Creating a comic book version of Planet of the Apes is a proposition fraught with danger. It’s been a long time since Mr. Comics’ Revolution on the Planet of the Apes, so I don’t remember if I quit reading it because I didn’t like it or if I decided to wait for a collected edition that never came. I do remember liking Salgood Sam’s art on it, but being disappointed that it was a bridge between Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the two films in the series that I’ve never seen. I haven’t seen them partly because they’re not generally regarded as any good, but also because – as prequels to the original PotA film – they cover a time period that I’m not all that interested in. While intellectually I’m curious to see how the world of PotA came to be, I’d much rather see adventure stories set in the world of the first movie.
BOOM!’s new series doesn’t do that exactly, but it gets awfully close and ends up presenting something that I didn’t realize I wanted, but really do. Set long after Battle for the Planet of the Apes, BOOM!’s comic shows readers a time in which apes and humans are technically equal, but bigotry towards humans and an imbalance of power in favor of the apes have created a tense situation. That doesn’t sound all that different from the last couple of movies in the series, but it is in at least one important way. Where Conquest and Battle were set more or less on then-contemporary Earth (or that’s the impression I gathered from reading Revolution), enough time has passed between then and the new series that the world’s starting to look something like the original movie.
One of the coolest things about the first film was that its version of Earth was a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. So much of what made it awesome was the look of it: the apes’ costumes, the buildings; the primitive humans. It was a world ripe for exploration, which is why it’s so disappointing that the films immediately went away from that in favor of traveling to the relative mundaneness of the past; our present. BOOM!’s series is back in the fantasy world, though it looks better than any that’s been presented on screen.
Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake
Written and Illustrated by Steph Cherrywell
I hope it came through in my review of The Incredible Change-Bots that what I liked most about it was its ability to lovingly kid the things that Transformers fans like most about that cartoon while at exactly the same time successfully reproduce those qualities. That’s so difficult to do, which is why most of the time we see skewering, Mad Magazine-style parodies of things instead. As rare as it is though, lightning struck my reading pile again when I got to Pepper Penwell.
I wasn’t much into the kid-sleuth genre as a youngster, other than Hanna-Barbera’s Legion of Meddling Kids. I had one Hardy Boys book and a Tom Swift, but my childhood heroes were mostly grown-ups: James Bond, Sherlock Holmes; Hercule Poirot. It hasn’t been until my adult years that I’ve experienced much interest in stories about child detectives. Maybe it’s an attempt to re-experience childhood; maybe it’s just a search for great literature for my son; maybe my wife – a big Nancy Drew fan – is starting to influence me. Whatever the reasons, I’m finding myself drawn to stories about tween or teenaged detectives and titles like The Clue in the Crumbling Wall or The Case of the Mysterious Handprints.
These stories are the inspiration for Steph Cherrywell’s Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake, a book about a genius girl detective who’s kicked out of her posh boarding school for uncovering so much crime at the institution that parents are beginning to pull their kids out. Having nowhere else to go, she visits her police inspector father in Monster Lake, a quiet village in the English countryside where he’s investigating the disappearance of a young girl. Pepper’s looking over the case files before she even arrives.
As Transformers 3 draws inexorably nearer, I find myself dreading the conversations I know I’m going to have.
My friends will ask, innocently, “Have you seen Transformers 3, yet?”
“No,” I’ll reply, hoping they’ll lose interest and change the subject.
“Why not? It looks great! I thought you were into all that sci-fi, comic booky stuff.”
At which point I’ll either have to lie and say that I just haven’t gotten around to it yet (a tactic I’ll feel horrible about later), or tell the truth about hating Michael Bay movies and come off sounding like a complete snob. Which of course I am, but nobody likes defending themselves against that, especially when it’s true.
You see, my friends just don’t get it. If it’s big, if it’s blockbustery, if it’s got giant robots and it’s based on a popular cartoon from the ‘80s, they’ll go see it regardless of how crap it is. “I know it’s not great,” they’ll tell me, “but come on. It’s fun!” I could argue that last point, but by now I’m tired of the conversation.
I know I’m going to get this because I went through it two years ago with Transformers 2. I don’t want to go through it again. Fortunately, this year I have something with which to deflect the conversation into a positive direction. I have Incredible Change-Bots.
The Arctic Marauder
by Jacques Tardi
Fantagraphics Books, 64 pages, $16.99
Based on what’s been translated in English so far, it seems as though are two kinds of Jacques Tardi books. The first is the dark, grim and gritty type, best represented by books like the wonderful but harrowing It Was the War of the Trenches and the steely-eyed noir West Coast Blues. The second is what I’d dub (rather awkwardly, because I can’t for the moment find better terminology) his goofier, more tongue in cheek style, best seen in the Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec series (and, to a certain extent, the satirical You Are There).
