Robopony

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale. Amulet Books, 2017. 9781419721281.

I’m trying to read more ebooks, especially review copies. I’m out of space. To keep a book I need to get rid of one (or more if it’s thick). And that’s not counting the piles and boxes and books I have hidden in corners.

But when I see physical advanced reader copies of graphic novels at library conferences, I always pick them up. Hale’s new one is a perfect example of why. The finished book is going to be two color throughout, a combination of yellows and black ink washes. (There’s a page of finished art in the front of the book as an example.) Most of the rest of the ARC is finished line art for the book. I know it might not be as popular with young readers, but it makes Hale’s excellent line art, and in particular his old school textures, stand out. The real treat though are the incredibly loose sketch pages. Hale’s primitive, unfinished drawings border on scribbles, yet they show faces, emotions, and posture. Despite how unfinished they are, they’re genius. And together with the other parts of the book they really show the stages of putting a graphic novel together. Grab an ARC from your librarian friend who went to ALA Midwinter in Atlanta.

And just so I’m not remiss, the story is pretty cool, too. In a dystopian future, weird aliens hunt for the world’s technology and metal. When the find it they blow “bubbles” around it that carry off the resources and turn any humans in the way to dust. There’s a caravan of motorized vehicles whose human inhabitants stay on the move, avoiding zones full of aliens as they hunt for technology and information to preserve. But after three young people from the caravan discover a huge cache of hidden robots, including the robotic horse on the cover, the aliens swarm, the teens are separated from their people, and the horse (and a feral human they meet along the way) may be their only hope of staying ahead of the alien horde.

If Hale’s name is familiar to you, you’ve probably read some of his history comics or, like me, you loved Rapunzel’s Revenge.

Rumble Cube

    
Rumble Volume 1: What Color of Darkness. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart. Image, 2015.  9781632153838. Collects Rumble #1 – #5.  144pp.
Rumble Volume 2: A Woe That Is Madness. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart. Image, 2016.  9781632156044. Collects Rumble #6 – #10.  160pp.
Rumble Volume 3: Immortal Coil. John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart.  Image, 2017.  9781632159281. Collects Rumble #11 – #15. 160pp. 
The BPRD books John Arcudi co-wrote with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola are some of my favorite rereads. This graphic novel series that he co-created with James Harren also has amazing monsters, supernatural heroes, a sense of humor, and a lot of heart.
In an unnamed (I think) American city near both a swamp and a failed Paul Bunyan theme park, an old man leaves his favorite bar after a night of drinking. He’s attacked by a sword-wielding scarecrow that cuts his arm off. The scarecrow is inhabited by the spirit of “some kind of monster-killing god” from thousands of years ago (Rathraq) and recently set free. He wants vengeance because the old guy is the wizard who separated his spirit from his immortal body. He also wants that body back (it’s just risen from the swamp and looks like some kind of bog mummy) along with his heart, which powers it. But of course the monsters that he once protected mankind from, the Esu, the ones he used to cut up with his mighty sword, are still hanging about and they don’t want that. Their queen hides his heart and threatens to destroy his immortal body. Battles ensue. 
On Rathraq’s side: Bobby the bartender, tough in a pinch but reluctant to kill; his friend Del, a potty mouth who wants to fight alongside Rathraq; and Apache, a dog Rathraq likes to talk to about his dead war hound, Slanjau.  Against them: a “man” with a pet hydra that he loves, a fire demon, and a hoard of creatures. And somewhere in between: half human / half Esu hybrids that need a little love and a lot of pizza. (They look like octopi made out of melting scoops of creamsicle ice cream.)

Sometimes A Fantasy Is All You Need

Fantasy Sports No. 1 by Sam Bosma. Nobrow, 2015. 9781907704802. 56pp.

Fantasy Sports No. 2: The Bandit of Barbel Bay by Sam Bosma. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620106. 56pp.

In short: large format, sports-themed, supernatural, all-ages graphic novels that show a heavy manga influence, and which belong in middle schools, some high schools, and all public libraries.

In No. 1, Wiz, an intern with The United and Ancient Order of Mages who wants a reassignment, as does her partner, the gigantic and muscular Mug. Mug says she’s not built for treasure hunting and complains that Mug knows nothing about magic and just breaks things. The archmage sends them out to work together again and to prove themselves by acquiring magical artifacts. First up, after solving a temple’s puzzle, they face the mummy of He of the Giant Steps in his tomb.The contest he chooses: basketball.

In No 2, after a baseball flashback showing how powerful Wiz is, her spell lands her and Mug on an island ruined by the Order of Mages (they rained down fire and took the treasure). The pair are robbed, but have a chance to reclaim their treasure (and more!) by winning Yahm’s Tournament, where they must ultimately face the town’s supernatural, completely synchronized champions at two on two beach volleyball.

These books are great. They’re oversized hardcovers that are great to hold. Bosma’s art reminds me of Osamu Tezuka’s best. And the violence is both cartoony and slightly over-the-top — in the first volume Mug rips an adversary in half, but in a way that’s kid friendly. (Now that I’ve said that will you ever trust me again?) In the second there’s a more cartoonily explosive over-the-net block that levels the beach.

