Written and Drawn by Christian Durieux and Etienne Davodeau
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Let’s talk about the good stuff. I mean the really good stuff.

Two new graphic novels from my old employer, NBM Publishing, recently crossed my desk, and not only are they two of the best books I’ve seen from the company in a long time, they are also two of the best books of the year so far.

First up is AN ENCHANTMENT by Christian Durieaux. This is the latest in the series of graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre, and it might be the best one yet. Here we meet the director of the famed museum, as he faces the night of his retirement party. But unwilling to go gently into that good night, he finds himself distracted by a young woman who has evaded security and has made her way into the dark corners of the building. As they tour the place, two conflicting ideas arise in the reader: the young woman is truly a living muse and is giving lift to the breaking heart of this man OR she does not exist, and he is experiencing a delusion as his life concludes on this final night of work. Whatever interpretation you ultimately subscribe to, it is a magnificent piece of work. The art is lovely, the characters and dialogue are rich, and the book sweeps you up and carries you along with its verve. Each entry in the Louvre series has been unique, and has challenged its readers as a work of art should. This one stands above the others in its power to engage.

As someone with a degree in creative non-fiction, and someone who writes that form, I regard those that do immersion journalism well with tremendous respect. The commitment required is extraordinary. So when I tell you that Etienne Davodeau’s THE INITIATES is one of the finest examples of immersion journalism in recent memory, I mean that with all due gravity. Davideau had a brilliant idea: immerse himself in the life of a winemaker friend, Richard Leroy, and in turn, have Richard learn the life of a working comics artist. For a year, Etienne would work the vineyard, studying the art of growing the grapes, fermenting the wine, learning about soil composition, and more. In that time, he began supplying Richard with graphic novels to read and taking him on trips to comic conventions, introducing him to the top artists working in the field today. To say that each man gets an extraordinary education would be an understatement. Honest, educational, entertaining, and pricelessly unique, THE INITIATES is a book that sticks with you long after you put it down. The intelligent reader knows that real life can be just as captivating as fiction, if not more, and this book is a brilliant example of that. An amazing piece of work.


Rogue Element #108: To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

By Avril Brown

That was the question floating about the comic universe for the several weeks following an announcement in February that Orson Scott Card will be writing a ‘Superman’ story for an upcoming series of stand-alones starring the Man of Steel. Ever since the news broke, bringing to light some facets of the author’s beliefs which I was unaware, I have been contemplating how I feel about the situation, reading several articles, essays and commentary. Although I still cannot say how exactly I would handle the situation were I a professional comic publisher, I do feel a need to finally weigh in on the matter.

Fun fact: Orson Scott Card is the author of the immensely popular science fiction series ‘Ender’s Game.’ Although I greatly enjoy sci-fi as a genre I am woefully under-read when it comes to book series (I tend to prefer my sci-fi on a small or large screen), and despite my father’s encouragement towards reading the series when I was younger I never got around to picking up the books. Later on when I finally gleaned spoilers of how dark the series gets I avoided the books on purpose.

Not-so-fun fact: Orson Scott Card is a vocal advocate against gay marriage. He is on the board of directors of NOM (National Organization of Marriage), a virulent anti-gay marriage group, and he has written several essays explaining his negative opinions on gay rights and relationships.

When I first read the controversy surrounding the hiring of Card on a ‘Superman’ story I was shocked, saddened and a little pissed. I had no idea Card was a homophobe until this recent string of events, and although I have never read his work nor intend to, I was upset that a recognizable, and for many, beloved, storyteller in sci-fi was so adamant and outspoken in his views. Typically we comic fans are thrilled when a recognizable writer from other creative outlets tackles a big name comic as it brings fresh talent to the character/s as well as attention from normally non-comic folk. However, how excited are readers supposed to be when the author in question is an outspoken bigot, and what is the appropriate response in a situation such as this?

Petitions from both sides immediately began rocketing about; one arguing DC should fire Card and not publish his story, and one urging the opposite in support of free speech. DC settled the issue shortly thereafter by releasing a statement in support of Card’s storytelling, not his politics or personal opinions, and reiterated they were committed to publishing the story. That was, however, before the artist tied to Card’s story dropped out of the project, stating the media circus took away from the story itself and he wanted no part of something that has apparently become more about the potential statements involved and less about the content of the story. Now everyone is left wondering whether or not DC will quietly kill the project while fewer eyes are on the tainted prize.

They are extremely few in number, but some comic retailers have declared they will not carry Card’s story upon its release. My good friends over at Challenger’s Comics and Conversation here in Chicago have come up with what I consider a rather brilliant solution of their own: they will sell the book if published, but all the profits Card’s ‘Superman’ story produces will be donated to a human rights organization. The original post on their website entitled “Seriously, f@ck this guy,” explained their stance and logic behind their rational, which is solid, smart and well-spoken.

