Spotlight on Graphic Novels | Black Science
Rick Remender’s Black Science is one of the more interesting science fiction comics available. In it, Remender and co. present a science team working on creating a device that allows them to navigate the multiverse. It goes, quite predictably, awry. The cast is sent spiraling uncontrollably through universe after universe and is pitted against a variety of dangers.
The story follows scientist and anarchist-now-working-for-the-MAN Grant. After spending upwards of a decade working on devices known as “pillars,” he finally manages to get them working. His first test is to do an actual jump between worlds. The crew is about to launch their first human test–unapproved. But the pillar has been sabotaged.
The characters in Black Science are very likeable. They’re all given fairly extensive backgrounds and their relationships to one another are complex to say the least. The dynamic between the explorers– self-absorbed leader, his followers, and his jaded and neglected children– make for one of the most interesting aspects of the storytelling.
Some of the plot points I’m not a huge fan of. Some of the characters, in particular a Native-American-esq shaman with magic healing powers, wore a little thin. The nice part of the story setup, though, is that it is self-correcting. Each event has the potential to be undone or redone in the next universe. Versions of the same characters can interact and effect the plot. It can be overly confusing, but also means that when something I don’t like happens, it may not stay that way.
The art is amazing. It’s dark but also vibrant. The characters are ridiculously expressive. The team that works on the art has really tapped into the visuals that can enhance the story and the dynamism that makes science fiction great.
While some of the story is going to need to be ironed out as it progresses, I think that the story is engaging and worth the read.
Mini Spotlights on Graphic Novels
The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage by Jan van Meter and Robert de la Torre is a fantastic story. Dr. Mirage is a parapsychologist. She helps people connect with the spirits of their lost loved ones and can cross over, when necessary, to the world of the dead. She’s been hiding out since her husband’s death. He’s the one spirit she cannot speak to.
Things that rock about The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage:
I want to say everything, but let’s be more specific. There’s some really fun artwork with great attention to detail. In the trade, they talk about the lettering process, the way that the lettering is presented. The very deliberate choices that are used are apparent and really help to set the tone. The coloring in dynamic and entertaining. AND Dr. Mirage is awesome. She’s complicated, constantly growing, and a fascinating character. The plot was pretty heart breaking, but man it was worth it.
Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth*
Oh, Rat Queens, how I love thee. Rat Queens, vol. 1 is fantastically funny, blending some of the best parts of fantasy, D&D and girl power. It’s drawn beautifully and has a fantastic sense of humor. Volume 2 is no less fantastic. It shines a light on the backstories of our heroines (I’m using the term liberally) and manages to still retain humor and a new extension of the plot. INCLUDING GIANT SQUID!
Just. Do. It. You’ll thank me.
Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope*
This one admittedly wasn’t my favorite. It’s a far future story. Humanity has moved under the sea and there is huge conflict. It revolves around one family that has the power to move the underwater ships humanity is living in. I’m not really sure why it didn’t click with me. It’s got some fun dialogue and great, colorful, and scenic illustrations. I’m guessing it was just a mood problem. I’m going to revisit it and will update later.
*I received marked titles from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review
Mini Spotlights on Graphic Novels
Rat Queens, vol. 1
Rat Queens is pretty epic. It follows the (mis)adventures of the Rat Queens, a questing group composed of D&D esq classes of rogues. This all girl gang gets in trouble repeatedly. A combination of risk taking, self destructive habits, and collusion means they’re destined for trouble. And now, it’s found them and won’t rest until the Rat Queens are gone.
This was described to me as Kevin Smith meets D&D meets girl power. I think it’s even better.
The art is compelling and the story rocks. There’s a fantastic sense of humor throughout the entire thing. Despite its light-hearted approach, Rat Queens also tackles some more serious interpersonal issues and builds some fairly complex characters pretty quickly. I’m glad I picked this up this month, because vol. 2 is out in trade on the 19th. I don’t think I could have waited much longer.
The Fade Out, vol. 1
And now for something totally different (though still pretty good).
