I’m just going to get it out of the way up front. I’m not a big fan of The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy. It’s not terrible by any means, but I just struggled with the storyline and the art didn’t excite me that much. I’m sure it’s just a failing on my part as a reader, and you should check it out for yourself.
I haven’t written about Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples to this point, because I figured there were enough people singing its praises (and rightfully so). Also, I’m just always late to the party. It is a phenomenal series—original and beautiful. If by chance you haven’t seen it or heard about it, you should definitely check it out. Be warned. It’s not for the squeamish and earns its mature rating, but once you start reading it you’ll likely not want to put it down.
I like to read in a longer format, so I typically wait for the collected volumes. Volume 4 prompted me to write, because it seems to be a big departure in terms of storyline and tone. Up to this point, Alana and Marko, star-crossed lovers in the vein of Romeo and Juliet, are on the run from the authorities, assassins, and tabloid journalists. They are from separate warring planets, and knowledge of their relationship and love child would harm the war machine (or what we call the industrial military complex). They are determined to keep their baby, Hazel, safe. This drives the story and adventure.
In volume 4, Hazel is now a toddler and speaking, but more importantly Alana and Marko have settled into family life. There’s no fairy-tale married life in this fairy tale. Alana is working to put food on the table, but her job doesn’t give her any true satisfaction or meaning in life. In fact, it is soul sucking. So, she starts looking for something to fill the emptiness and keep her going. Marko is a stay-at-home dad, which you don’t see often in comic land. This doesn’t give him true satisfaction, and with Alana working all the time, he starts to feel like he needs something more. Vaughan captures this shift so perfectly.
This mix of character reality with the fantasy world is what makes Vaughan’s stories so compelling. The characters and worlds are so original I can’t fathom how he comes up with the stuff, but then there’s the “here’s what really happens in relationships after the honeymoon.” It’s some of the best writing out there.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s still plenty of action and adventure in the volume. A janitor goes off the deep end and kidnaps the newly born robo-prince. As fate would have it, his path crosses with Marko, Alana, and Prince Robot IV in what looks like it will be a wild ride in volume 5. Don’t forget. There are assassins out there and other craziness. Keep reading.
Growing up, my cousin had this thing where no one was allowed to like anything he liked or he accused you of copying him, and sometimes he would punch you. He loved Wolverine, so I said whatever. I didn’t read much Wolverine. There was a lot of other good, if not better stuff out there. Like Elektra: Assassin.
Now that we’re older, I’m much bigger than he is. There will be no punching. So, I’ve started reading some Wolverine comics. Like I said in my Just A Pilgrim post, I like post-apocalyptic stories, and Old Man Logan is kind of a post-apocalyptic Marvel universe. On the “Night the Heroes Fell,” evil won, the good guys disappeared, and the villains have been running things ever since.
The bad guys have split up the U.S. into fiefdoms, extorting those living on their land. The story starts with a pacifist Wolverine living on a ranch in the Sacramento desert with his wife and two kids. He’s late on his rent to the Banners, the grandkids of Bruce Banner. They are a nasty bunch. Hawkeye proposes a delivery job (read illegal smuggling) across the country that would raise enough money to pay the rent. It has a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid feel to it. You can see where this is going.
This is a fun road-trip comic with a pretty cool concept. The old villains (or their descendants) and some of the heroes pop up in surprising ways. There are several rabbit trails and plot twists on the journey. Although the ending isn’t necessarily a surprise, the details leading up to it are certainly entertaining. Check out Old Man Logan here.
I have always been a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories, and Just a Pilgrim by Garth Ennis fits that bill. It was originally released as a five-issue miniseries by Black Bull in 2001, but you can get the complete trade paperback now. Ennis, of Preacher and Punisher fame, combines a bunch of off-kilter ideas and character traits in this story, which makes the comic interesting, but strangely enough, also keeps it from being anything other than an amusing oddity.
The story takes place after a solar event called “the burn” scorches the Earth, destroys all plant life, and evaporates all the water. Apparently, the radiation also created some monsters. The setting is a quirky mix of an Eastwood spaghetti western and The Road Warrior. Pilgrim is Eastwood, kinda.
We are never given his name, other than Pilgrim. He’s an anti-hero that the reader can never quite be sure about, especially at the end. In typical Ennis fashion, Pilgrim is a religious fundamentalist with a wicked past and a penchant for grotesque violence, while quoting scripture. He assists a group of people traveling through the wasteland of the Atlantic seabed trying to find a rumored outpost where people can live in relative safety. On the way, a band of barbarians, with a leader who is the stereotypical pirate, becomes determined to kill, rape, and pillage the group. A young boy with the travelling group, Billy Shepherd, documents the trip in his diary. It’s high adventure on the dried up seas.
Some of the details just feel like they were meant to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. Pilgrim’s character is interesting. Is he a hero? An anti-hero? A villain? But the religious twist just feels like Ennis is taking unfair jabs at people of faith. Overall, Just a Pilgrim is a quick, easy read with post-apocalyptic flair and adventure, but there’s not much weight to it.
