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Thought Bubble Anthology Collection: 10 Years of Comics

Various. Image, $9.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1534300675

Every year, the British comics festival Thought Bubble produces a short collection of shorter comics. This anniversary anthology collects all 10 years of the collections, featuring top creators from both sides of the Atlantic and the winners of the festival’s own comic art award. Most entries are only a page long, which doesn’t provide a lot of space for storytelling. A handful of pieces stand out: a glimpse of an alternate-history comic book store by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay, an ode to summer by Hwei Lim and Emma Rios, instructions for hosting a comics jam by Sarah McIntyre and David O’Connell, and a fable by Emily Rose Lambert. But most are prettier to look at than they are satisfying to read, and as the book continues, more and more installments are transparently advertisements for the creators’ ongoing comics. That said, it’s still an attractive, eclectic overview of the non-superhero comics field over the past decade. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure

Steven Tillotson. Avery Hill (Retrofit, dist.), $16.99 trade paper (132p) ISBN 978-1-91039-525-7

U.K. cartoonist Tillotson tells the story of an unlikely friendship—a smoking, boozing cat named Cat and a giant, unnamed purple gorilla with a blank, skull-like face—and adventures stemming from the ape’s desire to get home from the wilderness to his family in the jungle. In episodic chapters, the two meet narwhals, woolly mammoths, and other creatures. Tillotson soon reveals that the ape has been enslaved in hell to work as a demon, adding a bleak undertone to an otherwise lighthearted story. Transformations, personal power, and the magic of naming oneself lie at the heart of the book. Sumptuous drawings and idiosyncratic dialogue (“Oi mate! Big fella!” the Cat says to the ape upon meeting him) carry this oddly sweet tale of friendship. Tillotson uses an unexpected mix of cartoony visuals and realism to create a sense of unease. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Habitat

Simon Roy. Image, $9.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-63215-885-7

First serialized in Image’s anthology comic Island, this unpredictable science-fiction adventure is long on imagination, if short on plot and character development. In a vast interstellar spaceship, something has gone very wrong. Generations ago, an accident destroyed key systems and the ship’s security guards seized control. Now the original crew’s descendants have devolved into a barely functioning feudal system, clambering among the overgrown ruins of their ancestors’ enormous machines. Hank Cho has worked his way up from the cannibalistic peasantry to an elite security team when he stumbles into a revolutionary movement to save the Habitat from collapse. With a spectacular European-influenced art style that recalls classic Heavy Metal illustrators Moebius and Geoff Darrow, Roy (Tiger Lung) draws intricate, eye-popping environments; the upswept “horizon” of the ring-shaped ship is particularly amazing to look at. The hurried story doesn’t have much time to develop, nor do the hard-bitten characters, but this guy can really draw. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sugar & Spike

Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely. DC, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-6482-6

This revival of DC’s long-running humor comic puts an unusual twist on the property. Originally Sugar and Spike were two unrelated babies who could speak to each other even though the grown-ups couldn’t understand them; here they’re reborn as adult brother-and-sister private detectives who clean up the embarrassing little side messes that superheroes create. The main point is to add a dash of irreverence to the portrayal of superheroes, something Giffen previously did with his Ambush Bug character, though he takes this to less surreal territory. Giffen’s shtick is to bring up some silly aspect of the past DC universe, such as Superman’s island of kryptonite that he shaped to look like himself or Green Lantern’s bizarre little flower sidekick, Itty, and turn it into a problem that Sugar and Spike need to resolve. The superhero kitsch is well-studied, aided by Evely’s fanciful art, though the title characters really seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the originals. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Johnny Red: The Hurricane

Garth Ennis and Keith Burns. Titan, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-78276-185-3

What might have happened if, during a particularly dangerous Allied convoy run to beleaguered Murmansk, the pilot of an RAF Hurricane fighter ended up not just landing in the Soviet Union but fighting the Nazis alongside his Commie comrades in arms? That’s the conceit behind this update of a long-running story line from the British war comic series Battle Picture. The situation is dire to start, with the Wehrmacht chewing through the Soviet lines and the Russian squad, the Falcons, handicapped by equipment issues and unwanted oversight from a suspicious political officer. But RAF pilot Johnny, whose Russian is as fluent as his blonde mane is fulsome, takes no quarter and leads the Falcons—as well as some Night Witches, the legendary Soviet female pilots, who get a rare nod here—into one desperately outnumbered white-knuckle dogfight and ground skirmish after another. Burns’s (The Boys) art is appropriately frenetic for the bloody action, and Ennis’s (Preacher) macho template is overlaid with a suitably world-weary sensibility. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Three Amazing Things About You

Jill Mansell. Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4926-1806-5

Have tissues ready for the latest novel from Mansell, which is filled with wit, warmth and wonder. In present-day England, Hallie Kingsley struggles to accept that she could die from complications with cystic fibrosis. Her positive attitude, online advice column, and secret crush on her off-limits doctor keep her spirits high and her fight diligent. Flo Fenwick, caretaker of one very lucky cat , is caught between two siblings; falling for handsome Zander makes it difficult to avoid his sharp-tongued, resentful sister, Lena. Tasha Sykes has found the man of her dreams, but his adventurous lifestyle, a distinct contrast to Tasha’s laid-back approach, gives her nightmares. Will her worries and fears doom her new-found happiness? Three lives are forever changed and three strangers are brought together when tragedy and miracle collide. Mansell fills her pages with realistic, relatable characters and situations. Her skillful balance of heartbreak and joy will stay with readers long after they finish the book. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Blood of the Dawn

Claudia Salazar Jiménez, trans. from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer. Deep Vellum, $14.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1941920-42-8