The Arctic Marauder, Fantagraphics’ latest entry in their Tardi line, easily fits in the second category. It’s a wickedly sly take on classic turn-of-the-century pulp adventures that nevertheless manages to both tweak and evoke those stories. It is, in short, a blast to read.
I had been wanting to read Parker: The Outfit, Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of the Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) novel, but this is the busiest time of year for me, and I hadn’t gotten a review copy. So there I was, with my best-of-the-year list due the next day, with no copy of a book that I was quite sure deserved to be on the list. Fortunately, IDW, which publishes the Parker books, has just decided to put its graphic novels in the iTunes store as standalone apps, and Parker: The Outfit is available for $9.99.
In general, I think $10 is too much for an e-book, which is essentially an ephemeral thing. You don’t really buy e-books, you rent them, although it’s more of a long-term lease. I still have books that I bought 30 years ago; the same will not be true of my e-books. That said, ten bucks for the Parker book is better than a 50% savings off the price of the print book. And it’s Darwyn Cooke, dammit. So I bit.
Best ten bucks I ever spent.
The Zabime Sisters
First Second, 96 pages, $16.99
The Zabime Sisters follows a day in the life of three girls who live on the Caribbean island nation of Guadeloupe. That description will, I suspect, cause many readers to assume that this is a book heavy in political and social import, as we’ve become come to expect any graphic novel set in or focused on a culture that’s not specifically North America or Eastern Europe to be some harrowing tale of life lived under a harsh totalitarian regime, poverty, colonialism, or some other real-world horror. But Zabime Sisters is not that book at all.
The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories
Edited by Craig Yoe
IDW, 176 pages, $34.99
When I was a kid, the word “treasury” promised delights beyond measure, and Christmas was the time when treasuries—of comics, fairy tales, Christmas stories, and other delights—showed up under the tree.
Craig Yoe’s The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories is a throwback to those days when a big, fat, colorful book was the centerpiece of the Christmas swag. It is very much a baby-boomer book, chock full of colorful stories from the 1940s and 1950s, but most of the material has aged pretty well and there are some solid classics in there. Of course there are some clinkers, too, but that’s the way of anthologies.
Most notable among the good stuff are several stories by Walt Kelly. His Santa tales are a far cry from Pogo, with a massive, good-natured Santa surrounded by cherubic elves, while his winsome animal stories are more familiar but all sweetness and no bite. The most imaginative of his stories is “The Great Three-Flavored Blizzard,” a classic fairy-tale type story in which weather problems threaten Christmas (no snow, no sleigh) until an elf and the Easter Bunny solve the problem by using ice cream for snow.
By various authors, edited by Ian Brill
BOOM! Studios, $14.99
CBGB is a graphic novel anthology of short stories about the legendary punk nightclub CBGB and the people who hung out there. The music of the era plays a huge part in the stories, especially the introductory tale, but overall the book is really about the things that went with the music—drugs, sex, ambition, rebellion, being young and living in New York City—and most of the characters are on the floor watching the music, not onstage playing it.
For an anthology about punk rock and New York life in the 1970s, CBGB is remarkably colorful. The art leans more toward neon colors than the blacks and grayed-out colors one might expect, although there is quite a range of styles and story types.
When DC announced it was shuttering the Wildstorm and Zuda imprints back in September, after having announced the shutterings of the CMX line less than six months ago (and only two years since they canceled the failed Minx experiment), all eyes started moving uneasily towards Vertigo, the first and final imprint DC had left. It didn’t help that DC had also announced they were going to be absorbing certain Vertigo characters like Swamp Thing back into the superhero fold. Add to that the recent cancellation of such series as Air, Unknown Soldier and Greek Street, and many ended up wondering not just if Vertigo was being sized up for the chopping block but when the ax would fall (I’ve got $20 in the office pool down for May 2011).
Mark Oliver Frisch aside, we don’t have access to DC’s actual, total sales numbers, however, so it’s nigh-impossible to tell exactly how well Vertigo books are selling and how essential the line is to DC as a publishing and licensing entity. Perhaps the only way we can make any assumptions at all about the health of the line is to look at the comics that Vertigo has published in the past few months. Which is exactly what I plan on doing after the jump.
