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The Black Hood, Vol. 1: The Bullet’s Kiss

Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos. Dark Circle, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-61988-962-0

Since debuting from Archie Comics in the 1940s, the Black Hood has been through many incarnations and publishers but has stayed a superhero crime fighter. Back at Archie for a new version, this Black Hood targets corruption and injustice in the inner city with a bloodier approach. This origin story is by the crime-fighter’s book: cop is disfigured in a bust gone bad. For therapy as well as revenge, he becomes a masked vigilante to ruthlessly take down every crook in the city. Crime novelist Swierczynski (Revolver) writes an efficient, driven inner monologue, but his script hunts down vigilante clichés and displays them like a police line-up. Gritty artwork from Gaydos (Alias) gives the tale a suitable noir feel, although the heavy inking and thick outlines on the characters sometimes look like rotoscoped photographs. This entertaining reinvention of a classic mystery man character is a thrill ride: exciting and tense, but the adrenaline’s gone quickly after it’s over. (July)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Death of Stalin

Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. Titan, $24.99 hardcover (120p) ISBN 978-1-78586-340-0

This French graphic novel served as the basis for the upcoming film of the same name from Scottish director Armando Ianucci, and it’s easy to see why the political shenanigans within appealed to the creator of Veep. Upon suffering a debilitating stroke that renders him paralyzed, Stalin lays frozen in his bed as ambitious politicos do everything in their power to thwart his recovery and insert themselves into the top spots in the Soviet government. Oozing with sleazy, appalling chicanery, the narrative by writer Nury (I Am Legion) and artist Robin (Death to the Tsar) captures a turbulent and disturbing period with solid visual storytelling. Robin depicts the sordid goings-on with elegant caricatures that give a clear view of the complete and utter awfulness of the cast, adding enough historical flair to nail down the era. It’s proof of the theory that tragedy plus time equals (very dark) comedy. (July)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life

Alberto Ledesma. Mad Creek, $17.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8142-5440-0

As a teacher and administrator at University of California, Berkeley, Ledesma doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of the undocumented immigrant. But that’s the point of this book, which is part graphic memoir and part cri de coeur. Ledesma and his parents, who brought him over from Mexico in 1974, were given legal status by Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty bill. The tension and need for camouflage that preceded their change in status, as well as the rising nativist backlash, fuel his politically barbed autobiographical cartoons. Much of Ledesma’s concern is directed at the people for whom the possibility of being unmasked as “undocumented” remains a constant threat—no matter how hard they work, how civically dedicated they are, and what professional achievements they attain. Although his art is rudimentary and his writing can be repetitive, this is a powerful document of the unspoken anxieties felt by Americans like him who worry that their immigration status and history will overshadow everything else in their lives. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Dark Knight: Master Race

Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, and Andy Kubert. DC, $29.99 (392p) ISBN 978-1-4012-6513-7

Miller’s 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns is one of the seminal postmodern American comics, its stylish, gritty take on Batman forever altering the way superhero stories are told. The widely panned 2001 sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, was slapdash and self-indulgent, but at least an original punk riff on the previous comic and its imitators. For the third installment, Miller teams with a squadron of more grounded creators, primarily writer Azzarello (100 Bullets) and artist Kubert (X-Men). The result is a reasonably coherent and attractively drawn story that continues Miller’s vision of Batman’s later days. In a still-crime-ridden future Gotham, former sidekick Carrie Kelley has taken over for the elderly Bruce Wayne when superpowered Kryptonian cultists invade the Earth, bringing the old Justice League out of retirement and forcing Lara, the rebellious daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, to choose a side. It’s a competently executed comic book that lacks either the lightning-in-a-bottle brilliance of Returns or the neon-saturated looniness of Strikes Again. It’s the last thing anyone could have expected from a Miller Batman comic with a Nazi reference in the title: forgettable. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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