The Fade Out is a classic Hollywood noir type story with a fantastic sense of chaos. It blends classic story tropes with a more realistic approach to the types of struggles people deal with. The art is dark and emphasizes the story’s plot. I loved the look at the politics of the 40s and 50s in Hollywood. It wasn’t always overly fast paced and it’s not very funny (though it has its moments), but overall I was pretty please. Three for you, Ed Brubaker, you go Ed Brubaker (though I think it actually ranks higher than a 3/5)
Spotlight on Graphic Novels: Wizzywig by Ed Piskor
Wizzywig is a fictionalization of the real-life story of Kevin Mitnick, a famous hacker arrested in 1999. It roughly outlines Kevin’s life, under the changed name of Kevin Phenicle. It’s split between narrators and timelines, including first-person, remembrances, and newscasts. It begins when Phenicle is in his early teens and follows through his release from prison and post-release work.
I wanted to like this story, but it felt very inconsistent. It didn’t have a stable and unifying point of view or a baseline really to be a touch point. This was my biggest problem with the story, and it caused a number of other problems. For instance, the narrator was often unclear. The switch in voice wouldn’t be clearly marked or easily noted. The plot sometimes felt meander-y.
I also often didn’t feel like Phenicle was a character that could be empathized with. It wasn’t always clear what was really motivating him or why he was taking certain steps. Similarly, I didn’t think that Piskor was clear on the extent of the damage that was being done to the people Phenicle was close to.
The most interesting part (remember that I’m a sucker for editorialization) was the commentary thread throughout about the nature of technological development and the attacking of those who want to explore and push the boundaries of it.
The art wasn’t my favorite. It’s simplistic and not overly imposing. Overall, I liked it well enough, but didn’t think it was fantastic.
I thought the book overall is a 3 out of 5. Mostly just sufficient for what it was, but not outstanding.
I received a copy of Wizzywig for free in exchange for an honest review for netgalley.
The Bendis Backlog
You may or may not know this. Despite having been brought up around comics and CCGs, I don’t actually have a lot of comics knowledge. I can tell you the different publishers and most of the big names. I can describe what I find appealing about storylines and panel layout, but I’m not very well versed in the classics or in many author’s works in an extensive basis.
So, I’m trying to identify some works and persons on whom I can focus.
For the next few months, I’m going to be trying to catch up on some Brian Michael Bendis. This is no mean feat. First, Bendis is a Marvel legend and has had a go at almost every major Marvel hero or team there is. His list of works is huge. To top it off, alot of what he does and is really famous for can be hard to get a hold of. Check it out, his list of works is HUGE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Michael_Bendis)
Some things I’m looking forward to reading by Bendis and crew:
Alias (especially hard to secure, may take a while), and
Things I want to keep reading by Bendis and crew:
Uncanny X-Men (current run)
Most of this is his more self-contained works. To be honest, the Bendis-verse is a scary place to enter into. I thought it prudent to limit myself to his more consumable stuff so I don’t get overwhelmed. Let me know what you think. Anything I’m missing?
Spotlight on Graphic Novels: East of West, Vol. 1
East of West is a feature I’ve struggled to pick up. It’s initial pages didn’t grab me and I put it down for a while. When I was finishing it this week, it grew on me, but I keep thinking about how long it took for me to get into the story.
East of West is an apocalypse story pitting Death against War, Conquest, and Famine. Death has been injured; the exact nature of the injury is unknown. He’s seeking revenge against the other three and trying to restore his life to what it once was. Death’s family, and the world, hangs in the balance.
The story features some interesting art. It relies heavily on shading and creates some serious depth in the characters. This can be very appealing, but also very abrasive. It blends a more traditional comic book style with some more Manga proportions and stylistic elements.
Fun moment! There are some characters that are ink-black and look a bit like Drow.
The story itself takes a long time to come together. I think this really contributed to my reluctance to continue with it. I’ll be honest, if I were trying this out as single issues, I probably wouldn’t have continued on with it.
