ryan is one crazy motherfucker, man -- and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 2 by The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics, October 2009, $14.99)

Love and Rockets is difficult to review for the opposite reason that Prison Pit is: there so much here -- on the page, and in the backstory -- that just finding a place to begin is difficult. This particular yearly "issue" has a hundred pages of comics, evenly divided between Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez.

Jaime's half comes in two parts, but they're continuing the same story -- the story that began in last year's first issue in this new format, "Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34," as if all hundred pages of this story was a superhero comic from a more female-friendly (and multicultural) universe than any of the ones we know. It's also a sideways version of his main, generally realistic continuity, in which some minor characters from his Locas stories are superheroines and the ubiquitous Maggie makes a brief appearance. Jamie's view of superheroes owes more to wrestling (particularly the masked wrestling of Mexico) than is usual for American comics, and it's also a surprise to see his all-female casts beating up on each other as strongly (and with as few consequences) as the spandex-clad men of Marvel and DC. I didn't find this story as successful as Jaime's work usually is; it's too in-jokey and hermetic, as if the superhero comics of the world he's invoking are nearly as tedious and inbred as our own.

Gilbert also provides two stories, which fill up the middle of the book. But his are unrelated to each other, though "Sad Girl" seems to be set on the fringes of his Palomar continuity (in the more recent incarnation, with the current-generation characters relocated to southern California) and the main character of the literally nightmarish "Hypotwist" looks like, and may indeed be, Fritzi. The first is more of an episode than a complete story, and the latter is another one of Gilbert's periodic experiments with the comics form -- interesting and evocative, but difficult to describe, since it relies entirely on that dream-like atmosphere and imagery.

So this is a decent Hernandez Bros. book, but a horrible starting point for anyone who hasn't read them; thus, practically speaking, a unreviewable book.

Sky Doll by Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa (Marvel/Soleil, November 2008, $24.99)

This tale of a female android -- sexy but utterly innocent, sweet and loving and searching for love and her place -- in a galaxy-spanning medium-future civilization under mildly corrupt theocratic rule reads like as pure a distillation of the essence of Heavy Metal as is possible. And so it only makes sense that it would be published over here by marvel, which has been in the business of triple-distilling superhero comics, like some mad purveyor of punch-em-up Scotch, into ever more esoteric and self-involved forms.

There's not a single page in Sky Doll that's less than stunning, and not a single word or idea in it that any reader with the slightest knowledge of vaguely smutty commercial French comics (shall I just say "Heavy Metal" again?) will find the least bit surprising. In the alternate world that is France, this is Marvel Comics. And now it's so here as well.

Universal War One, Vol. 1 by Denis Bajram (Marvel/Soleil, January 2009, $24.99)

This book is pretty generic as well -- hard-bitten soldiers in space, in the midst of the usual inner system vs. outer system civil war, dealing with a suddenly-appearing black wall in space. Even more generically, they're a "purgatory squadron" -- made up of court-martialed officers (each for some very distinct failing that serves as each one's only personality trait), led by the un-respected daughter of a great (tough, hard-bitten, unbending...add your cliche here) military leader, who is also nearby.

There's the usual adventure-SF mix of tough-talking, vaguely enigmatic alien artifacts, punch-em-ups, and fighters banking in space as they dogfight. If you're the kind of person who can take any of that seriously, it could be a rousing story; it all looks very shiny and dramatic, and the dialogue only induces actual cringes a couple of times.

5 comments:

bingol said...

"... and the dialogue only induces actual cringes a couple of times."

One day, I'm gonna send you a novel of mine to review--even though you'll rip it apart. You're really a damn good reviewer.

kgbooklog said...

So this is a decent Hernandez Bros. book, but a horrible starting point

A coworker gave me a copy of Palomar: the Heartbreak Soup Stories; would that be a good place to start?

mm999 said...

I thought Gilbert's two stories are related to each other - Hypnotwist is a movie that "Killer" was watching at the end of Sad Girl.

Andrew Wheeler said...

kgbooklog: Jaime is generally the more accessible of the two brothers, so, given a choice, I'd start with his work. (Probably his big omnibus Locas at this point.) But if you already have Palomar, you might as well take a look at it.

Jaime's early work starts more from SF and early '80s punk culture -- quickly dropping the former for the latter, and for more down-to-earth stories set in the minor towns of inland Southern California -- and his cast starts out smaller and easier to keep track of. Gilbert's early stories focus on Palomar, a small Latin American town, and run through three generations in stories that occasionally tend to the soap-operatic end. Gilbert has generally been more ambitious in his stories, especially formally, with his dream-logic stories and his large-scale interlocking stories with large casts.

=shane white= said...

Thanks, Andrew for reviewing my book Things Undone. I greatly appreciate it knowing you could have chosen other material.

Be well,

=shane=

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