NOVEL SEQUELS

NOVEL SEQUELS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Del Rey


Reviewed by Marc Mason

One of the growing trends in graphic novels has been taking successful novels and moving their characters and settings into the sequential art realm for prequels, sequels, and in-betweens. Two series that have done so, Kim Harrison’s “Hollows” and Scott Westerfield’s “Uglies” both producing comics versions in the past year. Now both of those graphic novels have sequels on the shelves.

Harrison offers up BLOOD CRIME, which comes on the heels of BLOOD WORK. She is once again aided by artist Gemma Magno, who did part of the first book. This time around, vampire cop Ivy Tamwood and her witch partner Rachel Morgan find themselves both targets and pawns in a power struggle between warring factions in the supernaturally overwhelmed Cincinnati. At the same time, Ivy continues to struggle with her attraction to Rachel and her desire to bite her, drain her, and turn her into a thrall. One of the things that sets this series apart is that these two partners don’t just have issues over who is showing bad hygiene on a stakeout; it’s all about the barely contained sexual tension. The plot itself is sort of secondary; BLOOD CRIME is far more concerned with the underlying issues between the characters. In that, the book succeeds. Magno’s art is okay, but there are a couple of places where the storytelling gets weak, including a moment when Ivy dodges something, but we don’t see what it was, or why it was dangerous until panels later. As I mentioned with the first volume, this stuff isn’t high art, but it’s a passable diversion, and above average for this genre.

Veteran comics scribe Devin Grayson returns to work with Westerfield on UGLIES: CUTTERS, picking up where UGLIES: SHAY’S STORY left off. Artist Steven Cummings also rejoins the mix. After the events of the previous book, rebellion has failed, and everyone in the cast has been turned into a Pretty. This includes some issues with memory lapses, as the ruling class doesn’t quite want the kids to remember their attempts to fight the system. But when Shay bumps into members of her old gang, those memory blocks start to fail, and the entire group once again tries to find itself and to find a new way to rebel against what they perceive as a corrupt society. No matter what has been done to her face and body, something about a life of parties and high fashion, with these kids, it just doesn’t fly. At its heart, CUTTERS is a pretty standard teen romance, but the trappings that the creative team gives it are slick and interesting. In particular, Cummings’ work has a dynamic look to it that infuses the story with energy and excitement, even in the quieter moments. The target audience for this work will devour it with gusto.





BOOK ADAPTATIONS

BOOK ADAPTATIONS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Comics and prose literature have had a long and fruitful relationship. Mention them together and the first thing that will spring to mind for many people is CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED. Indeed, various iterations of those books have been hitting shelves for decades at this point. But over the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in a new type of comics-to-prose work: the adaptation of modern writers and best-selling works to sequential art format. There are generally two versions of how this works: a direct adaptation of the work or a prequel to the novel. The results have been… interesting. The manga versions of Dean Koontz’ ODD THOMAS have not only been excellent graphic novels, but actually better than the prose novel that inspired them. On the other hand, Diana Gabaldon’s THE EXILE was one of the worst graphic novels of the last five years. What it boils down to is this: who is really doing the work? Two new prose-to-comics works now hitting shelves are both easily placed in the “very good” category, in no small part because of those on the creative end of things.

SILENT PARTNER: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL adapts one of author Jonathan Kellerman’s most popular Alex Delaware novels, and it is a tasty slice of noir. Comics veterans Ande Parks (writing) and Michael Gaydos (art) take on the task of bringing the best-seller to a new audience, and they do so with a real zest for the material. Delaware runs into an old lover and the next day she is found dead, a turn of events he cannot even come close to explaining. This sets him on a trail of dead bodies, broken families, and strange pornography, all the while attempting to dig through his own past and discover who the dead woman really was and what she truly meant to his life. The trick to success here for Parks and Gaydos is that Kellerman’s work is intellectual at its core, not action-oriented; thus, deprived of huge visual moments, they use dialogue, body language, and a liberal dose of shadows to make a book that is all about mood and emotional depth. Having read and enjoyed some of Kellerman’s work previously, I was impressed with how well I felt like they brought the characters to life on the page and kept my interest in a work that is largely talking heads doing their thing. As far as straight adaptations of prose works go, this is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The other kind of adaptation, the prequel, can be found in UGLIES: SHAY’S STORY. Comics veteran Devin Grayson worked with novelist Scott Westerfield to help bring the story of the YA series heroine’s best friend Shay to the page, and once again, having a solid pro on the case pays off. Grayson knows how to pace the story, structure the action, and keep the pages turning. Set in a post-dystopian future where every person is given plastic surgery at the age of sixteen in order to keep society equal, we meet Shay as she approaches that milestone with trepidation. Shay is more interested in exploring the outside world and joining up with others like her to pull off pranks against “the pretties” as a way to keep her individuality. Along the way, she gets in trouble, meets a boy she falls for, gets in more trouble, meets Tally (the heroine of the novels) and gets in more trouble. Steven Cummings, another longtime comics pro, handles the art, and he gives the book a fluid, dynamic, manga-like look. His version of Shay is cute, as required by the rules of manga, but not too far over the top in that direction, and he does just as well with Tally. Solid work, and exactly what it should be in order to draw interest for the prose books.




