Category Archives: Graphic Novels

Emma Maree Reviews Batman: Year One


batmanyearoneBook:
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller (Writer), David Mazzucchelli (Illustrator), Richmond Lewis (Colorist)

Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Comic Book/Superhero

From master storyteller Frank Miller (“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, “Sin City”) comes the most incredible Batman story of all…and the inspiration for the worldwide smash-hit movie “Batman Begins!”

Lieutenant James Gordon takes up a new post in the crime-ridden and corrupt city of Gotham, while billionaire Bruce Wayne returns to the scene of his parents’ deaths, intent on avenging their memory. Each faces trials and challenges of their own, only for their lives to become irrevocably and potentially tragically intertwined…

This all-new, deluxe edition features new introductions by Miller and Mazzuchelli, pencils, promotional and unseen art, script pages and much more.

When DC decided to modernise their characters, they ran into a problem with Batman: his dark origin story already fitted the direction they were trying to go. Instead of redoing his origin story, they decided to fill in the blanks with Year One.

Year One tells the story of Bruce Wayne stepping back into Gotham City, finally ready to avenge his parents. It’s also the story of Gordon, not yet a commissioner, who takes a job in Gotham for the sake of his wife and learns just what it takes to be a cop in the world’s most corrupt city. Lastly, it’s the story of Selina, who realises she can escape her life as a Gotham prostitute for a much more fun career.

The included extras are some of the best I’ve ever seen. There’s cover art from the printed single-volume comics and previous collections of Year One, scripts, a short autobiographical comic by David Mazzucchelli with examples of his older work, and some examples of the colouring differences between the original comic and the printed collections. I’m particularly fond of the last two extras: the autobiographical story is a short and fun read, and the colouring comparisons really showcase what a great change the new colours make to the story.

 

Emma Maree Reviews: Anya’s Ghost

Book: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

File Under: Graphic Novel/Comic/Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part…

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks

Comic books are one of those mediums that exists on two separate plains: adult comics, and children’s comics. Sometimes they overlap, but there’s almost no real middle ground, no equivalent to the YA/teen fiction section of a bookstore.  “Anya’s Ghoost” is one of those few comics that aims itself directly at teens.

Anya, a Russian immigrant in America, is struggling to fit in: she’s dark-haired and curvy when all the popular girls are skinny and blonde, she’s only got one real friend, and she’s had to spend years getting rid of her accent.

When Anya meets Emily, a ghost who’s spent decades at the bottom of a well, a whole world of new possibilities open up. Emily can float around the classroom getting her the right answers for tests, she’s someone to talk to at home other than Anya’s annoying little brother,  and she might even be able to help Anya get together with the cute boy in the class above. With Emily’s help, Anya might actually be able to be one of the popular girls — but at what cost?

“Anya’s Ghost” is drawn in greyscale/blue and greyscale with a clear, simple style with smooth lines — slightly reminiscent of “Scott Pilgrim”. It also comes recommended by Neil Gaiman. It’s a great, quick read with a lot of positive messages. I wish I had this comic while I was growing up.

Here’s a preview of the first pages. I think it might be the US edition only that uses blue shading, my edition uses grey.

Emma Maree Reviews: Blacksad (A Silent Hell)

Book: Blacksad: A Silent Hell (collected, translated volume 2), written by Juan Díaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido

Genre: Graphic Novels/Comics/Noir/Crime

Detective John Blacksad returns, with a new case that takes him to a 1950s New Orleans filled with hot jazz and cold-blooded murder! Hired to discover the fate of a celebrated pianist, Blacksad finds his most dangerous mystery yet in the midst of drugs, voodoo, the rollicking atmosphere of Mardi Gras, and the dark underbelly that it hides!

This is possibly Juanjo Guarnido’s finest artwork so far, following his black cat detective to sunny New Orleans and featuring a stunning Mardi Gras parade sequence.

However, the storytelling seems to fall flatter than the last collectio. Flashbacks are handled clumsily with almost no indication that we’re in a different timeline, and there’s less bite to the story: Blacksad has no personal connection to the people involved, and there’s less of the serious political themes of the last volume.

This collection contains one full issue of Blacksad, two two-page short stories, and a bucketload of notes from the artist about why he colours his panels the way he does. The art explanations are fun for a while, but I can only read so much about the comic’s art theory before getting tired of it. After the packed-to-the-brim first Blacksad collection this is a little disappointing, but perhaps that’s only because I was expecting another three collected issues.

Emma Maree Reviews: Blacksad

(I’ve been falling behind on my reviews lately, and I’m trying to make up for that. Prepare yourself, dear readers, for a sudden increase in reviews while I play catch-up.)

