Trillium by Jeff Lemire – A Book Review

All the accolades celebrating this book are accurate – it is a very special work.

To briefly summarize, Trillium is a story that takes place in both 1921 and 3797.  William Pike is a soldier trying to find himself again after the Great War, and Nika Tensmith is a scientist trying to use the plant called Trillium to develop a vaccine against a sentient virus that has eradicated humanity throughout the universe.  Both are examining a temple, though time and space separates them.  Through a cosmic convergence, they are united, torn apart, replaced, and united yet again all while trying to stave off the deadly approaching virus.

I’ve heard some call Trillium a love story, and that is as good a label as any, I suppose.  But Trillium is so much more than that.  Trillium certainly celebrates the “love at first sight” aspect of these characters, but it also renews our faith in the tenacious human spirit, our capability to stand together and overcome insurmountable obstacles, and our willingness to sacrifice for the good of others.  It speaks to the beauty of bonding with one another, the despair of abandonment, and the desire to become something “more.”

This book truly moved me in all of the ways I’ve mentioned, but it also impressed me through a purely technical aspect.  Trillium is, plainly stated, a perfectly constructed, paced, and executed book.  The panels’ layouts are brilliant and the structure is astounding.  Lemire plays with order and sequence in a fresh, innovative way that both challenges and delights the reader.

Furthermore, Lemire defies genre at every opportunity.  It features trench warfare.  It has futuristic vehicles.  It offers Peruvian natives.  It uses an alien species.  It even tosses in a little steampunk at one point.  The book consists of many elements, many different kinds of story, yet it all blends together to deliver a unique, provocative, engrossing tale.

Trillium really is unlike any other.  Students of the medium will gain much from studying this work, and lovers of story will be utterly satisfied.

In the Shadows by White and Di Bartolo – A Book Review

Believe it or not, I saw In the Shadows in a Scholastic book order and thought that it both looked and sounded very cool.  Several of my high school students did, too.  A few ordered it and I got a copy for my classroom, and we’re all very pleased with the read!

In the Shadows is unique in that it alternates between a prose chapter and then a wordless sequential art chapter.  Though the alternating story lines are clearly interconnected, it isn’t until the end of the book that the reader realizes exactly how so.

I’m a fairly well-read individual, and I must admit that the ending actually surprised me.  I wasn’t totally clear on the chronological ordering of the alternating chapters, but by the end of the book it all made sense.

Kiersten White handled the prose, which is about two brothers, one of whom is dying, that come to a little Maine town to get away from the city life.  Little do they know their father has actually set them up for sacrifice while there to a demonic cult.  At their boarding house, the daughters of the owner befriends the brothers, and they have their own history with a local witch.  The daughters have a guardian, Arthur, who may be their brother, perhaps a cousin, or maybe he isn’t related to them at all.  He watches over them, though, and when the brothers and sisters get themselves into trouble, Arthur must decide how far he’s willing to go to protect them.

The sequential art chapters are handled by Jim Di Bartolo, and they feature a young man with a scar under his eye both chasing and being hunted by what we presume is the same demonic cult.  We learn he is not just any man, though, as he displays characteristics resembling the very villains he pursues.  The art is edgy, dynamic, and does an excellent job clearly progressing the story.  And while it’s not immediately evident how it connects to the Maine story, it becomes more and more obvious the deeper you get into the book.

Though a fast read, In the Shadows is incredibly satisfying.  Furthermore, I wouldn’t say it presents a story that is entirely fresh, but even so, it struck me as both unique and imaginative – thanks in large part to the wordless sequential art.

Aimed at young adults, I think book lovers of any age would find In the Shadows an interesting read, especially if interested in horror, graphic novels, or the supernatural.

Black Science: How To Fall Forever by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera – A Book Review

I saw this book earned a little buzz so I thought I’d check it out.  The premise is Grant McKay and his team have broken through the barrier between infinite dimensions.  The machine making this capable, The Pillar, got damaged though, so they only have a little time before they jump to another world, and if they want to make the jump, they better be near The Pillar or they will be left behind.  McKay’s two children were sucked along for the ride, as were two corporate representatives who don’t get along with McKay at all.  McKay is your narrator.  He is anti-authoritarian, smug, arrogant, cheats on his wife, and is not all that likable.