Acme Novelty Library Vol. 20
by Chris Ware
Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages $23.95
(Note: I shall endeavor to be as spoiler-free as possible, but obviously if you’re the sort who would rather dive into a book like this knowing as little as possible then you may not want to click on that “continue reading” link.)
Acme Novelty Library #20 is about an asshole. The book’s main character, one Jordan W. Lint, is a bully, a coward, an adulterer, a drunkard, is frequently callous and cruel to friends and family, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In some regards he is an outright monster.
And yet, Ware manages to make us not only care, rather deeply, about this unlikeable figure but also sympathize and, to a surprising degree, understand his plight. Without condoning or excusing his behavior, Ware manages to offer a portrait that is nuanced enough to make us reflect upon our own foibles and fears. If that’s not the mark of a great artist, I’m not sure what is.
A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
by Moto Hagio
Fantagraphics Books, 288 pages, $24.99.
It will be interesting to see what sort of response A Drunken Dream has in the alt-comix community. While I’m have no doubt that more traditional manga fans (especially older manga fans with an interest in the medium’s history) will lap it up and ask for more, I’m not as convinced that your average Fantagraphics reader (if there is such a thing, and I acknowledge full well that I might be off the rails here in even thinking such a thing) won’t find this to be a little far afield from their purview.
by Daniel Clowes
Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $21.95
by Jim Woodring
Fantagraphics Books, 104 pages, $19.99
Here we have two of the more notable and anticipated graphic novel releases of this year. Though at first glance the two don’t seem to have much in common, they do have some similarities. Both come from artists who came to help define the alt-comix movement in the late 1980s and ’90s and their work during that period was seen by many as sterling examples of the sort of Art with a capital A that the medium was capable of producing. Both have also laid relatively low in recent years, pursing projects in other mediums like film, illustration, performance art and toy-making, occasionally returning to comics through the side door (Woodring in the pages of Mome, Clowes with his Mister Wonderful serial in the New York Times). And, while it doesn’t have nearly as much significance as some would like to think it has, this also marks the first time both authors have attempted to publish their work in the “done in one” graphic novel book format rather than serialize it over a lengthy period of time in the more traditional pamphlet format (indeed, this is likely the longest story Woodring has done yet).
Both also begin with the letter W.
by Tim Hensley
Fantagraphics Books, 64 pages, $18.99
Wally Gropius can be a tough book to describe. It seems to revel in its contradictions. It’s both an affectionate paean to the Archie/Harvey/Dell comics of yesteryear and a blistering critique of them. It has contains disturbing imagery and themes that will shock the unexpectant reader, but is also utterly silly, joyfully so at times. It comes off as jarring, even downright bizarre, in its blend of word and image, yet at the same time feels strangely familiar. Even with its influences writ largely on its sleeve, it’s hard to find a book to compare it to.
I had never warmed to Hensley’s work prior to this story, originally serialized in the Mome anthology. The few short pieces he did in anthologies like Dirty Stories left me befuddled and cold. His work seemed so deliberately off-putting, so more concerned with being clever than good, that I honestly didn’t quite know what to make of it.
by Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 64 pages, $6.99
Every book by Gene Yang thus far follows the same basic thematic plot: A young man (or woman, but usually man) feels his life would be perfect if he could only attain that one special thing (acceptance, money, popularity, etc.). Through supernatural or otherwise fantastical means, he obtains his goal, only to discover (all together now) that it wasn’t what he really needed after all.
So it is with Prime Baby, Yang’s newest book, which was originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine. It’s about a young boy, Thaddeus K, who dreams of global conquest and is supremely resentful, jealous of, and thoroughly annoyed by his baby sister. When it turns out that his sister also serves as an inter-dimensional doorway to an alien world and tens of little pod spaceships start spitting up of her mouth, Thaddeus sees an opportunity to rid himself of his sister once and for all. Does he come to regret his decision? Are there stars in the sky?
Hotwire Comics Vol. 3
Edited by Glenn Head
Fantagraphics Books, 138 pages, $22.99
Once again, Hotwire returns to attempt to fill in that edgy alt-comix niche that was so prominent in the 80s and early 90s and has seemingly been eclipsed by the more literary, rarefied indie comics of today (sort of). If for no other reason, this anthology should be lauded for giving folks like Mary Fleener and Mack White the opportunity to showcase their work, since no one else seems to be interested in doing so these days. There is always the occasional dull or misguided piece (David Paleo and David Sandlin’s work continues to fail to interest me), but the stellar work by folks like Michael Kupperman, R. Sikoryak, Onsmith, Johnny Ryan, Tim Lane and Mats!? make this well worth your time.