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The Hero: Book 1

David Rubin. Dark Horse, $24.99 (280p) ISBN 978-1-61655-670-9

The story of Heracles (aka Hercules) gets a blistering new workout in Rubin’s (Aurora West) gutsy reimagining. Eurystheus and Heracles are brothers: Eurystheus is doomed to become a tyrant; Heracles, younger, is destined to be a great hero. As the boys age, Heracles takes on the 12 Labors with brawn and the occasional bit of brain, while Eurystheus lives it up as an ever-more demented and sadistic Nero-like figure. Heracles’s adventures vigorously fuse a dark appreciation of the original mythology’s twisted nature with Rubin’s sly, off-kilter surrealism. Swords and sandals share these lavishly oversaturated pages with video monitors and classically nuanced dialogue laced with modern-day obscenities. Heracles takes on hydras, elephant-sized boars, and metal-plated birds and has a titanic lovemaking session with the goddess Diana, all with the same gleeful determination, as Rubin sprinkles in thoughtful notes on the true nature of heroism and the fine line between real courage and tragic obedience to a higher power. A muscular epic that actually questions what it appears to be celebrating. (June)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Genius, Vol. 1

Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman and Afua Richardson. Image, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-63215-223-7

In this long-gestating story (begun in 2008), teen Destiny Ajaye grew up on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, hardened at an early age by bloody gang warfare. But Destiny possesses an advantage that sets her apart from the other heavily armed youths of her community, specifically a razor-sharp military genius and the will to unite disparate gang factions into an organized, disciplined force that wages devastating war on the corrupt local police. As Destiny’s soldiers fatally devastate waves of cops and highly skilled SWAT teams, the authorities struggle to discover just who is leading these street troops and what the eventual goal might be. Taking what could have been just another “in the hood” narrative and turning the genre on its head with the introduction of a unique protagonist, Bernadin and Freeman (Highwayman) craft a taut, visceral thriller that’s driven home by newcomer Richardson’s realistic yet stylized artwork. This volume serves as something of an origin story for Destiny, and it’s superb from start to finish. (June)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside

Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. DC, $24.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-4012-5332-5

A legendary heroine goes to trendy new places in this upbeat volume. After years of painful recovery from the gunshot that severed her spine, Barbara Gordon has a new home, a new costume, and a new attitude. Burnside, Gotham’s hippest hamlet, has welcomed her with open arms and a tempest of hashtags—this Batgirl is as much a viral star as she is superhero. Her villains are similarly current: a pair of murderous anime cosplayers, and a buzz-hungry artist. Tarr’s art brings new life to an old character, transforming bleak Gotham into a fantasy of young professional life—it’s a bold, stylish, and tremendously fun debut. Writers Fletcher (Gotham Academy) and Stewart (Sin Titulo) settle into a cheery groove, though the stories rely a little too heavily on gimmicks without digging into the deep bench of supporting cast. But overall it’s a charming romp and a wonderful setup for future adventure. (July)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cyber Realm

Wren McDonald. Nobrow (Consortium, dist.), $5.95 trade paper (24p) ISBN 978-1-907704-91-8

Nicolas and his son are trying to survive in a postapocalyptic world. When enforcers sent by the overlord known as the Master attack Nicholas, robots rebuild him to enact a complicated and visually appealing but familiar revenge. There’s a really nice French-comics vibe in McDonald’s (Plantr) page construction and thin linework, with 10–12 panels per page featuring medium perspectives making up most of the comic. McDonald shows some excellent extended fight scenes in detail, punch by punch. The graph paper–like look is innovative and contrasts nicely with the stark, pink-purple mountains that make up other sections. Unfortunately, the plot itself paints by the numbers (tragedy, recovery, fight underboss, get revenge, ironic twist). There’s a great sense of action and strong art, but it’s not enough to cover the shortfalls of a story readers can predict too easily. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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My Neighbor Seki: Tonari no Seki-kun, Vol. 1

Takuma Morishige. Vertical, $10.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-939130-96-9

This compilation, an older kid's version of Yotsuba&!, collects vignettes that worked better in their original setting: as short, fun page-filler in a magazine of longer serials. Seki sits at the back of the classroom and is constantly goofing off in elaborate ways. His seat neighbor, a studious and straitlaced firecracker of a girl named Yokai, does her best to avoid his antics, but her active imagination often leads her to be more involved in the stories than he is. Eventually, Yokai starts striking back at Seki's folly, and growing more confident in the process, though her resolve doesn't mature into permitting a conversation between them. The artwork, like the story, is simple but clean, professionally polished and easy to read. The layout delivers the humor succinctly, and the translation is sharp. Morishige is known for later works in the seinen and horror categories, but this 2010 work helped launch his career. The content palpably captures the frustration and whimsy of the age it depicts, but in the end is still a simple, episodic comedy that will sell best once the anime based on the comic debuts in the U.S. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 7

