Last week was pretty exciting, with eight reviews and some pretty solid reads. This week, I’m going to try to top it by bringing ELEVEN reviews to Graphic Novel Weekly. Hold on to your hats, because there are going to be more reviews per week than ever before. This magnificent week, I’ll be reading:
- Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men
- War Bears
- The Weatherman, Volume 1
- Cold Spots
- A Fire Story
- Justice League Dark, Volume 1: The Last Age of Magic
- Robotech Archives: The Macross Saga, Volume 2
- Safely Endangered Comics
- oh no
- Yuri Bear Storm, Volume 1
- The Ultimate Droodles Compendium
And, for those of you not familiar with the massive history of the current Captain Marvel, take a look at Mathias DeRider’s “How to Collect – Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel.” It’ll set you right. Don’t forget to stop back each week for your next fix of graphic novel content! You can find previous editions of Graphic Novel Weekly here. Next week, I’ll be hosting a special feature on Battlecats, with a review of the first volume, interviews with the creators behind the title, and a special preview of the first issue of the upcoming second volume. See you there!
Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men
I remember reading the early Beasts of Burden stories in Dark Horse Book of Monsters and the rest of that horror anthology series. They were fun tales of dark magic, and pretty light fare. Beasts of Burden continued on in a string of mini-series, while I strayed away. Given the opportunity to read the collected edition of the newest mini-series, I jumped at the chance on a hard nostalgia trip.
A group of dogs know as the Wise Dogs is traveling around Pennsylvania, trying to stop supernatural threats. However, as they follow up on reports of violence on a farm, they begin to encounter more and more monsters, drawn by dark magic to Burden Hill, home of a blood magic survivalist group. The Wise Dogs need to discover what terrible plans are in place, and stop them before the whole world pays the price.
Beasts of Burden has come a long way since the early short stories. The domestic fantasy ‘90s dog movie has transformed into a complex horror fantasy saga. While I felt like there might have been a few things that I would have understood better if I had read the previous Beasts of Burden mini-series, but overall Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men stands alone pretty nicely.
I had a lot of fun with this book. Sometimes the magic dog angle threw me a bit out of the story, as it feels more like a kids fantasy cartoon trope than a serious adult comic, but underneath the gloss is a really well put together story. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out, and the conflict with the evil forces felt real and visceral.
I definitely recommend this title to fans of dark fantasy. Give this one a shot, and you will be rewarded with a wonderful, engaging story.
I have a pretty good grasp of American comic book history. I know next to nothing about Canadian comic book history. I had no idea there was a boom in black-and-white Canadian comics during World War II. Sounds interesting enough, and Margaret Atwood being involved adds an extra little spice that will get me to check it out.
Al Zurakowski can’t join the war effort because of his flat feet and his bad eyes, so he pursues his real passion: creating comics. Joining a small team, he transitions from doing the art jobs no one else wants to creating his own lead characters: Oursonette, the were-bear who fights with the Allied Forces on the front lines of World War II. But as the tide of the war shifts, how will Zurakowski and the industry he loves move on?
Originally published in just three issues, this is a very quick read. The story is effectively told, with period details feeling very accurate and the characters fleshed out nicely. The story itself is mostly engaging, although I found myself irritated by the interludes that were the Oursonette comics created by Zurakowski, as the story I really cared about was Zurakowski’s.
In a nice inclusion, Atwood’s original short story, “Oursonette,” is also included in this volume. Surprisingly, War Bears stands much stronger than its source material, as it does a masterful job of creating full characters out of brief sketches.
If you are interested in World War II-era history, or the history of the comics field, this is strongly recommended. General readers will likely enjoy this, as well, although possibly not quite as much as more interested parties.
The Weatherman, Volume 1
Writer: Jody Leheup
Artist: Nathan Fox
Publisher: Image Comics
Physical Copy: $17.99
Digital Copy: $17.99
Contains: The Weatherman #1-6
When I checked out The Weatherman to see if it was a title I wanted to run for review, I saw it described as something like (paraphrasing) “a Martian weatherman is hunted down after he is accused of terrible crimes.” Sounds pretty odd and fun all at once, right? So I figured I would give it a read. The brief description I read was in no way an indicator of how bizarre The Weatherman actual was.
