Saturday, November 06, 2004

Graphic Novel Review

Unexpectedly I had a bunch of graphic novels that I've reserved through the library all arrive on the same day. Fortunately, I had my kids with me when I picked them up so I didn't entirely look like a certain troll who still lives in his mom's basement.

Hulk/Wolverine: Six hours--Not a bad story and certainly no dumber than anything by John Grisham or Tom Clancy but nothing to write home about (unless that would be your mom's basement).

Y the Last Man: Unmanned--A much less conventional comic, Y is the story of the aftermath of a plague that instantly and simultaneously wiped out every mammal on the planet with a Y chromosome with the exception of an unemployed, agoraphobic escape artist named Yorick and Ampersand, his helper monkey.

Yorick comments at one point that he would have guessed the world would be more peaceful but it's anything but (feminists might note that the book has a male author). Because the plague struck at rush hour Eastern Standard Time, the highways are clogged with wrecked cars and jack-knifed trucks, so transporting food into New York and other cities is impossible. Electricity and phones apparently went dead at the same time as the men--soon rampaging gangs are ready to kill for a can of Ravioli. The spirit of W lives on, as the women of the Israeli military sweep across the Mideast to protect themselves from a potential future threat. Wives of Republican congressmen stage a coup on the White House (nearly 75% of the women in Congress are Democrats so the plague skewed things towards the left). And worst of all for Yorick, a cult of New Amazons emerges, teaching that the Y chromosome was a monstrous defect that Mother Nature wisely corrected. For the months following the male extinction, they concentrated on destroying remnants of the patriarchy but when news of Yorick's survival surface, he's on the top of their hit list.

Y is an ongoing series so the narrative advances too slowly to cover much ground in the issues collected in Unmanned but it's done well enough for me to keep an eye out for later collections.

Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers--inexplicably labeled as "Teen" by the Cincinnati Library, this is a record of Spiegelman's reaction to September 11 and the events that have followed. Spiegelman is best known for Maus and Maus II, the story of his parents in the Holocaust and Auschwitz told by talking animals. In the Shadow isn't quite as experimental but it draws on the memory of turn of the century (the last one) to act out Spiegelman's interpretation of new New York. I'd recommend In the Shadow of No Towers to anyone with an understanding of the history of comics but to a new reader, watching the Katzenjammer Kid, Happy Hooligan, and Little Nemo at Ground Zero might take some explaining.

Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries--I know most people roll their eyes at comic books but I'd recommend this to anyone. Gaiman has written wonderful books but I think his stories work better as comics, especially his Sandman series.

Years ago, I read "Murder Mystery" in the form of a short story. It's effective--no artist can capture the impact that Gaiman's imagery has in the imagination. However, as a short story, it's easy to forget that this is a framed story and the frame, in comic form, is more important than the internal work.

It might seem that I give away the plot with this synopsis but believe me, I'm not telling you anything. Mystery starts with an English narrator reflecting back to a stopover at L.A. ten years ago. As he waited for a delayed flight, a homeless man wandered out of the shadows and asked for a cigarette. In gratitude (or what might seem like gratitude), the man tells the narrator his story, how he was once an angel before the creation of the universe. When a fellow angel is found murdered, the future bum is divinely drafted to catch the killer. Assisted by Lucifer, the Captain of the Angels, eventually the first murderer is discovered and brought to a sort of justice.

In the short story, the internal mystery came across as dominant. In the comic, the frame to the internal story (the English narrator and the bum) seem much more important. The adaptation is slavishly faithful to Gaiman's original prose but the sense of conflict is shifted, much for the better. Unlike Y or In the Shadow of No Towers, I would recommend this to anyone who can handle a graphic depiction of homicides, both divine and domestic.

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