Thursday, May 30, 2013

More Graphic Novels I Read Three Months Ago

I've still got a stack of prose books (mostly novels) after this, and they might get the same treatment tomorrow, if BEA doesn't completely exhaust me. I don't know why it surprises me every time I get behind, since it happens over and over again....

I'm not going to be able to do justice to Matt Kindt's Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes here -- it's a gnarly, twisted crime story, told from several points of view that loop around and presented in a style derived from both classic newspaper comics and noir illustrations -- so maybe I should just say that it's another incredibly smart, engrossing story from the creator of Revolver, 3 Story, 2 Sisters, and Super Spy. Of course, even saying that is misrepresenting Red Handed -- it's not really a "crime story" in the way that phrase is usually meant, since most of the "crimes" in Red Handed are bizarre and random -- stymieing the previously-perfect (and very specifically named) Detective Gould in the quite distinct city of Red Wheelbarrow. It's a fascinating, precisely constructed and deeply felt mediation on responsibility and control. And it's also just been published, so I'm, for once, in time to recommend it when that might do some good.

Grandville Bete Noire by Bryan Talbot is the third in the steampunk anthropmorphic adventure series (after Grandville and Grandville Mon Amour), and it runs closely following the pattern established by the first two books: big, world-shaking plots from sinister villains in high places, foiled at the last minute by the calmly competent and unshakably heroic Detective-Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard. The fact that a world with such a bewildering array of equally-sized and equally intelligent animals seems to have no concept of an interracial relationship is still odd, but it's Talbot's world, so he's allowed his quirks. I don't think swashbuckling needs to be explained or excused -- though I wrote quite a bit about the first two books; see the links above if you want more details -- so I'll just point at this, say it's jolly good fun in the old style, and move on.

The Battle of Blood and Ink is a steampunky book set in a flying city, written by Jared Axelrod and drawn by Steve Walker, which is as adventury and swashbuckling as Bete Noire but not quite as successful. The world is equally thought-through -- it is even sillier, but that really doesn't matter for that kind of story -- but the art looks to be drawn for color but presented in black and white, and the cliches are all presented straight, without the knowing nod that a more mature cartoonist like Talbot provides to the Grandville world. So Blood and Ink features a crusading journalist -- a young woman whose boundless enthusiasms are tiring rather than enthralling -- going up against the much-too-evil-to-be-believed masters of her city, to learn the shocking secret of everything, through lots and lots of bad-movie dialogue.

The Shark King is a newish book for younger readers by R. Kikuo Johnson, whose previous book was the adult graphic novel Night Fisher. This is clearly for young readers -- it's a levelled reader, actually, with a vocabulary pitched at the level of a 2nd or 3rd grader -- and it has little of the nuance and deep insighht of Night Fisher. Instead, it retells a Hawaiian legend, about a young woman who falls in love with a mysterious man and has a mysterious son by him. Johnson's art is bright and direct, with stark black outlines, like a mid-century picture book, and it's the art that gives Shark King its energy and forward momentum.

Level Up is, I suppose, Gene Luen Yang's major follow-up to American Born Chinese, if you count Prime Baby as an interesting side-piece. But he's just the writer here; he's gotten Thien Pham (who comes from a similar cultural background -- important for this particular story. Level Up is another immigrant's story, another story about the conflict between the pull of ancestral culture (and its demands for self-sacrifice) on the one hand and the seductive modern world, focused on individual happiness on the other. This time, Dennis Ouyang's father insists that he become a doctor -- that he spend his every waking moment working towards becoming a doctor -- but his own talents and desires are to play video games. And then four cherubic figures show up to push him to fulfill his father's wishes -- which isn't the first sign that Dennis is teetering on the edge of a psychotic break, actually -- and things get even weirder. Level Up has a moral, which is usually not good for a book, and it doesn't take its imaginative elements seriously, but uses them entirely on the level of metaphor and plot device. It's pleasant and tells a nice story, but it ends up being much too much of a Aesop's Fable for my taste.

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