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Henshin

Ken Niimura, trans. from the Japanese by Ivy Yukiko and Ishihara Oldford. Image, $19.99 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-63215-242-8

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The title of this English translation of a manga short story collection means change, and change is indeed the primary constant across these 13 stories by I Kill Giants artist Niimura, as the chapters vary in tone, subject matter, and even art style. “No Good” is a solid story to kick off, following a young woman’s discovery of a machine gun in her uncle’s glove box, leading to surprises for both characters. Niimura is at his best when his art is sketchy and loose and when his story lines marry the realistic with the fantastic, as in“The Bully Bros,” in which a young boy struggles with the decision to invoke his fart-based super powers. Those lowbrow themes pop up here and there, but there are also more deeply affecting pieces—and all are very much in the gekiga spirit of pioneering cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Niimura’s restless, energetic artwork is well suited to capturing the stories of these unsatisfied, questioning characters. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis

Darryl Cunningham. Abrams Comicarts, $17.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1598-3

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This work is both a highly effective example of graphic nonfiction and a strong critique of the connection between Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism and the 2008 financial collapse. Cunningham (Psychiatric Tales, How to Fake a Moon Landing) tackles this essential but byzantine subject with admirable clarity. The book examines how the attitudes and approaches of people—including former Federal Reserve Chairman and Rand disciple Alan Greenspan—helped establish the conditions for a worldwide financial meltdown. Financial institutions, sub-prime mortgages, and overwhelming greed did the rest. Although Cunningham is dealing with complicated economic matters, he is able to use straightforward panel arrangements and a simplified color palette to make the financial crisis accessible to the average reader; a detailed bibliography at the end shows the level of research. This book is a superb example of how powerful graphic nonfiction can be in taking complex events and making them frighteningly clear. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Armor Hunters, Deluxe Edition

Matt Kindt, Robert Venditti, and Joshua Dysart. Valiant, $49.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-93934-672-8

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A team of highly advanced armor hunters are on a mission to destroy all of the powerful X-O Manowar armor in the universe, in this massive crossover featuring all of Valiant’s top characters. The armor, being sentient alien tech, bonds with a host body and destroys worlds, but the hunters also have immense destructive power, and so both sides are pitted against each other in an escalating battle. On Earth, the armor worn by Aric of Dacia has been controlled and is no longer a threat, but the hunters can’t be persuaded that the danger has been averted, prompting a devastating war. The book does an excellent job of creating high stakes and sympathetic protagonists and antagonists, with both camps believing strongly that they are doing right. But like any crossover event, this one is a bit bloated and overblown in places. Though the many artists involved have different strengths and weaknesses, the collection is impressively cohesive. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Borb

Jason Little. Uncivilized (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 (96 p) ISBN 978-0-9889014-0-7

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Usually, when a homeless man drinks his life away on New York City’s streets, no one gives a damn. But in this case we do, thanks to Little (Shutterbug Follies) detailing the deep, deeper, and deepest lows of one nameless man’s homelessness. Little takes us through a series of endless raw deals: the homeless man loses his teeth, gets peed on, gets bed bugs, and gets arrested, yet he trundles on, chugging vodka in an almost constant daze. These darkly funny mishaps (accompanied by plenty of fart and barf sound effects) are amusing—especially paired with the brilliant use of the four-panel-gag comic strip format. But as Borb’s alcoholism becomes even more severe, and he continues to fall through the cracks of modern society again and again, a despair grows, and it’s unclear where the joke is really coming from. Little’s elegant linework, minimal dialogue, and unwavering focus on the man’s day-to-day struggles are powerful, giving us a gruesome, slapstick view of society’s underbelly. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Warren Commission Report: A Graphic Investigation

Dan Mishkin, Ernie Col%C3%B3n, and Jerzy Drozd. Abrams Comicarts, $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-41971-230-2

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The details of JFK's shattering assassination in November 1963 have been scrutinized in microscopic detail over the half-century that followed. In the immediate wake of the president's murder, President Johnson appointed the seven-member Warren Commission to investigate the shooting, a 10-month inquiry that yielded an official report stating that there was "no credible evidence" to contradict the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acted as a lone gunman. The commission's findings are a Gordian knot of sometimes contradictory information that have stoked the fires of conspiracy theorists worldwide, and making a coherent path through that labyrinth is no simple feat for the casual observer. Mishkin, Colón, and Drozd have miraculously made the document accessible, concisely reconstructing the events, eyewitness statements, and a plethora of data with crisp visuals that approximate the flow of a top-notch documentary. A concise primer for one of the 20th century's most indelible tragedies, this book is an effort worthy of consideration when awards season looms. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Justice League 3000, Vol. 1: Yesterday Lives

Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Howard Porter. DC, $16.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-4012-5046-1

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In a dystopian 31st century, five insanely powerful supervillains have destroyed not only Earth but also entire galaxies. With no heroes left to fight them, super-genius twins Teri and Terry "resurrect" the long-dead Justice League —Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. However, they have not come back as the heroes the world once knew, and they struggle to come together as a team. Veteran writers Giffen and DeMatteis get a lot of fun mileage out of their interpretations of the damaged heroes who have not retained all their memories, personalities, or powers. Some of the best moments come from the twisting of these beloved characters into new shapes, reminding readers what makes them so valuable—and it's not superpowers. However, the overly ambitious story ultimately robs its premise of emotional impact and believability. Porter's character designs and general world-building are strong, but it's all too much. Great ideas get buried in page after loud page that allow no room for the eye to rest, and the relentlessness becomes overwhelming. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Luminae: Vol. 1

Bengal. Magnetic (Diamond, dist.) $24.99 (164p) ISBN 978-0-9913324-6-5

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In this beautiful but underwritten fantasy epic from French artist Bengal (Naja), a half-dozen warrior women are sworn to defend the Luminae, a mysterious being of pure energy and goodness, from the ravenous forces of evil. The setting is vaguely medieval, with a lord in his castle and some dog-like humanoids caught up in the titanic struggles between light and dark. Bengal, who normally only works as an illustrator, shows less interest in the story than in the artwork, which is nothing short of spectacular throughout. The colors pop and the action snaps with cinematic angles and slashing movement. Bengal's style is both moody and vibrant. He lavishes attention on his signature gamines, combat-princesses with a lean look that recalls Isvan Banyai (Zoom) and a predilection for wearing thong underwear into battle. Bengal uses anime-inflected faces and exclamation-heavy dialogue to goose the story, which is thin to the point of disappearance at times. The last pages give hints of more to come, but most will just look at the amazing pictures. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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