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Maw

Jude Ellison S. Doyle and A.L. Kaplan. Boom! Studios, $19.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-68415-840-9

Pop scholar of female monstrosity Doyle (Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers) makes his comics debut with Kaplan in this grisly sci-fi tale of trauma set in a separatist group of women looking to escape oppression. After a grueling court battle against her rapists, Marion Weber begrudgingly joins her sister Wendy in a woman’s “retreat” that promises “power” to those who have suffered male violence. “There are no bosses in this place... only women... each a goddess in her own right.” Unconvinced in the commune, however, Marion leaves to find a bar where a male patron spikes her drink. She later wakes up alone with “flashes” of memories, sensing “something in [her]. Slow and heavy and liquid.” The attack causes Marion to undergo a frightening physical change; one that comes with the power to enact whatever justice she sees fit. The vengeful vibe is promising at first, but characters lack depth and the mysteries lead to a lackluster conclusion for the big ideas that get built up. Still, Kaplan’s baroque, lithesome drawings wonderfully contrast the serenity of the retreat with the grit of Marion’s reality, and Fabiana Mascolo’s expert use of color accentuates the tumultuous mood. Fans of dark feminist science fiction will soak up the atmosphere, but wish for a bit more narrative pay-off. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Prometheite

Ari Mulch. Uncivilized, $19.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-941250-50-1

In her debut graphic novella, Mulch takes on Mary Shelley’s immortal Frankenstein, giving it a clever queer romance twist by reversing the gender of two of the main characters. The story opens in the early 19th century, with heroine Violet breaking gender norms of the day by studying anatomy in Ingolstadt, Germany. There she meets Aveline, the sister of her classmate Henry. Violet is instantly “smitten” with the buxom, sassy Aveline, noting that “her quick wit and bold personality contrasted with my own contemplative nature.” As they grow closer, Aveline reads Sappho’s poetry aloud to Violet, and shows her an experiment in which she uses electricity to reanimate a dead frog. But their budding romance is shattered when Aveline falls ill and dies. Soon after, Violet unwisely revives Aveline’s corpse, before learning that tampering with life and death can have gruesome, tragic consequences. Mulch’s drawings are not particularly stylish, though her judicious use of bloody hues of red against an otherwise black and white palette is effective, particularly when delineating viscera and other scenes of queasy horror. It’s a bit too brief in narrative as a full book release, but will appeal as a quick and cute-creepy divergence for queer romance readers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Living & Dying in America: A Daily Chronicle, 2020-2022

Steve Brodner. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-68396-5534

This sobering gallery of death and greed during the global Covid-19 pandemic from Brodner (The Trumpiad) exemplifies and elevates political caricature (this isn’t the funny pages). Between March 2020 and January 2022, Brodner documents people who suffered through the pandemic as well as those who profited from it. Beginning with a nursing manager, Kious Kelly, who died at a hospital where the staff wore garbage bags as makeshift masks, Brodner’s portraits of public servants who sacrificed their lives to help others are expressive and compassionate. At the same time, Brodner heaps scorn on opportunists like former Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler, who profited off several stock sales in the earliest days of the pandemic. He saves his greatest disdain for Donald Trump, depicting him as a twisted, obscene, vain monster (in one perhaps more hopeful panel, Trump is portrayed screaming behind bars). Brodner’s focus varies from individual stories to larger events, but he maintains a relentless march, full of grief and rage at senseless loss of life. There’s a dense and desperate quality to Brodner’s drawings. It’s a difficult collection to read, in response to difficult times to live through. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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It Won’t Always Be Like This

Malaka Gharib. Ten Speed, $19.99 trade paper (224) ISBN 978-1-984-86029-3

Gharib’s empathetic second graphic memoir, a follow-up to I Was Their American Dream, covers culture clashes, family clashes, and identity mash-ups, set in the late ’90s to the early 2000s. In her tween years, Malaka—who normally lives with her Filipina mother in Los Angeles—spends summers in Egypt with her father and stepmother, Hala. She and Hala, who is initially “more like a big sister,” enjoy each other’s company, but Malaka misses her dad when he works long hours and feels like a third wheel once her stepsiblings are born. She doesn’t speak much Arabic, which makes it hard to bond with the relatives in her extended family. As she finds her American identity in ska music, she resents Hala’s growing religiosity and her father’s notions of what a “young lady” should be. “Dad, I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m into subculture,” Malaka scolds. But as Malaka grows, so too does her grace toward her father and for Hala, who has more going on beneath her abaya than she lets on, as Gharib disrupts and complicates cultural stereotypes. Gharib’s drawings are freehanded and energetic, with brightly detailed marketplaces, beach scenes, and cityscapes, peppered with excerpts from Gharib’s actual adolescent diaries. This work will resonate with any comics memoir fan who felt like a fish out of water growing up, and promises teen crossover appeal. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Giantess

