Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (3/2/11)

Axe Cop, Mid-Life, Wildcats, A Single Match

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Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (3/2/11)

Every Wednesday, Paste looks at some of the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.


Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 by Malachai and Ethan Nicolle

Dark Horse Comics, March 2, 2011
Rating: 8.0

Everybody knows Axe Cop. He’s the cop with an axe. His partner is a dinosaur soldier named Dinosaur Soldier. Their war against bad guys is chronicled in the webcomic Axe Cop by six-year-old writer Malachai Nicolle and his thirty-year-old artist brother Ethan. This is all old news if you were anywhere near a computer in early 2010, when links to Axe Cop overtook both social and old-time media sites from Twitter to Entertainment Weekly. The Nicolles have parlayed that attention into a deal with Dark Horse Comics, who collected the first few months of the webcomic into a trade paperback in January and today release the first issue of the brand new three-issue Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth miniseries. Nothing’s really changed other than the format and the addition of color. Axe Cop perfects the sort of thrill-powered ridiculousness found in more mannered webcomics like The Adventures of Dr. McNinja and Awesome Hospital, where plot and character are often subservient to outlandish comic-book craziness. It’s born out of the effortless absurdity that comes naturally to children but is exceedingly difficult for adults to channel. In Bad Guy Earth, Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier face off against an evil planet, psychic villains who want to turn Earth into a world full of bad guys, and, worst of all, real cops, who hate everything Axe Cop stands for. The pacing isn’t ideal for the format (the endless “and then this happened” non-sequiturs work better in the single-page chunks of the webcomic), but Bad Guy Earth successfully translates Axe Cop to the physical realm. (GM)


A Single Match by Oji Suzuki

Drawn + Quarterly, January 2011
Rating: 3.8

I’m not tremendously familiar with the world of post-World War II Japanese comics, limiting myself mostly to Yotsuba&! so far, but Oji Suzuki’s A Single Match is pretty much the kind of thing that’s kept me away from gekiga (the serious counterpart to manga). The cover copy describes it as “hauntingly elliptical,” but it could just as well read “irritatingly vague.” The question is whether Suzuki’s work is as obscure in Japanese as it is in English, and I suspect that it’s slightly less so, due to a lack of cultural barriers. For example, are we supposed to know what animal or object is making half the noises that recur in the backgrounds of many a story? Sometimes the source is identified, but more frequently it’s not, leaving the non-expert in the dark. This kind of poetic, dreamy surrealism can be rewarding—Hiroshi Teshigahara’s film adaptation of Woman in the Dunes is a good example—but A Single Match doesn’t have enough moments of satisfaction to make up for the overwhelming feeling of being adrift. Too often, even the briefest stories result in unrewarding mystification, and while Suzuki’s art has its nice moments, it’s not beautiful enough to counteract the narrative weaknesses. (HB)


Wildcats Version 3.0, Year Two by Joe Casey, Dustin Nguyen, Sean Phillips, Pascal Ferry, and Duncan Rouleau

DC Comics, March 2, 2011
Rating: 7.8

Fun fact: though some publishers have carried its stamp as recently as last month, the Comics Code Authority has been obsolete since 2009. But the censorship organization’s first blows were inflicted as far back as 2001, when Marvel and Wildstorm promptly dumped the label. We can thank the latter publisher and this dauntless decision for one of the most underrated super hero series in recent memory: Wildcats Version 3.0. But this 24-issue arc didn’t just break barriers with sex and violence (of which there’s plenty). Writer Joe Casey and artist Dustin Nguyen crafted a ballsy, post-modern opus about economics and morality that injected a welcome dose of relevancy into the genre. The heart of the story features Jack Marlowe, an enigmatic android CEO who revolutionizes society through manufacturing fuel-less cars and open source networks. Think of Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs and Superman rendered in 2-dimensional perfection. Throw in S&M bodyguards, a corrupt hypnotist and a gun-wielding accountant, and you have a series that is equally mature, compelling and hilarious. It’s all the more tragic that this sophistication vanishes toward the series’ end, as the scripts diminish into conventional bullets-and-boobs clichés (and even worse: fill-in artists) to help reignite flagging sales. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent cancellation. But in the second and final volume, which comes out today, Wildcats Version 3.0 hints at a progress and aesthetic far ahead of its time. (SE)


Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann

Drawn + Quarterly, March 2011
Rating: 7.9

Self-deprecating, self-revelatory humor can backfire in a hurry. It’s a very fine line to walk between “heh, this guy’s a regular Joe just like me, with my same personality flaws and pimples” and “ugh, I hate myself and now I hate you!” If you only read 10 pages of Joe Ollmann’s semi-autobiographical debut original graphic novel, you might come down on the latter side, but Ollmann is clever enough to pull off the balancing act. Unlike Joe Matt or Robert Crumb, whose work becomes progressively less tolerable the more pages you flip, Ollmann focuses more on the storyline he’s crafting, and the further you get into Mid-Life, the more you find yourself pleasantly surprised. His decision to move between the perspectives of two different characters as they converge seems initially like an error (and the Sherri Smalls sections don’t start out strong) but ends up reminding the reader of Alex Robinson’s gift for forging narrative unity out of multiple voices. Things actually happen in this book, and while its tone and artwork are mostly those of melancholic comedy it manages to touch some real emotional chords. (HB)