Slush Pile: Unemployed Man, Shadrach Stone, Forget Sorrow, Athena Voltaire, Screamland, Return of the Dapper Men, Sixsmiths, Francis Sharp, I See the Promised Land
All books are review copies provided by the publishers.
The Adventures of Unemployed Man
written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan; pencils by Ramona Fradon, Rick Veitch, Michael Netzer; inks by Terry Beatty, Joe Rubinstein; additional art by Benton Jew, Thomas Yeates, Shawn Martinbrough
Little, Brown and Company, $14.99 US
The superhero genre is used for satire of our current economic system, with stunning art by some accomplished veterans. The Ultimatum represents the hypocrisy of rich people who blame the poor for not working hard enough while laying them off and not paying a living wage. He soon gets what’s coming to him, though, as he’s punished with foreclosure, unpayable credit card bills, and other financial traps. He and others hurt by the system — Wonder Mother, Fellowman, the over-educated Master of Degrees, the invisible immigrant Fantasma, and the Hulk-like White Rage, manipulated by Fox News — team up to bring the villains to justice and rescue Everyman.
The Adventures of Unemployed Man is an amusing parody, using familiar images to point out just how hard some people have it and the forces allied against our traditional beliefs and ideals. It’s going to be most entertaining to those already in sympathy with its message, of course. I really enjoyed reading it, in large part due to the amazing mimicry of classic 60s and 70s superhero comics, although it left me uneasy and feeling powerless. The statistics dropped in-between chapters, titled Fantastic Facts, will do that — they point out how high income inequality is or how we have the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world.
This is a well-done use of escapist entertainment to make some serious points, but it left me wishing for a real superhero to bring some justice to our economy. There’s lots more at the book’s website.
Shadrach Stone: A Tale of the 21st Century
written by Stuart Moore; pencils and inks by Jon Proctor; additional inks by Jeff Dabu
Penny-Farthing Press, $19.95 US
Although prominently labeled “a graphic novel”, be warned: this is part one of a story we may never see the rest of. The story has its intriguing moments — Stone, a manipulative, cheating book agent, finds he is unable to lie after experiencing severe trauma — but I found the inclusion of the World Trade Center destruction on 9-11 in bad taste, especially since it’s not explained and thus seems unnecessary. Plus, it all turns into a superhero/superspy/science fiction mash, at which point I lost interest.
Stone’s distasteful, but he’s meant to be. Still, that doesn’t make it fun to dwell on the lovingly detailed pages of Stone’s naked supermodel girlfriend Vida or see some of his fouler comments repeated, as though we didn’t get them the first time.
The storytelling is muddled, with interspersed pages about a giant statue and talking animals that seem to want to make this seem much more important and meaningful than it is. The art is sometimes hard to follow. Just when we get to the real story — Stone and Vida are sent into alternate realities created by his lies — the book ends. It’s obviously intended to be more, but it’s your risk if that ever happens. The book has a page at the publisher’s website.
by Belle Yang
W.W. Norton, $23.95 US
It’s a Chinese Persepolis, a retelling of family folklore with a simple black-and-white graphic style. Yang is living with her parents. Everyone’s disappointed she returned home; she’s been scared by a stalker, while her parents compare her to higher-achieving friends her age.
More details of the stalker story would have had more drama and immediacy for the reader. The folktales of life in 1940s China wound up boring me, while the events of her life, rushed through to set the stage for the history her father tells her, were more interesting to me. (Or disturbing, as she and her father both seem to blame her for having a violent pursuer.) I wanted to hear her story, not that of her patriarchal ancestors.
As with other graphic memoirs, Forget Sorrow is more of an illustrated narration than a fully formed comic; the words and pictures aren’t that tightly interconnected. I can appreciate the discovery of an artist finding her voice through examining her family history, but I’m not sure I needed 250 pages of it.
On the other hand, this substantial hardcover would make an excellent gift for Chinese-American family members, especially those concerned with tradition, as its basic layouts make it an easy read even for those not as familiar with comics.
Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon
art by Steve Bryant; story by Paul Daly
Ape Entertainment, $16.95 US
Earlier this year, Steve Bryant had quite the successful Kickstarter campaign, raising money for the miniseries Athena Voltaire and the Volcano Goddess, which he hopes to release next year. That reminded me I should take a look at the last book, this miniseries collection from 2008.
Athena is a sexy female version of Indiana Jones, a flyer in the mid-1930s who fights Nazis in exotic locations. It’s historically flavored pulp adventure starring an irrepressible crack shot. Plus, there’s a magical golden falcon statue everyone’s after, because it is the key to the interior of the Hollow Earth and can raise the dead.
