Category Archives: graphic novels
The Walking Dead Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2005)
At the end of Volume 2, Rick Grimes and what remained of his get-along gang had left Atlanta in search of safer ground from the zombie hordes, and had discovered an abandoned prison. But, as Volume 3 begins, it turns out the prison isn’t entirely abandoned. Once inside they find four people remaining–prison inmates, no less.
Tensions mount despite the new barrier in place between them and the zombies outside, as one prisoner admits to murdering his wife for cheating on him. The group stays and starts to make themselves at home behind bars, sorting out supplies and bedding arrangements, clearing out the dead and undead from the unoccupied areas of the prison. Rick even travels back to the farmhouse they’d left to encourage Hershel and his family to join them and turn the prison into a community, pooling their resources.
But, threats loom.
Despite the iron bars, concrete walls, and barbed-wire fences, the zombies are still everywhere, and everyone has to stay on their toes since warm weather is returning and the things seem to be getting a little more active. Then there is the whole shacked up with convicts dilemma. Plus, Tyreese’s daughter and her boyfriend are still plotting something behind everyone’s back and see the prison as the perfect place to carry it out.
The characters ring true on just about every page, though some of the dialogue is tiresome with its exposition and info-dumping. The motivations and conflicts between many of the characters feel genuine, and once again the dread of bad things to come germinates with them rather than the shambling corpses that surround them. The backdrop of a prison has been used in a lot of different movies and books, but this had its own vibe and felt brand new.
But, holy moly, is it bleak. Robert Kirkman et al show no remorse and just when you catch of whiff of contentment or happiness, the rug is pulled and the horrors awaiting them are even more gruesome than the last time. I loved this book, and feel kind of guilty for it, because the story as a whole is still so depressing. The characters persevere, however, and I’m looking forward to what lays in wait for them in the fourth volume.
Irredeemable Vol. 2
created and written by Mark Waid
illustrated by Peter Krause
Boom! Studios (2009)
The world’s most powerful superhero ever, the Plutonian, has gone outhouse crazy and turned into the world’s most dangerous supervillain. But despite the ability to destroy the entire world and everyone in it, the damage he has caused hasn’t been total, and his former allies are still alive–most of them anyway–trying to evade his wrath and find a way to stop him. Good luck with that. The guy sank the entire nation of Singapore for crying out loud.
This second volume picks up the action as the Plutonians former allies, the Paradigm, are try to regroup after the shelacking they received during their last encounter with the Plutonian. Heroe are dead, others injured, and the mad scientist of the group, Qubit, has resorted to building android replicas of Plutonian’s arch-nemesis, Modeus, in an attempt to find the supervillain–the one guy on the planet Plutonian is genuinely frightened of.
Meanwhile, secrets are bubbling to the surface that offer the real reasons behind Plutonian’s betrayal and atrocities. An especially disturbing discovery is made when the group finds his secret lair, which is not totally unlike Superman’s Fortress of Solitude–though Supes didn’t keep an BDSM shrine of his unrequited love, and a female supervillain serving as a sex slave so she may be spared death. Yeah, dude’s lost it.
The revelations and inner turmoil among the members of the Paradigm are all very engaging, and I’m officially on board the bandwagon for this series. Sometimes recommendations from people really work out, as I discovered this series thanks to listening to a podcast interview with Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni on Snark Infested Waters back in July, where the host mentioned one of the comic books he had recently been reading and enjoying. Good stuff, indeed.
The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2004)
After reading the first volume, Days Gone Bye, in the wake of the fanfare over the TV series, I came to appreciate Kirkman’s approach to the Romero-esque zombie, even though I didn’t find the story to be terribly different from other zombie tales I’ve read or viewed. In the series’ second volume, Miles Behind Us, it becomes more clear how Kirkman is differentiating his franchise and how it is shaping up to be a genuine gem. In other words, I find myself hopping on the bandwagon.
Rick, the sheriff who woke from a coma in the first book to find himself hip-deep in a zombie apocalypse, has been reunited with his wife Lori and their son Carl. The bad news is that they, and the motley crew of survivors they’re traveling with are getting low on supplies and need to move on from the outskirts of Atlanta to find a safer place to make camp–possibly to call home. The nerves and emotions are already frayed on most everyone in the group, especially after Rick’s best friend went homicidal, after starting a relationship with Lori in Rick’s absence only to see it disintegrate once Rick returned.