BLOOD WORK

BLOOD WORK
Written by Kim Harrison and Drawn by Pedro Maia and Gemma Magno
Published by Ballantine/Del Rey


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Due in stores July 12, 2011

Following in the footsteps of Dean Koontz, Jim Butcher, and Diana Gabaldon among others, Kim Harrison brings her Hollows series of novels to the graphic novel realm with this prequel. How does she fare? Pretty decently, as it turns out.

Cincinnati, Ohio is a hotbed of supernatural activity, and thus it must be policed somehow. The solution: Inderland Security, which is charged with handling cases that come along involving vampires, werewolves, and witches. To do so, it is also staffed by these beings, and that’s the foundation of the book: vampire cop Ivy Tamwood is saddled with a new partner- a witch named Rachel Morgan.

It isn’t exactly like at first sight.

But once the pair winds up with a werewolf corpse that is set up to look like a vampire did the deed, they must learn how to work together. Otherwise, their careers will be in the toilet, the real bad guys will succeed in their nefarious plan, and the it-isn’t-subtext-it’s-text homoeroticism blossoming between them will never be fulfilled. And nobody wants that, do they?

BLOOD WORK isn’t exactly high art- Harrison doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to the point and putting her pieces on the chessboard. Yet that’s also the book’s biggest asset. The whole idea here isn’t just to draw her longtime readership over to a new artform; the real outcome she’s aiming for her is to draw more readers to the novels. Thus, complications are played broadly, the characters “perform” almost solely off their primary characteristics, and you’re left with a couple of minor cliffhangers that I’m sure have answers somewhere in the prose (as well as the upcoming graphic novel sequel). But it’s also never a burn- there’s a level of effort here that I respect- Harrison is trying very, very hard in her first graphic novel script.

Nothing here is off-putting, the art is competently executed on the page, and Harrison gives you a reasonable ending so you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth. That certainly puts the author a couple of steps ahead of the names I listed at the top of the page. Would I read another one? Sure.

ODD IS ON OUR SIDE

ODD IS ON OUR SIDE
Written by Fred Van Lente and Dean Koontz and Drawn by Queenie Chan
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Halloween is coming in Pico Mundo, and Odd Thomas is about to have a busy holiday. The young fry cook, with his ability to see the dead, gets a visit from a dead child still wearing her costume, giving him a pervading sense of dread about the upcoming town-wide trick-or-treat festival. Aided by his gun-toting girlfriend Stormy and the ghost of Elvis, the clock is ticking for Odd to save the day… and the lives of dozens of children.

This is the second graphic novel prequel based on Koontz’ ODD THOMAS series, and much like the first one, this one grabs you by the lapels and sucks you in quickly. It isn’t so much the plot that captivates, but the characters- in Odd Thomas, Koontz has his finest creation. The boy has a perfect blend of charm, naïveté, and pluck, and his chemistry with Stormy is so much fun that you wouldn’t mind spending the entire book watching them drive around in a car and yapping with one another. We also get a new supporting character this time in the person of novelist Ozzie Boone, and he’s a complete hoot as well. The people are just fun, and if you can get that across to the reader, 90% of the battle is done.

