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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Old Bridge Public Library
Marvel and DC Fireside Book series
Uncanny X-Men
JLA: Earth 2
Austin Public Library
Austin Public Library graphic novel collection
Death Note
Death Note films
My Fantastic Fest blog report on Death Note
The Mask
The Plain Janes
A People's History of the United States
A People's History of American Empire
Jack Kirby's The Demon Omnibus
Pigeons From Hell
House of Mystery Vol. 1: Room and Boredom
Recent Books of Interest

Rasl Volume 1: The Drift by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books) Rasl Volume 1: The Drift
The long awaited new series by the creator of the popular all-ages Bone chronicles, the mature audiences science fiction tale Rasl centers around the eponymous dimension-hopping thief. Drawn in Smith's trademark clean, cartoony style, Rasl Volume 1: The Drift entertains and thrills while introducing a complex, interesting tale. Sadly, the volume is all too short, leaving the reader unsatisfied and yearning for more of what promises to be an excellent adventure tale.

Jack Kirby's The Demon Omnibus (DC) Jack Kirby's The Demon Omnibus
Kirby's followed up the highly personal, critically acclaimed New Gods saga with the supernatural tale of the demon Etrigan. Bound by the wizard Merlin to the human Jason Blood, The Demon engages in his centuries-long war with the evil Morgaine le Fay. In these outlandish tales, the action in typical Kirby fashion leaps off the pages. Jack Kirby's The Demon Omnibus collects all sixteen issues of the original 1970s run plus deleted or altered artwork, many of which have never been printed before.

Pigeons From Hell by Joe R. Lansdale Art by Nathan Fox Based on the story by Robert E. Howard. (Dark Horse) Pigeons From Hell
Normally, I am not a fan of updating works to a modern time or context, but Lansdale recalls rather than emulates elements of Howard's legendary 1930s horror piece, creating a whole new work. Combined with Fox's unusual, stylized art, the duo successfully presents yet another interesting version of "Pigeons of Hell," which has previously been shot as an acclaimed 1961 Thriller episode and beautifully adapted to comics by painter Scott Hampton. In this very collection, Howard scholar Mark Finn called Lansdale "the heir to Howard's legacy as the Edgar Allan Poe of Texas." With this work, Lansdale proves it.

House of Mystery Vol. 1: Room and Boredom by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham Art by Luca Rossi (Vertigo) House of Mystery Vol. 1: Room and Boredom
Sturges and Willingham resurrect the old DC anthology title for the new century by using familiar tropes (travelers exchange outlandish tales in a bar) and recognizable fears of alienation. While the overall story is fairly standard in the post-Sandman era, Rossi's art on the main tale and the bar patron's quirky vignettes make House of Mystery an intriguing and enjoyable read.

Bring on the Comics!

Bring on the Bad Guys

From the time I could read, my mother took me to the library. As a child, we lived in Old Bridge, NJ, which had this minuscule two-story house for a public library. I could hear my mother from literally anywhere in the building. In the 1970s, the prevailing wisdom in education circles argued that comic books impaired a child's reading development. Thankfully, neither my mother nor (apparently) the Old Bridge librarian ascribed to that view. I was an avid comics reader and collector at an early age, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered Stan Lee's Bring on the Bad Guys in the stacks.

At the time, very few comics existed in bound book form. Somehow Stan Lee convinced Fireside, a division of Simon & Schuster, to publish full-color compilations of Marvel reprints. The first three books, Origins of Marvel Comics (1974), Son of Origins of Marvel Comics (1975), and Bring on the Bad Guys: Origins of the Marvel Comics Villains (1976), educated an entire generation of eager readers about the Marvel universe. In 1978, Lee and Jack Kirby actually created one of the earliest original graphic novels, and possibly the first with extensive bookstore distribution, The Silver Surfer for Fireside. The publisher also produced several Marvel-themed activity books such as The Mighty Marvel Comics Strength and Fitness Book (1976), The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book (1976), The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook (1977), and How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way (1978). DC got into the act with their own Fireside books beginning with America at War: The Best of DC War Comics (1979). Fireside ended the popular line in 1983 after 27 titles, many of which went into multiple printings.

