Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Michael Cho, Derek McCulloch, and Anthony Peruzzo

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Michael Cho, Derek McCulloch, and Anthony Peruzzo

I wrote these book reviews a couple of months back; I forgot to post them on my blog, silly me. These first appeared online at the San Francisco Book Review. 

 

Reviewers aren’t supposed to toss hyperbole around lightly, but it must be said: I loved every cringe-inducing moment of Shoplifter. It’s been ages since a graphic novel spoke to me on such a personal level. I wish I had the cash to buy copies for every friend who reminds me of the protagonist: overeducated, unfulfilled, and stuck in a rut.

Shoplifter focuses on Corinna Park, a writer plagued with ennui and lack of motivation. Life hasn’t turned out as she envisioned it, and now she’s merely going through the motions at her ad agency job, where she gets to write copy for silly products that nobody needs. Corinna’s only thrill in life is minor pilfering. Corinna knows she has the potential to do great things; she just can’t fathom how to get there.

Having met a fair share of shoplifters and disenchanted copywriters over the years, I can sympathize with Corinna’s first world problems while wanting to hit her with a bat at the same time. Corinna’s doubts, fears, and failed attempts feel intensely real. I wish there were more stories like Shoplifter out there: short, elegant, and even a little groan-inducing.

 

The creators of Displaced Persons have a great love for San Francisco, as the book starts with Emperor Norton, who finds an abandoned child and promptly delivers him to the nearest orphanage. The orphan in the prologue is only one of the mysteries the reader’s invited to unravel: there’s a missing heiress, a love triangle involving twins, a drug bust gone bad, and an amnesiac. Clues include a locket, a photograph, and a house.

The main conceit of Displaced Persons, however, is that the mysteries cross three timelines, each with its own color palette. Only the cover and the last page break out into vivid color as the book tries to answer the main question: where do all missing people end up? Are they only lost to their loved ones, or are they also lost to themselves?

Displaced Persons is a high-concept, unusual work; it’s obviously a labor of love. Unfortunately, its ambitious plot is also mildly convoluted. This book might be more satisfying after a second reading. Even the sharpest reader might have difficulty keeping track of everything.  Clarity does come at the end, but one might be too disheartened by the book’s melancholic outlook to notice it.

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Si Spurrier and Paul Pope

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Si Spurrier and Paul Pope

Slightly different versions of these reviews first appeared online at Another Universe

 

In Numbercruncher, the bureaucratic Divine Calculator controls the flow of souls destined for reincarnation. Trying to buy more time for a particular only ends with despair, since it’s part of a contract to take the place of an agent when death comes again.

Agent 494 is a tired cockney tough who’s only too happy that the newly dead Richard Thyme wants to strike a deal. Thyme, however, is a cunning mathematician who doesn’t play by the rules. Thyme finds a way to go through infinite reincarnations, with all of his memories intact. What ensues between Agent 494 and Thyme is a cat-and-mouse game through lifetimes. The chase has a Death Note feel to it, with the antagonists being equally matched.

Thyme’s willing to go through endless deaths and rebirths in order to snatch a few stolen moments with his beloved girlfriend. Jenny Reed is the book’s tragic figure because everyone she loves dies in cruel and unusual ways. Every time Thyme dies, he’s wearing a different body and a difference face—so Jenny just grows more convinced that she’s cursed. (To make an old reference: she’s like Maggie O’Connell from Northern Exposure, amped up to eleven.) Thyme’s a jerk for not noticing that Jenny feels tortured, and that his reincarnations are the cause of her suffering.

Some readers may disagree with the ending but I found Numbercruncher to be an enjoyable graphic novel with a fresh take on the afterlife.

 

In Battling Boy, the eponymous character is required to embark on a Rambling—a coming-of-age ceremony in which demigods are sent to realms in need of a champion. He’s sent to Acropolis with some power-enhancing shirts, a magic cloak, and a minimum of clues. Acropolis is an embattled city: curfew is enforced because nightmare monsters swallow children whole. Local officials are helpless, and they rely on heroic vigilantes like Haggard West. Sadisto’s gang just killed West, though, leaving Aurora West to inherit her father’s arsenal of weapons and his unfinished fight.

Battling Boy has so much promise, but it’s difficult to determine how the series will flesh out in future installments. So far, it’s a fairly typical coming-of-age story, reminiscent of shonen manga: the first chapters provide solid groundwork for the elaborate setting. A reader needs patience, though, while waiting for the plot to pick up momentum. Sometimes, a reader’s patience is rewarded with something unique and mind-blowing. Sometimes, though, it isn’t.  (Am I damning this graphic novel with stingy praise? I’m sorry. Nowadays I’m overly cautious to throw too many compliments at unfinished serialized comics and story arcs. I’ve been badly burned before.)

Right now, the main strength of Battling Boy is its rich graphic elements. The personalized type, vivid colors, and unusual facial expressions are beautiful and arresting, in the way that urban decay can be beautiful.  Battling Boy is a must-have if you love Paul Pope’s unique visual style.

 

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

I found the original draft of my Last Unicorn graphic novel review. This is completely different in tone and length from what was  published in the San Francisco Book Review last January 4, 2012.

This review has comments on the ending. To read the hidden spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

A nice addition to the graphic novel section of the library. Not in photo: my Hellblazers and Alan Moore.

Peter S. Beagle is a familiar name to most fantasy readers since his introduction graced many a paperback copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Yet for me, growing up in the Philippines, that was the only contact I had with the name for years. Even back then I knew he must be an important writer, because unimportant writers don’t write introductions to other people’s books. But as to coming across one of his books, lack of access was an issue.

 Some college friends were lucky enough to grow up with The Last Unicorn. In hindsight I envy them. I didn’t have any luck finding a VHS tape of the animated version, either, in that part of the world. After a few years of curiosity I simply gave up.

So getting a copy of the new graphic novel adaptation in the mail was nothing short of a dormant dream come true.

I was a little worried about being too old to like it. There are some texts that should be read at the appropriate age. I remembered feeling incredibly let down when I read C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew a couple of years ago. i I feel the need to apologize to all hardcore Narnia fans but I simply could not stand being talked down to by that insufferable man. It reeked of the overbearing Catholicism I couldn’t stand since elementary school.

Thankfully, The Last Unicorn is more accessible to my adult mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt there were some gaps in the narrative, probably caused by condensing a novel to its graphic novel form, but the basic story still worked well. The art by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillion was also apt and beautiful.

I was worried that after a few pages, The Last Unicorn would explode into full-on shoujo sparkles and glitter, but no, it didn’t happen. The unicorn’s transformation into a mere mortal was incredibly painful to read. I found it awful that she forgot about her quest at one point, but I suppose enchantments will do that, even to a strong character.

The Last Unicorn’s last plight ultimately reminds me of the subtle tragedies of childhood, and how a little experience can taint everything. I probably would have cried buckets if I read this as a child. That it can affect me, even now, is probably a mark of a brilliant piece of fantasy.