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March, Book 2

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Top Shelf, $19.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-60309-400-9

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In the second installment of his graphic memoir, Congressman Lewis continues to lay his soul bare about his time as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Chronicling the triumphs and hardships of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), this book paints a devastating picture of America in the 1960s, taking to task those who attacked peaceful protestors, and politicians who were desperate to maintain segregation. Lewis, Aydin, and Powell’s combined experiences combine to recreate scenes of incredible feeling, from Rev. Martin Luther King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech (and Lewis’s own, oft-overlooked speech on the same day), to a single, terrifying night spent surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan. Even passages that are less emotionally fraught still carry historical import, including Lewis’s recollections of private conversations with King. Throughout, however, it is Powell’s art that truly steals the show, as the veteran graphic novelist experiments with monochrome watercolors, powerful lettering techniques, and inspired page layouts to create a gripping visual experience that enhances the power of Lewis’s unforgettable tale. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Foolbert Funnies: Histories and Other Fictions

Frank Stack. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-60699-808-3

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Stack (Our Cancer Year) was one of the mainstays in the underground comix movement; his collection The Adventures of Jesus, published in 1964 under the name “Foolbert Sturgeon,” may even have been the very first underground comic book. This anthology shows the variety of Stack’s concerns, including basically good-natured spoofs of mainstream comics icons such as Superman and the Phantom; speculations about the fate of troubled geniuses such as Van Gogh, Shakespeare, and Caravaggio; and savage portraits of contemporary small-minded politicians. Over the years, Stack’s style has loosened into a combination of energetic brushstrokes and meticulous but vigorous crosshatching, wonderfully effective in pieces such as the action-packed “Amazons.” Overall, from the acerbic satire on academic bureaucrats in “The Chancellor!” (1970) to the sneering “Patriotism for Dummies” (2003), Stack demonstrates that his indignation at lazy, shallow thinking hasn’t faded at all. An important, exhilarating book. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Engine, Vol. 1: The Art of Destruction

Ryan Burton and John Bivens. Image, $9.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-63215-176-6

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In their first collaboration, Burton and Bivens have created an earth gone wrong, where the globe is swarming with nightmarish demons and humanity’s only hope for salvation lies in the hands of a time-traveling topless homicidal savant known simply as Sym. As the alchemists who created her wait for Sym to kill “the enemy” and restore the world to its true nature, the last dragon—in this world flightless—quests for a monstrous steed to pilot. Burton’s narrative is a complex beast, much like Bivens’s creatures themselves. Readers may need to look back frequently to make sense of the story, which reads mostly as a prologue to the second volume. Very little of this world’s lore is explained, leaving readers to muddle through until things become clearer at the 11th hour. This is the book’s greatest failing, as too little is told for the reader to fully understand what is being shown. Fortunately, backtracking is another opportunity to soak up Bivens’s intriguing, Paul Pope–influenced pencils. The action can be hard to follow—compounding the puzzlement brought on by Burton’s script—but the scenes are beautifully set, resulting in a confounding but intriguing introduction. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy

Michael Patton and Kevin Cannon. Hill & Wang, $17.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-80903-362-1

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Like many nonfiction graphic novels written by non-comic writers, philosophy professor Patton’s wordy text drives the narrative. But Cannon’s (The Stuff of Life) art transcends what could have been a second-place relationship to keep this textbook-like explanation of the key thinkers of history visually entertaining. Heraclitus takes the reader on a canoe trip down the River of Philosophy (complete with charming talking fish) as a way to introduce the exploration of six key areas—logic, perception, minds, free will, the existence of God, and ethics—and the famous thinkers who made key discoveries in each. Early on, it’s noted that women aren’t part of the “accepted canon,” which consists of well-known male philosophers who each get a brief, half-page biographical snapshot. Otherwise, the concept-based structure, which incorporates ideas from across eras, is welcoming and understandable to the casual reader, accompanied by Cannon’s sometimes-funny, sometimes-insightful visual metaphors. The sequence illustrating mind-body interaction, with a little Leibniz sitting on Descartes’s head and holding a ship’s wheel, is particularly amusing. Moreover, it helps the ideas stick with the reader, as do the glossary and bibliography for more in-depth reading. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

Sydney Padua. Pantheon, $28.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-90827-8

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This print edition of Padua’s webcomic is a must-have for anyone who enjoys getting lost in a story as brilliant in execution as conception. Padua debut graphic novel transforms the collaboration between Ada Lovelace (the daughter of Lord Byron) and Charles Babbage (a noted polymath) into an inspired, “What If?” story. Lovelace was a talented mathematician and helped translate a paper on Babbage’s ideas for an Analytical Engine, the world’s first computer. The notes she added to the translation were so cleverly detailed that experts today recognize them as the first example of computer programming. Although Lovelace died a few years later and Babbage was left to tinker with his Analytical Engine until his death, Padua imagines an alternate reality where they build the engine and use it to “have thrilling adventures and fight crime!” The immensity of Padua’s research and the wit and allusions of her prose are striking, saying as much about what drove her to explore the possibilities of her protagonists’ relationship as about the protagonists themselves. Permeated by delightful illustrations, obsessive foot- and endnotes, and a spirit of genuine inventiveness, it’s an early candidate for the year’s best. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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