In a universe in which life on Earth was destroyed by a terrorist attack, Nathan is a weatherman on a Mars settled and terraformed by humans. He is always “living for the moment,” hanging out with his dog, and infusing his weather reports with a dash of the flamboyant. Which makes it all the weirder when people start trying to kill him because they claim he is the man who killed all of the billions of people on Earth in the terrorist attack.
The Weatherman plays around with memory, ethical culpability, heavy metal-inspired ramen, torture, bounty hunters, socially-acceptable snuff tapes, and so much more. It is a frenetic chase scene across the entire volume, and I loved the whole thing. This story plays out ideas at a rapid-fire pace, and it has so much fun doing so.
This is a ridiculously over-the-top book that is fun from beginning to end. A definite highlight of the week. Highly encouraged for fans of science fiction, action-humor hybrids, and comics high on ideas without losing pacing.
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Mark Torres
Publisher: Image Comics
Physical Copy: $16.99
Digital Copy: $16.99
Contains: Cold Spots #1-5
I’m a huge fan of horror. I think that part of being a horror fan means becoming jaded to standard horror approaches. Slashers don’t do it for me, unless they are tongue in cheek or do an utterly brilliant job of building suspense. Throw a ghost my way, I’ll catch it and throw it back. I am always on the hunt for originality in horror. Enter Cold Spots. I’ve enjoyed Cullen Bunn’s work in the past, so I figured I would give this one a go.
Dan is an expert at finding people. For a fee, of course. But when he is hired to find a woman and her young daughter, things get a little more personal. Dan tracks them down to a creepy island off the Carolina coast, encounter extreme cold and frozen bodies on his way. As he gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, his job becomes more about survival than a paycheck.
Cold Spots has some good elements to it. It likes to throw twists at you, and it goes down some bizarre rabbit holes, flirting with the Lovecraftian while being solidly rooted in ghosts and the undead. Dan feels pretty well fleshed out, as well. However, the other characters are pretty one-dimensional, especially the daughter, Grace, who doesn’t really progress past the “creepy child” trope. Also, the story seems to play out on twists, while not giving much into foreshadowing to help with cohesion. Things just happen in a certain order, rather than feeling cohesive.
Cold Spots isn’t terrible, and the world can always use more horror comics. It is setting up a larger horror universe that the creators have planned out, which could hold some potential. However, this appetizer of the larger shared universe wasn’t as strong as I would have liked it to be, so I’m not sure if I’ll be back for the main course.
A Fire Story
Graphic memoirs have been becoming more popular over the last decade. It is a genre I haven’t read too extensively (only Clumsy jumps to mind), but I can see how they have the ability to really connect with people and share powerful stories. I decided to give one a try, and picked up A Fire Story.
California was ravaged by fires during the summer of 2017. The landscape was hit hard, and many people lost their homes. Among those who lost their homes was Brian Fies. He shares his story of learning of the fire, leaving his home, and beginning the recovery process after learning his family had lost almost all of their belongings along with their home.
If I’m being totally honest here, I’m struggling with my review of this a bit. The tragedy experienced by Fies and so many others deserves coverage and in this book Fies does a nice job of providing ways for people to help those impacted by these fires. I want to encourage titles that seek to build empathy and shared humanity in dark and desperate times.
That said, I didn’t really enjoy A Fire Story. Big chunks of this volume felt tedious. The pacing was off-kilter, as well, with large chunks of text disrupting the flow of Fies’ narrative. This felt like a collection of fragments trying to bill itself as a cohesive narrative, and instead finding itself unsuccessful at both. I really found A Fire Story to be weak.
Fans of graphic memoirs might consider this one. However, on its own, A Fire Story does not have enough merits for me to recommend it.
Justice League Dark, Volume 1: The Last Age of Magic
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencillers: Alvaro Martínez Bueno and Daniel Sampere
Inkers: Raul Fernandez and Juan Albarran
Publisher: DC Comics
Physical Copy: $16.99
Digital Copy: *not listed at time of writing*
Contains: Justice Leage Dark #1-3, 5-7
When it comes to magic in fantasy, I usually take the Conan approach: if it’s magic, break and/or kill it, immediately and without regret. So I initially planned to avoid Justice League Dark like the plague. I read Dark Nights: Metal and Justice League: No Justice, so I was familiar with all of the set-up, but I typically don’t read things I expect I won’t enjoy. Yet, I kept seeing online mentions of how Justice League Dark was a great horror story. I didn’t believe it at first, but it kept popping up. So I finally gave in and decided to read it.
