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Batman: White Knight

Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth. DC Black Label, $19.99 trade paperback (232p) ISBN 978-1-4012-7959-2

This provocative thriller set in the world of Batman poses the question: what if the criminally insane Joker could be cured? Thanks to a plot-handy new medication, he’s reborn and rehabilitated as civilian Jack Napier. In turn, Batman becomes increasingly brutal, turning Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon against him. Treating the long-running Batman/Joker dichotomy as two sides of the same coin is hardly a new trope for the 75-year-old property, but Murphy (Batman/Scarecrow) cunningly depicts a sympathetic Napier and a supportive, nurturing Harley Quinn. The accompanying art is reminiscent of that of Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween), especially in character designs, and depicts quiet moments of discussion as strongly as the many explosive action sequences. Hollingsworth’s coloring brings chromatic richness and depth to Gotham City. This is the first offering in DC’s Black Label imprint featuring mature, standalone stories set in its superhero universe, and it proves an affecting and entertaining kickoff. This newest take on the Dark Knight will please Batman’s legion fans with its innovative and intelligent twists. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Gideon Falls

Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino. Image, $9.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-5343-0852-7

In this spooky supernatural noir, disgraced priest Wilfred “Fred” Quinn, who struggles with alcoholism, gets ordered by his superior to the “nice little town” of Gideon Falls, where he replaces its deceased pastor. Things turn weird when the supposedly dead pastor materializes and shows Fred surreal visions of an eerie black barn, from which he emerges to discover a parishioner’s violent murder. Fred’s storyline is told in parallel with therapy sessions involving apparently schizophrenic, previously institutionalized Norton Sinclair and his skeptical therapist, Dr. Xu. Norton searches the town’s trash for clues to what he is convinced is a looming evil in the form of the black barn, and his therapist does not believe him—until she begins having visions of the structure herself. The narrative is a solid example of mystery box storytelling, as pieces of the puzzle fall into place throughout the story. Lemire (Sweet Tooth) scripts apt conversational dialogue, and the verisimilitude is cemented by photo-realist artwork by Sorrentino (I, Vampire). This first volume, however, is all setup—mysteries layered one upon another. While the True Detective vibe is appealing, some readers may not have the patience to wait for the follow-up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Vagabond Valise

Siris. Bdang, $25 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-77262-027-6

Those who pick up this autobiographical graphic novel might at first be thrown by its whipsaw volleys between abject pain and darkly slapdash humor. But those who stick with it will find its initially mystifying rhythms powerfully redemptive by the end. Siris opens in the 1940s with the story of his father, Renzo, depicted as the world’s worst sailor and a knockabout drunk who sires five children (who are ultimately hauled away by social workers). The youngest is quiet little Chick-o, drawn with an actual chicken head (as Siris typically draws himself). One horrific foster family after another treats Chick-o as little more than a receptacle for abuse, a pattern that continues into his teen years. Relief comes in the form of his dreams of becoming a cartoonist; he also has the improbable luck to turn 17 in the late ’70s, just as punk rock shows up to provide a launchpad for adolescent rage. He dives into the Montreal music scene for carousing and clubbing that’s cathartic but also shadowed by the memory of his father’s hell-raising. Siris’s loopy lines and crackpot visual humor pulse with lived-in pain. This dark tapestry, just barely threaded with light, rewards readers who can bear to witness it. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Rachael Ball. SelfMadeHero, $24.99 (296p) ISBN 978-1-910593-54-7

Employing supernatural elements to represent a child’s grieving process, Ball’s viscerally moving graphic novel of parental loss unfolds like a haunting dream. Ball (The Inflatable Woman) depicts 1970s working-class England through the viewpoint of Hugo, the youngest of three, who clings to the memory of their father, who died in a freak accident. While Hugo’s teenage brother Eric glowers and Mum tries to keep the family afloat, Hugo sets out to build a time machine so he can go back and spend time with his father. This scheme leads him to a sickly, reclusive neighbor known in local kid lore as “the Wolfman.” The lonely stranger who returns a damaged nuclear family to itself is a weary archetype, but Ball’s execution is excellent. Her wooly drawings of dark holes, shadow creatures, and children who straddle the line between cute and creepy evoke the sad, scary, and wondrous parts of childhood fantasy. The story drives home the irrevocable absence of death and the resurrection fantasies that children of any age harbor in grief. The rules of Ball’s universe aren’t always abundantly clear, but that’s the point. This affecting work reminds readers that in memory, anything is possible and everyone is immortal. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/21/2018 | Details & Permalink

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