Magickal Realism

Aleister & Adolf, story by Douglas Rushkoff, art by Michael Avon Oeming, lettering by Nate Piekos. Dark Horse Books, 2016. 9781506701042.

aleisterReader note: This book has a LOT of nudity and fucking in it, in addition to Satan worship*, murder, and Nazi atrocities. So, y’know, if any of those is a deal killer for you, give this one a pass.

A graphic artist in the early days of the web goes in search of the original paper files on the design of a corporate logo, after the digital files he needs to build a web page start to misbehave by refusing to stay put on the screen. He’s horrified to find images of torture and death that played a role in the logo’s development. He meets with an elderly man, now dying, who explains what it all means: in his youth, during World War II, he was tasked by American military strategists to recruit British magician Aleister Crowley because the Americans wanted to find a way to use Hitler’s interest in the occult against him. Instead of completing his mission and reporting back, as ordered, he ended up overwhelmed by Crowley’s ideas and in danger of losing himself to the powerful magicks at play. Crowley became obsessed with creating a symbol powerful enough to defeat the Nazis.

The story is based on real-life strangeness and occult beliefs during WWII, with a story of personal obsession and loss woven throughout. Crowley thinks the Nazis are adding power to the swastika through their horrifying medical experiments and mass murders. His efforts to create a rival symbol involve sex magick and sacrifice. This isn’t just a Hammer style occult horror story, it’s about the power of symbols and how they permeate of our lives. In the notes on his art at the end of the book, Oeming comments that while he usually sells his original cover art, he thinks he will burn the cover of Aleister & Adolf rather than unknowingly sell his depiction of Hitler to a neo-Nazi for any price. The symbols in this book are still powerful, generations later.

*a nerdy footnote: Aleister Crowley in the book (and probably in real life) would strenuously object to someone calling what he did Satan worship or black magic. Then he would give you a long-winded explanation as to why. But that’s what people who will want to steer clear of this book would call it, which is why I’m calling it out with those words.


Nailbiter Volume One: There Will Be Blood by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2014. 9781632151124.

Contains Nailbiter #1 – #5.

Nailbiter Volume Two: Bloody Hands by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2015. 9781632152329.

Contains Nailbiter #6 – #10.

nailbiter-1Eliot Carroll has been investigating the connections between the Buckaroo Butchers — sixteen serial killers born in the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon. He called his friend, Army Intelligence Officer Nicholas Finch, to tell him he’d solved the mystery. But by the time Finch arrives in town to meet him, Carroll is missing. Now Finch just wants to find his friend. Did acquitted serial killer The Nailbiter (who chewed his victims’ nails right down to their bloody bones) have anything to do with his friend’s disappearance?
It features a local cop who used to date a serial killer, a Murder Shop that sells killer memorabilia, a ton of suspicious characters, and some of the grossest flashbacks I’ve seen in comics. This is perfect for splatterpunk fans nailbiter-2and, as someone starts impersonating past serial killers, of the movie Scream. There’s a hilarious story in the second book where comics writer Brian Michael Bendis heads to Buckaroo on his bike to make notes for a graphic novel. But I was on board as soon as I read about any librarian’s favorite serial killer, The Book Burner, who torched libraries with people inside and then killed some authors. (I am, of course, happy that he’s fictional.)

The Attack of the Night of the Living Dead

No one is happier to see another North American publisher putting out French graphic novels in translation. So when I found these two among the review books at December’s WASHYARG meeting, I was ecstatic.

The Attack by Loïc Dauvillier and Glen Chapron.  Adapted (into a graphic novel) from the novel by Yasmina Khadra.  Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Firefly, 2016. 9781770857612.  152 pp.

the-attackDr. Amin Jaafari and others at the Israeli hospital where he works feel the explosion when a bomb detonates in a nearby restaurant, then spend hours trying to save the victims. (Among them, one man who would rather die than be touched by an Arab. Dr. Jaafari helps him anyway.) He’s soon called back to the hospital for what he thinks is a medical emergency. But he is asked to identify his wife’s body.

Dr. Jaafari thought his wife had gone on a short trip to see her grandmother. Instead she became the latest suicide bomber in Israel. The police don’t believe that he didn’t know she’d been radicalized. Others attack him and vandalize his home. As an Israeli citizen of Arab descent he is distrusted by Jews and Arabs alike. After a colleague takes him in, Jaafari goes on a dangerous journey to find out who his wife was.

I particularly liked the view the story offers into life in different parts of Israel. (I’ve been corresponding with an Unshelved reader who lives there, so I couldn’t have found this at a better time.) The images in the book feel incredibly straightforward, and the colors are marvelous. Makes me want to read Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem again, though I’m going to read Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less first.

Continue reading “The Attack of the Night of the Living Dead”

Riverdale or Bust



Archie Volume One by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, and Veronica Fish. Archie Comics, 2016.  9781627388672.

Afterlife with Archie Volume One by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla.  Archie Comics, 2014.  9781619889088.

I grew up reading Archie comics. But for me they were always filler — I’d rather have been be reading X-men or Weird World or Arak Son of Thunder.  So it’s a little weird to talk about how much I love these books
The Waid / Staples volume feels completely fresh. The writing and art work together to make Riverdale seem real — there’s none of the bland, after school special flavor that I remember from when I was a kid. And this is a nice reset: Archie and Betty have broken up (because of the mysterious “lipstick incident” which neither will talk about), Reggie is hitting on Betty, and Veronica has just moved town and seems to have her sights set on Archie. (The first three issues, drawn by Staples, have something in common with her intergalactic tale of star-crossed love, Sagawhich will make reading this extra fun for fans of that series. And I’m happy to say that when Wu and Fish take over art duties for the series, they maintain the tone and energy Staples established.)
And then there’s Afterlife with Archie, with dark, dramatic, high contrast art by the amazing Francavila (The Black Beetle). Riverdale’s resident witch, Sabrina, brings Jughead’s dog Hot Dog back from the dead, starting a zombie apocalypse. When undead Jughead started eating Mr. Weatherby before the first issue was done, I knew it was on. Many of the surviving characters barricade themselves in Veronica’s mansion before it becomes unsafe — they leave at the end of the book to set up volume two (which I’m ordering from my local library now). And just a note on the level of horror: there’s a bit of gore, but it’s mostly left to the readers’ imaginations and only hinted at with colors and glimpses of violence. It’s more PG than the Goosebumps graphic novel adaptations, but it’s also going to get more traction with a middle and high schoolers.