AISLE SEAT 2.0.80: FIVE FOR 2013

By Marc Mason

2013 is coming to a close. Let us pause and be grateful for that.

Good, now that that’s over… let’s talk the best of what happened in graphic novels this year, along with a couple of notes on comics.

As usual, I had the opportunity to read a staggering number of comics and graphic novels this year, yet for all that, I feel as though I barely scratch the surface of what actually hits the stands. Thus, I feel like I cannot truly offer up a “Best Of” list that would be comprehensive enough. I can, however, offer you a list of five absolutely great books that arrived on shelves this year. These are books that, even if I read another 200 books that came out this year, I feel strongly would still make a top-10 list if I made one.

MARCH vol. 1 (Top Shelf): Congressman John Lewis, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement, worked with writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to deliver a powerhouse memoir of growing up in the turbulent mid-20th century and finding purpose in civil disobedience as the American South was dragged kicking and screaming towards acknowledging racial equality. Captivating, fascinating, and educational, MARCH illuminates one of the most important human stories of the past few generations, and does so in a manner that enthralls and educates the modern reader. A powerful work.

BOXERS & SAINTS (First Second): writer/artist Gene Yang spent seven years putting together this two-volume work focused on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the astonishing level of detail demonstrates every bit of his effort. BOXERS focuses on a young Chinese man driven to defend his land from foreign interests, while SAINTS finds a nameless Chinese girl given a name and a purpose by missionaries. As their stories parallel, you can’t help but feel like tragedy lies ahead if they meet, and meet they do. Ambitious, stunningly drawn, and intelligent, this two-volume work astonishes.

THE GREAT WAR (W.W. Norton): There are few accolades left that writer/artist Joe Sacco has not earned, so it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels. Instead, he produced his most ambitious and unusual work yet, this massive battlefield scene demonstrating one of the pivotal days in World War I. Drawn in excruciating detail and annotated like the finest textbooks, THE GREAT WAR offers up a fascinating look at the sheer scale that war encompasses, in space used, in terms of human lives lost, and in emotional toll.

RED HANDED (First Second): writer/artist Matt Kindt has been turning out spectacular work almost non-stop for the past five years, but this wonderful graphic novel really stood out this year. Set up as an homage to classic Dick Tracy comics, Kindt could have rested easy and let the entire book play out on a surface level. Instead, he delivered a bravura performance wherein he mixed plotlines, time, artistic styles, and snappy dialogue together until he had created a work that rose above the rest. It’s magnificent.

THE INITIATES (NBM): A book that deserved a far louder response when it hit, THE INITIATES is the finest piece of immersion journalism to hit graphic novel shelves… well, ever. Writer/artist Etienne Davodeau’s decision to spend a year working at a friend’s vineyard, learning the process of making wine, turned out to be a richly fascinating one. At the same time, he begins teaching his wine-making friend about the business and greatness of graphic novels. Two worlds don’t so much collide here as much as they come together in beautiful friendship and understanding. An astonishing piece of work.

Of course, I don’t just spend my time reading graphic novels.

I read hundreds of traditional comics every year, and certainly some of those are worth one last look.

BEST SINGLE ISSUE OF 2013: SEX CRIMINALS #1 (Image Comics): “People with the power to stop time by having sex decide to rob banks.” When I saw this book described that way, I almost skipped right past it. Thankfully, that description barely has anything to do with this incredible first issue, which is really about a young woman trying to navigate and explore her sexuality as she grows up. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky delivered the best character piece of the year in issue one, no question; a few pages in and I forgot about the robbery stuff and was completely sucked into the lead character’s story of growing up confused. Filled with an unusual level of pathos, it was one of the few comics I read this year that I wanted to read more than once, and it rewarded me for reading it again. And again.

BEST BOOK THAT NEEDS A BIGGER AUDIENCE: THE SHADOW (Dynamite): I’ve never been a huge lover of pulp; it’s a very hit-or-miss genre for me. But THE SHADOW changed all that with issue #13 and the arrival of writer Chris Roberson. Instead of street thugs and mobsters, Roberson gave The Shadow the best villain the character has seen since the 80s in The Light. An Easterner raised and trained in the West, she arrived to dispense justice in harsher and crueler ways than even The Shadow could tolerate. The rare occasion where a character meets his true “opposite” or “mirror” and the results elevate above everything that has come before, the six-issue arc delivered some epic thrills and excitement, and it made me like the character in a way I never had before.

