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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
March: Book One
Thor: Season One
The 47 Ronin
The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out
Explorer: The Lost Islands
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.

March: Book One Thor: Season One The 47 Ronin

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.

The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out Explorer: The Lost Islands

Copyright © 2013 Rick Klaw

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.

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