This first volume begins with McKay trying to escape some aliens and race back to The Pillar before the next jump.  Over the course of the volume, you discover why his kids are with him, why his wife is not, why the team seems so ill prepared, the identity of his mistress, and why the two corporate representatives accompany them.

The artwork is quite stunning.  Scalera creates some impressive aliens and exquisite settings.  His panels keep the story moving along wonderfully, and he delivers some dynamic, fast-paced action.  My only complaint is that because McKay’s crew wear the same uniforms, they tend to look quite a bit alike.  I appreciate the realism, because they likely would wear the same suits, but at times it’s hard to tell who is who.

Dean White does the painted art, and let me tell you, his colors alone make this book worth the price.  I have zero talent at colors, so I’ve learned to appreciate that which I cannot do.  White is a master.  Gorgeous colors.

In the end, though, while the book is very good, I can’t say I’m hooked.  I bought the first volume because I was sure I’d love it, but I didn’t.  I’ll probably check out the second volume when it comes to a local library.  I simply never connected to the characters.  McKay is an anti-hero, and that isn’t a bad thing, but I never really cared about him.  I never found any common ground.  I never necessarily rooted for him.  I can’t really say I have to know where his story goes next.

Of course, this is just my opinion.  I loved most of the art, the story proved interesting, the colors were beautiful, so there is a good chance you may very well adore it.  If the premise captured your interest, I encourage you to see for yourself.

Zero: An Emergency by Ales Kot – A Book Review

Zero has gained a lot of buzz during the last several months.  It’s typically described as a spy story with ruthless violence and a cold, detached protagonist.  Its main claim to fame is that it features a different artist with each new issue.

I’ll be honest.  I’m not much for spy stories, but the book has garnered such acclaim, I figured I should give it a shot.

I’m glad I did.

First of all, yes, this is a spy story … sort of.  I would actually tell you that it is a spy story with a heavy dose of subtle science fiction.  In fact, while the street fights and the gunfights are graphic, violent, and disturbing, the heart of the story revolves around cybernetic enhancements, teleportation devices, and something I’m not going to give away.  I like to think of Zero much the same as I think of Aliens—science fiction grounded in thrilling military realism.

And, quite honestly, the revolving artist tool works tremendously.  For the most part, each story is unique in terms of tone, content, and plot, and each individual artist fits those aspects perfectly.  Zero has found an inventive, authentic way to get many artists involved on the title, and though I’m not sure this technique would work as well with mainstream comic books, it suits Zero well, especially because this single volume spans thirty-eight years.

But, even after having said all of these positive things, I wasn’t sure until the very end of this first volume that I was hooked.  I liked what I saw and read, but a book has to be very special indeed to warrant my following.  The very last page, though … the very last page did it.  That last page hooked me.  I have to see where this title is going.

Pretty Deadly: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios – A Book Review

This is a strange book and I mean that as a total compliment.  Strange is good.  Unique is appreciated.  Original is commendable.  Pretty Deadly is all of those things, and more.

Pretty Deadly is not a linear story.  Meaning, it doesn’t start at an origin, then progress to a conclusion.  It sort of begins in the middle of things, offers some hints as to what occurred in the past, yet doesn’t totally explain what’s occurring in the middle.  By the book’s end, you have a good idea of what happened, but not a complete one.  For some books, this would be a gross misstep, but DeConnick executes it masterfully and I trust that the writer knows exactly what she’s doing.

For example, by and large, we don’t know much about the characters.  They are explored just enough to seem round, dynamic, real, but we don’t know everything.  For a few of them, we don’t know anything.  Even so, I want to know more.  This is not a plot driven book, though it certainly has an interesting one.  This is a story about people (of sorts).

This is a rather unconventional title, and that’s why it works so well.  Death personified is a major player, but that’s not necessarily breaking new ground.  The story occurs in the Old West, but that’s not unheard of in the comic book world, either.  But the combination of the two, coupled with mysticism, swordplay, gunfights, and a mythology-in-the-making sets Pretty Deadly apart from anything else out there at the moment.

Rios’ artwork is frenetic, almost messy, yet oddly detailed.  It suits the story well.  At times it’s hard to tell what’s going on, especially during the brutal fight scenes, but I believe that’s actually a boon to this title.  Fights usually are messy and confusing, and since this story is not delivered in a neat, tidy little package, I see no reason for the art to contradict the story’s style.

