Foreword Reviews

Delivering a Beautiful View


Most likely anyone reading this will agree that books are amazing. They deliver fantastic worlds to you, they take you away, or they impart some wisdom through their pages. Another amazing thing about books? They don’t restrict themselves to one method of doing those things. And if pictures bring you a gorgeous view, then they bring it. And what does that better than a graphic novel?

Algeria is Beautiful Like America

Book Cover
Olivia Burton
Mahi Grand, illustrator
Edward Gauvin, translator
Lion Forge
Hardcover $24.99 (176pp)
978-1-941302-56-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In her graphic novel memoir Algeria is Beautiful Like America, Olivia Burton travels to her family’s former homeland, only to find that many of her beliefs about her family’s past, and Algeria as a whole, are wrong.

Burton begins by establishing the reason for her curiosity about Algeria: many relatives, including her mother and grandmother, spent years relating stories of their life in that country. After years of postponing her trip because of safety concerns, Burton finally decides to go. She slowly realizes that many of her family’s stories have been idealized through the lens of time or skewed by a particular point of view.

Guided by locals and her deceased grandmother’s written memories of Algeria, Burton sifts through the bloody and sometimes confusing history of French colonists like her family and their relationship with the Arab natives who sought independence and gained it in 1962.

Translated from French by Edward Gauvin, the book doesn’t get bogged down in politics, but rather focuses on the people and personalities behind them. Mahi Grand’s artwork is perfect for this sort of travelogue, with map elements to put the geography in context and detailed representations of faces and places.

The art is black and white, with the exception of Burton’s own photographs as replicated by Grand; these are rendered in color, and they give a sense not just of the landscapes depicted, but of their impact on Burton. Algeria is Beautiful Like America is an illuminating glimpse into a mysterious country, its history, and its inhabitants.

PETER DABBENE (April 19, 2018)

Eternity

Book Cover
Matt Kindt
Trevor Hairsine, illustrator
Ryan Winn, illustrator
David Baron, illustrator
Valiant Entertainment
Softcover $9.99 (112pp)
978-1-68215-265-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Heroes work on a grand scale of struggle and sacrifice in Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine’s interdimensional epic Eternity.

Reprinting the four issues of the comic book series, the Eternity graphic novel packs a lot into its 112 pages. Picking up on some characters and elements from Kindt’s work on Valiant’s Divinity comic book series, Eternity successfully stands alone while introducing a plethora of new and bizarre inhabitants of another dimension.

The book begins with rapid-fire cuts from one strange scene to the next—a bit confusing, but intriguing—and patience is rewarded as the motivations of all concerned become clear.

Comparisons to Jack Kirby’s New Gods or the cosmic sagas of Jim Starlin are inevitable, simply because of the raw ambition of the story’s scope. But Kindt is never derivative, as evidenced by the primary human characters, who don’t fit the typical superpowered status quo—they’re ex-Russian cosmonauts-turned-superbeings, one of whom is black. The tale’s conflicts focus on predestination versus free will and family loyalties versus a hero’s responsibility to the world. Eternity takes the grand themes of the best science fiction and compresses them into a briskly paced, kinetic adventure.

Hairsine is an equal contributor, with landscapes and character designs that can seem out of a bad dream or a vision of heaven, reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s trippy work on Marvel’s “Strange Tales.” The book is rendered in expert color by David Baron. Thankfully, the stunning covers from the original issues are included in this collection, making for a comic art embarrassment of riches. Eternity is yet another high-quality Valiant graphic novel, further expanding its rich universe of entertainment.

PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2018)

Black Magick

Book Cover
Greg Rucka
Nicola Scott, illustrator
Image Comics
Softcover $16.99 (152pp)
978-1-5343-0483-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Rowan Black, a practicing witch who’s also a police detective, is being hunted by friends and allies alike in the second volume of Black Magick, Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s noirish take on spells and sorcery.

Much of Black Magick is structured like a well-crafted police procedural, as Rowan investigates the death of a man who’s somehow connected to her long history of witchcraft. She’s got a rich supporting cast, including a partner who’s worried about her and a fellow witch who’s her confidante.

Bits of information are revealed piece by piece—including a flashback to Rowan’s initiation into witchcraft—as the stakes build to a major confrontation. Along the way, there are plenty of nice touches that give a sense of immersion into this world, including “found” accounts of character history, not to mention the flat-out delight of a talking black cat.

The book’s artwork is striking, with excellent, bold linework mostly rendered in black, white, and shades of gray. The visual signature of this series, however, is the sparing but stunning use of color to show the use of magic and draw extra attention to a scene; the relative scarcity of this technique in the book’s pages makes it all the more powerful, and it’s a brilliant way to allow readers a glimpse into the secret sigils and wards that populate the story while also emphasizing their invisibility to nonmagical characters.

