Category Archives: graphic novel
The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country
by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Malcolm Jones III
DC Comics Vertigo (1995); series originally published in 1990
Where the two previous volumes of The Sandman have had a fairly focused storyline, Dream Country strikes a different chord, offering four stand-alone stories in the Sandman library. All things considered, it serves as a nice diversion from Morpheus’ personal tale and turns the focus again to lesser characters through which we get to learn a little more about the master of dreams.
The first story is called “Calliope” and tells of a distraught novelist eager to make as big an impact with his sophomore novel as he did with his debut. But his imagination is tapped and he needs inspiration, which comes in the form of an enslaved muse whom he purchases from a renowned author now living in seclusion. The gorgeous woman named Calliope is an immortal and former lover of the Sandman, and who do you think she winds up seeking for help when she wants to finally be rid of her proverbial chains?
In the second story called “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, a meeting is held in a cemetery. And all of those attending are cats. A feline vagabond has arrived to tell of a time when cats were the dominant species and a dream that they might one day reclaim their dominance over humanity.
Then there is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the story of the Sandman’s relationship with William Shakespeare. After commissioning ol’ Shakes to write his comedic farce, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Sandman arranges for those who are the inspiration for the tale to be its first audience.
And finally, Gaiman offers up “Facade”. This one features a character from the DC universe named Element Girl, a superhero with the ability to transform herself into nearly any element or molecule. Sadly, she is a tragic, disfigured woman unable to reclaim her former beauty and secludes herself in an apartment wishing for a way to die. When Dream’s sister Death shows up by chance, Element Girl just might find a way to do just that.
The four stories are quite disparate in tone and subject matter, but all of them were really entertaining. The collection is yet another example of Gaiman’s boundless imagination and ability to incorporate the imaginations of others into his own work. The book, however, felt too short to be called satisfying. Where the first two volumes, Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll’s House, had the air of sweeping epics, Dream Country felt like a modest anthology. I suppose it’s a compliment to say I enjoyed something so much I only wanted more, but when I finished the fourth and final story I was left mumbling, “That’s it?”
I guess I’ll have to hope the fourth volume, Seasons of Mists, will offer a heartier reading experience.
Wonder Woman: Love and Murder
written by Jodi Picoult
illustrated by Terry Dodson, Drew Johnson, and Paco Diaz
published by DC Comics (2007)
It’s rather remarkable that nearly every major superhero in comic books has received a major motion picture adaptation in the last ten years except for one conspicuous exception: Wonder Woman. Why is that, I wonder. It surely can’t be because the character is female. Jennifer Garner stank up the screen as Elecktra, and Halle Berry starred in the even worse Catwoman, so why is it … Oh. I think I just realized why Hollywood doesn’t want to give Wonder Woman a chance. Crud.
At least the comic books are good, and even attracting notable novelists to take a turn at the helm. Sometimes you have to question the wisdom of letting a non-comic book writer jump into the captain’s chair, but in Jodi Picoult’s case she did a bang-up job. I say this because, as a guy who isn’t a regular follower of any comic books, I found I was easily immersed with the story as it unfolded despite my lack of familiarity with nearly all of the characters involved.
The introduction lays out the groundwork. Wonder Woman is lying low as her alter-ego Dianna Prince, working with the Department of Metahuman Affairs (basically an agency that polices the superheroes and supervillains of the DC universe). She killed a villain working with a covert government agency, which traumatized her heroic sensibilities and now she’s doing some soul-searching–and avoiding the authorities as they hunt what is perceived as a rogue superhero in Wonder Woman.
So while Dianna Prince tries to get by with her chauvinistic partner, Nemesis, avoid being found out as Wonder Woman, and still save the day when duty calls, things become all the more complicated when an old enemy, Circe, reappears with a master plan to wreak havoc on Wonder Woman, the Justice League of America, and basically the world at large.