And… that feels like enough. I’ll be back next year to talk more comics and graphic novels with you all. Until then, have an excellent holiday season and a safe and sound turn of the new year.


CHEW #38
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Orange is the new black in the latest issue of CHEW as readers are given a glimpse behind the concrete curtain into former FDA Agent Mason Savoy’s life on the inside. Tony Chu takes a backseat in this particular bit of story arc as he’s still reeling from what to him must feel like the second death of his beloved twin, and while his girlfriend Amelia and his daughter Olive plan to team up to bring Tony back to fighting form, a different type of team is working a plan of their own.

Though it was recently revealed that Savoy’s stint in the pokey was entirely by design, he’s learning the hard way that prison life is no picnic, particularly for someone who is responsible for the arrest of many of the food criminals incarcerated in ‘The Can.’ With the help of an ex-cop (who has a connection with our favorite homicidal feathered freak) Savoy makes it through the day, but come nightfall his plan kicks into action and Chu’s former mentor/partner is finally able to extract something he, and loyal CHEW readers, have been after since the beginning: The Truth.

Naturally the big reveal for Savoy is kept hidden from us starved fans, but we’re treated to samplings of other things to come: several prisoners kept in the super-max security, most of whom are new faces, are bound to show up again, and Chu’s upcoming dinner is sure to have an interesting aftertaste. As per usual, there are snaky comments, hilarious nuggets (the prison menu is ‘Solitary Confinement, With a Side o’ Shank!’) and inside jokes galore, enough to soothe the burn of being so close to the mystery of the bird flu, and yet so far.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

One last review post for 2013!

The wave of big-name creators taking new works to Image continues with writer James Robinson and artist J. Bone delivering THE SAVIORS #1. SAVIORS is an alien invasion story done from a different focal point; most of these types of stories focus on the efforts of a scientist or upright military guy to try and fight an encroaching attack. However, here the main character is a paranoid stoner named Tomas Ramirez who has a tendency to get high and talk to the local wildlife. (Humanity = doomed.) With few friends, and an entire community that knows he’s a colossal screw-up, there’s not much he can do but look like a man ready to be locked away in a padded room when he starts to see lizard-men doing nefarious things in his town. SAVIORS is beautifully drawn in lovely black and white and grey tones, and the plotting and scripting are tight. Robinson injects exposition by making Tomas a chatty stoner, which makes it feel natural, and the pace of the book is brisk. The creative team also does a nice job of setting up Tomas’ world, making it easily recognizable. A total win in all ways.

DEAD BODY ROAD #1 from writer Justin Jordan and artist Matteo Scalera, drops us into the middle of a heist gone horribly, horribly wrong, and it only gets nastier from there. The gist: a lot of people are killed during the thievery, sending one member of the criminal team on the run from his own cronies, while the cop boyfriend of one of the victims decides to go rogue and track the bad guys himself. In the meantime, the rest of the thieves try to track down their runner because he still has what they wanted from the heist. It doesn’t take a genius at that point to know that a lot more people are going to die. But that’s okay; there’s a sweet noir flavoring to the entire mix here that sucks in the reader and gets you invested in the bullets and body count. There’s also a slow-building mystery as to what the robbery was really all about in the first place. Jordan’s story is elaborate and involving, and Scalera’s art is simply stunning. The action is swift and brutal, and the intensity the pages emit makes your fingers feel dirty while you read. Terrific stuff all around.

I’d be remiss in not talking about my old pal Brian Joines’ KRAMPUS! #1, as I’m pleased for him to see it hitting shelves. Joines is a clever writer with a gift for high-concept ideas, and that certainly describes this book. The remains of the man who originally inspired the myth of Santa Claus are stolen from a museum, which in turn steals away the powers of the group of men who actually do perform the duties of Santa Claus around the world every year. Their own powers fading, they are forced to bargain with the imprisoned Krampus, offering him freedom in return for tracking down the stolen remains and returning them their powers. It’s a fun story, and Joines plays it perfectly by playing it straight; to wink at the audience or not commit to the central conceit would rob it of its cleverness. He’s ably abetted by artist Dean Kotz, who has a gift for good sight gags and who also excels in drawing the fantastic mixed with modern day normal. This book is a good time; check it out.