Something is going wrong in the magic world, and Wonder Woman knows she needs to do something about it. But none of the magic users on Earth want her input. She’s too squeaky clean. However, after Zatanna receives a vision, the two put together a small group of oddball outcasts to take on the Otherkind, transdimensional evil forces bent on ripping magic, and part of the foundation of the universe with it, from existence.
I’ve been a fan of James Tynion IV’s work for a while now, and his writing abilities really shine here. Matched with strong art teams, he presents a dark story of heroes from the fringes trying to stop bizarre creatures not of our realm of existence. The Upside-Down Man presents himself as a primary antagonist, and he clearly has some evil plans in mind.
This was the most enjoyable comic I have read from DC in quite some time. I loved it, and I highly recommend it to fans of dark fantasy with a super heroic twist.
NOTE: There is one detraction from this collection. Right in the middle of the issues collected here, Justice League Dark crossed over with Wonder Woman for a story called “The Witching Hour.” That story is important to the plot of Justice League Dark, and is not included in this collection. The collection of the crossover will not be available until May. If you read through this collection, some of the plot of “The Witching Hour” will be spoiled.
Robotech Archives: The Macross Saga, Volume 2
Writers: Jack Herman, Markalan Joplin, and Carl Macek
Pencilers: Mike Leeke and Harrion Fong
Inkers: Rich Rankin, Keith Wilson, Mike Chen, Chris Kalnick, and Joe Matt
Publisher: Titan Comics
Physical Copy: $24.99
Digital Copy: $16.99
Contains: Robotech: The Macross Saga #12-23
Fans of Graphic Novel Weekly might remember when I reviewed the first volume of this collection last month. For the curious, you can find that review here. After all of the fun I had with that first volume, I was more than ready to give the second massive collection in Titan Comics’ Robotech Archive series a read through.
The SDF-1 continues its journey back from the orbit of Pluto, fighting Zentraedi forces the entire way. However, for some the journey becomes more personal. While Rick is being detained by the Zentraedi, he finds his feelings for Lisa beginning to blossom, while after their return to the SDF-1, a character deeply important to him becomes a casualty of the ongoing conflict.
This volumes takes a deep dive into the characters and relationships of the crew of SDF-1, and is successful because of it. The Macross Saga is brilliantly fun, bring its mix of Japanese and American influences to bear to create a dynamic, light-hearted, yet serious space opera saga. I very rarely find myself longing for a series to never end, as I think a good ending is critical to the success of a plot. However, with The Macross Story, I want to live within this story as long as I can. It is charming, fun, and exactly the refreshing read comics needs more of.
This book is highly recommended for fans of space opera, manga, anime, and light-hearted, PG-rated adventure. I am so thankful for Titan Comics’ reprints for putting these comics back on the market where I could finally discover them.
Safely Endangered Comics
Reviewing collections of stand-alone webcomics is tricky. Each page is a new story unrelated to any that have come before, or any that will follow it. So that means no plot overview. And without a concrete plot-like element to talk about, what do I talk about? Other than waffling about how difficult it is to be me, of course.
Well, fortunately for me, Safely Endangered Comics, the first collection of the webcomic of the same name, streamlines the process for me by being really, really funny. Most of the time. It has a slightly higher gem-to-dud ratio than I would like to see in a collection, but not by too much. The art is fully cartoony, and helps sell the gags that are ever so dark and serious.
Safely Endangered does an effective job of balancing the style and dynamic of its jokes, making it a very readable collection. Fans of webcomics with a dark sensibility are strongly encouraged to give this a shot.
CONTENT NOTE: Don’t let the cheerful cartoon vibe fool you. The jokes in this collection are dark, and include some graphic violence. It’s all done in the name of the joke, but this is definitely not a title for young kids.
Webcomics are a constant on my Facebook feed. Beyond the ones that crop up when my friends or other pages post them, I also follow comics like They Talk and Fowl Language. For me, it is a nice way to replicate newspaper comic strips, while being able to tailor the content specifically to my enjoyment, rather than reading a bunch of comics I don’t like to get to the ones I do. It is fascinating to see publishers like Andrews McMeel picking these webcomics up and publishing them alongside the major newspaper strips. I’d encountered some of the “oh no” gag comics before, and I thought I would give this collection of comics from Webcomic Name a shot.
