Hello, and welcome to another edition of Graphic Novel Weekly! Glad to have you hear. We’ve got a fat stack of reviews to get to this week, so lets not waste any time! This week, I’ll be going over:
- Scarlet, Volume 1
- Gantz Omnibus, Volume 3
- Otaku Blue, Volume 1: Tokyo Underground
- Green Class, Book 1: Pandemic
- Black Badge, Volume 1
- The Underfoot, Volume 1: The Mighty Deep
- Manga Classics: Romeo and Juliet
- Through Lya’s Eyes, Volume 1: Seeking the Truth
- Nhun the Huntress
- Of Gods and Men, Volume 1: The End of the Beginning
- The Kingdom of the Blind, Volume 1: The Invisibles
- Robotech, Volume 3: Blind Game
As always, you can find the rest of the Graphic Novel Weekly columns here. I’d also suggest giving Mathias DeRider’s new article if you haven’t already. It’s a much more personal take on why he reads trade collections almost exclusively. You can find it here. Now let’s get started with the new titles!
Coming Next Week
Next week, stop back by for another exciting round of reviews. I’ve got reviews scheduled for titles from Andrews McMeel, Papercutz, Image, Titan, BOOM!, Bedside Press, IDW, AfterShock, and Europe Comics
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Scarlet, Volume 1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Publisher: Jinxworld (DC)
Scarlet is one of those series that I’ve heard about but never dove into. I’ve been curious about all of the new Brian Michael Bendis series since he’s moved over to DC, and this seemed like a great time to jump in on Scarlet, with a new starting point.
Portland is a battleground, as its citizens fight against US forces for what I’m sure is a solid reason. Scarlet is leading this revolution, and is also trying to come to terms with the death of her boyfriend.
I have to admit here, I couldn’t get into this at all and ended up skimming the back half. This did not feel like a good place to start at all. Rather than being new reader friendly, I found myself rather abysmally lost throughout. Scarlet’s incessant, tedious monologuing only made it worse.
This was a tedious, frustrating read. Longtime fans of the series may find more here to enjoy than I did, but this first volume was not a first volume in anyway other than for marketing. Consider giving this one a pass.
Gantz Omnibus, Volume 3
Writer: Hiroya Oku
Artist: Hiroya Oku
Translator: Matthew Johnson
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga (Dark Horse)
I started reading Gantz when Dark Horse was releasing the original volumes, and ended up losing track of the series after the eighth volume because life. I was stoked to see Dark Horse was releasing omnibus volumes of Gantz, and couldn’t wait to rejoin this story. I ended up beginning with the third omnibus, which nicely dovetailed with where I had originally left of on this series. I would definitely encourage those new to Gantz to begin with the first omnibus.
A group of people transported to an abandoned apartment on the moment of their death are provided super suits and weapons and are sent out to track down and kill aliens hiding on Earth. This volume sees a number of deaths of major characters, and a dramatic shift as the hunters become the hunted.
Gantz is over-the-top in every way. It purports to be an examination of contemporary Japanese culture’s fascination with sex and violence in their media. Honestly, that feels like a great PR spin on a title that embraces sex and violence in media more than most. I’m always torn with this title, as the art is dynamic as only the best manga art can be and the plot is engaging and a lot of fun, yet there is an undercurrent of misogyny throughout that seems more likely to be in earnest rather than as satire.
The struggles of the protagonists will keep drawing you into this title, even as the painfully unrealistic body proportions of all of the female characters makes you roll your eyes. Fans of fast-paced science fiction thrills will likely find something to enjoy here.
CONTENT NOTE: Gantz contains enormous amounts of blood and gore and some nudity, and is not recommended for younger readers.
Otaku Blue, Volume 1: Tokyo Underground
Writer: Richard Marazano
Artist: Malo Kerfriden
Translator: Edward Gauvin
Publisher: Europe Comics, on behalf of Dargaud
I’ve read a fair number of manga that are self-referential and examine otaku culture from the inside. I’ve also read a handful of American comics titles that explore contemporary geek culture. What I found particularly intriguing about Otaku Blue, however, was that it is a French comic about Japanese geek culture, or more specifically otaku. What might those perceptions be like? And how might that tie into the murder mystery Otaku Blue has as its narrative engine?