Top Shelf Productions published a remastered version of Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs in June 2012. Chris Ross re-lettered the book and helped Lemire repackage it. This is a powerful short story of a graphic novel using three colors and a brush.
Timothy Callahan reflects in his introduction on the first time he saw the Lost Dogs at a comic show. He walked away without buying it. He writes:
And before long, I returned. The glimpses of imagery haunted me through the rest of the day at the MoCCA art festival. Before I left for home, I stopped at Lemire’s booth and bought a copy of Lost Dogs, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (at a comic book show, at least).
That’s the kind of book Lost Dogs is. It’s haunting, and it sticks with you. If you’re familiar with Lemire’s work, you will not be disappointed. Lost Dogs is his first work, and he is finding his style and voice. You’ll see how his work has evolved and become more refined without losing any of the power or rawness.
I came to the book from Lemire’s most recent graphic novel, The Underwater Welder. The artwork in Lost Dogs is certainly rawer, but the power of the story and even some underlying themes remain the same. The book has Lemire’s signature full page panels that stun you with their ability to capture crucial story elements. I just linger on those pages. And the text is kept to the bare essentials. Not one word is unnecessary.
Lost Dogs is rough, it is raw as hell, but it’s rough like a bareknuckle fist fight and raw like a rusty knife into your gut. Lemire’s artistic style has tightened up since he first worked on this book, but the grammar, the fundamental storytelling elements, remain the same as what you might see in the Essex County comics, or in his work for Vertigo. He’s a true cartoonist, in the sense that his words and his pictures flow from the same source.
If you’re a Jeff Lemire fan, do yourself a favor and pick this up. You’ll read it through it one sitting and then want to read it again.
I’m a latecomer to Doctor Who. My 11-year-old son turned me on to the television series a few months ago, and we have been steadily making our way through the Netflix collection. When I saw Doctor Who: The Dave Gibbons Collection, I couldn’t pass it up. I mean Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen and Superman: “For the Man Who Has Everything,” and Doctor Who together in comics? How could you go wrong?
Since I’m no expert, my insight into how these stories relate to older episodes of the series will be admittedly limited. The collection mainly focuses on the Tom Baker incarnation of the Doctor, with a few stories towards the end that include the Peter Davison incarnation, including one of my favorites in the collection “The Tides of Time.” Sharon and K-9 are the Doctor’s companions for several stories, but most of the time he travels alone in these stories and meets people along the way.
Naturally, Dave Gibbons’ artwork lives up to his reputation. The colors and detail are superb throughout the collection. From what I can tell, he captured Tom Baker’s manic grin and personality perfectly, but I’m going on very limited knowledge of Baker. Gibbons’ vision of creatures, space vehicles, and intergalactic communities completely drew me into the stories.
The book opens with several multi-part stories that I really enjoyed- “The Iron Legion,” “The City of the Damned,” and “The Star Beast.” “The City of the Damned,” which has Orwellian themes, is probably my favorite of the collection. The citizens of the city are controlled and programmed to be emotionless, but there is a gang of rebels, who each exhibit one emotion, fighting the controllers. There is a quirky ending befitting the Doctor.
“The Tides of Time” runs a close second. It shows a side of the Doctor I haven’t seen in the latest seasons of the television series. There are massive powers at play in the universe. The Doctor is mainly along for the ride and is just as confused as everyone else. The story takes some really bizarre turns, but is visually stunning.
There are several other stories in the collection where the Doctor seems to just be along for the ride without contributing much, but they are one-off, quick stories that seem to end as soon as they really begin. There also seems to be a lot more Star-Wars-like space battles and lasers in these older stories, but that may be natural in the older stories and incarnations of the Doctor.
Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder is a powerful example of how graphic novels / comics can be just as artistic, important, and poignant as traditional literature. The story follows Jack, an underwater welder for an oil rig. Jack and his wife are expecting their first child, but Jack is struggling with issues from his own childhood and his relationship with his father.
Jack feels an overwhelming need to be alone, and the only place he can find the peace and quiet to deal with his thoughts is underwater welding at work. The story takes some surreal and unexpected turns as Jack deals with his past and ultimately tries to answer that nagging human question, “Who am I?” In the introduction to the book, Damon Lindelof describes it as “the most spectacular episode of the Twilight Zone that was never produced,” and that describes the book perfectly.
Lemire’s art is simplistic and raw, which really captures the isolation in the story and Jack’s state of mind. Lemire uses large panels liberally with minimal text, which also highlights the internal contemplative aspects of the story. I had an English professor who said that in good literature everything is there for a purpose. Nothing is superfluous. The craftsmanship and vision displayed in The Underwater Welder is the perfect combination of writing and art to create a powerful story. It is good literature.
I highly recommend The Underwater Welder. The book is over 200 pages, but reads very quickly. And then you will want to read it again to figure out how Lemire captured so much story and emotion with black and white simplicity and sparse text.
I seriously doubt there will be a better graphic novel released in 2012. The Underwater Welder is published by Top Shelf Productions.
Words Without Borders is showcasing international graphic novels this month. Excellent stuff.