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Normal (a novel) by Graeme Cameron, MIRA Books, 2015, 9780778318507, 294 pp.

If someone or something is described as “normal” they are anything but…

Graeme Cameron’s unnamed main character does not disappoint in this cold psychological thriller. Told in the first person, readers never know his name. This tactic is pretty brilliant because you’re left to wonder who he is. The guy in your neighborhood with the nice house and beautiful flower garden? Do you see him at the grocery store and around town?

Because he looks so normal, you’d never guess he is a serial killer with a dungeon beneath his garden.Those groceries he bought when you accidentally bumped his cart are for a girl he’s held captive for a long time. And she is just one of his many, many victims.

When HE meets the perfect girl cashiering at a 24 hour grocery store, he realizes the other girls he was obsessed with (and later kidnapped and killed) don’t matter anymore. In fact, this girl may be the one who makes him turn his life around and become her boyfriend. He is so fascinated with her that he will stop the madness of his life. He wants to live right, especially since he knows the police are closing in. One problem though: how will he convince the cashier he’s a normal guy when the police discover the girl he’s imprisoning?

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

The Goonies Gone Bad

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank: A Torrid Tale of Child Crime by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, and Thomas Mauer. Black Mask, 2017. 9781628751888. Contains # 1 – #5 of the series.

This is flat out the funniest book I’ve read this year. It evokes 80s nostalgia for me the way Paper Girls does. Everything from the color to the pacing to the lettering combines with the art and design to make for a pitch perfect graphic novel. And it’s a crime story starring four pre-teens. Most chapters of the book open with some kind of role-play: literal D&D-type stuff, video games, toys. I wish I could go back in time and buy this as it came out in individual issues, because the covers (which I saw in the gallery in the back) are brilliant.

Paige (a foul mouthed, tough tomboy), Pat (a tall, awkward nerd), Berger (once you know he named his role-playing character Crotch the Sticky you know everything about him), and Walter (a shy scientist type) are heading out for ice cream with Paige’s dad after a role-playing catastrophe when four bad guys arrive at the door. Paige insults them and gets punched. Berger shoots an orc warlord into a dude’s eye. And then Paige’s dad pulls out the shotgun to make them to leave. That’s not the end of it, though. The kids find out Paige’s dad does know the guys, despite his denials, and that he owes them, so he’s going to help them rob a bank. To save her dad, Paige convinces her friends that they need to rob it first.

Most of the humor is in the conversations the kids have, and my favorite parts are when they’re talking at night via CB radio. (They even manage to pull a local pervert, who goes by the handle Doctor Gloryhole, into their heist.) There are Tarantino-esque moments, like when Paige sets a guy on fire, and everyone supplies their share of laughs, including a nearly silent foreign exchange student. Does the heist go as planned? No. Do people get shot? Yep. Will angry parents protest outside your library if their kids bring this book home? Only if they read it closely. And I hope they do — I’d love to see this book get all of the publicity it deserves.

Gotham City’s Police Are Under Attack

Gotham Central Book 1 by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark. DC Comics, 2011. 9781401220372. 240pp. Contains Gotham Central #1 – #10.

Gene: Brubaker and Rucka are two of the best crime writers working in comics. They’ve both written superhero series as well. Rucka writes novels, too, mostly thrillers — I’m a huge fan. They did this series together back in 2004, and there are 4 or 5 books, about the regular cops in Gotham City (the place where Batman fights crime) having to deal with a world filled with super-powered villains.
What I remember most from the series is the first story. It’s either because it was first or it’s the best or both. Two detectives are investigating a kidnapping, and when they knock on the door, they accidentally find Mr. Freeze, the villain in a cryo-suit who also has freeze weapons. And Freeze freezes one cop solid and just kills him. It’s horrifying. But it shows how terrible this guy would be to normal people, in this world. He doesn’t kill the second cop because he wants him to suffer. Look, here’s the cop who survived. He’s got frostbite on his hands because they were frozen to his gun. And his partner was shattered after he was frozen. (We didn’t see that happen.)
Detectives Allen and Latoya are assigned to the case. And they have to interview the cop and hang out at the morgue. The survivor doesn’t want them to call Batman for help. He wants the cops to solve the case, because if they call Batman, it’s like giving up.
Sarah: I love that kind of story.
G: And then they find another guy murdered, frozen from the inside out.
Schwartzenegger played Mr. Freeze in the third Batman movie, and it was kind of silly instead of scary, very colorful. This is the opposite. The horror of what Freeze can do is laid bare as part of a police procedural.
S: Yeah.
G: The other book I’d compare it to is Bendis and Avon-Oeming’s Powers series, about detectives who investigate crimes committed by those with super-powers in a world where powers are outlawed. (I love this series so much, too.)
S: This seems even better to me.
G: It’s got a darker tone. It’s grittier.
And look, here when the detectives finally do call Batman, he’s just a shadow.
S: This book really looks good to me.
G: I hoped you’d like it because you’ve been reading so many mysteries. I was trying to figure out what books in my permanent collection you’d enjoy. I spent a bit of my weekend trying to convince my nephew, who was visiting from Davis, California, to read this, and I failed. So I’ve been trying to come up with a better pitch for next time he visits.
S: I always like those post-modern looks at superheroes. I really enjoyed The Regional Office Is Under Attack.
G: You want to borrow this?
S: Yeah!
G: Success.

