Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (4/11/12)

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Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up (4/11/12)

Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.

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Alabaster: Wolves #1
by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber

Dark Horse, 2012
Rating: 7.5

Caitlin Kiernan, the Irish-born fantasy writer who grew up in the deep-fried South, transports her albino monster fighter Dancy Flammarion from novels to comics in the Dark Horse miniseries, Alabaster: Wolves. Kiernan excels in writing flowing, immersive dialogue steeped in Southern colloquialisms, and the majority of the story rests on a breezy back and forth delivered between two supposed killers. The immediate lack of action is hardly noticed, reflecting Kiernan’s substantial skill at entrenching the reader with character instead of carnage. It gives the entire arc a folk tale vibe, like a summer parable told to a child on a porch littered with antique rocking chairs. Nobody’s going to mistake this for a cutting-edge, modernist reimagining; it sings with a timeless, natural quality reminiscent of work from fellow mythmaker Neil Gaiman. This is no surprise as the Dream King collaborated with Kiernan on The Dreaming for Vertigo and the novelization of the Beowulf film Gaiman scripted. With an ending punctuated by a riddle competition and a flaming four-headed angel, it’s hard not to find thematic comparisons between the two. That’s not the only Gaiman likeness to be made, though. Artist Steve Leiber’s scratchy textures echo former Sandman penciller Mike Dringenberg, and to a lesser extent, Sean Murphy. The only criticism is that the tale feels a tad stretched for an entire issue, but this promising start and flavorful premise take familiar elements in a fresh, mesmerizing direction. (SE)

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Nix Comics for Kids #1
by Ken Eppstein and Brian Kraft

Nix Comics, 2012
Rating: 5.0

Ken Eppstein’s young comics line so far seems to consist of comics written by Ken Eppstein, but its mission statement (open submission policy, record shops and comics shops have similar audiences, drawing on the past for artistic inspiration is a good idea) is promising. It’s hard to gauge how good or bad Nix Comics for Kids #1 is, mostly because kids’ comics tend to be on the weak side in terms of narrative and art. The premise in this issue is that main character Boy Howdie, rendered in mushy style by Brian Kraft, who doesn’t come from a comics background, learns about LPs or being careful with stuff that doesn’t belong to or being nice to your dad… or something. It’s not really clear what the point is, apart from some okay jokes about the Ramones and Brian Eno. I’m also not sure these comics appeal to kids as much as to their parents, who get the humor of having to explain what a turntable is or why the Velvet Underground doesn’t suck. It’s a nice effort but the content isn’t really a cut above Harvey Comics. (HB)

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The Lovecraft Anthology, vol. 1
edited by Dan Lockwood

Self Made Hero, 2012
Rating: 5.4

Originally published in England, this first iteration of a multi-volume work attempts to illustrate H.P. Lovecraft’s early-twentieth-century masterfully weird tales of the macabre and supernatural. Lovecraft has inspired much other work, both in comics (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Mike Mignola) and in other artforms, but a sense of creeping dread is difficult to capture in a visual medium, where the necessity of concrete visual portrayal works against the horror of something like Cthulhu, the pre-human alien being made up of tentacles and goo. These seven stories are reasonably entertaining, but most of their value lies in the writing. Lockwood has done a good job editing Lovecraft down to his essentials, but the art, by seven different contributors, is fairly weak, which makes one long for the originals or, barring that, a stronger visual hand at work. Ugly lettering and obviously digital coloring detract from the pleasure of reading these stories and distract from the essential fears they address. (HB)

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The Mighty Thor # 12.1
by Matt Fraction and Barry Kitson

Marvel Comics, 2012
Rating: 4.5

The point of these “point one” comics is to welcome new readers. Some of them do a solid job, giving a quick impression of a character’s history and defining traits and the tone of the book without rehashing a fifty-year old origin for the billionth time. The Mighty Thor # 12.1 shows how difficult it can be to pull that off. Fraction frames it as Sif and Volstagg sharing stories on the way to a battle, relaying Thor’s youthful bravery, impetuousness and loyalty and Loki’s lifetime of deceit as they journey to help both of them defeat what looks like a Celestial. These brief flashbacks of action are covered in text, several caption boxes on each page filled with the stilted speech of Marvel Asgardians. It all feels lifeless and perfunctory, even Volstagg’s trademark braggadocio. Fraction hits the points you expect from a comic like this, illuminating the pasts and personae of both Thor and Loki, and hinting at the book’s upcoming storylines, but there’s no excitement in the telling. Barry Kitson’s art doesn’t help. I normally like Kitson’s sleek style, and he and Fraction worked together well on the gone-too-soon Marvel series The Order. Kitson doesn’t fit the grandiose adventure of an Asgard-set Thor comic, though. It’s too soft, too flat, neither epic nor earthy enough. He’s a good artist on the wrong book, and instead of treating this like a worthwhile issue in its own right, Fraction’s script feels like a speed-bump in the middle of his larger story. (GM)