The art is luscious and glossy, if a bit static at times. Lots of pretty pictures, both of Athena and the settings, are layered with exposition that’s just an excuse for the gun battles and chase sequences.
written by Harold Sipe; art by Hector Casanova
Image Comics, $16.99 US
Want to get me to try your comic in a genre I don’t normally follow? Be absolutely charming and friendly in person. I had the pleasure of speaking with writer Harold Sipe at this year’s Heroes Con, and when he was kind enough to give me the chance to try his comic, I was happy to do so, even though I thought it was horror.
It’s not, though; it’s satire. And very funny. Sipe postulates that the classic monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and the Wolfman, are alive and hanging around Hollywood. They’re washed up, their glory movie days long behind them, so they’re struggling to find work, battling alcoholism and a lack of respect for older characters in the movies. Screamland is about how an agent works to reunite them for another film, one based on a manga about a girl monster hunter.
The art is nifty. Casanova is capable of both moody/spooky and jaded Hollywood, sterile offices and therapist visits. It’s the flashbacks that are most entertaining, with the Monster working with Ed Wood or the Mummy making TV guest shots. Sipe’s writing is spot-on, taking on a well-worn topic (Hollywood satire) and finding fresh ways to express it (like calling the convention circuit “the sci-fi/horror retirement plan”).
The monsters, while in cliched situations, are understandable. They just want to work, and their frustration comes through the page. You may think you know the type, but Sipe and Casanova do some unexpected things with them. I really enjoyed the read.
Return of the Dapper Men
written by Jim McCann; art by Janet Lee
Archaia, $24.95 US
You’ve likely heard people tell you how lovely this book is, based on the interior art, but it wasn’t until I held it in my hands that I realized how big it was. It’s almost the size of an old record album, and you need that size to marvel in Lee’s delicate painted art.
Unfortunately, I found the faux-fairy tale narration tiresome. Perhaps that’s a flaw in me, that I don’t have the patience to build that sense of wonder, but I wished the writer would stop futzing around with the poetry and tell me a story. A little boy and his friend, a robot girl, live in a world where time has stopped, populated by machines and eternal children. The Dapper Men bring time back and spend lots of pages telling the boy how special he is and how he has a destiny.
It’s meant to praise imagination and creativity and individuality. I found it a tad incoherent, though. There’s mystery and wonder, and then there’s asking your readers to bring meaning to the work. Very pretty to look at, though, and worth it just for that.
co-written by Jason Franks; co-written and art by J. Marc Schmidt
SLG Publishing, $12.95 US
Domestic comedy among a family of Australian Satanists. Dad’s just lost his banking job, which means the kids, Cain and Lilith, need to go into public school. The humor is, as you’d imagine, based on seeing typical activities twisted just a bit. For example, the kids show off their goats’ head tattoos instead of their jewelry or clothes to their new schoolmates. Consulting the vicar involves having sex. Mom makes the kids play video games once told they’re evil.
The kids, typically, don’t want to do whatever their parents want and so find the whole thing kind of boring, because it’s normal to them. In most families, the rebellious daughter would become a goth; here, she’s a Buddhist nun.
The reversal is an amusing idea, but the execution didn’t match my sense of humor, and the jokes seemed slight. I’m probably not the right audience for this, though. There was a webcomic featuring the same characters and premise, although the material in this graphic novel is different from that run.
Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny!
by Brittney Sabo; co-authored by Anna Bratton
Self-published, $10 US
This Xeric Grant winner is the first chapter in a planned four-part series. Francis is a farmboy in rural New Jersey. His imagination runs away with him, keeping him from focusing on his chores, and he dreams of occult adventure. He’s a selfish, irresponsible child, but we all know he’ll learn his lesson once he really winds up in a different world and has to figure out how to get home.
While the story follows a classic plot, the art is outstanding, well-cartooned and dynamic. I was reminded of Castle Waiting, although Sabo’s style is more like Craig Thompson’s. There’s an online preview at the artist’s website.
I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
written by Arthur Flowers; art by Manu Chitrakar
Tara Books, $16.95 US
Chitrakar is a Patua artist, from India, which means (according to the press material), he’s a “traditional scroll-painter who creates vivid art out of all kinds of narratives — from fables and classical tales to contemporary news items.” The result is interesting in its difference, a kind of folk art-illustrated essay where the images are primitive but affecting. There are also some typographical design elements, full pages of text set large.
Fascinating to look at, connecting the modern hero to much bigger historical traditions, slavery, the world of the KKK, Southern black churches, and the modern civil rights movement.