Asami is trying to study otaku culture for her graduate thesis in sociology. She begins by meeting with young women who embrace the fashion and behavioral side of her study, embracing the Lolita role. Meanwhile, the police are investigating a serial killer who is killing and mutilating the bodies of prostitutes in Tokyo. As the story progresses, the two threads begin to look like they might be intertwined.
Otaku Blue suffers from not living up to its potential. It does good work in developing some characters, while others occasionally feel like stereotypes, especially the bitter, burned-out cops who are distant from their families. Meanwhile, the exploration of otaku culture feels surface level, when it could be so much more immersive and engaging.
Otaku Blue is a two-volume series, and there is enough here that I am willing to give it one more volume to show how it all wraps up. If this was an ongoing series, though, I don’t think I’d continue reading it. This might be a good choice for people looking for a short series involving murder set in Japan, but it isn’t the strongest entry in that subgenre.
CONTENT NOTE: This volume of Otaku Blue contains depictions of mutilated, dead prostitutes, so this is likely not the best choice for younger readers.
Green Class, Book 1: Pandemic
Writer: Jérôme Hamon
Artist: David Tako
Translator: Edward Gauvin
Publisher: Europe Comics, on behalf of Le Lombard
I am generally intrigued by stories that involve a closed environment, such as the movie Alien and its claustrophobic space ship. Green Class has that, too, with an enclosed environment and a horror-based core idea. I was excited to dive in!
A group of Canadian students on a trip to Louisiana to study the evolutionary impact of global warming on frogs finds themselves trapped in a quarantine zone after the outbreak of a deadly new virus. This virus is turning people into violent monsters and there is no known cure. The students need to find a way to survive if they hope to escape and return home.
I really wanted to like Green Class, but it fell short for me. Most of the students were unlikable and I struggled to find empathy for them. They came across bitter, spoiled, and judgmental. The story moved quite slowly, as well, with only spurts of solid pacing. The art was pretty solid, with a great richness of tone, but it wasn’t enough to make Green Class an engaging read.
Fans of outbreak horror might consider giving this story a read, but overall I would consider giving this one a pass.
CONTENT NOTE: Green Class contains a lot of violence and blood, so parents should consider reviewing this before passing it to younger readers.
Black Badge, Volume 1
Matt Kindt has written some pretty stellar stuff. I’ll actually be looking at another of his series, Dept. H, in a couple weeks to coincide with Dark Horse’s new release of the series. That said, I had some trepidation around boy scout spec ops missions, so it was with some tentativeness that I approached the first volume of Black Badge.
The Black Badges are the most elite of the Boy Scouts, tasked with performing secret mission for the United States. The reader is frequently reminded that it is much easier for kids to feign innocence or get out of tight spots with enemy forces than trained adults. The troop of Black Badges followed in this series must complete missions from North Korea to Siberia to Pakistan, all while maintaining their cover and examining the mystery of a Black Badge killed on a recent mission.
I couldn’t ever really buy into the main premise of Boy Scouts being used for top secret military missions. That said, when I set aside that hang up and just let Black Badge be its weird self, I had a fair bit of fun with it. The characters have a lot of depth, and it was wonderful to watch them grow and evolve as the story progressed.
I did want to see a little more continuity issue-to-issue, as the first few issues were effectively each stand-alone missions, but towards the end of this first volume some bigger threads begin to come together, creating a cohesive whole.
While Black Badge didn’t start out quite as cohesive as I would have liked, it was always entertaining and grew better and better as the collection continued. This series shows a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to the second volume. Recommended for fans of off-beat thrillers.
The Underfoot, Volume 1: The Mighty Deep
Anthropomorphic animal fantasy seems to be a burgeoning genre in comics right now. There are a number of examples of it out there right now, and I sometimes struggle to see how these titles set themselves apart in the genre, and how they navigate the rationale for anthropomorphic animal characters. The Underfoot doesn’t have fully humanoid animals, but it definitely features human-like animals, so I wondered if I would be enjoying this graphic novel or setting it aside in frustration.
The first volume of The Underfoot features a colony of hamsters, especially their group of highly-trained mission operatives. When beavers block up a river and the rising water threatens the badger homeland, the hamsters set out to stop the threat. But as they continue on their mission, they begin to realize that there could be a much greater plan in place behind the scenes.
