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

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

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

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Avengers Vs. X-Men #1
by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

Marvel, 2012
Rating: 6.0

After being in print for the better part of a century, one would think that Marvel’s legacy heroes would come to a few conclusions. These might include the facts that death is as permanent as a celebrity marriage, Wolverine makes more cameos than Samuel L. Jackson and Alpha Flight will never star in an ongoing series past a single
digit. Also: fighting another superhero is just bad karma. And, usually, a very shallow marketing ploy to let children play meta-Pokemon with characters instead of enjoy a, um, story. So I walked into Avengers Vs. X-Men cautiously optimistic, expecting
editorial to unravel a compelling, compassionate rationale for grown-ups who save the world on a frequent basis to punch each other in the face. Not that it was perfect, but Civil War did a damn fine job of this by using Hobbes and The Patriot Act to fire up some believable hero-on-hero friction. Is it too much to expect another decent set up? Yes. Yes it is. This introduction posits that the Phoenix Force, a giant ball of living interstellar extinction, is headed to Earth to bond with X-Teen Hope Summers, a feisty redhead who bears more than a passing resemblance to former Phoenix host Jean Grey. Captain America and his team of very friendly, diplomatic, cordial friends, who have also been friends with the X-Men for decades, ask team leader Cyclops if they can work together so humanity doesn’t undergo a premature holocaust. Obviously, this comic book isn’t titled Avengers Jam on Pan Flutes with X-Men, so you knew where things were headed. And it kind of sucks. These characters are modern mythological archetypes of humanity’s finest virtues. They’re fictional because they embody honor, strength and character that we are too greedy, selfish and real to embody. I know there’s a stretching back story to Cyclop’s illogical desperation, but it isn’t represented convincingly here. Instead, it just kind of feels like two comics legends are reduced to the posturing dicks that stumble out of your bar at 2 AM. At least John Romita Jr. makes them
look pretty. (SE)

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Athos in America
by Jason

Fantagraphics, 2012
Rating: 7.9

Has Jason become more embittered and misanthropic as he’s aged, or do those tendencies just become more evident as one reads more of his work? Athos in America is up to his usual standards, full of stories that build slowly, with plenty of subtle detail in its stone-faced panels. “The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf,” for example, melds science fiction and mundane marital troubles in utterly believable fashion. “A Cat from Heaven” is uncomfortably pseudo(?)-autobiographical, with its depiction of a jackass cartoonist’s rocky relationship with his girlfriend, but interesting. Mostly, we wait for things to end badly, which they almost always do, although never with much overt expression of drama. Thankfully, someone decided to put the title work last, a revisiting of the “The Last Musketeer,” and although it contains melancholy in abundance, it’s gentler than many of the other stories here. The execution, as it always is with both Jason and Fantagraphics, is stellar. (HB)

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Gone to Amerikay
By Derek McCulloch and Colleen Doran

Vertigo Comics, 2012
Rating: 7.2

Your reaction to the time-jumping Irish immigration drama Gone to Amerikay will depend on how you feel about ghosts. For its first two-thirds this graphic novel is a touching slice of historical fiction about two immigrants in 1870 and 1960 intertwined in a mystery that enchants a modern-day Irish business mogul. The book bounces between the same rough-and-tumble 19th century Irish slums seen in Gangs of New York and the bohemian ground zero Greenwich Village had turned into by 1960, underscoring the changes in society between those two years and drawing connections and parallels between its two lead characters. The 1870s story focuses on Ciara O’Dwyer, a young mother fresh off the boat from Ireland who finds work as a servant girl with real-life criminal overlord Marm Mandelbaum. In 1960 Irish folk-singer and émigré Johnny McCormack writes a beloved folk song about Ciara’s plight. Amerikay veers sharply into magic realism in showing how McCormack learned of O’Dwyer. I’m not automatically or inherently opposed to mysticism or the supernatural, but this is a surprising turn for an otherwise grounded and realistic bit of historical fiction. In his book Where Dead Voices Gather the music critic Nick Tosches writes about folk music as if it’s something ancient and constant that we unknowingly inhale, “the same air, passed to the living from the dead.” Amerikay literalizes that sentiment, diminishing the book’s dramatic strength, and introducing an all-too obvious metaphor for both the universality and the communalism of the immigrant experience. Colleen Doran’s art is consistently great, though, with subtly expressive faces and dreamlike layouts. I particularly like how the 1960 sections often dispense with clear-cut panels, bleeding everything together as if to represent the collapse of many of the boundaries that existed in 1870. Doran’s art and a strong beginning help make up for the disappointing conclusion. (GM)

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Sharknife Double Z
by Corey Lewis

Oni Press, 2012
Rating: 5.7

Having made it through both Sharknife Stage First and Sharknife Double Z (i.e., Sharknife compilations 1 and 2, both published by Oni), I can say that I’ve rarely felt so old reading a comic. Lewis’s pages pulse with energy and action, and his characters speak in slang influenced by contemporary Internet-based youth culture, full of goofy spellings and video game allusions. Sharknife himself is the alter ego of Caesar Hallelujah, a busboy at a Chinese restaurant infested with monsters, which he fights at great length. Different sections all bear the same manga influence but vary considerably in their exact artistic style. All this is promising, and there’s no question Sharknife has tons of potential, but the execution makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a pixie-stick-and-Red-Bull bender. That may be what you’re looking for, especially if you like gaming and don’t mind the company of a fairly hyperactive narrator. On the other hand, if you just miss Scott Pilgrim, Sharknife is probably not your speed. The emphasis on fight scenes can be tiresome, and the overall spazziness eventually wears out one’s patience as well. (HB)