With a strong female lead, outstanding art, and a story that blends the best elements of two genres, Black Magick is uniquely entertaining.

PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2018)

Dark Ark

Book Cover
Cullen Bunn
Juan Doe, illustrator
Aftershock Comics
Softcover $14.99 (120pp)
978-1-935002-64-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Dark Ark presents an intriguing variation on the biblical story of Noah. What if there were another ark, commissioned by a dark force to save earth’s monsters?

Vampires, manticores, chimeras, ghouls, werewolves, and unicorns populate this second ark, along with its human shipmaster Shrae, his family, and a group of humans kept as food for the monsters. There’s plenty of unrest aboard: a murder among the monsters, the looming threat of mutiny, and the unicorns who don’t think they belong among such evil creatures. Throw in a case of mistaken identity when angels arrive to assist what they think is Noah’s ark, and you have the makings of a tale unlike any other.

Cullen Bunn’s story makes good use of the implicit and explicit conflicts between different types of monsters, human masters versus human cattle, and the two mighty powers that order Noah and Shrae, respectively, to build their arks. Juan Doe’s art is dynamic and exciting, while colorist Ryane Hill manages to create a dark mood and a sense of claustrophobia without overdependence on black, utilizing a surprisingly varied color palette.

With so many fantastic inhabitants on this ship, it’s a safe bet that Dark Ark will appeal to fans of the supernatural and mythology—but also to those who might care nothing about those subjects, who simply enjoy a good, tense thriller. Gripping in its own right, volume 1 also lays out a strong, waterborne foundation for future volumes.

PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2018)

Stalag-X

Book Cover
Kevin J. Anderson
Steven L. Sears
Mike Ratera, illustrator
Vault Comics
Hardcover $29.99 (160pp)
978-1-939424-28-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Humans fight or collaborate with their alien captors in an effort to survive a harsh prison camp in the science fiction graphic novel Stalag-X.

A decade-long war against the alien race called the Krael has humanity in desperate straits. Stalag-X begins as the Krael successfully attack a spaceship and haul their captives, including the main character, “Joe Human,” to a prison planet. There, Joe meets other humans—some of whom, like a trenchcoated female assassin named Deacon, have survived by working with the Krael—and begins to piece together a mystery that could give humans the chance they need to defeat their alien enemy.

Reminiscent of World War II prisoner-of-war films like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape, Stalag-X isn’t afraid to play those influences for humor, with characters including a “Camp Commandant” and an alien experimenter who wears a monocle and goes by the nickname “Mengele.” Ratera’s art fleshes out the alien planet of Pondafier in great detail, though his human figures are occasionally a bit stiff-looking.

The authors utilize Joe as a classic lantern-jawed, tough-guy hero, with a few new twists to keep things interesting. It’s not surprising that the story reads like a TV miniseries, given Sears’s background in the industry; with an ending that invites future stories, and a novella by Anderson about Deacon included at the end of the book, the authors clearly have more media opportunities in mind for the characters and setting of Stalag-X.

PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2018)

Mean Girls Club

Pink Dawn

Book Cover
Ryan Heshka
Nobrow
Hardcover $20.95 (96pp)
978-1-910620-22-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Pulpy, hard-living 1950s femmes fatales stand up against the ruling misogynists of their town in Ryan Heshka’s wild and wonderfully drawn graphic novel Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn.

The Mean Girls Club is a group of young women at war with the local authoritarian, Mayor Schlomo, and his cronies. The women use violence to defend themselves, which Heshka portrays in enjoyably over-the-top methods like tying up corrupt policemen and leaving them to the mercy of black cannibal ants, ravenous mosquitoes, and poisonous bog reptiles—turning the standard woman-in-jeopardy bondage of the 1950s on its head.

There’s also plenty of gunplay and other weaponry on display as the war escalates, and caught in the crossfire is Roxy, a young woman coerced by Mayor Schlomo to join the Mean Girls Club as a spy and to betray them.

Following Heshka’s twenty-four-page Mean Girls Club 2016 release, Pink Dawn allows more space to develop his characters, providing origins for each member of the club while maintaining a rollicking pace throughout. Those origins, along with Schlomo’s nefarious goals and the immoral means by which he pursues them, offer justification for the Mean Girls Club’s own rampage.

Heshka consistently demonstrates his expertise with 1950s slang—some historical, and some invented for this story, usually to humorous effect (alcohol is “the devil’s urine”). Many more vulgar terms are bandied about, often sexual in nature.

Strictly for adults, Mean Girls Club: Pink Dawn is a revenge story that brilliantly subverts the standards of the era it portrays. From the limited color palette to the dialogue to the masterful line art itself, the book bleeds style.

PETER DABBENE (April 27, 2018)

Peter Dabbene

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