Along with Bring on the Bad Guys, the Old Bridge library carried both of the initial Origins volumes. Within a month, I was conversant in Marvel lore, my geek future all but guaranteed.

When I was 11, we moved to Houston where we frequented the libraries as well. One branch even carried individual issues! I could borrow any of thousands of comics, most in deplorable condition, all tagged and piled into these giant wooden bins. In those bins, I discovered the Uncanny X-Men. I had been introduced to the dysfunctional mutant band in Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, but this was radically different. Instead of the Lee/Kirby group, a staid, generic, 1960s superhero team, this crew -- multi-racial, international, full of excitement and angst -- spoke to my pre-pubescent psyche unlike anything I'd ever seen. For the next ten years, I collected the X-Men adventures in their various forms and incarnations.

Some 30 years later views on how comics affect the development of language skills have shifted considerably. As has the intended audience. Most libraries now feature graphic novels in sections and reading promotions. My local branch shelves graphic novels in three separate areas, though what distinguishes them often confounds. In selections for younger readers, I found Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's cerebral JLA: Earth 2, which I doubt many kids would enjoy or comprehend. Further down the same aisle is the young adult-oriented graphic novels, while the adult comics are stashed across the library in a dark corner near the westerns and foreign language titles. Asking the branch librarians yields only frustration since no one at that level actually catalogs the books.

Two years ago, I began working my way through the Austin Public Library collection of more than 4,000 graphic novels. After realizing that I have read an incredible number of comics, I slowly started culling through the authors, artists, and characters I like. Currently, my focus centers on the 12-volume Death Note series.

A surprisingly tense psychological game of cat-and-mouse, the manga Death Note (Desu nto) centers around a powerful notebook that grants the ability to kill with the stroke of pen. Any person whose name is written within the Death note will die in the particular manner and time noted. Ryuk, a god of death, imparts the notebook to college student Light, who uses the strange powers as a vigilante executioner. A fascinating bond develops between Light and the mysterious "L," a cyber-Holmes.

I first learned of this worldwide phenomenon of not just manga and movies but prose novels, anime, toys at the 2007 Fantasticfest, the Austin-based sf/horror film festival hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse. Death Note and Death Note: Last Name, the live-action adaption of the comic, left an indelible impression upon me. In my blog reports from the festival I wrote:

Beautifully shot, the representation of Ryuk, especially his non-stop conversation with Light (no one beyond those that have touched the Death Note can see the god) and the god's love of apples, is particularly well handled. Based on the popular manga, Death Note successfully explored several moral and sociological issues while remaining entertaining and accessible.

Death Note: The Last Name starts immediately at the ending of the previous film with the introduction of a new Death Note and Rem, another god of death. While not quite as good as its predecessor, the second film continues the exploration of morality while introducing new characters and background to the books. Similar to The Mask (both in film and comics) storyline, anyone who acquires the Death Note may use the powers over death in any matter they choose. And like the Mask, the consequences are not always immediate and obvious.

Soon after, I bought the first three volumes. Different enough from the two films to intrigue me, I decided to read the remainder of the series. Since the Austin libraries carry the entire run, I opted to check them out rather than fork over more of my dwindling disposable income.

My library excursions also allow me to experiment with newer or critically acclaimed titles. In this way, I discovered Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg's amusing and insightful slice of a teenage American girl's life, The Plain Janes, and the stunning graphical adaptation of Howard Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States (retitled in the illustrated form as A People's History of American Empire). I can't wait to see what's next.

Copyright © 2009 Rick Klaw

Rick Klaw produced four years of the popular monthly SF Site column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The San Antonio Current, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.

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