Personally I don’t read ‘Superman’ and likely never will, but hypothetically if I was a regular ‘Superman’ reader I would not pick up Card’s story knowing his stance on the LGBT community; I would feel overwhelmingly hypocritical. Some argue that Card should be allowed to tell his stories without his political and religious views dogging his every script, but would those same folk be as supportive of an author who made public his or her feelings on how interracial marriage will dissolve America as we know it? For most advocates of gay rights, the question is neither a political nor a religious one, it is a human one.

My good friend Elyse and her fiancée Anne are getting married this summer. Thankfully they live in a progressive state which has legalized same-sex marriage and they will not have to face any uphill battles with regards to their union (apart from the ones expected of any marriage). I’m very much looking forward to celebrating their love and commitment to one another, and I’ll admit I get a little ornery thinking about everything that would be denied to them if they lived in one of the forty-seven states prohibiting gay marriage. Just thinking about their smiling faces in their Facebook photos, Anne setting the bar ridiculously high by proposing to Elyse with some help from the folks at the Boston Aquarium and a friendly seal who knows fetch, the unwavering support of both their parents; I’m left wondering: why is there still a controversy?

So to answer the question of whether to boycott or not, well, that IS the question, and the answer is not such a simple one. Were I a ‘Superman’ reader, yes, I would boycott that particular story. Were I a DC reader, no, I would not boycott the company. For one, DC has shown itself to be a company of broad and varied characters, included the out Kate Kane aka Batwoman, who recently proposed to her girlfriend. Secondly, my Marvel is no stranger to Orson Scott Card. Midway through last decade Card was hired as the author of ‘Ultimate Iron Man’ and co-authored the comic book adaptation of his ‘Ender’s Game’ series. Rich Johnson of recently highlighted this fact and pointed out that there were complaints surrounding that decision as well, if not as prominent and explosive as more recent events. I do not read ‘Iron Man’ and as mentioned ‘Ender’s Game’ flies under my radar as well, so I remained ignorant of his involvement in my chosen comic company. Even if I was cognizant of his stories, and more importantly his issues with gay rights, I would have remained a Marvel reader. There are a million cogs and gears that go into an artistic business, and hundreds of decisions are made daily which affect both readers and creators, the making of which neither group likely had anything to do with. By dropping all Marvel titles I would be denying the company who wrote Card’s paycheck for his previous works my hard-earned money, but the creative team on the X-books I read also receive their paychecks from Marvel. Not to mention the retailers also need to see some coin to stay afloat to feed themselves and their little retailer babies.

In this case, being a gay rights advocate is hardly a straight line; it’s a queer one, complete with twisty turny loopholes and hard-to-avoid side effects. Should DC publish Card’s story? That’s up to DC and several people I’m glad I’m not. Marvel got away with it, so to speak, but that was several years ago before support for gay rights swelled, and now that Card’s views are more out than ever before thanks to the wildfire that is social media, he’s writing for a different world.

I object to Orson Scott Card; I will not purchase his projects nor stories from anyone who publicly declares themselves to be anti-gay rights. I will continue reading books produced by Marvel and other companies who may or may not have hired homophobic writers. I will not head out to the theaters to watch the upcoming ‘Ender’s Game’ movie, but I will continue to harbor a huge crush on Harrison Ford. I will dance my fool head off at Elyse and Anne’s wedding, and hope that the world will continue to evolve towards universal tolerance, with weddings, and rights, for all.


CHEW #32
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

With change comes consequence, and the consequence of Colby’s return to the FDA as Chu’s partner is Director Penya’s (of the USDA) severe case of heartbreak. However, the loss of her half-cybernetic lover is the least of her worries as hostiles from the Church of the Immaculate Ova have taken over a chicken restaurant and are taking out agents and their animal partners with extreme prejudice.

Enter the ultimate duo of Chu and Colby, backed up by the double-dealing Valenzano, who take on the terrorists. With a cold, confident focus unseen by readers before the death of his twin, Chu methodically and efficiently takes control of the situation, aiding the ladies of the USDA (who all seem to have absolutely ginormous jugs) in bringing down the baddies, including one with abilities. Yet another random superpower in the CHEW universe, the tortaespadero can create razor sharp shurikens out of tortillas; a handy ability which is now part of Savoy and Olive’s repertoire, thanks to their man on the inside.

A big secret is revealed in this issue and a new deal is struck, but whether it be for the benefit of mankind or the detriment of a partnership is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure: Tony Chu has his rocks back in a big and slightly scary way. Artist Guillory delights as always, but especially in this issue with the abundance of dramatic facial expressions and variety of fight scenes. Naturally be sure and scrutinize every corner of each page for nuggets of awesome, and hold onto your hairpiece because this is going to be a bumpy ride.


Written by James Vance and Drawn by Dan E. Burr
Published by W.W. Norton

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Sequels are a fairly traditional animal; something hits it big, and as soon as possible, the creative goes back to work in order to strike while the iron is hot. There is a driving need to keep the property in the public eye and as financially viable as possible. So when I tell you that I’ve just read one of the more unusual sequels I’ve ever seen, I mean it.

