Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Center for Cartoon Studies/Hyperion, 2012
There was no question from his compilation I Will Bite You, released last year, that Joseph Lambert was a promising new voice, even though that book was uneven in quality, but whoa, man, is this a big step forward. Taking a story with which the reader is likely to be familiar, either from the play The Miracle Worker, its film adaptations or merely popular culture, he makes something new and fierce and strange, bursting with life and making wonderful use of the form to tell his tale. The narrative is never far away, but the fashion in which Lambert renders Helen’s preverbal existence is the most obvious strength. It doesn’t matter if you know what happens; he manages to convey the birth of language and the power it gives us through a case both supremely individual and surprisingly universal. And for all that, he never falls into the trap of burnishing out his characters’ flaws. Annie and Helen are both stubborn, deceptive, violent and in many ways unsocialized—that we admire them nonetheless is better than if they had been sanctified. There is material here, too, that will be new to many, and Annie is a larger figure than Helen in this telling, which focuses on her own troubled background. You may not like history comics or tales of overcoming adversity, and you’re free to continue to have those opinions, but please don’t miss this remarkable book. (HB)
Monkeybrain Comics / Comixology, 2012
The digital comic Wander immediately does two things right: It establishes its concept and a central mystery within its first few pages. Olive Hopkins, 26-year-old grad school failure, quits her shitty coffee shop job in Manhattan, gets monumentally wasted and somehow wakes up in a stereotypical fantasy world straight out of a Tolkien rip-off or an Elder Scrolls game. When we meet Olive she’s only in her second day in Skyrim (or wherever) but has already partnered up with a haughty Elven warrior and a drunken dwarf. The banter flies non-stop as Olive adapts to her new surroundings and protectors, and encouragingly as many jokes hit as miss. Church also wastes no time building the lore of Olive’s mysterious new home. Some of the references are obvious parodies of common genre tropes, but a few ideas twist those clichés in compelling directions, such as the malevolent king who is cursed to live forever as a preteen boy. Hopefully there’ll still be room for character development amid Wander’s burgeoning metastory, which is hinted at in a fake ad for a fictional series of fantasy novels. Allison’s affable art nicely complements Church’s story, particularly her skill at facial expressions, which help sell the humor. She succinctly summarizes gleeful contentment with the closed-eye smile and flickering tongue of a lizard man merchant. The agreeable Wander is a natural expansion on the webcomics Church has been producing over the last several years. (Disclosure time: I follow Kevin Church on Twitter. I met him once or twice in Boston. We never like hung out or anything.) (GM)
Collecting the first four chapters of a story appearing online at cowboycomic.net, Cow Boy either makes the most of or manages to overcome its premise, depending on your perspective. The tale of a ten-year-old bounty hunter is cute without being dumb as well as grittier than you might expect. Little Boyd Linney seems both older and younger than his years. He’s trained his horse to kneel down so he can climb up, but his wits and adaptive skills allow him to best his elders. The action can feel cramped in these tight panels, and the coloring is nothing special, plus there are far too many horse noises rendered (why not leave those panels silent?), but the story grabs you, and Cosby is adept at knowing when to reveal information. If anything, four chapters isn’t enough; things are just starting to get going, and the book feels slight as a result. Interstitials from folks including Colleen Coover are theoretically a nice bonus but in fact detract from the action. Splash pages delineating chapter breaks might have been better. (HB)
At its heart, Image one-shot Wild Children is a story about new ideas. It features rebellious youth who overthrow their high school and remind their teachers how fragile reality can be with the help of LSD and semi-automatic weapons. On its own merit, this lesson feels at least 20 years old, cobbled together from the lectures of such psychedelia headmasters as Alan Moore, Peter Milligan and Grant Morrison. Especially Grant Morrison. Like mini-Invisibles, these ideological anarchists use panels like soapboxes to riff on “the terror of the timeless fractal nature of casualty in space time” and other non-sequiturs. If this were a satire on pseudo-intellectual kids making asses of themselves, it would be hilarious. Even Morrison knows that adolescent revolutionaries (see Quentin Quire from New X-Men) can pack more crap than credo. Played straight, Children reads like stream-of-conscious hipster poetry. It’s a toss-up whether writer Ales Kot is absurdly intelligent yet fails to translate his grand vision or is simply writing a love letter to his favorite mind-warping media but can’t cook up original material. Kot even calls himself out when a character says to “stop referencing stuff” after another namedrops Kenji Siratori and David Cronenberg. If you don’t know who either of those dudes is, don’t expect any handholding. The two big twists, one on the nature of psychedelic drugs and the other on the nature of reality itself, can be found in the Wikipedia synopsis for a title mentioned in this review. Artist Riley Rossmo renders lucid pages to ground the scattered plot, sketching tight anatomy and dynamic layouts that manipulate size and negative space to great effect. Though Wild Children doesn’t live up to its provocative promise, it is packed with enough ambition to see if its authors can come up with a new lesson plan for the future. Otherwise, I’d skip class. (SE)