Of course, they wouldn’t be as much fun if they weren’t drawn spectacularly well, and Queenie Chan delivers the good stuff on the page. The first book looked good, but it wasn’t always sure of itself. That isn’t the case here. Every page looks confident, and the characters have life that you can feel emanating from Chan’s linework.

If there is one thing to complain about as pertains to this book, it is that it shows (as the first graphic novel did) that the first ODD THOMAS novel’s ending was one of the worst mistakes that the author has ever made on the page. There was so much more to mine, so much more that could have been discovered, without the plot twist in the final ten pages. It made me swear off reading any of the rest of the prose works; but I will happily read as many more of these prequel graphic novels as Del Rey chooses to make.


FLIGHT 7, PENNY ARCADE 6

SCOREBOARD: FLIGHT 7, PENNY ARCADE 6
Written and Drawn by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A couple of new books from the Random House family…

FLIGHT VOL.7 (Villard) is written and drawn by a number of different folks, and edited by Kazu Kibuishi. This is reportedly the final volume in the FLIGHT anthology series, and if so, they have gone out on a high note. This effort not only maintains the series’ high quality standards, it actually exceeds many of the earlier books. Kibuishi’s story, “The Courier- Shortcut” is not only a fun tale, but also a mission statement about what he is trying to accomplish with his work. JP Ahonen’s “Kenneth Shuri and the Big Sweep” is funnier and cleverer than anything coming out of Marvel or DC these days. Cory Godbey’s “Onere and Piccola” is a visually stunning show of force. I could go on, but the gist of it is this: FLIGHT has more imagination, colorful wit, and amazing storytelling than a year’s worth of comics you’ll get from superhero publishers. From its inception, it has stood for something: making comics that aren’t stuck in a rut, boring, or staid, and in that, it has succeeded. Buy this.

PENNY ARCADE VOL.6 (Del Rey) is written and drawn by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. This collection of the massively popular webcomics presents all of the strips produced in 2005, and offers creator commentary on each of them. There’s no question that PENNY ARCADE is one of those rare pop cultural institutions that has the power to truly affect the geek zeitgeist, and the material presented here shows off a number of examples of why that has happened. Their opinions on various games, companies, and other targets of choice combined with their fanbase, has led to direct actions being taken in the gaming business. The writing is clever, the art is simple but complex enough to keep your mind from wandering away from the gags and stories; if you’re new to PENNY ARCADE, this might be a weird place to start, but you could. And if you’re a longtime fan? Well, you were going to buy this no matter what I wrote.














AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER

THE LAST AIRBENDER
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

This weekend sees the release of the new live-action THE LAST AIRBENDER film based on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, one of the best animated series of the past decade. The folks at Del Rey have made sure that fans of the series and/or film have plenty to read.

First up is AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER Vol. 1 which adapts the first episode of the TV series to graphic novel. Originally published by another company in 2006, this slim volume takes a sort of animated fumetti approach to telling the first tale of Aang (the Avatar) and how he came to be found after a century-long sleep in an iceberg. This book is executed about as well as you could hope; the storytelling is clean, the characters are introduced in ways that help you gain an immediate understanding of who they are and why they act the way they do, there is a nice mix of humor and action… in short, it’s a pilot, and it does precisely what a pilot should do: make you want to watch (or read) what comes next. The overriding thing you take away from it is the enthusiasm the creators clearly have for their concept. They sell it and sell it hard, and they make you want to jump on board.

Next comes THE LAST AIRBENDER PREQUEL: ZUKO’S STORY, written by Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus and drawn by Nina Matsumoto. Set within the official continuity of the M. Night Shyamalan film, we meet the villain of the story as he is being set on that course. Rejected by his father and his tribe, and struggling to control the element of fire as is his birthright, Zuko sets off across the world on what most consider to be a fool’s errand: find the long-believed dead Avatar and bring him back to the Fire Nation. This book surprised me with how entertaining it is; Roman and Wilgus deliver a solid story and make Zuko a more rounded character, and the art by Matsumoto is really quite striking. Her line and her pages have a rougher look to them, setting the book’s look apart from the cartoon version and placing the reader in the film’s world. Projects of this nature (story prequels) can be an iffy proposition, but this one delivers.