Book: Blacksad, written by Juan Díaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido

Genre: Graphic Novels/Comics/Noir/Crime

Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets. Guarnido’s sumptuously painted pages and rich cinematic style bring the world of 1950s America to vibrant life, with Canales weaving in fascinating tales of conspiracy, racial tension, and the “red scare” Communist witch hunts of the time. Guarnido reinvents anthropomorphism in these pages, and industry colleagues no less than Will Eisner, Jim Steranko, and Tim Sale are fans Whether John Blacksad is falling for dangerous women or getting beaten to within an inch of his life, his stories are, simply put, unforgettable.

I picked this comic up after seeing a sample of some of it’s art floating around Tumblr (link NSFW, but I’ve included some work safe images throughout this post). The artist previously worked for Disney and has some amazing skills, which show in his ridiculously detailed backgrounds and the way he humanises his characters while keeping their animal designs.

Art like you’ll see in this post, where illustrated animals act like humans, has kind of a bad rap around the internet. It gets given the ‘furry’ label a lot, referring to a subculture who like humanised/anthromorphized animal art, and since a lot of furry art is smut the comics get dismissed as smut too.

That’s no use at all, because while some comics with humanised animals unfortunately go this route the best ones don’t. To name a few: Lackadaisy (a gorgeous free-to-read online comic dealing with the dangerous life of rumrunners in Prohibition-era America, using anthro cats), Maus (the story of a Holocaust survivor, using mice) and of course Blacksad.

This collection contains three volumes of the comic, making three separate stories. It starts out with that old noir cliche ‘the beautiful woman I loved is mysteriously dead’ which felt like I was re-reading Sin City, but it was a great opportunity to see hardboiled detective John Blacksad’ struggling to deal with loss. From there the writer/illustrator team take on bolder, braver territory, and it works fantastically. Second volume Arctic Nation takes on racism and inter-racial violence, and seeing animals act like racist dirtbags to other animals somehow reinforces how horrible this is when done by humans. Third volume Red Soul takes things an even further step up, bringing in communism and nuclear power struggles.

With flawless, amazingly detailed and expressive art and tactful, powerful storytelling, this collection is a gem amongst European comics. Highly recommended to all fans of comics like Sin City, Lackadaisy or Maus, or people who just want to look at some brilliant art.

Emma Maree Reviews: Marvel 1602

After watching the latest X-Men movie, “Marvel 1602” seemed like a good follow-up to read – it’s an Elizabethan re-imagining of the Marvel universe, with a lot of focus on the X-Men.

I picked up the trade paperback, collecting all 8 issues of the comic written by the legendary Neil Gaiman – usually a DC comics writing, so it’s nice to see him taking a spin at Marvel.

Here’s the Amazon summary:

The always inventive Gaiman has concocted an unlikely—but fantastically successful—superhero comic that transfers Marvel’s classic characters to the Elizabethan period. Nick Fury is still a lethal government operative, but now he’s an adviser to Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty is equally reliant on magician and doctor Stephen Strange. X-Men mentor Charles Xavier still shepherds a band of mutant teens, only now he’s called Carlos Javier, and the mutants are known, and mistrusted, as “witchbreed.” Carlos’s mysterious nemesis has taken on a new job: grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Peter Parker (here “Parquah”) is still a confused but well-meaning teenager who has yet to be bitten by a radioactive spider. Placed in a period landscape (rendered in rich, painterly panels by illustrator Kubert and digital painter Richard Isanove), these familiar characters must grapple with the issues of the day, chief among them the machinations of the evil King James of Scotland. And, in classic superhero style, they must save the world. The improbable combination works remarkably well, as the superheroes’ strange abilities adapt to Elizabethan culture.

So that’s the plot, and it’s exactly what it sounds – as many Marvel heroes reimagined in Elizabethan style as possible. Sometimes the plot, a nice mystery with political intrigue and spy elements, gets pushed ahead in favour of cameos. This does weaken the story, but as long as you’re a Marvel fan you’ll still enjoy it – for the re-imaginings, the references and in-jokes, and the plot lines.

The dialogue is strong for a comic book and it fits the period. The period setting is well done, if confusing at points (there are dinosaurs. I have no idea why. Google eventually told me this was a reference to the Marvel ‘Savage Lands’). The time period could have been used more blatantly, but it has lots of old-fashioned ships so I’ll forgive it. It also uses some unexpected plot twists – a few famous Marvel characters appear towards the end that I completely didn’t expect to show up.

The art style is relatively unique – pencils taken immediately into digital colouring, with a lot of the pencil lines still visible to give it a ‘scratchboard look’. Skipping the inking stage definitely makes it stand out.

the penciller isn’t always that great with faces – characters pull some really jarring, unnatural expressions. It gets less noticeable towards the end, maybe because I was more ‘into’ the story.

