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The Prisoner: Original Art Edition

Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, and Steve Englehart. Titan Comics, $79.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-78586-287-8

This lush, oversized edition reproduces two separate, previously unpublished attempts at adapting Patrick McGoohan’s 1960s television show The Prisoner into a graphic novel. One of the sections is by writer Steve Englehart (The Avengers) and artist Gil Kane (Green Lantern), and the other by Jack Kirby (Captain America), produced after the first attempt was spiked. The show featured a secret agent captured and held in a seaside town populated by mysterious characters, where he is guarded by a large floating ball and subjected to psychological experiments by his captors. Drawn in the mid-1970s, Kirby was still at the height of his artistic powers as he bent the teleplay to his unique style with dramatic posing and detailed tech. His bold pencils prove a great match for the surreal paranoia of the show. Englehart and Kane lay out a more straightforward rendition, albeit one filled with superfluous narrative captions for the protagonist, “#6,” who was often silent in the show. The volume is oddly organized, as the historical essay by Englehart is sequenced after both comics, contextualizing their existence only after their presentation. Neither story has finished art nor lettering, and a great deal of inessential supplementary material pads out the book. Despite its exquisite production values and the inherent interest for academics of media culture, this obscurity is more a curiosity piece for fans of the artists involved than it is a compelling work of art on its own. (July)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Cloud Hotel

Julian Hanshaw. Top Shelf, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-60309-425-2

Genre bends in this psychodrama about an adolescent boy who’s abducted from the dreary 1980s English countryside and spirited to a hotel in the clouds (that feels straight out of a Wes Anderson film) by unseen and inscrutable aliens. The boy, Remco, soon encounters the mysterious, star-shaped sunglasses–wearing Emma, who urges him to answer a ringing phone that she claims will transport him home. Remco refuses, but yet he’s magically returned to the woods, with only a scrap of hotel wallpaper as proof of his kidnapping. Remco discovers that he—and he alone—has the ability to will himself to travel back and forth to the Cloud Hotel. He calls it his “happy place,” his escape from a real world where his family is slowly falling apart around him. Only the Cloud Hotel soon begins to fall apart as well, as Remco tries desperately to save Emma. The blocky figure work by Hanshaw (Tim Ginger) flattens his characters’ emotions, but his panel layouts and richly colored mise-en-scène are impressively imaginative. As if Philip K. Dick wrote a teen graphic novel, this elaborate (if occasionally confusing) allegory for confronting adolescent alienation whimsically shifts between fantasy and reality and brings the reader along into the dreamy milieu of its characters. (July)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Dull Margaret

Jim Broadbent and Dix. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-68396-098-0

Greed is unquenchable in this bleak meditation on vengeance and desire by Dix (Klaxon) and Academy Award–winning actor Jim Broadbent. Margaret—dull marsh-dweller, eel-catcher, and hermit—pursues her desires through dark magic. She is granted lovers and gold in abundance, but she remains unsatisfied and swiftly descends into covetous madness. This is a determinedly desolate fable of mud, tarnish, and viscera, rendered in swampy earth tones with brief, rich interludes of red. Margaret’s monologue comprises nearly every word in the book, and she mutters to herself constantly: as she reels in her catch, as she degrades a man in her thrall, and as she counts her ill-gotten riches. It is her chant, her ceaseless, abject assertion of “I’m Margaret, I’m Margaret... strong and clever,” which lingers most hauntingly after the last page is turned. The book’s inspiration, the painting Dulle Griet by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, is most faithfully represented in this aspect; Margaret’s desperation mirrors Griet’s frantic trek across a hellish landscape. The ruthless, brutal Margaret proves a satisfying antiheroine for this vicious morality play. (July)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Song of Aglaia

Anne Simon, trans. from the French by Jenna Allen. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (120p) ISBN 978-1-68396-107-9

This bizarre and beautiful fantasy weaves mythological storytelling with references to music and literature as it follows the rise and fall of a mighty sea nymph, Aglaia. Simon (Marx, Freud & Einstein: Heroes of the Mind) draws a surrealistic landscape in black-and-white, where her animalistic creatures almost blend into the detailed backgrounds, in settings like a busy circus, a blank landscape full of holes, or an intricate and detailed palace. In the beginning, Aglaia lives in a simple grove with her sisters but longs for more adventure. One day, she meets a flighty merman whom she hopes can provide a little excitement in her life. Unfortunately, after impregnating her, he is never seen again. Her father banishes her to the outside world, where she joins a traveling circus and marries the ringmaster, and gives birth to three girls (whom she shows little interest in thereafter). When the tyrannical king kidnaps her daughters to make them his household servants and concubines, Aglaia rallies to rescue them and overthrows the monarch. Aglaia rises in power, liberating the world’s women to become their queen, only to fall once more in disgrace. Her story is told in the style of an epic Greek hero myth like those of Heracles and Odysseus, unfolding in vignettes and left with an open ending. This expertly woven saga of triumph and disappointment explores human relationships, connections, and what women must do to survive. (July)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Roly Poly: Phanta’s Story