To make matters worse, it’s winter, and I wouldn’t have guessed Atlanta to be a place that attracts much snow, but they sure have a fair bit to contend with while trying to traverse the roads and stay warm at night in their crowded RV. A lot of twists and roadblocks, both literal and proverbial, are thrown in their path, but all of it feels organic, not the least bit contrived despite the fact they are in a wasteland of the walking dead. They are joined by a trio of stragglers, Tyreese and his teen daughter and her ill-tempered boyfriend. Their presence throws a whole new dynamic into the mix, and seems to setup something surprisingly ominous in later volumes.
The mere story of wandering a zombified Georgia landscape is enough to satisfy the most ravenous readers, looking for zombie action, since there is plenty of them to shoot, smash, and slice. But it’s the whole interplay and development of each character and the relationships that grow between them that is where the real draw for this series resides. This second volume exemplifies that, and I’m officially a fan of the series now, eager to sit down and watch the televised adaptation (should be able to borrow the first season on DVD relatively soon).
There is a great pseudo-cliffhanger to the end of the book, which has me keen on diving into the third volume and seeing where this lot ends up–and who will survive.
Preacher: Book Three
written by Garth Ennis
illustrated by Steve Dillon
DC Comics/Vertigo (2010, hardcover)
Available via: Amazon
Preacher is shaping up to be my favorite comic book series, over Gaiman’s Sandman series. It’s been that damn good so far.
It’s been quite a few months since I read the second volume, so I’m not sure if I missed something, but it felt like I had missed an issue or two by the way this hardcover started out with its main story arc. Still, I was able to dive right back into this universe and fell in love with its characters all over again.
The book started off with an origin tale for the Saint of Killers, the hard-hearted gunslinger who is hunting down Custer and his friends, apparently under the orders of God himself. It was even more brutal and tragic than I expected, and in a sense I came away rooting for the guy. I mean, he had his life and family torn apart–and blew the Devil’s brains out. Not too shabby.
From there, Cassidy the Irish Vampire took center stage with a romp through New Orleans that had him meeting up with a poncy bloodsucker and his band of groupies. This was a fun one, with plenty of humor directed at the gothic vampire crowd. I can only imagine how Cassidy would react to the Twi-hards these days.
Once those two stories got out of the way, it was back to the main story with Reverend Jessie Custer, with his girlfriend Tulip and Cassidy, hot on the trail of the Almighty God who has gone into hiding. The story got a bit winding and still with a fair bit of contemplation, rumination, and even a soap opera style fiasco for good measure, as opposed to the previous two books and their breakneck action and suspense. Still, the characters were spot on, and I was unable to put the book down come the end of the night. The nature of this little trinity changes over the course of this book and really has me eager to see what happens in the next volume.
I can’t say a bad thing about this book. It was damn near perfect. I think the only thing that would have made it better is if the bald-headed bastard, Herr Starr, who is trying to hunt Custer down and make him a martyr had a larger role in the book. As it was, his pent-up rage over the new scar on his head courtesy of Custer, which gives his cranium the odd resemblance to a penis, was hilarious.
|Even if you don’t read graphic novels or comic books, I think you’d be doing yourself a favor by tracking down this series through a shop or library, because it’s been a treat so far, in my humble opinion.
The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryant Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, and Dick Giordano
DC Comics/Vertigo (1993)
Where previous volumes in the Sandman series have walked along a dark path, A Game of You takes a bit more of an adventurous approach through the eyes of a troubled young woman named Barbie, while Morpheus is a minor character who only makes a cameo appearance. The story still has its share of dark elements, but where previous volumes had a clearer horror tinge to them, this volume reminded me more of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
Barbie’s a bit of a washout cover girl reduced to living in a New York City slum with an eclectic band of neighbors, including her transvestite best friend, Wanda. She hasn’t dreamed in a long time, and now–years later–her dreams have come looking for her. So, while a hurricane looms off the coast in her world, Barbie dreams for the first time in ages, back in the same landscape she knew as a little girl. There’s a sinister force called the Cuckoo, however, that wants her destroyed so it can escape the dreamworld and infect Barbie’s world and many others. This leads to a few of Barbie’s friends following into her dream to save her, while Wanda stays behind and guards Barbie’s sleeping self from harm.
This story, while a bit understated compared to other stories with the Sandman, really exemplified Gaiman’s ability to take disparate and seemingly unrelated pieces and bringing them together in such a way that it makes total sense at the end. As for the artwork, it seemed to really carry that early 90s vibe, though don’t press me to explain that. I just remember reading a few comics from that time and seeing some of the frames in this book brought that all back. So, I guess there’s a good nostalgia trip for anyone who read comics back in those days.