In this fiery and political debut, Jiménez explores the rise of the communist Shining Path in 1980s Peru through the experience of three women caught up in it. Marcela is a former social worker who abandons her “little bourgeois life” in order to “transform into a revolutionary weapon.” Rechristened “Comrade Marta,” she leads a mountain insurrection not far from where the peasant Modesta imagines herself the “mistress of the clouds” to escape her husband’s complaints. A journalist named Melanie also heads from the city to the country, wondering, “What on earth are those guerrillas after?” Their attempt “to turn the world upside down” is little more than an excuse to kill; as Marta crows, “The revolution demands its share of blood.” Modesta is taken hostage while her husband is traveling, and Melanie and Marta soon share in her anguish. In turn, the “anticommunist journalist,” the “terrorist,” and the “flea-ridden Indian” are raped, each reduced to “a lump on the floor” by her various tormentors. But these are more archetypes than characters, and the occasional burst of ungrammatical prose (“mountains huge like the hills we burst”) that Jiménez uses to energize her novel are not enough to save it from seeming overly schematic. “We made no mistakes,” Marta reflects, her faith in the revolution hardly shaken despite its failure. “Violence is the midwife of history.” (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Winterlings

Cristina Sánchez-Andrade, trans. from the Spanish by Samuel Rutter. Restless, $16.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63206-109-6

Sánchez-Andrade tells the tissue-thin story of two Galician sisters, Delores and Saladina—the Winterlings—who return to their grandfather’s village of Tierra de Chá following years of exile in England after the Spanish Civil War. On the surface, life there is bucolic. The women sew; make cheese from the milk produced by their cow, Greta; and eat figs from an ancient tree, all while dreaming of Hollywood movies. But their return is met with fear and skepticism among the villagers, an eccentric lot including their gluttonous fool of a priest; the cross-dressing dentist, Mr. Tenderlove; the philosophizing Uncle Rosendo; and an old clairvoyant named Violeta. The villagers cleave to secrets having to do with their betrayal of the Winterlings’ grandfather, Don Reinaldo, a Republican sympathizer who was tortured and ultimately murdered by the fascist military. The sisters have their own secrets: Delores, the pretty one, marries a fisherman, but under strange circumstances returns home to Saladina, and her husband is never seen again; Saladina, the ugly one, begins visiting Mr. Tenderlove, who replaces her rotten teeth one by one with those from the mouths of the dead. After this, it is Saladina who sneaks away for several days when it is rumored Ava Gardner has come to Spain to shoot a movie and is auditioning for body doubles. History badgers all of Sánchez-Andrade’s characters, but superficially. Nothing the sisters experienced in England, nor anything they accomplished upon their return to Spain, enlightens or matures them. Who were they for two decades? Actresses perhaps, or maids? Where were their parents? It’s easy to suspend disbelief for the author’s entertaining bouts of magical realism, but no wisdom or historical event remains imprinted upon either one of her principal characters, each of whom begins and ends as a country bumpkin. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Moshi Moshi

Banana Yoshimoto, trans. from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda. Counterpoint, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61902-786-2

In her deft handling of an unconventional coming-of-age story, Yoshimoto (Kitchen) begins with the mysterious death of Mitsuharu Imoto, keyboard player in the popular rock band Sprout, in what appears to be a “love murder-suicide in a forest in Ibaraki with a woman who’d apparently been a distant relative.” Mitsuharu’s 20-something daughter, Yoshie, wanting to separate herself from the loss of her father, moves from the family’s tony Meguro apartment to the fashionable Tokyo neighborhood of Shimokitazawa, where she discovers her passion in the culinary world. Yoshie’s mother, feeling her husband’s death profoundly despite the salacious circumstances, moves in with her daughter; in their own alternately wise and awkward ways, the two help each other come to terms with their new lives. Yoshie’s recurring dream that her father is trying to contact her on the phone coincides with her exploring her own future and her sexuality with Shintani-kun, a frequent customer at the bistro where Yoshie works, and the older Yamazaki-san, her father’s former bandmate. Poignant and buoyant, Yoshie’s story is a testament to the power of place and memory and the healing properties of time. Her awakening is a feast for the senses—meals prepared and eaten, magical cityscapes explored, “the daily movements and patterns of people I hadn’t even known about a few years ago coming in and out of this town like breath”—mirroring her own burgeoning sense of the world and her acceptance of its vagaries. “There wasn’t a single thing in the world that I could know or decide in advance,” Yoshie decides. Even in the absence of her beloved father, that realization suggests a delightful sense of possibility. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Fifth Letter

Nicola Moriarty. Morrow, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-241356-7

Joni Camilleri, Deb Camden, Trina Chan, and Eden Chester are all Scorpios and have all been friends since high school in 1990s Australia. They’ve shared secrets and crushes, moves and heartaches. Now, in 2016, even though they’re in their 30s and married, and all (but one) are mothers, they still somewhat reluctantly get together for an annual girls’ getaway. This year Joni suggests they each write an anonymous letter telling the group a secret. As they read the letters, they learn that one of them is contemplating divorce, one hates being a parent, one confesses to having placed a baby for adoption, and one admits to lying to her friends. But as all the letters are shared, it turns out there are five, and whomever wrote the last letter hates one of the others. The meandering stories of these women are held together with the powerful question of who wrote the last letter, which reveals just how precarious childhood friendships are. The interspersed first-person confessions between Joni and her priest don’t add much, but the majority of the book, told in alternating chapters of current scenes and flashbacks to 1993, adeptly exposes the striking differences among the four friends and the five letters. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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