Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
First Second, 2011
Expectations are bound to be high when Neil Gaiman provides a blurb calling your book a “masterpiece,” but damn if Vera Brosgol doesn’t impress nonetheless. Considering that this is her full-length debut, it’s all the more notable, like a Badlands situation where a fully formed new voice blooms overnight. Anya’s Ghost is aimed at the young adult market, as is much of First Second’s catalogue, but, like Hope Larson’s work, it’s a real, and not a guilty, pleasure. Like Larson, Brosgol mixes an assured line with a muted color palette and a gift for writing round characters. She isn’t afraid to make her protagonist unsympathetic at times (Anya is full of self-hatred, she smokes, she diets, and she’s rude to her family and friends), but the rough edges mean greater realism, and although the general conclusion of the narrative (“be yourself”) is a hoary one, the way Brosgol gets there is unpredictable and even a little bit scary. (HB)
A young girl hires a pirate crew to help her find the father that ran out on her five years earlier. With a map found in a bottle, they set sail for the Isle of 100,000 Graves, an infamous island whose legendary treasure has lured many an explorer to his death. The resourceful girl outsmarts everybody along the way, discovering the secret behind the island and her father’s disappearance, while also falling in love (or at least hanging out) with a soulful and poetic torture school drop-out. This slight but fun pirate yarn bears Jason’s unmistakable artwork, but it was written by Fabien Vehlmann, a French writer who’s probably best known in America for Green Manor and his work with Sean Phillips on the graphic novel 7 Psychopaths. I’ve never read anything by Vehlmann before, and if his name wasn’t on the cover I’d have no idea Jason didn’t write this. Isle of 100,000 Graves features the black comedy and human drama you expect from a Jason comic, but the fantastical setting and a focus on plot as much as character makes it feel a bit shallower and less poignant than Jason’s best material. (GM)
Earlier this month, The Atlantic ranked Canada as the second happiest country in the world, falling only behind Denmark. For this reason, it’s pretty clear why the leotarded Canucks of Alpha Flight have had such a difficult time holding down an ongoing series: Canada is not a dramatic place. What are Maple Leaf super heroes going to fight? Poor Americans smuggling low-cost pharmaceuticals? Next we’ll have the X-Men moving to San Francisco. I digress. Marvel has been channeling old-school Kirby and the big, broad theatrics of their DC brethren in its Fear Itself Summer event, which stars a bunch of C-Grade villains bringing on Ragnarok. While this title has jumped on a generic world-wide threat to bring itself out of dormancy, writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente smartly use the crisis as a spring board to launch a more interesting threat for the team to care aboot. For the most part, though, Alpha Flight is retro-standard fisticuffs with a few nice character pieces tossed in. While nothing trail-blazing, this relaunch is legible comfort food for any reader yearning for some Canadian brawling outside of a Maple Leafs’ game. (SE)
First Second, 2011
Hera is the third of George O’Connor’s Olympians series, in which he focuses on one Greek god at a time, conveying his or her salient characteristics and essence through a few well-selected myths. It’s also the strongest one he’s done so far. Where both Zeus: King of the Gods and Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess were heavy on the punching, Hera has the same amount of action in fewer panels even though it contains the narrative of Heracles, the king of wrestling, which suggests the author is focusing more on story than on kablammo moments. O’Connor says in his author’s note at the end that Hera is his favorite of the Olympians, and it shows. Rather than portray her as the usual shrewish wife, he deepens his account of her with additional perspectives you won’t find in other retellings of the myths aimed at younger audiences. The series still remains a little on the comic booky side for those raised on D’Aulaire’s, but the books are thoroughly researched and a great way into the material. (HB)