Sunday, April 15, 2012

Graphic novels reviewed in The Miami Herald

Dreams, Teens, Swords and Serial Killers

By Richard Pachter

His Dreams of Skyland. Anne Opotowsky and Aya Morton. Gestalt. 312 pages. $31.95.
It opens with a scene of furtive, hurried sex, as the protagonist prepares for his first day of work at the post office, a very prestigious position, apparently. But this astounding tale, by veteran screenwriter and journalist Opotowsky, belies its prosaic beginning. With its well- drawn characters, naturalistic storytelling and cultural explorations, it’s a stunner. Set in China’s fabled Walled City of Kowloon, the breathtaking illustrations by Morton are more like fine art than toonage, and this large and very lovely book would not be out of place on any tasteful coffee table. The rollicking narrative unfolds fairly leisurely and the characters interact in very human ways. As the first part of a planned trilogy from these American creators (and Australian publisher), one can only hope that the stratospherically high quality can be maintained in subsequent chapters.

Jinx. J. Torres, Terry Austin and Rick Burchett. Archie Books. 112 pages. $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback).
Archie Comics continues to upgrade its line by introducing new characters and shaking the rust off their old ones. They’ve also upgraded their creative staff, adding new and old writers and artists. Jinx is an old character, originally appearing in Lil Archie books in the 40s. Here, grown into a teen, just starting high school, the team of J. Torres, Rick Burchett and Terry Austin launch her into the 21st century. It’s hardly edgy but there are plenty of typical teen dreams, angst and cattiness, all fairly sterile and safe, told in the Archie-esque manner.

Flex Mentallo:  Man of Muscle Mystery. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. DC/Vertigo. 128 pages. $22.99.
Grant Morrison’s original 4-part 1994 miniseries — a spin-off of the Doom Patol comic — allegedly withheld from republication due to a legal tiff with supposed parody subject muscleman Charles Atlas, has finally been complied in a single volume. Morrison has always been fascinated with the ongoing bleed between fiction and reality, as evidenced in his other works, most notably The Invisibles and Final Crisis. But Flex is one of the most autobiographical manifestations of this trope. Whole chunks of Morrison’s childhood and upbringing are depicted within. The story, such as it is, relies heavily on the brilliant art of frequent collaborator Frank Quitely, who breathes visceral emotion, life and humanity into the discursive and somewhat convoluted imaginings and recollections.

Silent Partner. Jonathan Kellerman, Ande Parks and Michael Gaydos. Villard. 128 pages. $23.
The overriding challenge in adapting a prose novel to the screen is conveying anything interior; thought, dialog, time and emotion. As a kinetic and visual medium, if you can’t show it and have to say it, it’s going to be a boring movie (My Dinner With Andre notwithstanding). Not so with graphic novels, which can freeze time and space and use words to express the things film cannot. Parks and Gaydos do a masterful job here with Kellerman’s original prose. Conflicted relationships, repressed characters and ambivalent morality are all on hand, along with the patently bittersweet California noir vibe. The story, featuring Kellerman perennial Alex Delaware, replete with the required murder, sex, wealth and psychology, unfolds quite nicely, leaving one longing for further Kellerman adaptations by the pair.

 My Friend Dahmer. Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArts. 224 pages. $24.95 (hard cover) $17.95 (paperback).
Sounds like the makings of a very sick joke but cartoonist Backderf was actually well acquainted with notorious serial killer, necrophiliac and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer during high school in the 70s. Well aware that his entire book foreshadows the discovery of a series of horrid and unspeakable acts, Backderf uses the knowledge with studied restraint and avoids cheap shots and undue sensationalism. He’s an interesting artist but a better writer, frankly, and his list of sources at the end of the book reinforces the book’s authenticity in recounting the banality of evil, up close and highly personal.

A Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham and Tommy Patterson. Bantam. 240 pages. $25.
This serviceable adaptation of the first part of Martin’s epic series might provide a keepsake for fans of the HBO series, though it would probably not satisfy readers of just the original text. It differs from the source material (as does TV series) when it needs to accommodate the format of the page and its attendant limitations. Since it’s not the same as the original or HBO version, one wonders who would best be served by this sword and sorcery soufflé. Not being overly familiar with either iteration, I found this graphic treatment entertaining though mostly unmemorable.

Inner Sanctum: Tales of Horror, Mystery and Suspense. Ernie Colòn. NBM. 128 pages. $16.99.
Billed as an adaptation of the classic radio show (with no other story credits), veteran editor and artist Colòn conducts a virtual art clinic here, showing his deep mastery of composition, design, figure drawing, expression, use of blacks and more in this collection of hoary guilty pleasures and cheap thrills. Throughout, his art is in service to the storytelling, creating clear narratives with tension and emotion. It’s nothing more (or less) than solid entertainment.
Originally published in The Miami Herald

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