Written and Drawn by Renaud Dillies
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new excellent works hitting shelves…

BETTY BLUES is actually one of Renaud Dillies’ first graphic novels, originally published over a decade ago, just now making its North American translation debut. But you’d never know it by reading it. Much like ABELARD and BUBBLES & GONDOLA, BETTY BLUES is a powerhouse piece of work, a rich, textured, emotionally wrenching journey that challenges the reader at every turn. The story, as usual, is deceptively simple: Little Rice Duck, a professional trumpet player, sees his girlfriend Betty leave him for a richer man. From such heartbreak, both he and Betty begin dark journeys down new paths. His sees him leave music behind, while hers sees her discover life as someone else’s trophy. Both have made horrific mistakes, but will they be able to fix them in time? Structured like a classic blues song… well, if you know how blues music works, you know that some things cannot be undone. I was captivated by BETTY BLUES from beginning to end, even knowing that it would likely break my heart by the time it was over, because Dillies knows how to create characters you can truly become invested in as a reader, and he never takes cheap shortcuts or the easy way out in describing their plight. I’m sold on this man’s talent, and I’ll keep reading them as long as NBM keeps bringing them across the pond to the English-speaking audience.

I’m not sure what’s left to be said about Rick Geary and his TREASURY OF 20TH CENTURY MURDER series. Time after time, Geary has delivered absolutely incredible volumes of work, telling sublime stories about the evil that men (and women) do in a way that massively entertains and yet also intelligently informs. That is the case, once again, with MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY, which tells the sordid tale of the murder of architect Stanford White. What makes this book different than many of the others is that we know who committed the foul deed: a deranged Pittsburgh millionaire named Harry Thaw. The meat of the tale comes in the hows and the whys of the story: why did Thaw do it? How did he get away with it when dozens of people saw him shoot White? Freed of the whodunit aspect, Geary seems to revel in building character studies of the two men and their foibles, especially as they pertain to the femme fatale who was at the focal point of their conflict. Evelyn Nesbit. Honestly, maybe the most remarkable thing about all of these books is just how consistent Geary is: each one is beautiful to look at, thoroughly researched, and delivers maximum entertainment value to the reader. If you’re looking for a good stocking stuffer for someone this holiday, MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY would be a solid choice.


Written and Drawn by Larime Taylor
Written by Rick Remender and Drawn by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

New from Image…

Zoey Aarons seems like pretty much every other eighteen-year old. She’s heading off to college, worried about what the experience will be like. She’s experiencing some confusion about her personal identity. She’s even got definitive ideas about what kind of job she would like on campus. However, she is also quite unique in that she’s a murderer who has gotten away with it, and the homicidal urges inside of her have yet to be quelled. Thus, being dropped into a new environment with people she does not know or have attachments to represents not just a challenge for her, but a threat to the safety of everyone around her. Tricky balance, that. A VOICE IN THE DARK #1, from writer/artist Larime Taylor, does an excellent job in maintaining that balance, however. Zoey is a compelling character, and we not only understand why she killed before, we also get a solid sense of why she might break and do so again. VOICE is a story about the way our personal demons prey upon our weakest moments and mold us into the adults we eventually become. Taylor is a real find, with a nice talent for creating people the reader can recognize, and his art is simple and direct, always servicing the emotional story at the book’s core. This was a really pleasant surprise, and I’m looking forward to more.

Mix a tab or two of LSD with LOST IN SPACE and you get BLACK SCIENCE #1 from writer Rick Remender and art duo Matteo Scalera and Dean White. Grant McKay, his kids, and a team of scientists have wound up on a world of sentient, human-sized frogs and fish, landing in the middle of a conflict that sees McKay have to become a fugitive on the run so he can repair the machine that sent them there. Unfortunately, things on this world do not go well, and by the time his search is over, they will only be worse. I’d try and describe more of this one, but there’s really not much point in doing so. It would spoil the incessantly weird shit that Remender throws at you in scene after scene, and plot really isn’t necessarily the point here. BLACK SCIENCE is more an exercise in seeing just how gonzo a comic can get, throwing as many crazy ideas at you as it possibly can. A comic that has been made just for the pure fun of it. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But there’s room for a book like this, where the reader just wants to be entertained, not intellectualized, and for that reason, it works. Shut off your brain and enjoy it.