Femme Fatale

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, 2016. 9780763672331.

In Depression-era New York City, young Snow’s mother dies. Her heartbroken father marries a star from the Follies who promptly sends Snow to boarding school. When her father dies in suspicious circumstances, Snow returns. After discovering the majority of the estate will go to Snow, her stepmother becomes increasingly unhinged and Snow has to flee for her life.

This is less of a retelling of Snow White than a gorgeous remix of its ideas. The magic mirror is now a stock market ticker tape, the dwarves are a gang of homeless street kids, and the glass coffin is a beautiful department store window. The illustrations are gorgeous blacks, whites, and grays with a judicious use of color that really draws the eye, and each image has a wonderful sense of motion and character.

∞ – 7

Seven To Eternity Volume 1: The God of Whispers by Rick Remender, Jerome Opeña, and Matt Hollingsworth. Image Comics, 2017. 9781534300613. Publisher’s Rating: T / Teen. Contains Seven To Eternity #1 – #4.

I read a few issues of this back when it started coming out, and I thought it was going to be better to read the collections. I was totally right. There’s so much going on in each issue, and the lack of explanation is wonderful. But it was impossible to keep it in my head from month to month as I waited for the next installment.

First, if I had to classify this, I’d say it’s a fantasy title. There’s lots of magic and enough different types of folks that it will immediately remind you of that D&D campaign you used to run. But it’s not quite high fantasy — there are also guns and an order of warriors that have super powers.

Adam Osidis’ father Zeb was once a powerful Mosak warrior. When one of his order, Garils Sulm, used his power to become The God of Whispers, Zeb refused to bow to him to to hear his offer and took his family into the wilderness. They are seen as traitors. (The God of Whispers grants your deepest wish, and in return you become his — he can see through your eyes and hear through your ears, and he can also control you. A huge portion of the population has accepted his offer.)

At the beginning of the book, the Osidis family is attacked by The God of Whispers warriors, including the creepiest flute player I’ve ever seen. Adam is ordered to go and hear The God of Whispers’ offer or his family will suffer. He is considering bending the knee and accepting to help himself and his family when the palace is attacked by remaining Mosak warriors. Adam is left with a choice — to help them in their quest to sunder The God of Whispers from those he controls, or to get what he wants most. Will he betray his fathers’ ideals or not?

I was a huge fan of the first Marvel Weird World comic (Marvel Premier #38), which I bought when I was 6 or 7, because the whole setting was just so unexpected. This world has as much appeal even though it doesn’t have a young female elf in a spiderweb bikini.

Radical Compassion

Psychiatric Tales: Eleven Graphic Stories About Mental Illness by Darryl Cunningham. Bloomsbury, 2011. 9781608192786.

After picking up Challenger Deep, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite books on mental illness, Psychiatric Tales. It was the first book by Cunningham, and was several years in the making. His art and storytelling are still developing, but his talent absolutely shines through. He writes about his experiences as a psychiatric nurse, each tale dealing with a person with a different type of mental illness — the symptoms, the effects on people’s outlook, and how their lives are changed. He especially highlights how stigma can make the experience far more difficult. His compassion and kindness tint his straightforward tellings, and then in a final chapter he talks about how he, too, dealt with mental health issues that changed his career plans. A bittersweet aspect of the book for me is that since Cunningham is in the UK, all of the people he works with are getting medical care, no matter their income or background. This is not a given for people in the US, especially for those with mental illness and dementia.

Missing: 1 Steel-Driving Man

Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781616557867. Collects Black Hammer #1 – #6. 152pp.

Ten years ago Black Hammer gave his life in the fight to defeat the Anti-God and save Spiral City. The rest of the heroes disappeared. They’ve been living in a small rural town that they can’t leave, trying to be normal. (They’re pretty sure it’s real.) Abe — their leader, the former Abraham Slam — is trying to have a relationship with a waitress, Tammy, but her ex, a local cop, isn’t making things easy. Golden Gail, a magical superwoman stuck in a 9-year-old’s body, is doing a poor job of pretending to be a little girl. Barbalien, a shape shifting Warlord of Mars, is struggling with a secret. Colonel Weird appears and disappears almost randomly, flowing in and out of the para-zone, a meta region of space that’s driven him insane. His robot buddy, Walky, is trying to find a way back to our universe. Oh, and there’s also a witch, Madame Dragonfly, plus back in our world Black Hammer’s daughter is trying to find the heroes.