While I thought the back-and-forth between Wonder Woman and Nemesis got a little hammy on more than one occasion with the whole love/hate flirtation, all of the other interactions between characters seemed to come well and felt relatively organic. Picoult seemed to understand each character’s motivations and history and brought it all out in many scenes. The witty barbs got a little tiring midway through, but that kind of banter is par for the course with superhero comics, I find. I guess some levity is needed when the world is in peril.
The artwork was crisp and seeing cameos from other DC superheroes like Batman was a nice addition. If I had to take a shot at any of the visuals, it would have to be some of the poses struck by Wonder Woman. I cannot think of any point at which a character should look so ridiculous, and a scene where she visits a museum at night and stares at her own effigy was particularly weird because of her frozen, mid-karate chop posture.
The book ends off on a climactic note and leads right into the next volume, which I will now have to hunt down so I can find out what happens next. I don’t think Jodi Picoult writes that volume, however. Too bad.
In my efforts to read more and more graphic novels, it seems to me that few are written or illustrated by women. I hope that’s due to the fact that I’ve only been reading them for a little over a year now. In fact, until I happened upon this book I hadn’t read a single graphic novel written by a female author. Go figure. The comic book realm has always felt like a bit of a boys club anyway. On the odd occasion when I read a Wizard magazine (a popular mag dedicated to the medium), seeing a woman’s name listed as an author or illustrator was an insanely rare occurrence. Now, I’m on a hunt for graphic novels written and/or illustrated by women. And my first chance is with this Naomi Nowak’s House of Clay.
While I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this book, I did appreciate Nowak’s art style throughout. There was a bit of a free-flowing essence to it, like watching leaves travel across the surface of a stream. Instead of following through the story through rigid square panels, each page had a kind of windswept look to it.
As far as the story goes … it wasn’t my cup of tea. Josephine, a young woman striking out on her own takes a job as a seamstress to save money so she can go to nursing school. She does have one more thing holding her back besides a lack of funds, though. She faints at the sight of blood. Swoon might be the more appropriate term in the book. She also has a strained relationship with well-off family and her only confidants are a mute coworker and a palm reader down the street. The narrative of Josephine’s story feels disjointed in parts and was difficult to grasp what exactly was going on at times.
Throw in the fact that I just didn’t really like Josephine as a character with her mincing and swooning on nearly every page, and this book just didn’t leave much for me to like beyond an appreciation for the artwork. I’m a hairy, smelly brute of a man, however, so it stands to reason that I may not be a target audience. If you get a chance to read this book, I say give it a shot, but be aware that this is closer to an illustrated YA novel than anything else.
Wow, this was not exactly the graphic novel I was expecting to read. I knew it was going to be violent, as critics of the film adaptation seemed to take exception with Hit Girl’s violent antics. What I didn’t know was that the book was drenched in blood, piss, and more nudity that just about any Marvel comic I’ve ever read.
If you’re not familiar with this graphic novel, the setup is pretty easy. Take a nerdy loner in high school who is looking for a way to break out of his shell, then give him the inspiration to dress up like a superhero and roam the streets looking to save the day. You might have heard on the news a few years ago about real life people who do this sort of thing. They dress up in wild costumes then go out in public and perform vigilante style justice and make citizen arrests. That might be where Millar got his inspiration from, actually.
Dave Lizewski sticks to dressing up in his green scuba suit and mask at night, so he can skulk through alleys and even wear his outfit under his regular clothes–you know, for that whole Superman feel when he rips his shirt off to reveal the costume underneath. Then he tries to confront some actual thugs. Where superheroes always get the upper-hand on lowlifes, Dave is beaten mercilessly. Punched, stomped, and even stabbed … then run over by a car for good measure.
For some reason, he persists in his superhero fetish after physical rehabilitation. That’s when he really has to hide his antics from his father, friends, and everyone else. But he also becomes a YouTube sensation when he finally beats up some bad guys, earns the name “Kick-Ass,” and discovers he isn’t the only one parading around the city in a costume fighting crime. Enter Hit Girl and Big Daddy.
