Comics Help Make The Rough Patches Smoother
It's been a rough month here at the Texas offices of Nexus Graphica. One friend had surgery to fuse three
of his discs and another was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Combine this with the nimrods in Congress shutting
down the country in an ill-advised attempt to force the President to back down on the Affordable
Care Act (aka Obamacare) and negativity abounds. Thankfully, graphic novels seems to help to alleviate
some of the doldrums especially titles such as March: Book One (Top Shelf).
Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) lead an extraordinary life at the forefront of the civil rights. With the
aid of co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, Lewis recounts his early life as a sharecropper's son,
his first meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the formation of the Nashville Student Movement. Powell
expertly portrays the important personal -- stories that include Lewis' childhood obsession with chickens -- and
historical -- the terrifying moments of the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins and others -- events. Far
more than an autobiography, March: Book One, told in a series of unforgettable vignettes, relives
a shameful era of institutionalized racism, the struggles for change, and the brave people involved.
From real heroes to the fanciful, the early adventures of Marvel's god of thunder receive a new
interpretation, courtesy of writer Matthew Sturges and artist Pepe Larraz, in Thor: Season One. Obviously
created as marketing opportunity surrounding the impending release of Thor: The Dark World, the
duo successfully merges the disparate movie and comic book visions into an interesting and entertaining
composite that recounts Thor's earliest days on Earth. Sturges's well-crafted story, punctuated with
lighter, comedic moments, recalls the finer moments from the legendary Walt Simonson run of
the 1980s. While the excellent Larraz's art looks nothing like Jack Kirby's work, several of his images
appear to pay homage to the character's co-creators influential work.
In the 18th century, forty-seven masterless samurai masterminded a secret plot, spanning over two years,
to avenge the death of their master. Claiming to be the first historically accurate graphic novel
accounting of the famed event, The 47 Ronin explores the deeply rooted Japanese engagement with
honor, loyalty, sacrifice, and above all else, the bushido. Writer Sean Michael Wilson, editor of the
groundbreaking Ax: Alternative Manga, and artist Akiko Shimojima stumble their way through the iconic
tale. Both the script and illustrations, which suffer from brevity, often obfuscate rather than
clarify. As a testament to the strength of the legend, The 47 Ronin overcomes these faults and ultimately
proves a fascinating read.
The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out (Dark Horse) collects Francesco Francavilla's brilliant
neo-pulp. Clad all in black save for red eyepieces and a red chest insignia, the mysterious Black Beetle
battles Nazis, super villains, and even the police on the streets of Colt City, an obvious paean
to Will Eisner's Spirit. Drawing inspiration from The Shadow, The Spider, and their ilk plus artists
such as Eisner, Alex Toth, and Darwyn Cooke, Francavilla produces a dazzling new addition for the long
heroic legacy of the pulp.
Kazu Kibuishi's follow-up anthology to the award-winning Flight series, Explorer
continues in much the same vein except now each volume features a loose conglomeration of stories under a
common theme. The first book centered around mysterious boxes and offered much the same quality of the
previous series. While still relying on his regular cadre of talented contributors, the second and
newest collection, Explorer: The Lost Islands fails to measure up to the standard of its
predecessors. Even though every story is beautiful rendered, the often lackluster writing fails in
execution and often feels forced into the theme. Of the seven stories, only three memorable tales
emerge: the clever "Desert Island Playlist" by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier; the gorgeous and
poetic "Loah" by Michael Gagné; and the humorous "Radio Adrift" by the brother and sister
team of Katie and Steven Shanahan.
That's all for this month. I'll see you after what I hope will be a much better 30 days as Mark
and I begin our annual countdown of the best graphic novels of the year,
Special thanks to Austin Books and Comics for their help with this column.
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including
The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF,
Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe,
Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible.
Publisher Weekly called his anthology The Apes of Wrath (Tachyon) "a powerful exploration
of the blurry line between animal and human." Later this year, his new anthology Rayguns Over Texas,
a collection of original science fiction by Texas authors, premieres at Lonestarcon 3.
Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.