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The Secret Loves of Geeks

Edited by Hope Nicholson. Dark Horse, $14.99 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-5067-0473-9

The excellent and inclusive follow-up to Nicholson’s The Secret Loves of Geek Girls brings together, once again, dozens of cartoonists, prose writers, and general-purpose nerds to tell 37 stories about the intersections between love, dating, sex, and pop culture. The tales run the gamut, both in subject matter and aesthetic, from Dana Simpson’s lighthearted story of finding romance and her true gender through the online “furry” community to Shee Phon’s watercolor scenes expressing the beauty of shared asexual love. Margaret Atwood is the most notable name returning to the project with memoirs of being a horror-obsessed babysitter, brought to eerie life by Pretty Deadly colorist Jordie Bellaire. Nicholson herself briefly interjects with a few candid and warning remarks on creators hooking up at comic and fan conventions, which plays well in complement to Hope Larson’s reminiscence of a con-weekend fling. Though the pieces vary wildly in tone and content, Nicholson’s careful organization ensures nothing feels out of place. In fact, the variety of creators’ experience is this book’s strongest suit: no matter what each reader thinks of “love,” there’s a love story here for them. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Marxism: A Graphic Guide

Rupert Woodfin and Oscar Zarate. Icon, $17.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-78578-306-7

Woodfin (Introducing Aristotle) and Eisner-winning artist Zarate (A Small Killing) update their history of Marxism originally published in 2005 for the present context of international upheaval, adding in, for instance, depictions of Trump when describing the manipulation of the mass media for political ends. Woodfin’s text launches with an examination of the life and work of Karl Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels. Their Communist Manifesto, written in 1848, became a benchmark of political philosophy, “as influential as the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the French Declaration of Rights (1789).” Zarate’s skillfully rendered, brushy drawings, often blended with collages of found art, ably support Woodfin’s explorations of the various permutations of Marx’s teachings. The comics illuminate the intricacies and fluidity of political philosophy, showing how Marx’s ideology, originally forged to benefit the lower laboring classes, also provided the framework for the human rights abuses under Stalin’s communist dictatorship, as well as for the intellectually rigorous Frankfurt School of critical theory. This graphic guide is a testament to the effective use of comics to present complex information in an accessible format, and is well-suited for students, educators, and any reader looking to better understand the relationship of Marxism to current global politics. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The New World: Comics From Mauretania

Chris Reynolds. New York Review Comics, $34.95 (276p) ISBN 978-1-68137-238-9

Welsh cartoonist Reynolds has been issuing “Mauretania Comics” since 1985; this well-designed volume, edited by cartoonist Seth, provides a definitive collection of Reynolds’s enigmatic work. Set on a future earth where humanity has lost a war with mostly benevolent aliens, these comics string together slice-of-life narratives with the abstract tales that arise from a universe where cause and effect no longer meaningfully apply. The protagonist is the helmeted Monitor, who looks like a mod sci-fi movie hero and travels through a mundane landscape where daily life seems oddly unchanged despite the conquest of humanity. “The Dial” explains how the aliens’ religion paved the way toward their quite polite control of humans. Short detective yarns and poetic fragments lead loosely through to the introduction of Jimmy, who joins Monitor in resisting the new order and—perhaps—saving the world. The sheer denseness of Reynolds’s line, which is amply cross-hatched and looks to be drawn with fat Sharpies, pervades the comics with an encroaching sense of dread. In his foreword, Ed Park frames the “aesthetic ecstasy” of these loosely plotted comics, where more questions are raised than answered. The distinctive visual style and familiar themes of paranoia and existential unease will resonate with modern audiences and provide a collectible for those familiar with the series. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn

Ryan Heshka. Nobrow, $20.95 (104p) ISBN 978-1-910620-22-9

This exhibition of mid-century dime-store dame rebellion is so over-the-top that it misses the mark. In response to a botched attack on their hideout, a group of femme fatales known as the Mean Girls Club sparks a crime wave fueled by misandry and a thirst for the destruction of 1950s ideals. A horrified Mayor Schlomo enlists mechanic Roxy to infiltrate the gang’s ranks and hand-deliver them to him. Needing cash to care for her unwell grandfather, Roxy accepts his offer. After breaching the club, who ridicule each other and mourn their smudged eyebrows more openly than their lost “sisters,” Roxy leads the Mean Girls into a trap, resulting in their arrest. But when Roxy suffers a devastating personal blow, she’s left regretting her actions at a grim crossroads where all the women are in peril. This feisty noir is black, white, and hot pink all over, but the toxic girl gang’s clawing at each other while stabbing down the patriarchy undercuts the seemingly intended messages of feminist empowerment. Still, nostalgic pulp genre fans will get a kick out of the expressive art style and rowdy sexploitation references. (May)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Clandestinauts

Tim Sievert. Uncivilized, $15.95 (232p) ISBN 978-1-941250-25-9

Giant bouncing eyeballs, monsters arising from spilled blood, goo-soaked warlocks, and deadpan transitions like “Meanwhile, back at the bloodbath” combine to create a disgustingly fun quest in the latest graphic novel from Sievert (That Salty Air). The Clandestinauts are a dungeoneering team seeking the Goblet of the Crimson Wizard, which takes them on a byzantine quest with so many layers, it could use its own Wikipedia page. Sievert builds a complex, Tolkienesque world, illustrated by cartoons as violent as Benjamin Marra’s and as silly as Sergio Aragonés’s. Distinctive character designs—such as the one-eyed Crimson Wizard and mummylike Ganglion—pop off the page, and Sievert gives every automaton and warlock, among the dozens of characters, memorable personality. The monochromatic color palette shifts with each scene, acting as a visual soundtrack to the mayhem and helping pace the narrative, which is parceled out in episodes of varying length. The simple color scheme also takes some of the queasiness out of the stabbings and bile puddles. Comics readers who enjoy sword and sorcery with a heaping helping of absurdity will get on board with this insane ride. (Jun.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Black: Vol. 1

Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, and Robin Riggs. Black Mask, $19.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-62875-186-4

Set up to deliver an activist twist on a familiar formula, this contemporary superhero saga begins when white police officers gun down a group of young black teens in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, taking them for the culprits of a robbery. “They patrol the places, but don’t know the faces,” a black detective narrates. Kareem Jenkins, a member of the group who’s shot and almost killed, wakes up in an ambulance as his body is transported from the scene. Escaping, he encounters the leader of the Project, a clandestine global organization where he learns that, throughout history, only black people manifest superpowers, the fear of which has been the root cause of societal oppression for centuries. Opposing the Project is the Mann Company, whose aim is to determine the genetic key granting these special abilities and provide it to white people in order to uphold white supremacy. Most of the story elements found in this conceit of a supernatural “genetic strain” have been codified for decades by Marvel Comics’ X-Men, in which mutants symbolize oppressed minorities. Though topical, the more direct social commentary in this story also gets ham-fisted, with the “Project” fighting “the Mann” (get it). The black-and-white art is standard fare for the genre, though the chapter openers rendered in red, black, and white silhouettes are striking. This first trade volume collects an ongoing series, which was launched with the support of a well-funded Kickstarter campaign in 2016. Given time to mature, hopefully future issues will deliver a more innovative story line to match the series’ laudable aims. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost Fleet: Corsair

Jack Campbell and Andre Siregar. Titan, $16.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-78585-299-2

Earth Alliance Capt. Michael Geary breaks out of an alien prisoner-of-war starship, aided by former adversary Destina Aragon, in this underwhelming first graphic novel based on Campbell’s popular series of prose military SF adventures. Commanding a team with both human Alliance and alien Syndic marines, Geary must mold them to work together for freedom. Their goal: hijack a Syndic battle cruiser and head for home. But can this uneasy collaboration among former enemies really work? This high-concept story has echoes of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Voyager but is more akin to a Tom Clancy thriller in space, positioning military and technical details front and center at the cost of effective graphic novel storytelling. A briefing on a past battle, for example, is depicted with a flat-graphic computer simulation instead of a more visually arresting flashback. Character anatomy for both human and Syndicate commandos is consistently realistic, but images are static without a strong panel-to-panel flow, even in action-oriented battle sequences. Campbell’s multivolume novel series (summarized in the back of the book) offers a rich vein of characters and energy, but the visually unchallenging adaptation won’t convert newcomers. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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