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Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre

Alverne Ball and Stacey Robinson. Abrams ComicArts, $15.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5517-0

Ball and Robinson commemorate a grim anniversary in this salient account: 100 years since a white lynch mob killed at least 300 African Americans and destroyed 1,200 homes as they torched the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Okla., a thriving community Booker T. Washington dubbed Black Wall Street. Robinson’s bright artwork showcases the vibrancy of Greenwood, the pages spilling over with portraits of African American dentists, barbers, doctors, bus drivers, seamstresses, butchers, and chefs. “Now more than ever before it feels necessary to shine a light on the people that once lived in Greenwood,” Ball writes, calling to attention the timely publication. After the horrific events of the massacre, Ball ends the history on a note of perseverance, with residents determined to rebuild. With fewer than 50 pages of story line, it offers a glimpse into the past, but the straightforward narrative is notably devoid of, for example, quotes from survivors or their descendants. An essay by scholars Reynaldo Anderson and Colette Yellow rounds things out and provides crucial context. Educational and accessible, this feels well crafted for any American history class, or as a primer for general readers unfamiliar with this dark chapter of American history. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human

Héloïse Chochois, trans. from the French by Kendra Boileau. Graphic Mundi, $24.95 (168p) ISBN 978-0-271-08706-1

Chochois’s insightful storytelling and fresh, playful art turn what could be a grim topic—the science of amputation—into an engaging scientific tour. She frames the narrative around a fictional protagonist who loses an arm in a motorcycle accident. When he awakes in a hospital, pioneering 16th-century surgeon Ambroise Paré emerges from a portrait and takes the amputee on a weird and wonderful time-traveling tour of the history of amputation and prosthetics, from 10,000 BCE to an imagined transhumanist cyborg future. Woven throughout are tender, wordless interludes in which the amputee struggles to adapt to his new life with one arm, relearning how to drink tea, play video games, and hug his partner. Chochois’s skill shows in how she elegantly balances information with visual narrative, avoiding the text-dense pitfalls of many a science comic info dump. As the tale delves into discussing the finer points of phantom limb syndrome and diagrams of prosthesis design, Chochois’s clean, expressive linework remains full of charming details that keep the pacing airy. The amputee dreams of a prosthetic arm that ends in a handy whisk, tissue box, or lighter. (Sorry, a doctor explains, reality is much less exciting). This surprisingly delightful and empathetic examination offers an exemplar in the graphic medicine genre. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Trojan Women: A Comic

Rosanna Bruno and Anne Carson. New Directions, $19.95 (80p) ISBN 978-0-811-23079-7

Set in post-war Troy, this wrenching comics-poetry update of Euripides’ tragic play by MacArthur fellow poet Carson (Float) and artist Bruno (The Slanted Life of Emily Dickinson) embodies feminine narratives with wry lyricism. Bruno’s black-and-white illustrations literalize poetic metaphors—Troy is “just a big old hotel/ luxurious, damp and full of spies”; Athene is a “pair of overalls, carrying an owl mask in one hand”—to whimsical effect. Yet the cleverness and agility of this graphic work amplify its tragedies: the exiting Greek army takes Trojan women as slaves, and Hekabe is anthropomorphized as an abject sled dog “of filth and wrath” who has witnessed the deaths of most of her children. Even the infamous Helen, a shape-shifter who appears as a silver fox and a mirror, must defend her life to her husband, the king Menelaos, after Hekabe wants her “sentenced to death out of her own mouth” for her apparent complicity in the downfall of Troy. Herald Talthybius, a hulking raven, outlines the prize for perfect feminine obedience: “Be nice, keep quiet, resign yourself/ you’ll still be able to bury the corpse of your child.” Accompanied by a chorus of cows and dogs, Hekabe mourns the death of a final heir (drawn as a sapling) and says, “We can’t go on/ we go on.” Such is the story of war and genocide throughout history, and in Carson and Bruno’s expert hands, it strikes as powerfully contemporary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Factory Summers

Guy Delisle trans. from the French by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall. Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95 (156p) ISBN 978-1-77046-459-9