The story ends on a bittersweet note, but one that certainly lays the groundwork for many interesting stories to come.  If you’re looking for something different from a comic book, something well executed and purposeful, something that will stand the test of time, I urge you to give Pretty Deadly a shot.

 

 

 

 

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke: A Graphic Novel I Feel Good About Sharing With My Daughter

I have loved comic books since the age of three.  I still remember my first comic, an issue of World’s Finest featuring Batman and Superman.  I still love comic books, but unfortunately have trouble finding appropriate ones to share with my six-year-old daughter.  You see, even though I’m now thirty-seven, most Batman and Superman comic books are still written for me.  Furthermore, the all-ages comic books released by Marvel and DC tend to be one slugfest after another.  I’m not interested in my daughter reading that sort of thing.

A few weeks back, I started hearing good things about a graphic novel series called Zita the Spacegirl.  My daughter and I love making up space stories, so we headed to the local library and checked out the first volume.  My daughter immediately loved it.

I read it to her to double-check its appropriateness, and I’m pleased to say it’s a perfect match for what my daughter wants and for what I require.  I won’t lie, I love the character as well.  In fact, after we returned that first volume to the library, we bought all three volumes for her birthday.

I love Zita the Spacegirl because while it’s appropriate for a six-year-old, it’s also full of action and real science fiction.  There are aliens, spaceships, robots, and explosions.  But there’s also a lot of positive messages in it as well, such as loyalty, doing the right thing, facing your fear, and self-reliance.

Hatke’s art, by the way, is top-notch.  Yes, it’s purposefully cartoonish, but I challenge you to find a more diverse and interesting collection of robots and aliens in any comic book.  Furthermore, his sequential storytelling is perfect. My daughter has no trouble following the progression because of Hatke’s smooth transitions from panel to panel.  Make no mistake, by the way, this book is one-step away from being a little scary.  It never quite frightens my daughter, but some of the aliens are creepy, some of the story is pretty tense, and there are moments of real danger for our characters.  Hatke knows a good story has to be appealing, and he’s made it so by getting as close to the line as he can without crossing over it.

As a final boon, if you’re familiar with my writing you know I’m always searching on my daughter’s behalf for a female character that is not a male derivative (Supergirl) and that is also not in her underwear (Wonder Woman).  In Zita, we have a girl not much older than my daughter who is tough, kind, smart, funny, brave, independent, and respectable.

I’m so happy to have found a comic book that I feel good about sharing with my daughter.

Manifest Destiny: Flora & Fauna by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts – A Book Review

It’s been a long time since I read a graphic novel that excited me as much as Manifest Destiny.  I’m going to say it now: this is a must-read book.

The premise is outrageous.  It follows Lewis and Clark’s expedition through the American frontier in 1804.  But they are not only charged with charting the unknown by President Jefferson; they are also assigned to find and eradicate any dangers to the American people—dangers pertaining to that of cryptozoology.

In this volume Lewis and Clark, as well as their crew of soldiers and paroled criminals, encounter a band of creatures similar to that of a Minotaur.  However, it’s not quite a Minotaur, which brings about some much needed levity as Lewis and Clark try to designate it.  There is also a plant that overtakes mammals and transforms them into something akin to zombies.   The forest is overrun with it, and the men cannot let it continue to thrive no matter how much danger it may pose to the crew.

Yes, this sounds ridiculous.

I’m telling you, though, it’s written so well, with just enough humor, just enough gravitas, just enough believability, that you’ll find yourself completely immersed.  The art, by the way, is absolutely stunning.  Matthew Roberts is the rare talent who can draw people, clothing, nature, and monsters in the same style and make it all look detailed, dynamic, and downright pretty.  Yes, his monsters are disgusting and scary, but artistically speaking, you can’t help but admire them as works of beauty.  Roberts’ art is amplified by Owen Gieni’s gorgeous colors.  All of this book takes place in the wilds of an untamed America, and Gieni found the perfect blend of earth tones to make each and every page pop.

I read a lot of graphic novels, and I can honestly say (again) that this is the most excited I’ve been for a new series in years and years.  If there’s any small part of you considering this book, go ahead and buy it now.  You will not be disappointed.