ON THE ROPES is a sequel that comes 25 years after the original material hit shelves. In 1988, Vance and Burr delivered KINGS IN DISGUISE, introducing Freddie Bloch to readers. Here, Freddie makes his return. The story picks up with Freddie apprenticing to an escape artist named Gordon Corey; Gordon manacles himself, puts his head in a noose, and demands that a trap door be opened beneath his feet. Pretty neat trick. The pair are pair of a WPA circus, and though it is clear that Gordon does hold some regard for Freddie, it is also clear that Freddie aspires to more from his life. When he meets a journalist (“I’ve just never met a real writer,” Freddie says with a bit of awe) he also hitches himself to her wagon.

Freddie, you see, wants to be a an escapist artist in his own right. Just a different one than Gordon.

Labor strife, alcoholism, the drive to do the right thing regardless of personal cost, the book is a treasure trove of themes and plotlines. This is a mammoth piece of work, almost 250 pages, a book that truly defines graphic novel. The characters are rich and involving, the setting well-defined, and script and art work together in harmony. I never read KINGS, but it did not matter; I was able to absorb the material here with ease. ON THE ROPES is an impressive piece of work.


Written by Saurav Mohapatra and Illustrated by Vivek Shinde
Published by Archaia Entertainment

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Back in August I reviewed the first two issues of MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL and I knew the creative team of Mohapatra and Shinde were onto something, and now that Book One: Good Cop, Bad Cop is complete that obvious fact is available to the world in shiny hardcover.

Although this is a tale starring a grieving police officer, there are no full on ‘good guys’ in MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL. There is love and loss, violence and revenge, and above all, the clarity of a man with nothing left to lose. Gritty, powerful and hauntingly dark, MUMBAI sinks its hooks into the reader making you glad you don’t live in the crime-infested and corrupt Mumbai of the eighties and nineties, but leaves you wishing Mohapatra and Shinde will take you there again.

Arjun Kadam is the perfect protagonist: angry, self-destructive and quintessentially human. A member of the Mumbai ‘Enforcer’ squad, a team of police who eliminate the criminal element rather than follow due process, Kadam was no squeaky clean hero, and when he lost his wife and unborn baby, he became an aimless addict. It took his near death and the death an innocent child to set him on his path, one that would see him covered in blood yet washed clean at the same time. Mohapatra injects such realistic attitude and pain in his main character, armed with a Walther, a .45 and plenty of foul-mouthed one liners, you’ll find yourself rooting for Kadam before you even know what he’s fighting for.

The interludes scattered throughout Book One add real depth not to Arjun’s bloody rampage, but to his home: the violent and unforgiving world of Mumbai. By adding in several side tales of other unfortunate souls, some with delusions of power, others simply trying to survive, Mohapatra fleshed out his colorful and dangerous universe.

Archaia is known for backing some of the prettiest ponies in the comics business, and they found a fine looking stallion in MUMBAI. Shinde’s watercolor artwork gives the story a dreamlike quality, even when the blood is cascading out of bullet holes. The colors and varying sharpness of each panel add dimensions to Kadam’s struggle with depression and his fight to do at least one thing right. MUMBAI CONFIDENTIAL is an amazing story particularly since every page shows that Mohapatra and Shinde were made to tell it together. Here’s hoping we see more from this team, for there are undoubtedly more tales to tell from the streets of Mumbai.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A couple of new series hitting the shelves…

Dynamite has had great success in reviving classic pulp characters, and in doing so, they’ve been deft about expanding those characters’ presence on the shelves. Thus we get THE SHADOW: YEAR ONE #1, which dives deep into Lamont Cranston’s early days ferreting out the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. Writer Matt Wagner, who rarely missteps, is joined by artist Wilfredo Torres on the book, and it is a tantalizing opening effort. Picking up as Cranston returns to the U.S. after the travels that saw him become The Shadow, Wagner’s story shows us the man as he attempts to re-adapt himself to his old life. He also introduces us to Margo Lane, and sets up the circumstances that will see her fate intertwined with Cranston’s. Beautifully drawn by Torres, the book does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that captivates the reader and makes you want to read more. This book is a nice example of the story truly being about the journey, not the destination. We know where these two people wind up; but getting there is just as much fun.

Writer Joe Casey has never been afraid to try and provoke the reader, and he certainly puts his best foot forward with SEX #1. (Image Comics) Simon Cooke, a now former superhero, returns to Saturn City to begin running the family business. A promise he made to a dying woman has put him on the sidelines, and with that part of his life now gone, it has left him emotionally impotent, and that particular problem may be spreading. In the meantime, with Simon retired, the criminal element is starting to think about trying to ramp back up to prominence. SEX is, frankly, an oddity of a comic. The story is unusually coherent for a Casey book; if not quite linear, it isn’t hard to follow at all. It delivers upon its title and earns its “M” rating with a scene in the back half of the book. And Piotr Kowalski draws the hell out of the entire thing. It looks great. Plus, Casey throws in a lengthy essay at the end of the book setting up some ideas he would like to discuss and also taking on pre-release criticism. But weirdly, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot really happens in this issue, either. The pacing is glacial, and we never truly get a grip on who Simon really is as a character. There are enough seeds planted that I am interested in seeing what grows, but they need to sprout quickly.