Koko Be Good by Jen Wang – A Book Review

This graphic novel, released by :01 and created by Jen Wang, is something of an enigma for me.  On one hand, the story has been done, the characters aren’t very likable, and there isn’t really much in the way of plot, particularly climax.  However, the art is so fetching that I can ignore the previous complaints.

Koko Be Good is about Koko, a young woman in search of herself and willing to do just about any preposterous thing you can think of.  She is the classic twenty-something narcissist, a stand-out among the “me-generation.”  Unfortunately, there is very little character development with her in the way of significant change, and so she fails to ever connect to the reader in a meaningful way.  Jonathon is also a young twenty-something, in love with a woman across the coast and about to move to Peru with her.  He seems lost, unsure of himself, and unwilling to feel true joy.  His quest ends (or begins anew) with a more substantial moment than Koko, but I’m still not sure I like where he finally lands.  Of course, Koko and Jonathan cross paths, and both have an effect upon the other, but in the end, I don’t think either had as substantive an impact as the story would like us to believe.  And if that’s the point … then that’s a bummer.

Obviously, I didn’t care for Wang’s actual story.  But, she is a phenomenal artist with a charismatic style and a wonderful sense of color.  Her layouts are dynamic, her backgrounds are nuanced without being busy, and her characters are refreshingly quirky in appearance.  I would have liked her word balloons to have been more appropriately placed in some panels as they became confusing if reading left to right, but that wasn’t a major hurdle to overcome.  I truly enjoyed looking at this book.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Koko Be Good on the merit of its story or characters, but I would on the rock-solid artistry.

Neil Young’s Greendale by Joshua Dysart and Cliff Chiang – A Book Review

The graphic novel Greendale serves as a companion piece to the Neil Young album and movie of the same name.  I was totally unfamiliar with both before reading the graphic novel, and, after a little bit of investigating, it seems you can enjoy the graphic novel with no knowledge of its sisters.

That being said, Greendale is an interesting book in many respects, and disappointing in others.

The story revolves around Sun Green, young woman who has inherited a mysterious connection to nature, as do all of the women in her family.  Sun is experiencing visions that she doesn’t quite understand, and when a stranger comes to the small town of Greendale, those visions are forced to become a reality – for better or for worse.

Greendale is set in 2003 and is a politically-charged, socially-relevant commentary on ecology as well as our military actions from that year on.  Joshua Dysart’s dialogue flows along nicely, and Cliff Chiang’s artwork is both pleasing to the eye and incredibly adept at conveying the characters’ moods, thoughts, and personalities.  However, the real star of this book is the colorist, Dave Stewart.  I read an advanced copy of Greendale that was mostly in black and white, but those few pages that were colored were astounding.  I can’t wait to see the final product to see the rest of Stewart’s colors.

On the other hand, Greendale is a convoluted plot that never made total sense.  There are far too many characters with similar names to keep track of, and, at times, I caught myself thinking, “What’s the point of this story?”  Yes, there is a lot of social and political criticism, but there’s also an underlying story involving mysticism that never really rises to the surface in any meaningful and satisfactory way.  I generally enjoy Vertigo’s offerings, but the plot of Greendale was a bit too heavy-handed and vague for my taste (which is a strange pairing).

The art is very pleasing, the coloring is fantastic, the dialogue isn’t bad, but the overall story failed to entice.

Fables: War and Pieces – A Graphic Novel Review

In this presupposed crucial volume of Fables, Bill Willingham and company finally bring about the “final” battle between the Adversary and his Empire … but first, we have to muddle through a clichéd and by-the-book tale featuring the unlikely super-spy, Cinderella, and even her two-issue story was preceded by an issue focusing upon Boy Blue and Rose Red’s festering relationship.

So, as you can plainly see, it takes a while for War and Pieces to actually get to the war part of everything.

I’ve waited a long time for this pinnacle battle, and once the battle ensued, I found myself more than frustrated by its brevity and irreverence.  It also seemed a little too formulaic and lacked the usual panache I’ve come to expect from Fables.

So while I still tout Fables as the best comic series currently running to anyone who will listen, War and Pieces proved unimpassioned, hurried, and a bit too unoriginal when compared to earlier volumes.

Y: The Last Man: Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan – A Graphic Novel Review

This final installment to the Y: The Last Man series left me both unsatisfied and disappointed.

Y: The Last Man started out as a fantastic series.  It was a high concept with excellent characterization and an epic, fascinating plot.

But, as the series wore on, it lost steam.  I assumed this was the lull before the storm; that Vaughan slowed things down a bit so he could hit us hard for the ultimate chapter.

He didn’t.

Whys and Wherefores should have been monumental.  Instead, it felt to this fan as though Vaughan simply went through the motions of getting all the plots tidied up and packed away.  When Beth and Yorick reunited, a moment for which we’d literally waited years, it lacked any real emotional intensity.  Agent 355’s final fate cheated both the character and her characterization.  Alter’s motivation turned out to be a cliché.  The only truly authentic scene involved Yorick and Ampersand, his pet monkey, both of whom are male.

Which leads me to an important distinction.  Y: The Last Man, while initially very good, also originally focused mostly upon Yorick.  As Vaughan spread out his cast of characters, most of whom are obviously women, the title lost some of its magic.  I applaud Vaughan for undertaking such a mammoth challenge: any man attempting to write an entire series about how women would remake the earth without men is either supremely confident or a little crazy.  But sadly, as the series wore on, his women felt less and less genuine and more like a male’s excuse for including lesbianism and girl-on-girl violence.  In other words, they seemed to become objectified, which is the antithesis of how the series started.  For the record, I would be supremely interested to hear a woman’s take on this series.