Lemire says he started the project back when he was working on his insanely good Essex County, about life in small town Canada, and it shows — the town and its people feel realistic, and are a nice contrast to the big city heroes stuck there. Ormston’s art and Stewart’s colors really bring it all alive, particularly during flashbacks to the golden age of heroes in Spiral City. It’s yet another smart way to explore superhero tropes, and more evidence that Lemire is at the top of his game.

I highly recommend Lemire’s other recent work: Plutona (5 kids find a dead superhero in the woods), Roughneck (small town Canadian goodness along the lines of Lemire’s classic Essex County), along with Royal City and his run on Moon Knight. Good stuff.

Browsing Reference

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable Centenary Edition, Revised by Ivor H. Evans. Harper & Row, 1981. 0060149035.

Brewer’s Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and Fable. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991. 0395616492.

Sarah: There was a small bookcase in the dining room when I grew up…
Gene: This is another of those “when Sarah was growing up” books?
S: Uh huh. One of the things my dad would do when my brother and I asked kid questions during mealtimes is he’d say, “Let’s find out!” and grab a book off a shelf. And we’d look up the answer. We had the compact Oxford English Dictionary and this. I’m sure there were other books, but those are the two I remember. That’s a really happy memory for me, approaching questions like that. I hope I can pay that forward.
G: That’s nice.
S: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is one of those things for when you read a phrase or hear a phrase and need to know what it means and where it’s from. Later in life I learned that some people look down their nose at Brewer’s idea of phrase origins, so maybe it isn’t super-reliable? I have two editions, one is the one I grew up with and the other is more modern, called 20th Century Phrase and Fable. The old one leans more towards classical stuff.
G: So what do you look up in this?
S: Someone says, “That’s like the Sword of Damocles,” and you look it up to find up what it means.
G: (reading) “impending evil or danger”
S: And then it tells you the story of Damocles so you get the meaning and the context. This is good when you’re a kid and don’t know what anything means. (laughs) Because this is not individual words, you can’t get this from a dictionary. There might be an entry based on a word sometimes, though, like here’s a section on “deaf:” deaf as an adder, deaf as a beetle, deaf as a post, deaf as a white cat, none so deaf as those who won’t hear.
G: So they have phrases with the word deaf, and fables.
Continue reading “Browsing Reference”

Dusk is dawn is day

LOW Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender (writer), Greg Tocchini (artist), Mariane Gusmao (color assistant). Image, 2015. 9781632151940. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature. Contains LOW #1 – #6.

LOW Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us by Rick Remender (writer), Greg Tocchini (artist), Dave McCaig (colors). Image, 2015. 9781632154699. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature. Contains LOW #7 – #10.

LOW Volume 3: Shore of the Dying Light by Rick Remender (writer), Greg Tocchini (artist), Dave McCaig (colors). Image, 2016. 9781632157089. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature. Contains LOW #11 – #15.

The art and color in this series creates an amazing, dizzying post-apocalyptic world. Remender’s style is to jump right in without a lot of explaining, which is one of the reasons why I love his comics so much. But here the art and story together may seem a bit intimidating. It took me a few fully focused running starts to totally get into this graphic novel series, and it was completely worth the effort. This is not a series you can enjoy while watching TV — it demands your attention. And it’s not a series you can start in the middle. (And look at the cover of Volume 1 when you’re in a good bookstore — what an amazing use of spot gloss!)

The sun expanded prematurely, cooking the earth. Humanity sent out probes millennia ago to find a new home, but that didn’t work out. People retreated to a few undersea cities, and those aren’t going to last much longer. The Caine family have always used the helm suit (it’s bonded to their DNA) to help feed and protect their city, Salus. Stel Caine recalls a probe back to Earth in hopes that it’s found them a new planet, then she and her husband Joel take their daughters out of the undersea city to teach them to use the helm suit. They quickly locate a mammoth class animal big enough to feed everyone in Salus. And then they’re ambushed.

The story then jumps forward ten years. Stel still hasn’t lost hope. She thrives on the irrational optimism that her daughters have survived, and that the probe, which has now returned to the Earth’s surface, will point the way to humanity’s new home. Stel and her son Malik (a gifted mechanic turned immoral cop) set out on a grand adventure. They soon end up in a place ruled by the man who took her daughters, where he entertains the populace with blood games pitting citizens against sea creatures. (Minor spoiler) He’s been raising one of the girls. Malik is soon thrown into the gladiatorial games.