On the flip side, though, THE LAST AIRBENDER, the official adaptation of the film, does not. Written and drawn by Roman and Wilgus with art by Joon Choi, the team takes the movie’s script and turns it into a graphic novel. Unfortunately, Roman and Wilgus don’t have much to work with here. The story has moments of wild incoherency, the characters lack the charm you see in the other two books, and the dialogue is flat. Halfway through, I found myself wishing that the creators had just done their own original story and called it an adaptation. If the reviews of the film are any indication, that would have been a wise course of action. I wasn’t wild about Choi’s art, either; in some of the action sequences, I had no idea what was happening.

In the end, I suppose two out of three ain’t bad.



GOATS VOL 3: SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN

GOATS VOL.3: SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN
Written and Drawn by Jonathan Rosenberg
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The bizarre adventures of Jon and Phillip continue, as each one finds themselves faced with newer and stranger circumstances. When last we left them, we knew that they had eaten God, and the multiverse was due to be destroyed in a couple of years. Picking up in this volume, we find that Jon is now contractually obligated to work for One Death and entity that rules over a very corporate netherworld, and Phillip discovers a typewriter that allows the writer to change the shape of reality itself. As you might imagine, neither of those things bodes well for the characters or the strange cast of characters following them around the multiverse.

GOATS remains one of the finest treats on the shelves today, as Rosenberg continues to find newer and weirder things for his characters to do. Unlike those cartoonists that might get squeamish as they approach a “line” they feel they shouldn’t cross, Rosenberg actively goes hunting for that line, takes a leak on it, then keeps merrily wandering forward on his way. He imposes no limits on his imagination or on taste, and that makes the book a joy to read from cover-to-cover.

For instance, the character Diablo, when given the choice of anywhere in the multiverse that he can be sent, asks:

”Can you send me somewhere warm, wet, and sandy?”

In response, Jon consults the being that allows for such travel, and its response is:

”Top result is Paula Abdul’s uterus…”

Fearless stuff from Rosenberg.

This book is full of plenty of other sick, twisted, yummy goodness like that piece of dialogue, along with some truly inspired artwork. GOATS isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re into advanced insanity, then it is most definitely for you.



STUFF WONDER ZOMBIES

BOOKS FROM RANDOM HOUSE(S)
Written and Drawn by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three recent graphic novels from different parts of the Random House empire…

THE STUFF OF LEGEND BOOK 1: THE DARK (Villard) is written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith and drawn by Charles Paul Wilson III. It’s every child’s nightmare: kidnapped by the Boogeyman! But when it happens to one young boy, he isn’t just left to the evil creature’s clutches; his toys come to animated life and undertake a quest into The Dark to find the boy, rescue him, and bring him home. Unfortunately, The Dark is not so easy to traverse; it’s full of dangers unimaginable, and the loyal playthings have undertaken a quest that not all of them will survive. STUFF surprised me with how much I liked it; the script is clever and intelligent, and the characters interesting, but what really sells it is the art by Wilson. His work is conveyed through sepia-toned pages full of detailed wonderment, and his commitment to the reality of the story sucks you in as a reader. There is a nice chunk of story here, enough to whet your appetite and desire to see more of the toys’ quest, and the package is put together nicely. I wouldn’t give it to a child under ten or so, buy those older than that will likely find themselves hooked.

Writer Tony Lee and artist Cliff Richards adapt the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (Del Rey) into a graphic novel, and the results are surprising. The novel, Jane Austen enhance by Seth Grahame-Smith, was a surprise smash when it hit shelves, but the unusual mix of period piece and violence could have been a potentially tough sell. Wisely, though, the adaptation was handed to an artist well-suited to young women fighting with ancient weapons and killing the undead. Richards spent years drawing the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER comics for Dark Horse, and he brings the zest and gusto for death and dismemberment to each and every page here. Lee has the harder task; much of the book is the same talky, relationship melodrama from Austen’s original work, and it doesn’t lend itself to anything grand or exciting on the comicbook page. Still, he manages to find a pacing that lends itself to maintaining the reader’s interest, and whenever he can, he steps aside and lets the artist do his thing. In the end, I found myself enjoying the book far more than I would have anticipated, and fans of (both forms of) the source material will likely be pleased.