JC Deveney and Nuria Tamarit, trans. from the French by Dan Christensen. Magnetic, $29.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-951719-61-6

Deveney and Tamarit’s English-language debut, a luminously drawn feminist fairy tale, uses its heroine’s journey to explore immersive fantasy settings and probe fundamental questions about society. In a vibrant medieval world, a woodcutter finds a giant baby in the woods and adopts her. Celeste grows into a lively, curious 60-foot-tall redhead who yearns to leave the family farm and see the outside world. When the opportunity for adventure presents itself, she takes off, beginning an extended bildungsroman in which her literally larger-than-life existence challenges one societal norm after another. The giantess is displayed for money by a scheming peddler, romanced by a kindly white knight and a troubled acrobat, imprisoned in a dungeon with other nonconforming women (“Because we’re different, sweetheart!”), educated by a witch, married to a king, and so on. Nuria’s artwork, drenched in merry colors, has a folk-art directness reminiscent of great children’s book illustrators like Tomie dePaola. She draws simple, charming characters in endlessly imaginative settings: a mermaid island, a town in a tree, a stark mountain convent, a sunny seaside village. Along the way, Celeste discovers learning, art, sex, love, and compassion, and gradually forms her own ideas about how people might live. Insightfully scripted and drawn with pages to pore over, this labor of love has an instant-classic feel and deserves to be treasured. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Muad’dib

Frank Herbert et al. Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4946-9

The aftermath of the fall of House Atreides plays out with high melodrama and mystical fervor in the second volume of the graphic adaptation of Herbert’s science fiction classic led by his son Brian Herbert, with art by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martin (the Harbinger Wars series). Following the treacherous attack by rival House Harkonnen, secretly aided by the galactic Emperor, the few living Atreides, including the dead Duke’s son Paul and his mother Jessica, are scrabbling for survival on the harsh desert planet Arrakis. Paul toggles between learning the ways of the Fremen, warrior nomads and erstwhile allies, and coming to terms with his prophetic dreams of becoming a galaxy-conquering warlord. Meanwhile, the decadent and brutal Baron Harkonnen schemes to both annihilate all living Atreides and seize Arrakis’s lodes of the invaluable mineral spice. As in Herbert’s original, lengthy dialogue scenes covering arcane matters of water ritual (crucial on a desert planet), honor, or baroque royal intrigues are regularly punctuated by bloody duels and larger set pieces—particularly explosive ones involving near-escapes from Arrakis’s mammoth sandworms—that thrill but rarely move the plot forward noticeably. The creative team seems to have warmed up to their task with this volume; while much of the script is spent waiting for Paul to realize what his prophecy entails, the pacing as well as the art is more dynamic, improving on the stiff first venture. It’s a solid comic adaptation to keep fans of the space opera mostly mollified until the next installment of film series arrives. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Joy Operations

Brian Michael Bendis and Stephen Byrne. Dark Horse, $24.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-5067-2946-6

Bendis (the Ultimate Spider-Man series) and Byrne (the Legion of Super-Heroes series) team up for a sci-fi allegory in the vein of Blade Runner, with resonant themes but an overwritten script. In a futuristic technocratic world, Joy Corrigan is an EN.VOI, a security guard and troubleshooter for Kathryn Menteuse, head of the Jonando Trust, one of five companies that control this civilization. Devoted to Menteuse, Joy is staggered by the revelation that Jonando secretly intends to create a sixth Trust using dangerous and untested tech. Now, with the help of Hampton, a consciousness from a competing Trust that’s been implanted into Joy’s psyche (against her will), the EN.VOI must take down Menteuse and risk herself, her job, and her family. Savvy concepts and world-building fill in the background leading up to the battle showdown. Bold artwork by Byrne heightens the sweep of the narrative with zippy fight sequences and inventive character design. The script by Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man) spotlights intriguing themes of technology vs. humanity, but Bendis’s trademark verbosity gets in the way of fluid storytelling. Many pages are devoted to Joy standing around and arguing with the voice of Hampton. There’s nifty ideas here, but readers will feel buried under an exposition mountain. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Below Ambition