Once the story comes together a bit, we see there is a great deal of complicated internal politics within the world and interesting plays on revenge stories. What’s interesting is the ways in which it is a bit similar to Pretty Deadly in subject matter. The stories themselves are different, but share a number of elements. I would say, as well, that East of West has a better sense of long-game plot building.
The characters are already interesting. Whether they’ll continue to be explored fully remains to be seen, but I’m hopeful.
I received a copy of East of West for free in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley.
Spotlight on Graphic Novels: Mind the Gap, Vol. 1
Mind the Gap, volume 1, follows Elle after she is attacked and in a coma. Her attacker is still on the loose, and coming to kill her. She has to find a way to communicate with the living before her attacker succeeds.
Things I liked:
- Beautiful artwork, particularly the coloring
- Features a masked villain, but shows us the (a?) villain after a short enough time that it doesn’t drag the story out
- Story is relatively cohesive with forming sub-plots
Things I disliked:
- We learn very little about the characters
- Character relationships are not fully explored, so there is little emotional draw
- Some of the stories are pretty predictable
Overall rating: ***
I received a copy of Mind the Gap for free in exchange for an honest review.
Spotlight on Graphic Novels: The Fuse
You can get a copy of The Fuse here.
Deitrich is a German police officer who requests a transfer to the Fuse, a space station with its own vastly different culture and circumstances. There, he’s assigned to homicide and “the Russia shift.” He’s not on the Fuse for a full day when cabelers (an isolated homeless population who lives in the maintenance areas in the walls of the Fuse) show up shot to death. Because guns are highly restricted on the station, the murders peak Deitrich’s interest. He and his abrasive partner, Klem, are about to uncover a horrible secret.
The artwork in the graphic novel is interesting. It reminded me of the artwork in the Jackie Chan Adventures. It’s lots of angles and rough-hewn shapes. It’s interesting. Klem’s gender is a bit ambiguous, but that plays into the way that Klem is as a character.
The story is interesting. It’s fast-paced and interesting. The plot itself is a little rough at times. There’s a lot of convenient plot points that are a bit too easy to come by.
The dialogue is a bit stinted at times. Dietrich never uses contractions which was off-putting. I think this is supposed to make him feel like a non-native English speaker, but it was more awkward than beneficial to his character. His actions make him feel far more real than his dialogue does.
The overall story has a lot of interesting subtext. The Cabelers are a great point with a lot of potential for development. We’ve been told that there’s a lot of complex ideas and reasons that the Cabelers exist and their interactions with the mainstream citizens is going to be great when more fully explored. I’m quite excited for it.
Klem is going to be a very interesting person to see develop. She’s cold and a bit sterile, but we know there’s more to her. The relationship we see with her and her son, as well as the way she approaches Dietrich hint at some very complex relationships.
I received this comic as an e-ARC from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review.
Spotlight on Graphic Novels: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Illustrated by Caanan White
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not very familiar with the Hellfighters. They were mostly a footnote in the European history class I took in high school. To my credit, at least I knew they existed. When I saw that The Harlem Hellfighters was (1) a graphic novel, (2) written by Max Brooks, and (3) available for review, I jumped.
There were a lot of things I liked about this book. The story was very well researched. You could tell that Brooks wanted to do justice to the story and that he knew accuracy was the way to do it. It is a fictionalized version of the Hellfighters’ history. It was, however, very well done. Even though you knew that the characters were fictionalized, they were realistic and relate-able.
The artwork is fantastic. It’s largely linework with a spectacular sense of light and dark and negative space. It feels a lot like a woodblock print or a woodcarving, with very bold lines. It does become a bit chaotic when some of the panels are similar, but overall is very striking.
The only thing I really wish we saw more of was the individual characters’ reactions to the events in the story. We’re introduced to about four or five very interesting characters at the start, but the focus doesn’t stay on them. There was a lot of history to cover, so this is understandable, but it does take away from the possibility of very interesting character developments and examinations.
Overall, though, I was very impressed. The story originated as a screenplay that Brooks wrote, but was adapted very well. Hopefully that movie gets made one day. 3.5/5