“It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

Maggy Garrison 1. Give Us A Smile, Maggy by Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 54pp.

Maggy Garrison 2. The Man In My Bed by Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 56pp.

Maggy Garrison 3. Shame It Had To End This Way Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 56pp.

Maggy arrives for work, for her first day helping Anthony Wight, Private Investigator, around the office. She tries to put on a happy face but finds her new boss passed out on his desk. She takes an angry phone message, and talks to a little neighbor lady looking for Rodgrigo, a canary who Wight is supposed to be looking for. And then her boss dismisses her for the day. But Maggy is on the job. She finds a way to “solve the case” and make the old lady happy, and make a little money in the process. And even if the job doesn’t pay well, it’s giving her the chance to smoke a few of her boss’s cigarettes.

She arrives for work on her fifth day to find Wight being loaded into an ambulance, and meets a cop she becomes friendly with. In a bar they check out men and Maggy solves another small mystery. And then she runs afoul of some very shady people over some coupons in her boss’s wallet. She’s soon unemployed but having drinks with one of the goons sent to intimidate her. And being double-crossed over a significant amount of cash. It’s more of a crime saga than a mystery, and throughout it all Maggy is just so smart and calm and ordinary that I loved this way more than I normally enjoy stories of reluctant and unlikely amateur detectives.

I’m really excited that Europe Comics is translating some great graphic novels and making them available for the English-speaking market digitally. The digital editions offer me a great chance to save some shelf space and justify the huge, high-resolution tablet my tired eyes need to read these at their best. (They look great on my laptop, but my 12.9″ iPad Pro makes them sing.)

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you know Trondheim is my favorite cartoonist. Other than certain volumes of the Dungeon series, I haven’t read much of what he’s written for other artists to draw, and this is delightful. Oiry’s art really serves the story, and her use of color is notably great without being distracting — I stopped several times in each book just to look at the colors she used. (I particularly liked the endpapers, a two-page image of Maggy standing atop a map of part of London.)

Correction

Whiteout Compendium by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Oni Press, 2017
9781620104484. 240 pp.