Simon Hanselmann. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (168p) ISBN 978-1-68396-549-7

Antisocial antics meet punk-rock provocation in this latest collection of down-and-dirty transgressions from Eisner-winning comics provocateur Hanselmann (Crisis Zone). His louche menagerie of fantastical creatures act more like sailors on shore leave than fairy tale protagonists. The seven sordid stories are primarily tales of a legendarily horrible band, Horse Mania, whose gigs are tantamount to audience assault. Its two members, hyperaggressive Werewolf Jones and the more laid-back witch Megg, occasionally bat at their keyboards but largely focus on drinking sessions and heckling other performers. Noting in only semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion that he is “whittling down the fanbase,” Hanselmann takes a more aggressive and confrontational mode in these pages than the downbeat slacker vibes of his earlier volumes. He plays up each character’s unpleasant sides, especially Jones’s G.G. Allin–like love of the grotesque and tendency for pugnacious confrontations. It’s a highly self-conscious framing, reflected in Megg’s joyful response to getting a drink thrown in her face by an audience member, “Thank you! You’ve made our night!” But the mood is as raw as the rather tossed-off art. No matter how hard he might try to shake them, Hanselmann certainly still has fans, who will add this to their row of his odd, bawdy titles. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Alice Guy: First Lady of Film

Catel and Bocquet, trans. from the French by Edward Gauvin. SelfMadeHero, $23.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-914224-03-4

An under-recognized genius of silent film returns to life in this spirited graphic biography from French comics duo Catel & Bocquet (Josephine Baker). Alice Guy (1873–1968) was born to an entrepreneurial couple in Paris, and as a young woman, she worked as a secretary—at that point usually a man’s job—in a photography studio. In addition to handling much of the business for her absent-minded inventor boss, she learned the motion-picture technology he developed and shot some of the earliest scripted films. Guy emerges as a dynamo with a witty temperament and unerring confidence. The nascent film industry is just as engaging: Guy’s firm competes with the Lumière brothers and Thomas Edison, and Guy later moves to the U.S., where she starts her own studio filming westerns, as well as the first movie with an all-Black cast. The ebullient art, subtly tinted in sepia tones, is packed with detail, including full-page spreads of patisseries, Parisian streets, and makeshift movie sets. Though Guy’s life has its disappointments and setbacks, the mood remains light and the narrative never losing sight of her creative passion. At the end of her life, Guy is portrayed as still feisty though disillusioned, saying, “In the eyes of French cinema, I never existed.” Catel and Bocquet correct the error with aplomb. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/12/2022 | Details & Permalink

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What’s the Furthest Place from Here? Vol. 1

Tyler Boss and Matthew Rosenberg. Image, $19.99 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-5343-2228-8

In this canny sci-fi thriller from Boss and Rosenberg, the writer-artist team behind 4 Kids Walk into a Bank, readers are thrown headfirst into a bewildering postapocalyptic world. Gangs of young people squat in abandoned buildings, scavenge ruins for clues to the past, feud with one another, and take food supplies and orders from mysterious beings called the Strangers. Pregnant teenager Sid belongs to the Academy, a gang headquartered in a record store whose members keep vinyl albums as personal totems. A rupture in the uneasy peace between the “families” sends Sid on a journey to answer questions about her bewildering society, with the Academy on her trail. Boss’s vibrant art has a gently cartoonified, design-centered appeal, similar to stylish superhero artists like David Aja and Chris Samnee, with offbeat abandoned cities, seedy exurban ruins refurbished Mad Max style, and arresting set pieces like a nightmarish carnival. The bone-cracking brawls allow Boss and Rosenberg to fill the pages with a seemingly endless array of weird street gangs—it’s hard to miss the obvious influence of the ’80s cult classic movie The Warriors—while stealthily developing the details of the kids’ makeshift society. The script clips quickly but is slow to give up its secrets. Fans of smart science fiction will anxiously await the next installment. (July)

Reviewed on 08/05/2022 | Details & Permalink

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