I was surprised at how much I ended up loving this title. The characterization was well done, and the art was fantastic. What really took this from pretty good to great was the complex and well-considered backstory behind this world, which quickly reveals this to be far from a standard animal fantasy. The introduction of new twists later in the volume dramatically broaden the scope of this story, as well.
This story is highly recommended for fans of fantasy adventure, as well as stories of science gone amok. I had a blast, and I cannot wait for the second graphic novel in this series to be released.
Manga Classics: Romeo and Juliet
Writer: Crystal S. Chan
Based on the Play: Romeo and Juliet
Play Written By: William Shakespeare
Artist: Julien Choy
Publisher: Manga Classics
I generally find Romeo and Juliet to be the most palatable of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s obviously a pretty famous story, and even those not forced to read it in high school or college are generally pretty familiar with the plot. So I was admittedly quite curious to see what was done with the story here to create this manga edition. I’ll skip recapping the plot, since that will likely be a retread for most.
The short version of this review is that this might be the most strictly accurate comic adaption of Romeo and Juliet that could be made, for better and worse. The art is great here. While it isn’t ground breaking, it does a great job of capturing a classic manga feel and telling the story with vivid images. The art is the richest part of this volume.
The dialogue and narration, meanwhile, appear to be lifted exactly from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Purists will likely love this, as it means that no additions or debatable interpretations are made. Non-purists might argue that this defeats the purpose, as the text is still dense and this is effectively just a heavily illustrated edition of the play.
For me, I appreciated the work that went into maintaining accuracy to the play. However, I also think that this caused the manga to be less engaging than it might otherwise have been. Shakespeare’s dialogue is structured and metered. It frequently involves heavy monologuing, and much of the plot is expressed through character dialogue. This creates a dramatically different pacing of dialogue, and by extension plot, than is typical of prototypical manga. In the Manga Classics edition of this play, the dynamic art does not always feel like it fits the Shakespearian verse, creating a disjointed read. I think adapting this play some would have created a better entry vehicle into this play for readers.
Overall, this is not a bad approach to Romeo and Juliet. It is, however, one that may not appeal to readers struggling with Shakespeare’s writing, which seems to be the intended audience of this book. I recommend this for fans of Shakespeare.
Through Lya’s Eyes, Volume 1: Seeking the Truth
Artist: Justine Cunha
Translator: M.B. Valente
Publisher: Europe Comics, on behalf of Dupuis
I’m all about off-beat mysteries lately, and I had high hopes that Through Lya’s Eyes would fit the bill. Excited, I wasted no time getting started.
Lya is hit by a car while in high school and left for dead on the side of the road. When she is found, doctors are able to save her life, but because it took over a day to find her, it is too late to repair her spine. Lya is paralyzed from the waist down. Lya is beginning to adapt to her new life, when she learns that her parents were paid off to not press charges against the person that hit her. With no other information to go on, Lya takes on an internship at the law firm that processed the pay off to her parents, and with her friend Antoine sets out to dig up the truth.
I loved this first volume of Through Lya’s Eyes. Lya and Antoine, along with Lya’s co-workers, are so wonderfully drawn out and fully formed, and the story is fully gripping. The art adds a great element to the story, as well, with the colors and line work managing to be both serious and more lighthearted when it needs to be.
The mystery of Through Lya’s Eyes is well-formed and deeply personal for Lya, and gives the plot gravitas. This is a fun story that balances a complex and exciting mystery, and it is easy to fall into the story and finish the first volume before you know it. I loved this title, and I can’t wait to see where the second volume takes us. Highly recommended.
Nhun the Huntress
Writer: Firat Yaşa
Artist: Firat Yaşa
Translator: Cem Ulgen
Publisher: Europe Comics, on behalf of Marmara Cizgi
I was intrigued by the stylistic art and the idea of a prehistoric love story that Nhun the Huntress offered, so I decided to give this title a read. I find myself having a bit of a hard time knowing quite how to review it, but we’ll get to that here in a minute.
A tribe of people many millennia ago find themselves in a bit of an existential bind, debating both who their next leader should be and also whether they should continue their nomadic lifestyle or settle an area and build a village. The women elders support continuing to travel across the land, and want Nhun to be their hunter-leader. The men elders support settling and building a village, and want Alu to be their hunter leader. Unfortunately for everyone’s plans, Nhun and Alu have some unspoken feelings they need to work out, first.