Late note: I just read an advanced copy of Fantasy Sports No. 3: The Green King, which comes out in July 2017. Wiz must win a crazy round of putt putt golf to save Mug and avoid getting eaten, plus there’s a great flashback to a pro wrestling match Mug saw as a kid and even more evidence that The United and Ancient Order of Mages is up to no good. Best volume yet, but read the other two first.

Who Would You Pick As Your Literary Guide Through Hell?

The Life After, Volume 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo. Oni Press, 2015. 9781620103890.

Contains The Life After #1-5

Jude lives the same dull, unsatisfying day over and over while unseen operators (think Cabin in the Woods) manage every detail of his reality. When he decides to change his pattern and talk to the beautiful woman who drops her handkerchief on the bus, reality begins to change around him. He sees visions of violent tragedies involving the people he touches, from the distant past and the far future. The city seems to be pieced together from parts of other times, too. When someone vanishes in a beam of light, he starts looking for answers with his new friend, Ernest Hemingway. The forces behind the scenes scramble to stop them.

The Life After draws an unsettlingly legalistic afterlife that’s part-technological, part-spiritual, where everything’s about the rules, no matter how baffling or unfair, and which is run like an office building behind the scenes. As out-there as some of it seems (part-robot six-winged seraphim, a supreme being that looks like a fleshy teratoma and acts like a horndog), the rules of the various realms of punishment will all be familiar to graduates of Sunday school. A poignant two-page spread shows the sin that brought one of the souls there: stealing a sheep to feed a family, returning it out of guilt, leading to the death of a child from hunger. Jude, baffled (“Well, what the fuck was that?”), recounts his vision to Ernest and asks, “Which part is he here for?” Ernest: “I suppose the stealing part.” Elsewhere, they find caves packed with souls suffering because they “pre-dated the current system.”

There are many artists who process their religious upbringing through their art (I think of it as the “Whaaaaaat?” they were too afraid to shout as a kid). The Life After is one of the more fun explorations I’ve read.

My Little Motorcycle Talks To Me

MOTRO Volume One by Ulises Fariñas, Eric Freitas, and Ryan Hill. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620104088. 112pp. Contains MOTRO #1 – #4.

A young man with the strength of 10 named Motro lives in a post-apocalyptic world where vehicles speak in images, including the friend who shares his cave, a small wheeliebeast (motorcycle). Heading into a village to trade, he finds it under attack by gun-wielding marauders. He takes them on with his fists and some pepper-root. That’s just the first bit.

Later, working as a gravedigger to clear a battlefield, Motro finds a magical lens that reflects the future. What he and others see gets him adopted by the Captain of the United Brothers Army, and sets him at odds with the Captain’s biological son, Rockmaster. There are fights, reptoids, frog wizards, adventures, and battles as Motro grows into the leader/warrior he’s destined to become.

Everything is drawn in a pleasant style that really flows, story-wise — the characters all look a bit squat and startling compared to average, overly anatomical comics, the same way Frank Quitely’s art did the first time I saw it, in JLA: Earth 2. And it feels like a weird cross between Heat Vision and Jack, The Road Warrior, and One-Punch Man. (That make sense to anyone other than me?)

Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)

An Alien in American

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis. Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock. DC Comics, 2016. 9781401262563. Collects Superman: American Alien #1 – #7.

Superman stories are often kinda boring. He’s invulnerable. He’s powerful. He’s immortal. (Remember when he died?) And, cynically, he’s going to win not just for these reasons but because if he died all the Superman merchandise would die with him. A lot of superhero comics suffer from these same issues.

But this book had me from the opening page where a terrified young Clark Kent is rising into the sky, screaming at his terrified mother, clinging to his leg, to not let him go. He’s an alien boy who just wants to be normal. His father tells him weird is better, and, in an amazing chapter, helps him learn to fly.

There are seven chapters here in all, each drawn by a different artist, each with a different tone, each a different moment in Clark / Superman’s life. (Landis’ original series pitch in the back of the book clarifies the idea.) In the second chapter, a teenage Clark uses his powers to help a family held at gunpoint. It’s horrific — he doesn’t have the level of control he needs to keep people safe from his own powers. What’s brilliant is he’s not that powerful (yet). Plus it’s clear that the sheriff and everyone else around him knows he’s different and how he’s different, because how could they not notice something like that in a small Kansas town?

The chapter drawn by Joëlle Jones is my favorite, with Clark accidentally impersonating Bruce Wayne at a raging party in Wayne’s honor on a yacht. Clark hilariously foils an assassination attempt, and he gets the girl, at least for the moment. It sets up Clark’s not-so-epic first meeting with Batman in Metropolis years later, and a bit of Batman-related madness that follows.

No more details because I don’t want to ruin it. I’d say 1 in 20 Superman collections is worth reading, and this is right at the top of the pile with Loeb and Sale’s beautiful Superman: For All Seasons and Morrison / Quietly’s utterly amazing All-Star Superman.