Posts Tagged ‘comics reviews’

The Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time

October 18, 2016

11. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby

They call Jack Kirby the King of Comics, and for good reason. As a precocious young artist, he co-created Captain America with writer-artist Joe Simon; his star-spangled superhero socked Hitler on the jaw a few years before Kirby himself helped liberate a satellite concentration camp during the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II. After returning to the States, Kirby would pioneer both romance and monster comics in the ’50s before work for which he is best remembered: the early-’60s co-creation of the Marvel Universe with his frenemy Stan Lee and fellow artist Steve Ditko. The dynamism of his artwork was miles away from the staid, square-jawed superheroics of Superman, Batman et al, and as the co-writer (and often primary writer) of Fantastic Four and other Marvel mainstays, Kirby gave birth to characters and concepts that essentially preserved the comics industry in North America after the censorious ’50s.

Kirby’s true masterwork came when, fed up with Lee’s spotlight-hogging and his own lack of creative control, he decamped to rival publisher DC and was given carte blanche to create his own line of superheroes. In genuinely prophetic fashion, the four titles that resulted — New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Jimmy Olsen — told one massive interlocking story about a war between rival deities, the evil half of which were led by a granite-faced embodiment of evil called Darkseid, whose son was secretly raised by the forces of good. (Sound familiar, Star Wars fans?) It’s not simply the scope of Kirby’s ambition nor the cataclysmic psychedelia of his artwork (drawn completely drug-free) that makes the Fourth World Saga, collected in four omnibus editions by DC, so compelling. No, it’s this World War II veteran’s Vietnam-era conviction that the true source of “Anti-Life” is violence itself, no matter how righteous the cause. Sadly, the epic was cut short by the publisher before Kirby could reach its proper conclusion. Several great superhero works would eventually follow (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi and Guy Davis’ Hellboy/B.P.R.D. saga), but they all labor in the humanistic, explosively creative shadow of the King.

10. Gast by Carol Swain

A work of such profound empathy that it almost feels like a hole in the world, Gast is a gentle yet ultimately unforgiving look at the ways in which the world can break down those who cannot quite bring themselves to fit in. It follows an 11-year-old girl named Helen on a trip to the Welsh countryside, during which she discovers she can talk with the wild and domesticated animals that populate its rolling landscape — all of whom speak to her of the death of a “rare bird” who lived near by. This turns out to be a farmer named Emrys, whose gender dysphoria (he wore women’s clothing and ostentatiously dyed his hair, but kept to himself out of fear of reprisal and continued to identify as male) and failing fortunes led him to suicide. Gast functions like a murder mystery with no real killer and no real victim; the investigation itself is the point, as Helen learns about this sad and secretly much-loved person’s life, and about life and death themselves in the process. Swain’s soft charcoal artwork, the unusual and descriptive angles of her drawings, and her willingness to take things slowly make for an utterly unique reading experience.

Well, this is it: I selected and wrote about the 33 Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time for Thrillist.

At Home at the End of the World: The Long Defeat of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy

July 22, 2015

…nearly all of the “Mignolaverse” titles are shot through with a sense of tremendous loss, of mind-warping waste. The world Hellboy and his friends inhabit is a brutal one, rendered unspeakably ugly by a combination of venal people whose minds are too small for empathy and the unstoppable forces they therefore unleash.

Moreover, there’s a specific sense throughout the saga that the violence wielded by its protagonists is futile, even counterproductive. The most gung-ho member of the B.P.R.D., heavily scarred ex-Marine Captain Ben Daimio, secretly harbored an evil spirit that eventually took over and rampaged through the team’s headquarters. An attempt by the artificial man Roger the Homunculus to ape Daimio’s hard-charging attitude led directly to his own death. The depiction of violence as causing more problems than it solves is a self-critique that few superhero stories attempt, and even the ones that attempt it usually ultimately reject it.

Yet Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. soldier on, fighting a menace they are too weak, and too late, to stop. Their goal, to the extent that they have one, is simply to survive, and to preserve what little light and life they can — to write an epilogue for a story that has already ended.

Apocalypse now and forever: I wrote about Hellboy, the BPRD, and pop-cultural armageddons for Grantland.

Comics Time: Baby Bjornstrand

September 3, 2014

A thing comes into three lives, without warning or explanation. A thing leaves those lives in much the same way. The time between: Baby Bjornstrand, the new Renee French graphic novel completing and collecting the webcomic of the same name. In the past, I’ve written that the hazy, watery wasteland inhabited by Baby Bjornstrand‘s masked, hooded protagonists and monstrous fauna evokes a post-apocalypticism that is, if not belied, then at least transfigured by the comic tone of the proceedings. Now that the series is finished, that’s only true to a point. As the uniform proscenium staging of its panels suggests, Bjornstrand remains much closer to Samuel Beckett than Stephen King, despite French’s astonishing proficiency with painstakingly penciled menace. Yet its morose ending has a bite that doesn’t require the jaws of a monster.

I reviewed Baby Bjornstrand by Renee French for The Comics Journal.


August 22, 2013

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been a busy boy on Vorpalizer, the blog of the Science Fiction Book Club, as usual.

In my Webcomic Wednesday series, I wrote about the art of Heather Benjamin (which I obviously love) and The Long Journey by Boulet, empty calories but tasty, and “About the Author” by Pete Toms (“Repetition works, David. Repetition works, David.”).

And in my Roots and Beginnings series, I talked about The Goonies, bullying, and escapism, and (via art by Sam Bosma) my greatest D&D experience ever.

Comics Time: “Spirit Hand” and “Here”

July 3, 2013

I wrote about “Spirit Hand” by Julia Gfrörer and “Here” by Richard McGuire for Vorpalizer.

Comics Time: The superhero comics of Kate Beaton

May 23, 2013

I reviewed Kate Beaton’s superhero parody comics for Vorpalizer. Such a fun cartoonist to talk about, because you can extrapolate general principles from small details. And those eyes!

Comics Time: Ant Comic

March 25, 2013

I reviewed Michael DeForge’s masterful webcomic Ant Comic for The Comics Journal.

Please read the comic; it’s gorgeous, funny, troubling, and powerful, and you can read it all on a lovely single scrolling page.