The characters, for the most part, were incredibly well defined as the story progressed. Thessaly, one of Barbie’s neighbors with a knack for witchcraft, had to be my favorite from the book. Just imagine a mousy brunette in glasses with no compunction towards snapping the neck of anyone who assaults her. The dreamland characters were a tad annoying, and the one I liked the most even wound up getting killed first–how do ya like that.
A Game of You is basically just one more clear example of how damned good Neil Gaiman is at storytelling. I just hope there’s more of Dream in the sixth volume–or Death. She’s cool too.
Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships
written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
illustrated by Ben Stenbeck
Dark Horse Books (2011)
Available via: Amazon
I am a fan of the Hellboy movies, Mike Mignola wrote the comic books. I’m also a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Christopher Golden has written a few novels based in that universe I’ve read and enjoyed. So for these two storytellers to collaborate on a historical action/horror comic, set in Europe after the Great War, littered with vampires and zombies no less, I figured I ought to check it out.
Lord Henry Baltimore is a soldier with more scars than any man should have to bear. Not only is he battle-worn from his time in World War 1, but he watched his fellow soldiers ambushed on the battlefield or devoured by giant bats, had his leg amputated and replaced by a mechanical peg leg, lost his family, and found himself in a personal war and on the manhunt for a vampire who may be responsible for all of it.
Mignola and Golden have tapped into a swashbuckling adventure steeped in European history and myth, with plenty of horror and suspense on each page. Stenbeck’s illustrations offer a slightly different style from what I’m used to seeing in more conventional comic books, namely the superhero genre. There is a storybook quality to many of the pages that offer a sense of antiquity, which seems well suited to the time period of the story. The dialogue comes off a bit grandiose at times, but I didn’t find it too much of a deterrent.
My main criticism would have to be the lack of empathy I felt towards Baltimore’s companion in this ordeal with the Plague Ships. Vanessa Kalderas, the daughter of a witch, who escapes a ravaged village for a chance at a better life is rather compelling in the beginning of the novel. But as the story progressed, she seemed to become less an actual character than a sounding board to Baltimore’s reminiscences. Had it gone on much longer than it had, I’d have become annoyed with the book as a whole, but a great set piece towards the end of the book involving zombies, a strange fungus, and a seaside graveyard of battleships, felt quite rewarding.
There was even a hint of steampunk, with an airship in the first act, and some cool looking submariners in the third act.
It’s some pretty good stuff, and despite some trouble for me to really rally behind Lord Baltimore at certain points in the book, I think this could be a good place to go for comic book fans looking for something that doesn’t involve a caped crusader of some kind.
by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Oni Press (2007)
Here I go again with another Scott Pilgrim adventure, but now I’m reading the graphic novels after having seen the movie. So now, I’ll be reading the rest of the series with that whole saw-the-movie-first attitude, which can be a bit of a dampener. Did it dampen my reading experience with this book, though?
Firstly, the book starts with a few color pages, which I don’t recall seeing in the first three graphic novels I read. I’m so used to the homey monochromatic feel of the books, it was actually a little jarring. But I gotta say that Scott Pilgrim looks great as a color comic book–too bad it only lasts a few pages.
Scott is still with Ramona and things are going fine relationship wise. Sure, he’s still on edge about the rest of the evil exes he has to defeat, but he’s rolling with the punches … literally. Things aren’t rosy for long, as Wallace informs him they have to contend with their landlord, the band Sex Bob-omb must work on its first record, Scott gets his first job, some guy with a samurai sword is trying to slice Scott in half, and he reunites with an old friend from high school, Lisa Miller, who … complicates things with Ramona.
I thought this book played out a bit more episodically than the first three, with situations cropping up chapter by chapter as if each was a sitcom episode. At any rate, the humor remained intact, and the kick-ass fight scenes too, replete with snarky one-liners.
My favorite part of the book is still Scott, though. Why? I think it’s the fact that he is a good person at heart, but he’s self-possessed and clueless as hell. He reminds me of me.
O’Malley brings more of the same goodness with his artwork, shining through especially with scenes like Ramona’s fight with one of her exes, Scott’s close call with Lisa, and the group discussions at Sneaky Dee’s.
The seeds were planted for the last two books, as well, so I’m looking forward to finishing off the series this summer. If you haven’t read this series of books before, you’ll really ought to give it a chance because it is just too charming to ignore.