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The Rain-Soaked Bride: The Clown Service Series, Book 2

Guy Adams. Del Rey, $16.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-09-195317-1

The second book of the Clown Service series (after the eponymous launch title) combines dark arts and dark humor. When trade talks between the U.K. and South Korea are plagued by deaths that reek of the supernatural, Toby Greene and August Shining of British Intelligence's Section 37 are called in to help. But even their expertise in the occult may not be enough. Adams does a much better job this time providing a compelling thriller plot, taking the reader down credible false leads on multiple occasions and keeping the speculative elements on topic. The scope is smaller, but feels more powerful due to the proximity and individuality of the death scenes. Some issues remain, such as the way magic always manages to do whatever the plot requires and the need for Toby and August to save the female characters, but the merging of James Bond and the X-Files is still delightful enough to overcome these flaws. (July)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Split

Libby Creelman. Goose Lane (UTP, dist.), $22.95 trade paper (373p) ISBN 978-0-86492-861-0

Creelman's second novel (after The Darren Effect) explores the relationship between two identical twins as girls, teens, and women. April and Pilgrim grow up on a farm in rural Massachusetts during the 1970s with their eccentric parents. Even for twins, the girls share an unusually close bond, sharing thoughts and feelings to the point that the border between them as individuals is blurry. But when the girls are 16, their father recruits a young doctor from the Bahamas to provide care in their small town. The girls' mutual infatuation with the doctor, Jean Moss, drives them apart, and his relationship with them shakes the foundation of the family. The novel, which shifts between the past and the girls' adult present, also explores race relations in America, in the 1970s when Jean discovers that a black doctor won't have many white patients and in a new era when the first black American president faces his own challenges. Creelman skillfully crafts a suspenseful read with intriguing, unpredictable characters. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Bullet Is for You

Martine Delvaux, trans. from the French by David Homel. Linda Leith (LitDistCo, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (132p) ISBN 978-1-988130-11-8

This story begins when the Quebecoise narrator meets a Czech man in Rome. During their intense love affair, he moves to Montreal to be with her and they marry. But his love for his new wife is quickly overtaken by hatred for the city, the country, and the continent. The narrator's apartment becomes, she thinks, symbolic of a historic battleground, representing the new world while her lover believes in the superiority of ancient civilizations. Once he has left, ostensibly for a trial separation, the narrator returns to Rome, writing one last love letter before they part forever. Like Delvaux's 2015 novel, the as-yet-untranslated Blanc dehors, this one focuses both on a relationship and its absence. Told episodically and not chronologically, the story intersperses the narrator's suffering in Rome with memories of the couple's time together. But these aren't exclusively romantic, myopic visions of the past; the departed lover is gradually revealed to be cruel and bullying. Delvaux is merciless and unsentimental in describing the intoxication of love and the despair of its aftermath. This is an angry, often devastated, but eloquent postmortem of a complicated relationship, bound to be deeply appreciated by many who have suffered broken hearts. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ask Me about Polyamory: The Best of Kimchi Cuddles

Tikva Wolf. Thorntree, $24.95 trade paper (146) ISBN 978-0-9964601-1-8

This debut collection of the Kimchi Cuddles webcomic begins with a flowchart to show the relationships between its various characters, but this is hardly necessary as the comic itself rarely delves into any narrative that could be called a story. Mostly, the book is a series of short strips explaining polyamory and the joys and stresses it brings to those who practice it. Wolf's bright, simple art is lively, but it exists largely in service to the dialogue, which is often explanatory rather than conversational. At times, the character speaking becomes a tiny figure in a panel mostly obscured by the word balloons, leading the reader to wonder whether the subject would perhaps be better served by plain or illustrated prose. Conversations about what love means in polyamory, perhaps eye-opening and sweet at the beginning, become dulled with repetition. A book that focused more on storytelling in the vein of Dykes to Watch Out For could have provided a better window into polyamorous life. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A City Inside

Tillie Walden. Avery Hill (Retrofit, dist.), $10 trade paper (56p) ISBN 978-1-910395-20-2

This debut graphic novel, an elliptical examination of first love and homesickness, cements Walden's reputation as one of comics' most exciting newcomers. The confidence of this work, made while Walden was in her teens, is startling—her linework is crisp and bold, her shadows deeply black, her turns of phrase heartbreakingly earnest. The contrast between the work's more magical-realist conceits—the protagonist, out of homesickness, decides to live in the sky—and its straightforward approach creates a wonderful tension at the heart of the work that makes its message universal. This is a book about a specific person, but it is also a book about change: changes of heart, location, ambition, and necessity. This slim volume feels like a mission statement and a herald of oncoming talent—a wonderful work on its own, and a sign of things to come. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Breaking Cat News

Georgia Dunn. Andrews McMeel, $12.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4494-7413-3