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. Fantagraphics , $14.99 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-6069-9770-3

The renowned Hernandez brothers continue this acclaimed series after more than three decades of fictional dramas and black comedies. The clear highlight is Jaime's reunion between Hopey and Maggie, ex-lovers who get together for a punk event in Huerta. The tensions, history, and anticipation between the two women are lovingly and delicately rendered and could have spanned the entire book, and their meeting is made especially climactic by the scenes with their current partners that precede it. Much of this volume is concerned with Gilbert's characters, Killer, Fritz, and Fritz Jr., all movie and pornography stars of ambiguous relation to one another. These segments, though they have their moments, are sometimes hard to follow due to the similar appearances of some of the characters, and while the Princess Anima segment is lively and fun to read, most of the movie clips that contain scenes with the aforementioned characters feel a bit disjointed from the plot. The art, as always, is top-notch, black and white art rendering the characters as hugely expressive and lovable. Since the book is only an excerpt from a magnum opus, it trails off a bit at the end, but it's nonetheless satisfying. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Imperial

Steven T. Seagle and Mark Dos Santos. Image, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-63215-224-4

Seagle, who co-created Big Hero Six and Ben 10 as part of the studio Man of Action, collaborates with artist Dos Santos (Eureka) to create a fast-paced graphic novel about Mark McDonnell, an average guy about to get married. He's interrupted at the scattering of his father's ashes by a classy superhero named Imperial, who declares that despite Mark's apparent lack of intelligence or physical ability, the crown he wears has selected him as the next Imperial. As Mark tries to plan his wedding and accustom himself to the idea of married life, he is constantly swept away from his betrothed, Katie, and taken on flying lessons and laser eye sessions in the desert. This comic has an engaging voice that pulls the reader in right from the first pages. Despite his simple nature, Mark is a likable, reflective, thoughtful young man whose story unfolds with many humorous moments. The art is active and lively, fitting the story well, and leading to an ending that's unexpectedly moving, perhaps even profound. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Realist

Asaf Hanuka. Boom!, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-60886-688-5

This collection of autobiographical comics, originally published in the Israeli newspaper Calcalist, showcases illustrator Hanuka's marvelous range and depth while delving into deeply personal feelings of alienation and loss. Hanuka (The Divine, Pizzeria Kamikaze) crafts single-page strips that explore his often fragile existence: a rocky home life with his wife and son, from whom he feels cut off; an artistic job that once brought him pleasure, but now consumes him with stress; chronic medical and financial issues; and the pressures of daily life in Tel Aviv, where paranoia and civil unrest hold sway. Though he has plenty of external excuses for his occasional misanthropy, Hanuka is harder on himself than anyone in these strips, using simple but stunning visual metaphors to describe how the creator isolates himself even from those he loves, yet still remains addicted to outside validation via social media. The collection's title, it quickly becomes clear, is painfully accurate. Often obtuse but always heartbreaking, Hanuka's work is a diverse and fascinating portrait of what life truly makes us. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Confetti

Ginette Lapalme. Koyama (Consortium, dist.), $20 (200p) ISBN 978-1-92766-815-3

What's perhaps most remarkable about this art book is its breadth. Curated from the work of Toronto-based Etsy star Lapalme, it spans a number of different mediums, including comics, sketch, sculpture, and collage. Lapalme's work is impressively wideranging even within one medium, such as comics, where it sometimes channels the indie cartoony styles of Marc Bell and Ron Rege and others times is more akin to the work of Lisa Hanawalt, albeit less direct in its punchlines. The book is colorful, grotesquely adorable, and humorous in its nonsensical absurdity throughout. Some commentary might benefit the book, but letting the art stand on its own makes the whole thing play out like a paperback Tumblr account, a setting that's probably the ideal setting for Lapalme's work. (May)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Thomas Alsop: Vol. 1

Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt. Boom!, $14.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60886-684-7

Boozy Thomas Alsop is the supernatural protector of the island of Manhattan­—and a man more ill-suited to the task could hardly be found. Promoting his role for the sake of a reality TV show, Alsop spends his time drinking and closing easy cold cases left over from his father's tenure, unseemly behavior that appears to be weakening his powers. Unfortunately, a black magic–riddled relic from the days of chattel slavery and a forgotten spell affecting the site of the new World Trade Center are both unearthed, leaving Alsop in need of answers and mystical backup. With a tone that initially suggests a hipster answer to Hellblazer , this series hooks readers with an interesting take on a warlock who'd rather be getting wasted and cranking out punk rock anthems with his band than shouldering a sorcerous burden foisted upon him via familial succession. Miskiewicz's script is a skillfully-crafted slow build, rich with characterization, and is evocatively boosted by Schmidt's watercolor art, which manages to wring a lurid beauty out of the narrative's seedy aspects. (May)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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