This is usually where I give a stunningly brilliant tease of the plot. However, given that every single strip is a one-page stand-alone sequence, there isn’t really a way for me give a hint of the overarching plot. What I will say is that each comic is based around the standard three-panel design, and every single one uses “oh no” as the punchline.
Every. Single. One.
As a gag, this lost steam very quickly. What seems funny when it occasionally comes across your newsfeed absolutely struggles when it is presented in large doses. Occasionally some of these wrapped back around to funny, and the collection seemed to find its sweet spot around two-thirds of the way in, but this really doesn’t stand well as a collection. I love reading through collections of Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, or Far Side. They are able to present themselves as a functional unit with diverse strengths. You won’t find that in oh no.
If you are a diehard fan of Webcomic Name and the “oh no” gag, then this collection might work for you. But for casual fans, avoid snagging this book.
Yuri Bear Storm, Volume 1
Artist: Akiko Morishima
Translator: Katie McLendon
Physical Copy: $12.99
Digital Copy: *not listed at time of writing*
I’ve been pretty fortunate to fall into some great releases from TOKYOPOP. They have a diverse enough selection that I can hit upon a number of distinct stories, which is not always the case with manga distribution in the United States. Far too often, the slate of choices seems to be nothing by Shonen Jump knock offs where the adolescent male hero makes friends and goes on fantasy adventure with his innate martial prowess and over-sized/odd weapon of choice. I’m always happy to find alternatives to that prototypical plot.
Kureha is moving through high school while staying off of everyone’s radars. That is, until Ginko arrives at the school and decides the Kureha is her soul mate. Kureha isn’t so sure about the soul mate part, but she is pretty sure that Ginko is a bear. Possibly a space bear. Which of course leads to some bizarre antics as high school hormones meet Jungian psychology and bizarre fantasy.
All of these elements sounds like the recipe for a bizarre little tale that might not stand together well. Instead, this first volume of Yuri Bear Storm is a blast to read. There are elements of the fantastic throughout, although these are presented in a fashion that they might actually be a product of a traumatized childhood, but Yuri Bear Storm is mostly a story of young women trying to navigate the impacts their parents had on their lives, being teenagers, and falling in love.
Fans of light-hearted and comedic manga will find much to enjoy here. I am excitedly looking forward to volume 2.
The Ultimate Droodles Compendium
Writer: Roger Price
Artist: Roger Price
Annotations: Fritz Holznagel
Publisher: Tallfellow Press
Physical Copy: $16.95
Digital Copy: *not listed at time of writing*
Droodles appear to be an artifact of a comedic zeitgeist before my time. Roger Price, co-creator of Mad Libs, constructed a system of small cartoons using disparate geometric images and odd frames of reference to encapsulate a joke. Most famous is the cover droodle, “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch,” which found its way into pop culture and even functioned as an album cover.
Droodles in small number have the potential to be quirky, inducing a small smirk rather than an out-and-out guffaw. Droodles in large numbers quickly become tedious. This especially becomes the case when you read past the “classic” droodles, and get to some of the deeper cuts that weren’t the big hits for a reason.
I am sure that for some, the importance of creating a historical reference for American comedy might be of greater value than the enjoyment of individual content by the lay-reader, but as a casual reader picking this book up because I like to laugh and I like graphic storytelling, it was a let down.
Of particular note, the occasional long-winded explanation of the joke by Price really drug on, and I found myself dreading those pages when they cropped up. Also, the inclusion of “croodles,” droodles that are of a more offensive nature, was an odd choice, as the racist undertones (occasionally overtones) in that section did not improve my opinion of the content.
The one highlight were the annotations by Holznagel. The annotations demonstrated a level of wit and glee I did not find in the actual content itself.
I recommend this volume for people interested in the history of cartoon comedy as an artifact of historical significance, but for readers seeking an easily enjoyable collection, I would guide you elsewhere.
Luke Forney and/or GeekDad received copies of each of the graphic novels included in this list for review purposes. If you are reading this article anywhere other than on GeekDad or GeekMom, then you are reading a copy not authorized by the author. Please check out other Graphic Novel Weekly articles at www.geekdad.com