Three cats report on their perspective of daily life with their human owners in cute but overly familiar set pieces in Dunn's debut collection of her webcomic. Dunn references situations any cat owner knows by heart, but the conceit of cats as newscasters with all the clichés of anchors and reporters gives them a sometimes new coat of paint. The appeal here are the pets: the cats look adorable holding microphones, wearing reporter clothing, and speaking their outrage. Each one has a distinct personality. Lupin is a white cat with big ears who takes things seriously, Puck is a black cat everyman, and angry comic relief Elvis is a suspenders-wearing Siamese with a hatred of just about everything. Marker and watercolor give the comics a soft, blended feel, fleshing out thin lines. The situational humor and funny outfits dress up each strip, making for an enjoyable, but not really memorable, look at living with cats. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Black Magick, Vol. 1: Awakening, Part One

Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott. Image, $9.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-63215-675-4

Rowan Black is a New England-based cop who is secretly a witch. Writer Rucka (Gotham Central) brings his characteristically thoughtful take on procedural drama; Australian artist Scott (Earth 2) depicts Rowan's world in subtle ink washes. Rowan turns to a coven friend when she finds that a powerful magic user has found out her true identity and is coming for her, and things get worse from there. There are spells, cloudy magical effects, and a screaming harpy for good measure. The artwork is mostly in black and white, with some color for emphasis on magical items or phenomena. The details of Rowan's story sometimes vanish in confusing Law & Order: SVU–style patter, but overall it's a fresh take on the paranormal procedural. Rowan and her partner grow quite charming by the end of the series, leaving lots of questions at its climax. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Birth of Kitaro

Shigeru Mizuki, trans. from the Japanese by Zack Davisson. Drawn & Quarterly, $12.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-77046-228-1

This collection features the English-language debut of one of the most beloved characters in manga, the yokai (monster) named Kitaro. Mizuki (Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths; Showa: A History of Japan) drew the adventures of his most popular character for more than half a century. Accompanied by an excellent introduction from Davisson, this volume showcases stories from the late 1960s, including the character's origin. In each tale, the one-eyed Kitaro, literally accompanied by his father's disembodied eye, does his best to protect the world from bad yokai: spirits and monsters that come from traditional Japanese folklore. The adorably creepy but eminently powerful Kitaro is an indefatigable force reminiscent of the tortoise of Yoruba legend or Coyote of Native American lore. Mizuki's canvas can move from the eminently realistic to the cartoonish, presenting a world beneath the surface of our own in a stunningly believable fashion. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In The Sounds and Seas

Marnie Galloway. One Peace, $24.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-935548-76-8

Galloway's first graphic novel is a wordless but entirely immersive story that won a Xeric Grant and was nominated for the L.A. Times Book Prize in an earlier, shorter edition. Gorgeously executed in black and white, repeated patterns of leaves, wings, braids, and winds embellish a world that's both strange and familiar. In a dense forest, three women sing life into being: streams of birds, fish and rabbits flow from their throats. These rivers of creatures weave together and transform, Escher-like, into the endless waves of the ocean. On the shore of this fantastic sea a young woman with long dark hair is plagued by unspoken yearnings. She and two friends make preparations for a lengthy journey. They build and supply a tall ship before setting out to sea. The ship's lines are intertwined into hair of the young woman, literally binding her to a voyage full of beauty and terrible sorrow. Divided into six equal chapters, this story contains unexpected visual twists that use a wide range of page layouts to their fullest extent. The dialogue of the friends is represented by empty speech bubbles that still manage to convey a complex and emotional narrative. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Fight Club 2

Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, and Dave Stewart. Dark Horse, $29.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61655-945-8

Since igniting Project Mayhem 10 years ago, the dangerously anarchic personality called Tyler Durden has been submerged into the narrator (now named Sebastian) with pills, a mundane job, and a life of textbook suburban domesticity. That state is shattered when Sebastian's wife's sexual needs lead her to cut his prescription dosages, unwittingly freeing Tyler to once more foment the violent misery that he so excels at. What unfolds is a lysergic tapestry of apparent kidnapping, examinations of whether we define ideas or vice versa, and a host of other ideas that coalesce to finally make sense, only to again yank the rug out from under the reader before veering into confusingly meta territory. Palahniuk's ultra-dark original novel and its subsequent film adaptation have become cult landmarks and perhaps should not have been revisited, but he and artist Cameron Stewart (Batman) do their best with it, slathering this sequel with solid artwork. Dave Stewart's rich colors evoke the pharmaceuticals ingested by the protagonist. The surfeit of ideas proves too much for the narrative and the whole endeavor collapses under its own conceptual bloat—something Palahniuk himself discusses when he appears in the last part of the story. It's a beautiful but ultimately frustrating journey. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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