Oh, by the way, the breakout character of the book?  A Sacagawea you do NOT want to cross.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew – A Book Review

The Shadow Hero is an interesting graphic novel for several reasons.  The first is that it takes an obscure hero from the Golden Age of comic books—the Green Turtle—and gives him an origin for the first time in seventy years.  It’s also interesting because it’s largely believed that the Green Turtle is the first Asian American superhero.  Finally, it’s because Gene Luen Yang also wrote American Born Chinese, a graphic novel both incredibly funny, amazingly imaginative, and distinctively insightful.

The Shadow Hero is a fine read.  It introduces a fascinating concept in a set of spirit animals that represent China’s prosperity.  They must live in the shadow of a human, and, as you can probably guess, one of them is a tortoise.  Through a series of events, the tortoise spirit makes its way to America and ends up with nineteen-year-old Hank, the son of a grocer in Chinatown.  Hank is at first a reluctant hero, encouraged by his eccentric mother, but events unfold that lead Hank to take on the Green Turtle persona both willingly and passionately.  Though the book mixes action with comedy, the finale delivers a dangerous scenario for both our hero and the tortoise spirit.

Sonny Liew’s art and colors are engaging and progress the story well.  He’s got a great grasp on the era, and his dynamic figures blend realism with impossible physicality.  I was not previously familiar with Liew, but he impressed me very much and I look forward to learning more about him.

I’m a Gene Luen Yang fan, and I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t.  I like it very much.  It’s quite a serviceable graphic novel, but aside from the unique history of the Green Turtle, it’s pretty standard fare.

Perhaps this is unfair to Gene Luen Yang, but American Born Chinese surprised and delighted at every turn, and left me truly feeling as though the book perpetuated a change within my worldview.  The Shadow Hero is a nice super hero story, but, in the end, doesn’t transcend the genre.

Fables: Cubs In Toyland (Vol. 18) by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – A Book Review

Perhaps the most satisfying Fables volume I’ve read in some time, Cubs In Toyland is also the most emotionally potent.

In this edition, Bigby and Snow White’s child, Therese, travels to Toyland in search of adventure after she missed being named the North Wind. When first she arrives, the toys treat her as royalty, and she revels in it. However, the rude, insufferable child soon learns that Toyland is not all that it seems, and that the toys there are the cast-offs, unwanted, perpetrators of horrendous deeds. Therese is foretold to be their savior, but it soon becomes evident that she has no hope of survival in this land and no way to return.

One of her numerous siblings, Dare, takes it upon himself to find and rescue Therese because he’s always considered himself the leader of the pack. He does indeed find her, but Cubs in Toyland ends in a heartbreaking, unexpected tragedy.

I am a loyal Fables reader, and though the series has lost some steam in my opinion, Cubs in Toyland hearkens back to everything that first won me over.

 

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Prophet: Brothers by Brandon Grapham – A Book Review

As you may recall, I lauded the first volume of Prophet published by Image comics as a startlingly original, unpredictable, almost revolutionary work in that it went against the grain of most comic book conventions.  In the first volume, we witnessed the rebirth of several John Prophets and followed their plights in unusually alien worlds.  It didn’t’ reveal much of what was going on, did not focus on any one character for too long, explored an expansive universe, and displayed a wildly visionary story.  I’d never read anything quite like it and instantly became a devoted fan.

Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, in the second volume, Prophet comes back down to Earth as it realigns with customary comic book craft.

In this second volume, we meet the original John Prophet.  And though the story takes place far into the future, he is joined by Diehard, who you may remember from the comic book series Youngblood.  We even are given a brief glimpse of the character Supreme.  Old man Prophet is seeking out past allies to aid him in the coming war.  This volume is linear and, though the art is still gritty and thrillingly unattractive, rather boring.  The first volume seemed intent on creating an entire universe, one that delighted with its uniqueness.  But this volume focuses on one character with his prerequisite band of misfit cronies.  It all seemed the antithesis of the first volume.

I’ll be honest, Diehard really ruined the book for me.  I just wanted this book to continue being so inimitable, but with Diehard in it, it can’t help but make me think that this is a “super hero” book when that is the last thing it set itself up to be.  And with all of the imaginative alien names and language, having a character called “Diehard” is jarring to the experience and takes this reader out of the moment.

I will read volume three upon its release, because I believe in the creators’ work, but if things don’t change, it may be my last volume.

By the way, if you haven’t read the first volume, entitled Remission, do so immediately. As probably made evident, it’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in some time.