Gene: We’re talking about the Whiteout Compendium, but we only read the first story in the book. The second half was originally published as Whiteout: Melt.
Sarah: Right, our book club is just covering Whiteout.
G: This book was made into a film.
S: I have not seen it.
G: Starring the lady in the vampires vs werewolves movies.
S: Yeah, that one.
G: Why haven’t you seen the movie?
S: There’s only one copy left at my library system and I don’t want to wait for it.
G: I don’t remember it being great, but I’m curious about it. Maybe I’ll watch it again. They have this thing called streaming now.
S: I’ve heard about that!
G: For about $3 you can probably make it happen. That’s just a guess.
S: It’s interesting to think about a movie, because the protagonist Carrie Stetko is such a difficult person it would be hard to create her in a movie. Especially as a woman. I feel like guys can be movie antiheroes, or difficult, but women can’t.
G: I felt like she looked wrong in the movie, because the woman who played her (Kate Beckinsdale) is so pretty. The character in the graphic novel is so tough and normal looking that I just wanted her to look a little more like that without having to be some big, buff action hero.
S: Stetko is physically small but has so much presence and power.
G: Not to take anything away from Kate Beckinsdale, who I do enjoy in movies.
But the weird thing is that the book you brought is tiny and has a Steve Leiber cover featuring snow and Carrie Stetko pulling her way through it and the ice. My old copy has a Frank Miller cover that’s black and white and looks straight out of Sin City. The book that I have has chapter art– the original covers for the series, which were all by different artists. Here’s the Mike Mignola (Hellboy) cover. These are not in the Compendium.
S: I really like that the flashbacks are done in a kind of pencil sketch, so you can tell when she’s remembering.
G: Pencils? Or is that a more lightweight inking? It’s hard to tell. But the difference is great. There’s a lot more texture.
S: Crosshatching instead of black blacks.
G: And that’s part of a flashback about what got Stetko exiled to Antarctica.
You need to give the pitch as you always do, because you’re better than me.
S: Stetko is a U.S. Marshal in Antarctica, in this town that in the on season has thousands of people, but in the off season only has a few hundred. There are areas of the continent where different countries’ scientific stations are located. She’s working at the American one.
G: There’s a map at the beginning of the second chapter.
S: She’s at McMurdo. She did something terrible, which got her this “plum” assignment at the ass end of nowhere, where she’s been for about four years. And she weirdly fits in even though the ratio of men to women is crazy, like 100:1. It’s worse in the off season. She gets treated really badly.
G: It’s worse than being a man working in a library.
S: Exactly. (laughing)
The story opens up with a murder on the ice. They can’t tell who it is because his face has been destroyed.
G: And they can’t do an autopsy until he thaws.
S: Which could be a long time!
G: It’s her and the Doctor she calls him Furry, the medical examiner. (He does not wear a tail.)
S: I used to work at a place where people did a season at McMurdo, and they all looked like that, all the guys grow beards, everyone looks even more heavyset than they are.
G: As they’re trying to get the body off the ice, he accidentally snaps one of the hands off the body. It seems like an idiot move.
S: It’s not really a locked room mystery, because people fly in and out, but it’s a small town, and someone there is a killer. So it’s a great claustrophobic mystery, made more intense by the fact that the weather outside can kill you really quickly.
Continue reading “Correction”

Runaways

We Can Never Go Home Volume One: What We Do Is Secret by Josh Hood, Brian Level, Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Dylan Todd. Black Mask, 2015. 9781628750843. Originally published as We Can Never Go Home #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

1989. Duncan is outside of the small town where he goes to high school, shooting his father’s pistol, when he comes across a truck in which Ben is groping Madison. Ben catches Duncan peering in the window, and in the course of trying to start a fight he throws Madison to the ground. Big mistake. Madison’s eyes glow and shoot lightning, and she uses super strength to toss him through the window of his truck. He calls her a freak and drives off. She threatens Duncan, making it clear he shouldn’t tell anyone about what happened. But on their long walk home she comes clean about her powers. (She’s adopted, has no idea where she got them, and does not want to be a superhero. She just wants to leave town. And then Duncan tells her his secret: he can kill people with his mind. (Really?))

It’s not too far to a scene of old fashioned high school bullying, Duncan giving Madison a mix tape, a somewhat accidental murder, and them going on the run together. The problem is they need some cash, so they start robbing drug dealers. The authorities are soon after them, and so are others interested in using their powers.

There’s a lot to love in the book, particularly the bit where Duncan tries to get Madison to buy superhero clothes at a costume shop. The pacing is great, the violence is realistic, and when others with powers finally show up, it’s weird. It’s a really enjoyable YA adventure that’s a readalike for They’re Not Like Us and the classic Teenagers from Mars.

Two Eyes Made Out Of Coal

Button Man: Get Harry Ex by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson. Rebellion / Riverside House, 2013. 9781781081389. Originally serialized in 2000 AD 780 – 791, 904 – 919, 2001, 1223 – 1233 in 1992, 1994, and 2001.

Harry Exton served as a SAS officer and worked as a soldier-for-hire before retiring to Essex in the early 1990s. There he is approached by a friend who tells him about “The Killing Game” in which men murder one another under the direction of “Voices.” The stakes are high but so is the pay. Harry signs up, and he wins a number of matches. But then, bristling at his fate being controlled by a man he knows nothing about, Harry tries to quit. He finds out that it’s pretty much impossible to walk away from the game.

The violence is realistically rendered and the matches feel smart, though no one is as smart as Harry. (He has a habit of killing the opposing button men when wounding them and taking a marker (a finger) would do. It comes across as not so much ruthless or heartless as practical; why face the same gunman again at some point?) The action moves from the UK to the US, and Harry goes up against fiercer and more numerous killers. And there’s a seductive redhead, a crooked politician you’ll hope gets his, and a loyal dog.

The three stories fall somewhere between Get Carter and The Killer. If you liked either I think you’ll enjoy this one.