All in all, Y: The Last Man ended with a whimper.  Its characters were swindled out of what should have been a majestic goodbye, and its readers were left without much to celebrate or commiserate.  It simply read like an ending rather than a finale.

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come (Part I) – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve always enjoyed JSA, mostly because Geoff Johns has made a point to keep one foot in the past with the title while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the future.

With the Justice Society of America re-launch, the team has a new mission statement of making sure the world has better heroes, and so they are first tracking down legacy heroes and training them to deserve the mantle they’ve assumed.

Thy Kingdom Come is particularly fascinating because it reintroduces Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series.  In expert juxtaposition, Johns makes a point that while the Earth-2 Superman thought Earth-1’s heroes weren’t heroic enough, the Kingdom Come Superman finds Earth-1’s (New Earth’s) heroes inspiring and invigorating.  Any writer will tell you that good writing means making use of unusual perspectives, and Johns does just this with KC Superman.

Furthermore, I love the KC Superman because he has an edge to him.  He’s damaged goods.  After all, he watched his world’s heroes demean and destroy themselves and did nothing until the (relatively) very end.  He wants a fresh start as well, a chance at redemption, and that makes him very compelling.

But among such heavy themes and dangerous adventures, Johns also brings about quite a bit of joyfulness.  Boxing matches between Wildcat and his son, fundraising at the local firehouse, and ski trips are just part of what makes this team such a delight to follow. 

Johns also mixes established, semi-established, and brand new characters in this book and gives each a chance to shine in an appealing and engaging manner.  To have characters over half-a-century old such as Flash and Green Lantern interacting with brand new legacy characters such as Wildcat II, Cyclone, and Citizen Steel brings an unpredictability that is missing in several other DC titles.  Throw in semi-established characters using familiar names like Hourman, Liberty Belle, and Starman, and you’ve got something exciting, amusing, and captivating.

For me, Justice Society of America continues to be a must-read and I really look forward to where the title is heading with its heavy referencing to Kingdom Come and multiple-subplots.

The New Avengers, Vol. 6: Revolution – A Graphic Novel Review

I really enjoyed this volume of New Avengers. The title gets a bit of a shake-up after the events of Civil War with a revamped, underground Avengers team featuring a black-suited Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Spider-Woman and the welcomed additions of Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and Ronin (a much-missed old friend wearing new duds).

The volume begins with beautifully rendered art by personal-favorite Alex Maleev. (Wonderful to see Bendis and Maleev together again!) I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but this tale in particular focuses on a long-missing Avenger and his search for a former teammate. Consequently, he doesn’t quite find what he’s expecting. Writer Brian Michael Bendis delivers a simplistic story invoking powerful characterization and potent emotion.

The rest of the volume features art by Leinil Yu and the new New Avengers. Yu’s art is a conundrum for me. It’s not particularly pleasing to the eye, yet it is absolutely charismatic and captivating. Yu is adept at delivering interesting angles and frames while cleanly progressing the story. I find myself studying each and every one of his drawings perhaps more than any other comic book artist in recent memory.

I’d also like to congratulate Brian Michael Bendis. He obviously wrote Revolution with Civil War and the then-upcoming Secret Invasion in mind, and so he’s careful to catch the reader up while planting seeds for the future. However, this is not what especially impressed me. What did impress me was the fact that Bendis played with flashbacks and perspective in order to deliver the whole of Revolution. Instead of giving us a linear story playing out from issue to issue, he took an artistic approach and allowed the reader to bridge some gaps and become mentally involved in deciphering the plot. Don’t get me wrong, even with the interesting technique, it’s a pretty straightforward story, but such added touches go a long way in satisfying me.

Overall, with the eye-catching art, inspired story-telling, and new additions to the team, New Avengers: Revolution was a very good experience.

The Death of Captain America: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m a guy who waits for the collected editions of my favorite comic books, so my knowledge of the death of Steve Rogers arrived long before I read the actual volume in which it occurred. And you want to know something? It didn’t lessen the impact one iota.

This is because Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is masterful. This is not a title looking to shock you in one-and-done scenarios, this is a title where each issue builds off the prior and the author clearly has an epic plot in mind. The story progresses organically and logically.

Collecting issues #25-30, Steve Rogers dies in the first installment and then his supporting characters take center stage. Brubaker gives us a level of richness and complexity with Tony Stark, Sharon Carter, the Falcon, Nick Fury, the Black Widow, and Bucky Barnes rarely seen in comic books. The fact he keeps Captain America just as intriguing and captivating without Captain America is proof enough as to why this man won the Eisner award.

Now we all know who the current Captain America is, and this volume, as well as the preceding issues of this series, really sets up the events leading to Barnes donning the Captain America mask. It makes total sense and it didn’t feel at all forced.

In fact, I’d like to briefly congratulate Brubaker for reinserting Barnes into the Marvel Universe in a seamless, rational, and consistent manner. Unlike another once-thought-dead partner, Barnes has been handled with care and intelligence.

Furthermore, Steve Epting’s art is the perfect compliment to Brubaker’s realism. While cinematic in execution, Epting delivers characters and action that are believable yet extraordinary. His angles and layouts please the eye while strengthening the overall story.

Brubaker’s Captain America has been a delightful and unpredictable joy from the get-go, and I look forward to seeing where he takes us next!