One thing I wish the collection had would be character bios, so that relatively new Marvel fans like myself could keep up. Sly references to their modern superhero names help clear this up (one of Daredevil’s opening lines, as a blind Irish bard, is along the lines of ‘If the devil is one who dares, then I am the devil.’ I see what you did there, Neil Gaiman) If you’re already familiar with the Marvel universe, you’re fine – and you should really enjoy this.

“We3” Comic Review

We3

I’d seen the work of Scottish artist Vincent Deighan, penname Frank Quitely, before in the Sandman comic “Endless Nights”, and I’d enjoyed legendary comic writer Grant Morrison’s work in “Arkham Asylum”.

So when I heard about their miniseries “We3”, a short story about three ‘animal weapons’ that escape captivity, I went straight out and bought it. Robot animals!

If you’re an animal lover, We3 is heartbreakingly powerful. It’s also gorgeous – hyper-violent and bloody, yes, but the art is colourful and the detail in the mech (robot) designs is amazing. It’s often described as a ‘Western Manga’ style, but any influence is slight – the art is still recognisable as comic-styled and the realism of the animals really helps to carry the story.

The panel layouts are fantastic – an opening scene is told through rows of tiny squares representing CCTV stills, panels twist and bend to fit the motion of the action, and huge graphic scenes are overlaid with smaller panels showing the details of the fight.

The 3 animal main characters – a rabbit, cat and dog all modified to become powerful animal weapons – speak very little, but still manage to be sympathetic and realistic characters. They act like you would expect your pets to act, searching for shelter and safety, which makes the moments when they’re forced to fight or injured in battle all the more difficult to see.

Experimental panel layout adds motion to the fight scenes

It’s a short read – almost too short, as I’d have loved a little more time with the characters – but it definitely makes good use of every available page.

[easyreview cat1title=”Overall” cat1detail=”A perfect example of standalone comic storytelling, with stunning art, solid writing and a fresh sense of experimentation with panel layout.” cat1rating=”5″ overall=false]

I Love Scott Pilgrim

I admit it. I love Scott Pilgrim. He’s cute, funny, and geeky – but he’s got his heart set on pink-haired, rollerblading Amazon delivery-girl Ramona Flowers and even her seven evil ex-boyfriends aren’t going to stop him getting his girl. So my chances are pretty slim, but at least I have an awesome comic to help the pain to fade.

Scott Pilgrim is the story of a 23-year-old guy trying to find a job and a girlfriend, and deal with all the challenges that involves – including realising your cute high school girlfriend might not be the best match but the new girl you’ve got your eye on is carrying a lot of baggage, and your ex-girlfriend might just be back in town and you’re maybe-just-not-quite over her yet.

That, and there’s video game references galore, a terrible rock band, battles with less terrible rock bands, ninjas, subspace, Canadian temperature changes and gay roommates to deal with along the way.

It’s not perfect – the dialogue’s a bit clunky to start out with and the style sometimes sways a bit too far towards the manga style instead of O’Malley’s own style, subspace is only vaguely explained and certain plot points – particularly towards the end – are arguably not quite what we’d have hoped for.

It’s a quirky, ‘indie’ sort of comic book with simple but simple but expressive style and characters are linked together in a way that gives them depth while keeping them interesting and relevant to the story.

Here’s an animated short showing one of the scenes in the style of the comic:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljXNUnrg4fc[/youtube]

The short was made to promote their newly released live action “Scott Pilgrim VS. the World Movie” movie, starring Michael Cera (who’s a bit boring sometimes) and a bunch of other dolled-up teenagers looking troubled but beautiful… but it’s true to the comic and I have no doubt it’s going to be awesome purely because of that. The movie covers all 6 volumes of the comic.

Here’s the trailer, but more importantly, the official site has previews for all of the comics.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NUBVcit5VM[/youtube]

Oh, and did I mention it’s directed by the man behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? Edgar Wright is awesome, guys. AWESOME. And us Brits love him.

It’s just out in UK cinemas, and I’ll be headed to see it this weekend!

To top it all of, there’s an 8-bit style XBLA/PSN game based on the comic’s style.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAY4vNJd7A8[/youtube]

…And all my geeky boxes have been ticked.

Played the video game last night and it’s lots of fun if you like side-scrollers, especially if you’ve got someone in the house to play Co-Op with. (The story’s really vague if you haven’t read the comic, but that doesn’t affect gameplay.) I’m looking forward to unlocking the zombie survival mode!

Seriously, though – if you’re into comics, support the creator and give them a read, and/or go see the movie as it’s struggling in the US box office, and it’s time for the Brits to show it some love.