Daniel Semanas. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (150p) ISBN 978-1-68396-129-1

On a quest to have her wishes granted, a young woman takes on all foes in the near-future city “Neo-Seul” in this visually arresting but emotionally hollow graphic novel. Phanta, characterized by not much more than martial arts skills and bad-girl attitude, descends into a tech-drenched underworld to obtain “wishing stars” from a woman called Dealer. There, she encounters Dealer’s troop of henchgirls. Each of the 30-plus pages of the fight that ensues is a masterful work of illustration and graphic design, but of style absent substance. Glimpses of Phanta’s past and her relationship with a boy, known by his Instagram handle, Soon Kickss, aren’t cultivated enough to resonate with readers. Throughout, the visuals’ focus on Phanta’s body often feels objectifying, and matched with the unmoored Korean setting and sound effects, it comes off as fetishistic. Bold, Manwha-inflected art packed with details, a perfect psychedelic palette, and clever use of Phanta’s social media (her cell phone is her constant companion) provide texture but can’t make up for this graphic blast’s shortage of human connection and uncomfortable currents of cultural appropriation. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Beatles Yellow Submarine

Bill Morrison. Titan Comics, $29.99 hardcover (112p) ISBN 978-1-78586-394-3

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of George Dunning’s 1968 animated fantasia, Yellow Submarine, this pop-Dali adventure tells the full story of how the Beatles saved a magical land from some music-hating no-goodniks. The people of Pepperland lived lives “overflowing with wonderful things” due to all the peace, love, and music filling their park-like paradise. But when the Blue Meanies (to whom music is like “acid rain”) launch an assault of “anti-music missiles” and color-annihilating “splotch bombs,” it’s up to Lord Admiral Fred to man the Yellow Submarine and seek help. Landing in Liverpool, Fred meets four Beatle-like moptops with a penchant for quippy dialogue and assisting strangers. They embark on an trippy, cross-dimensional odyssey; meet little blue wordsmith Jeremy; and ultimately return to Pepperland to play “a groovy tune” and vanquish the Blue Meanies. The art style is designed to mimic the original, and just what one would imagine: wavy lines, proto–Terry Gilliam collaging, and a Hippie Britannica visual scheme that resembles a mural made by Peter Max after spending too much time on Carnaby Street. Former Disney and The Simpsons artist Morrison splashes out several rainbows’ worth of pleasing colors for this happy ode to harmless psychedelia that perfectly captures the movie’s stoned punning and rippling anti-authoritarianism. The breezy tribute takes one strange trip down memory lane for the band’s myriad fans. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Shadowman, Vol. 1: Fear of the Dark

Andy Diggle and Stephen Segovia. Valiant, $9.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-68215-239-3

In the long-awaited but disappointing return of the Shadowman series, magic-user Alyssa travels into the bayou to track down the source of a curse. In a subsequent battle with the mammoth “grinder of bones,” she accidentally rescues Jack Boniface, the Shadowman, from an alternate reality called the deadside. In the exposition-laden pages that follow, the energetic and skillful artwork doesn’t quite make up for the fact that the story has begun to drag, even for newcomers to the series. More at issue is the caricature of Jack as a black man being painted by the narrative: violent, dangerous, and out of control. Alyssa steals the show as she’s forced to counterbalance Jack’s incapacity, using her magic to interrogate “voodoo spirits” and her intellect to guide him when he’s impulsive or short-sighted (“Gotta do every thing my damn self,” she sighs). The inherited series tropes aren’t given fresh enough perspective to sell this revamp. Though the artwork is admirable, the mishmash of inaccurately portrayed spiritual traditions and stereotyped main characters makes it a missable entry in the genre. (July)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Study in Emerald

Neil Gaiman, Rafael Albuquerque, and Rafael Scavone. Dark Horse, $17.99 (88p) ISBN 978-1-50670-393-0

The murder of a monstrous German royal sets a brilliant detective and his new partner upon the trail of an equally cunning adversary in this chilling adaptation of Gaiman’s 2003 short story. In this alternate history, set in a Lovecraftian version of 19th-century England, the Old Ones returned 700 years ago to claim the Earth and its people, bestowing both cruelties and mercies alike, and humans have lived complacently under their rule ever since. When one of the Old Ones is gruesomely butchered, the tentacled Queen enlists the Baker Street investigators to track down the killers, but they find that there is a larger scheme at play. The artwork is on point, with vivid period atmosphere and details shifting to eerie otherworldly scenes. At first, this graphic novel kicks off like a typical Sherlock Holmes episode that just happens to have elements from the Cthulhu mythos. But a stunning twist late in the game proves a shocker, upending the familiar plotting and character expectations. The ending makes what would otherwise be standard fare stand out—leaving the reader retreading the plot with a sense of horror that lingers long after the close. (July)

Reviewed on 07/13/2018 | Details & Permalink

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