As solid as those two books are, though, neither can top THE ESSENTIAL WONDER WOMAN ENCYCLOPEDIA in terms of sheer scope and accomplishment. (Del Rey) Comics historian John Wells and former writer and artist of WONDER WOMAN, Phil Jimenez team up to provide the most comprehensive resource to the amazing Amazon’s comics career imaginable. In this book’s nearly 500 pages you get thousands of entries about the people, places, and storylines that have shaped Wonder Woman’s life in comics (her television show and cartoon appearances are not dealt with in this book), and a complete look at the character’s origins… all of them! With the confusing level of DC continuity that exists in comics, this book breaks down which origins count for what era, how they changed, why they changed… and somehow manages to make some of the greatest nonsense ever put to print actually make some sense. They even parse out the origins of Donna Troy, which is as close to impossible as anything in comics period. The level of detail in the entries is amazing, the amount of art that appears in these pages is astonishing, and you even get some cool inserts reproducing some of the greatest images of the character ever put to print. If you’re a fan of the character, this is easily the greatest gift you could give yourself. If you aren’t a fan, then reading some of the material here might just change that. This is quite possibly the best comics-related reference work ever made.



SPLENDID MAGIC OF PENNY ARCADE

THE SPLENDID MAGIC OF PENNY ARCADE
Written and Drawn by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Put two geeks in the same room and one of two things is likely to happen. Either the two will compare notes on their favorite hobbies, discover they are kindred, and bond for life, or the pair will compare notes on their favorite hobbies, discover that the other person believes opposite of them, and declare themselves enemies for life. When scenario one happens, the duo occasionally comes together to get find their fortune, as Krahulik and Holkins have with their long-running webcomic PENNY ARCADE. When scenario two happens, they usually bitch about it on the internet.

Either way, it still usually turns out as a win for guys like Krahulik and Holkins.

PENNY ARCADE was one of the first webcomics to gain a measure of genuine popularity, thanks to its sardonic take on gamers and gamer culture, and after over a decade of strips, it has become the vanguard of comics on geek culture. Focused on gamer buddies Tycho and Gabe, the duo play games, read comics, watch movies, and generally eviscerate the things that nerds hold dear. Yet they do it in such a way that allows them to be in on the joke and not alienate their audience. Not an easy trick.

This over-sized hardcover isn’t so much a collection of the strip as it is a historical document on the rise of the creators and their strip. Indeed, what we have here is mostly text, illustrated by the pair’s output. Each man offers up his take on the growing pains of their strip, the history of their friendship, and more. Plus, you get essays from some of the folks behind the scenes helping keep their empire together and functioning. There are some strips reprinted, allowing for commentary from the pair, but it isn’t anything I would describe as overwhelming or mind-blowing.

The book itself would be a huge treat for a fan of the strip, of that I am certain, and is likely a must-have. But for anyone not a fan of PENNY ARCADE, I suspect it might be a bit of a disappointment. Someone new to the comic would be far better off starting reading one of the books that’s solely a collection of the online strip, allowing them to determine if the characters hold any real interest to them. This tribute edition isn’t really going to help much in that way.

FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF DR. BRAIN

FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF DR. BRAIN
Written by Minister Faust
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Ericka Strole

REPRINTED FROM CWR 2.0

When a superhero is having “issues” he or she needs resolved, where do they turn? To Dr. Brain of course. She’s the psychologist to the superheroes. In FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF DR. BRAIN, a group of superheroes have to go to counseling. Now that the fight against evil has been won, office politics are wrecking havoc on the super powered crew, young and old. The six heroes range from those who first put on the costumes to newbies, but they all have one thing in common: dysfunctionality. However, hopefully through therapy and simulations they can confront their issues and get back to being happy super friends.

On the surface, I can see where some might find this book a little on the slow or dull side, but I ultimately found it to be entertaining and built upon a very interesting concept. It’s written as a self-help book for super heroes, so it takes a little time to get used to reading a fiction book that doubles as self-help pastiche. Faust’s characters are fascinating, even if they have cheesy names like The Flying Squirrel or Omnipotent Man; there are characters that you love and ones that you love to hate, but they all hold your interest. For an easy read that is at times humorous, and which for me made me realize that even the super-powered have mental blips too, I would recommend this. As someone who has read her fair share of self-help books, it was enjoyable to see someone else being analyzed or a change.