GRAPHIC NOVEL ROUNDUP
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Taking a look at four new books from the last couple of months…
There’s a lot to like about THE JOYNERS IN 3D (Archaia/Boom) by writer R.J. Ryan and artist David Marquez. Set about fifty years in the future, George Joyner is the world’s finest creator of new technology, and he has a new breakthrough ready to happen that will change the world again. He also had a family that is falling apart and a gift for philandering. That second part is, as you might guess, going to bite him in the ass. Ryan creates an interesting group of characters here, the leads well-rounded and multi-layered. Neither George, nor his wife, is entirely good or bad and each one bears part of the blame for the disintegration of their union. Marquez’ art is equally adept with the character stuff as it is in designing the future milieu, and his storytelling is crisp. What doesn’t quite work here is the gimmick: the 3D. Sure, it’s well done, but there’s no real need for it. This is a quiet story, really, and not a single sequence in the book feels truly enhanced by the 3D experience. I liked the book overall, but I would have liked it a little more not having to wear the glasses.
Writer/artist Danica Novgorodoff, who impressed so much with SLOW STORM, returns with THE UNDERTAKING OF LILY CHEN (First Second), which is the best double-meaning title I’ve seen in recent memory. The story involves “ghost marriages” – an old Chinese tradition that involves marrying the dead so that they may be happy in the afterlife. While this sounds like something that would have only happened a long time ago, there has been a resurgence in the last decade or so. Here, the book follows a young man named Deshi who is sent by his parents to find a female corpse who can be married to his newly deceased brother. Along the journey, he meets Lily Chen, a young woman who wants to leave her rural, sheltered existence behind and live a life of her own, as she attaches herself to him. To Deshi’s hired “matchmaker” (grave robber) the solution is simple: kill Lily and marry her off to the brother. But things are rarely that simple, and they certainly aren’t in this story. Novgorodoff creates a story that fires on all cylinders; her characters are interesting and gain depth as the tale moves forward, she offers up an even-handed look at a culture that could easily be misunderstood or mocked, and the sense of design in her artwork is stunning. The journey does drag in the middle, but it recaptures its energy later in the book and delivers a strong, solid ending. Fascinating stuff.
It’s nice to see writer/artist Jesse Lonergan back on shelves, as it’s been a while since JOE & AZAT came out. ALL STAR (NBM) tells a deceptively simple story of a small town high school baseball star named Carl Carter. He’s the kid the whole community rallies behind, the one with a chance to play college ball on scholarship. His best friend, Edsen, is different, though. Edsen’s from a broken home, has a track record for screwing up, and is going nowhere. This fazes neither of them, though, until in a moment of pure stupid, they pull a “prank” while drunk that sees them get arrested by the cops. That’s when Carl begins to truly see the world and its double-standards for the first time, as he and Edsen are given wildly differing punishments. Lonergan does get things right at every turn. His town feels right, the people who live there feel right, the reaction to what happens feels right, and the angst Carl feels over it feels right. There’s a universal recognition of the human condition here that works. Having grown up in a town like this, I saw the truth in it. The art has a crisp, cartoon-y look about it, and the ending, while feeling a little manufactured, resonates in the final panels. Solid stuff.
The GRAPHIC CLASSICS series continues to be an evergreen for Eureka Productions, as the 3rd volume (of 24!) heads back into print, now with 80 new pages of work. GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.G. WELLS offers up “The Time Machine”, “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Inexperienced Ghost” in one volume, and the material here is quite strong across the board. Not only are the stories done well, but they are ones that any fan of Wells’ work would want to read. Creative types like Simon Gane and Rich Tommaso can be found doing some of the art, so the book looks fantastic. This series of books is not likely to ever make an enormous splash in the comic shop market, but it is just about perfect for bookstores and libraries. It’s a smart move by GC majordomo Tom Pomplun to target those markets and fill a severe need. Recommended, as always.