Delisle (Hostage) opens this perceptive memoir observing himself at age 16, working summers at a Quebec City paper mill. Along with a paycheck, he receives a crash course in the class structures and social dynamics within the factory’s all-male workplace. He notes that the company’s white-collar employees (such as his engineer dad) enjoy air-conditioned comfort while he and the other laborers endure grueling shifts where “you feel like you’re in a sauna... you have to yell to be heard.” (Though he also explains how that shift cycle was negotiated by the union, as the long-termers prefer longer weekends.) The blue-collar resentment of privilege is sometimes aimed at Delisle; he repeatedly runs afoul of a coworker who “clearly has it out for summer hires.” He also regularly overhears instances of sexism, misogyny, and homophobia in his coworkers’ conversations, which contrasts with Delisle’s occasionally naive but sincere efforts at maintaining respectful relationships with others. His cartoony and simple yet textured drawings capture the characters with insight and gentle humor, as well as terrifying close calls with dangerous machinery. Delisle pinpoints the lesson learned those summers: “You can see the benefit of staying in school.” This should please Delisle’s loyal fans with its peek into his young adulthood. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Super Sentai: Himitsu Sentai Gorenger—The Classic Manga Collection

Shotaro Ishinomori. Seven Seas, $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-64505-941-7

The influential 1970s manga from Ishinomori (the Cyborg 009 series) is collected for the first time in English in this rip-roaring omnibus. The action kicks off immediately as teen martial artist Kaijo Tsuyoshi is given a super-suit with incredible powers (“A costume from a cartoon! With a cape and everything!”). He’s recruited by the secret organization EAGLE and joins its five-member fighting team against the evil Black Cross Army. Ishinomori draws with an adult’s drafting skills but a grade-schooler’s sensibilities and enthusiasm, furiously scrawling gung-ho heroes, outlandish foes, pulp sci-fi technology, and fights that tumble on for pages. The characters look like action figures, their world like a sprawling playset. The heroes tend to battle robots (a favorite loophole to keep the violence palatable), but Ishinomori doesn’t shy away from bloody deaths, cruel betrayals, and unexpectedly mature political concerns. (The Black Cross Army sabotages renewable energy research because “if we start using solar energy instead, fossil fuels will drop in value!”) The speedy pacing and childlike simplicity belie how well-crafted Ishinomori’s work remains. While the original series was aimed at a younger audience, canny (and nostalgic) adults will also get a kick out of this blazing retro collection. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The End of the World (The Department of Truth #1)

James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds. Image, $9.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-5343-1833-5

This twisty paranoid thriller follows a secret government organization devoted to “making sure that conspiracy theories stay conspiracy theories.” Cole, an FBI researcher, gets recruited to the shady Department of Truth and is paired with Ruby, a seasoned agent. Initiated into the reality-warping revelation that “the more people believe in something, the more true that thing becomes,” they race to stop Satanic sacrifices, Reptilian invasions, a flat Earth, and dark alternate histories of America from becoming real. Simmonds’s streaky painted art, strongly reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz, gives the series the feel of a classic 1990s Vertigo comic, as does the nightmarish X-Files-like atmosphere. The plot, though, takes a while to coalesce and sometimes wanders into simply describing conspiracy theories and how they work. In the age of QAnon, a thriller about cultlike thinking feels exceedingly relevant, but it’s sometimes uncomfortable that the comic jams seriously dangerous beliefs like school shooting “false flags” against fringe goofiness like tinfoil hats and dark doings at the Denver International Airport. But it’s a visual treat, and the setup has the potential for further uncanny adventures, provided the story can gel. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Noir Is the New Black

Edited by Fabrice Sapolsky with TC Harris. Fair Square, $25 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-9992766-2-4

A new genre is forged in this crowdfunded anthology, which applies the moral shading of crime noir to cover injustices faced by African Americans. Editors Harris and Sapolsky (Spider-Man Noir) bring together 16 electric, challenging pieces from writers including Melody Cooper, Brandon Thomas, and David Walker, with art from Mark Bright, N. Steven Harris, and others. Wisecracking adventurers, jaded gumshoes, and climatic cliffhangers populate many revenge fantasies. “Vera’s List” and “Ousley” offer blazing period pulp action while “Gemini Visions” builds a suspenseful whodunit in modern Baltimore. Both “The Black Constable” and “Southern Hospitality” lay out searing historical thrillers with enslaved rebels and a racist hierarchy in colonial Jamaica, and a barroom shoot-out between a WWII veteran and the KKK in 1940s Alabama. “C.A.N.O.P.Y.” and “Igbo Landing” project noir into the future with soldiers fighting viruses, conspiracies, and violent hatred in imagined civilizations. Dimly lit panels busy with stylized rogues and red-hot ferocity elevate the art, along with varied character appearances. Featuring tried-and-true cartoonists and indie discoveries, this anthology will leave readers longing for a second volume. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bleed Them Dry: A Ninja Vampire Tale