Nhun the Huntress is structured pretty oddly. The first third of the book is a silent hunting scene, before it switches to the tribe arguing over its future and leadership. The shift is abrupt, and the two pieces of the book don’t really feel like they fulfill the narrative arc. For that matter, the ending is exceptionally abrupt.
The art is really fascinating on its own, but it doesn’t do the best job of telling the story, either. It can frequently become difficult to tell exactly what is going on here. Many panels use close-ups of characters’ faces to try to express non-verbal thoughts, but the facial expression art is not clear enough to fully understand what is meant.
Nhun the Huntress is a very quick read, but not a particularly satisfying one. I would hold off on reading this unless you are really intrigued by the art style. Even then, browse the book first before buying to make sure you know what you are getting into.
CONTENT NOTE: This volume contains some blood and gore in the early hunting scene, and there is non-sexual nudity throughout the entirety of the book. Parents should consider reviewing this before handing it to younger readers.
Of Gods and Men, Volume 1: The End of the Beginning
Writer: Jean-Pierre Dionnet
Artist: Laurent Theureau
Translator: Joseph Laredo
Publisher: Europe Comics, on behalf of Dargaud
I’m always open to offbeat takes on super heroes. I was particularly intrigued by Of Gods and Men, as it appeared to combine super heroes with Moebius, and setting it on an Earth that had a long history of super heroes that lead to a very different culture. I was all about giving this series a shot.
In 1929, super heroes began to appear. With their arrival, the human race began to die out. Now, in 2047, these super hero “gods” are becoming apathetic to the world and their lives, while humanity has possibly just had its very last baby.
This sounds like the set up to an awesome epic. Instead, I was bored. The art was fully of color and style, but also was occasionally a little to stilted. More difficult to move through, though, was the dry interactions of detached, inhuman gods who are tired of the monotony of their lives. I find myself just as tired of the monotony. This book had lots of potential, but failed to live up to it. I won’t be continuing on reading it, as there was not enough in this first volume to draw me back.
The Kingdom of the Blind, Volume 1: The Invisibles
Writer: Olivier Jouvray
Artist: Frédérik Salsedo
Translator: Jeremy Melloul
Publisher: Europe Comics, on behalf of Le Lombard
As technology becomes more pervasive, it is no surprise to me that post-1984, Big Brother-state thrillers are coming back into vogue. It’s clearly a topic on the collective consciousness, and that’s going to flow out into our fiction. The Kingdom of the Blind falls into that subgenre, and I was curious to get a non-Anglophone take on it.
Laurette has some strongly-held concerns about the surveillance used in her country, and joins a group of people hoping to overthrow the current zeitgeist. However, when a mission goes awry, she finds herself captured. Hearing nothing from his sister, Adil sets out to find Laurette no matter what it takes. Conspiracies abound as the plot against the surveillance-state becomes more and more complex.
This story wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really seem to add anything new to the genre. The characters are engaging, while the plot sometimes seems a little disjointed and overwrought. There is potential here for growth in later volumes, but I don’t know that there was enough here to pull me back for round two. Recommended for fans of political thrillers.
Robotech, Volume 3: Blind Game
Those of you who’ve been following along with Graphic Novel Weekly for a while know that I’ve recently discovered the world of Robotech comics, and I’ve been loving it. I’ve been playing catch up on the titles being released by Titan, both their archives and their original series. I felt like the series made a strong increase in quality with the addition of Simon Furman to scripting duties in the previous collection. Here, Furman is the sole writer on the title, and that increase in quality is still very present.
This new series is doing a wonderful job of both modernizing the characters and creating new twists and elements to make this series their own unique story, rather than a rote retelling. I’ll dive in much deeper next week with my review of the fourth volume, but I am truly coming to find Robotech to be among my favorite ongoing science fiction titles.
There were some change-ups in the art in the middle of this volume, which was a little jarring, but the quality was still high, both in art and writing. This is a plot-driven title, and it motors along brilliantly. I highly recommend this title for fans of space opera, and I can’t wait to talk more next week with the fourth volume! See you then!
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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