Now that Chloe kid in the movie trailers–I haven’t seen the movie yet–looks downright adorable, like a kid wearing a bad-ass Halloween costume. But in the graphic novel, Hit Girl looks like a tiny little maniac. She makes her first appearance in the book to save Kick-Ass from getting killed, and the wrath she lays upon the apartment full of gangsters is unholy. If you’re not expecting something like that, then you’ll do what I did and do a double-take at the pages while Hit Girl slices bad guys to pieces. An eleven year old, mind you, commits what I think is the most extreme, atrocious violence in the entire book.
Despite the fleeting shock value that comes with such stark scenes, the story does resonate on a certain level. Dave just wants to create his own identity, find himself somewhere in all the madness, and winds up seduced by the marginal fame he acquires. And the tragic circumstances of Hit Girl and her so-called origin story are just a harsh call to how messed up some parents can be. Big Daddy might be, in my estimation, a woefully unfit parent, but he’s only fictional and I’ve seen far worse examples of parenting on the six o’ clock news.
It’s a good book, but it is by no means a cutesy piece of popcorn fluff for the little kids. This is a relentless, hyper-violent look at what it would really take to run around in spandex and chase villains. If there’s a second volume to this, and by the looks of the ending there ought to be, then I’ll definitely want to read it.
With a subtitle like “Welcome to Lovecraft,” this first volume in Joe Hill’s and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key series really sets up some expectations among horror fans. The name conjures some macabre and strange images, but for this graphic novel I think it’s meant merely to provide some atmosphere to a noticeably shinier world than any H.P. Lovecraft ever created.
At it’s heart, this is a story of a grieving family trying to come to terms with the murder of their father, Rendell Locke. As the guidance counselor for a disturbed teenager, Sam Lesser, Mr. Locke unwittingly sewed the seeds for his own death when Sam visited him at home and murdered him. Witnesses to the aftermath and nearly victims themselves, the three Locke children and their mother retreat to a small New England peninsula called Lovecraft. To a new home called Keyhouse, Rendell Locke’s former home that’s now cared for by his younger brother. Soon after arriving though, the youngest son, Bode, discovers the place has a mystique and history unknown to the rest of the family.
While the family is depicted at certain moments like a run-of-the-mill TV-movie cast, they come alive with each page and are very likable before long, which helps make it easy to root for them when things start going wrong. First, there’s the strange “echo” at the bottom of the well in the well-house behind the main house, which befriends Bode and entices him to help get the spirit its freedom. Then, there’s Keyhouse itself with a very strange door with an even stranger ability, a door that’s one of many in the house. And then there’s Sam Lesser who seeks to break out of prison in order to hunt down the rest of the Locke family for reasons that aren’t merely his own.
I must admit to being thoroughly charmed by the artwork in this novel. Rodriguez adds an electric quality to the characters, resembling something between a conventional comic book character and a Rockwellian painting. The bloodier moments of the story come off as a bit glossier than you might expect for such gruesome scenes, but overall it really compliments the story and the characters.
As for Joe Hill’s approach to developing each character, there’s a lot left to explore but this is only the first volume, so there’s plenty of time to dig deeper into their psyches. Bode is only a tyke and doesn’t fully comprehend what’s happened to his family, but he deals with it in his own way. His sister, Kinsey, is a bit angst-y and too Kristen Stewart at first but she comes around in no time to become sympathetic. The eldest kid, Tyler, is a bit harder to like at first because of his self-loathing because he blames himself over his father’s death. Overtime, you appreciate his situation and what he does afterward is very sympaethic.
And while I didn’t much care for the lead villain and its situation at the end of the novel, I can appreciate the twist and I am genuinely interested to see what happens in the second volume of Locke & Key. So, despite whatever flaws might exist with the book, it’s easy for readers to immerse themselves in the world and get wrapped up in the mystery of Keyhouse and the Locke family’s connection to it. And if nothing else, it’s worth checking out for the splashy artwork.
I think there are two more volumes in this series, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they can at least make par with this first volume.