Eliot Rahal, Hiroshi Koizumi, and Dike Ruan. Vault, $19.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-939424-77-8

Set in a future megalopolis in the year 3333, this clever, genre-blending fusion of Japanese and European mythology from Rahal (The Vain series), Koizumi, and Ruan (the Shang-Chi series) finds vampires and humans living in the city of Asylum in a long-established but uneasy peace. That’s until a serial killer targeting immortals threatens to bring the whole society down. Detective Harper Halloway doesn’t accept that her immortal partner, Atticus Black, has arrested the right suspect, dragging her into a war against Black and the entire police department. Harper’s now a hunted fugitive, searching for secrets and discovering that everything she knows about her world is wrong. Rahal’s script presents an effective balance of brisk, intense action and quiet personal conversations. It’s a lore-laden premise that relies upon a lot of the exposition being given in “as you know...”–style dialogue, but it’s done with such a light touch that it’s easily forgiven. Ruan’s art mixes in manga and Western influences, creating a weird and unearthly cityscape. The combination proves a solidly entertaining adventure, providing macabre thrills against its neon-splashed urban environment. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Knights of Heliopolis

Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jérémy, trans. from the French by Marc Bourbon-Crook. Statix, $39.99 (232p) ISBN 978-1-78773-608-5

Alchemical wonder and arcane magic invigorate this dramatically illustrated synthesis of history and mysticism. Presented as a secret history of the world, the tale’s chronology spans the Age of Versailles to Blitz-era London and is told through the eyes of Asiamar—the hermaphrodite Dauphin and true Louis XVII of France. Aided by the Knights of Heliopolis—a legion of extraordinary alchemists from across history that includes Lao Tzu, Imhotep, St. John, Nostradamus, and a talking gorilla—Asiamar battles enemies and becomes a master warrior and strategist. The plot’s shot through with provocative spins on historical figures—an immortal Napoleon, a female Jack the Ripper. The Knights scheme behind the scenes of history to keep sacred knowledge out of the hands of despots like Napoleon, and Asiamar wages an unending battle, which will be won not by violence but through love—and the conversion of so-called villains to the Knights’ cause. Asiamar utilizes both male and female identities, traversing a timely subtext around gender identity. The art of Jérémy (the Barracuda series) is classic and wildly expressive realistic cartooning; every panel zooms in on exaggerated character expressions or swashbuckling high adventure in the Dumas tradition. This transcendent if bloody tale of duplicity and redemption takes adventure comics fans on an appealing and entertaining voyage. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook

Matt Lubchansky. Silver Sprocket, $14.99 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-1-945509-64-3

Lubchansky, a cartoonist and editor at The Nib, reveals the secrets of left-wing protest groups with tongue held firmly in cheek, starting from the premise, “What if everything the right thought about the left was real?” It turns out activists only pretend to spend most of their time in boring meetings; a flyer for homemade kombucha hides the button to access their secret lair, where the President of Antifa oversees the construction of cyborg super-soldiers. The clashes between protestors and police build to a showdown between Antifa super-soldier Max Marx and Sgt. O’Shea, a cop enhanced with state-of-the-art police weaponry. In the end both sides come off as similarly awful, muddying the satirical message. Lubchansky’s thickly inked, boldly colored artwork keeps the visuals as broadly cartoonish as the plot, ensuring that even while dipping into real issues of police violence and free speech, nothing gets too serious. Some of the in-jokes may fly over the heads of less meme-aware readers, such as references to concrete milkshakes or the can of soup Max wields while warning, “Prepare to be... deplatformed.” All in all, the concept is just substantial enough to sustain a 60-page comic—fortunately, that’s exactly what this delivers. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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