A Month of Wednesdays | Muppets, mutants and more in January's graphic novels

Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Vol. 1 (Archaia Entertainment) Here is what the notes I took while reading this book say, in their entirety:  “Kinda boring” and “Needs more Skeksis.”

Let me try to expand upon them a bit.

The first in a planned trilogy of original graphic novels, Creation Myths certainly lives up to its name.

Brian Froud, the creature designer who was integral in the creation of the 1982 film is credited with “Concept, character designs and cover,” and he also pens an introduction. Brian Holguin writes, while the talented Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John provide the art. Prose encapsulations of several of the stories follow, so that different versions of the same "myths" co-exist between the covers.

The work is all fine, but I found it lacking a relevance or urgency, due perhaps to how far it is removed from what I know or care of the setting and premise of the original film (a drawback that might fade in succeeding volumes) and to a more insurmountable deficiency of the medium: Comics can’t capture puppetry, the jolt of sheer wonder that accompanied seeing such bizarre creatures move so naturalistically across a movie screen that proved the film’s greatest and most enduring virtue.

I found reading this to be like reading a Classics Illustrated version of myths, but unlike those of the Bible or Greek or Norse or any human culture, it was a made-up, alien culture derivative of some of those human sources.

More invested fans will likely get more out of this than I did. As a five-year-old child, the film filled me with ennui—what did I care about that creepy Gelfling on some made-up world? At least, it was hen it wasn’t scaring the beejezus out of me. Returning to the film as an adult, I mostly found myself struck with certain set-pieces—like those weird stilt creatures that get ridden upon at one point—and marveling at the craftsmanship that went into making the film.

The comic doesn’t scare me, and there’s no real sense of wonder in the visuals—I know exactly how they were accomplished, with pencil and ink and computer program and paper. It was a bit like seeing a magic trick after you know the explanation, I suppose.

The Return of The Smurfette (Papercutz) Of the Papercutz presentations of Peyo Smurfs comics I’ve read—and I’ve read all save one, and that was because my local comic shop didn’t order it, not because I wanted to miss one—this volume features the most stories and, therefore, the shortest stories. The title is more of a theme uniting several of the shorts than the name of a major event or adventures.

Those that feature the Smurfette are filled with gags regarding the various Smurfs attempting to woo her, and the societal confusion the presence of her gender engenders, but it seems played lighter than the longer, more worrying story that introduced her (which you can fined in the volume entitled The Smurfette).

Probably the best, or at least weirdest, bits include Smurfette saying she’s decided to marry a Smurf, to which Papa Smurf replies, “Of course, I’m the one you’ll smurf! That way, you’ll be Mama Smurfette!” The beardless smurfs laugh at him, one saying, “Still wanting to smurf the Smurfette! At his age!” The fact that Peyo himself includes "smurf" as a dirty word jokes in his own stories amuses me to no end.

There's that, and the bit where Jokey Smurf cross-dresses as Smurfette and lures a smurf into the woods to meet him, and gets, uh, beat-up for his trouble. These tend to be fun, funny, fantastically cartooned comic strips, but the subtext—which often isn’t even as sub as it is text—veers into weird, occasionally troubling territory often enough to make them more predictably surprising books than surprisingly predictable ones.

Spera Vol. 1 (Archaia) The in media res opening of this Josh Tierney-written fantasy is so, um, res that I felt like I was missing something, that perhaps this is the continuation of a story that began elsewhere.

Two runaway princesses, the gamine, magical sword-wielding aspiring adventurer Pira and the demure, ladylike Lono, and a benevolent fire-spirit named Yonder, most often seen in the form of a giant fox or dog aflame—are desperately seeking the titular kingdom, fleeing from Pira’s evil mother and her black magic.

Each chapter of their flight is lavishly illustrated by a different artist, each of these working in distinct styles that evoke classic fantasy and fairy tale illustration from different cultures as readily as it does master cartooning.

Despite the shifting styles, the three main characters are so visually distinct from one another  that no visual coherence or consistency is really sacrificed, and each of the artists—including Kyla Vaderklugt, Hwee, Emily Carroll and Olivier Prichard—are so accomplished that their taking of the narrative baton from the artist that preceded them is always welcome.

After the main story, which presumably continues into a Vol. 2, the book becomes a sort of anthology for its remaining 70 pages. Five shorter, standalone stories featuring the trio on mini-adventures by five more artists, each of whom boast even more distinct and more cartoony, comic book-y art styles give us more compressed, action packed tales. In these, monsters appear and are defeated more quickly, and the humor of the character conflicts bubbles more regularly to the surface. Also, we meet Chobo, a fairly ordinary fat housecat that also happens to be sword-carrying, treasure-hunting adventurer.

I can’t remember the last comic I’ve read that offered such an enormous and satisfying visual feast as Spera does.

Wolverine and Jubilee: Curse of the Mutants (Marvel Entertainment) The starting point for this semi-charming collection is a pile-up of plot points from silly X-events. First there’s the House of M business, which caused mutant teenager Jubilee to devolve most of the way back into a normal human, but not quite enough to be human, through the agency of magic. Then, in “Curse of the Mutants,” she apparently became a vampire.

In this miniseries, writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Phil Noto tell the tale of what happens to a vampire that used to be a mutant that used to be a human on the island of X-Men, which is that they keep her in a plastic cage until Wolverine convinces everyone to let her hangout with him like she used to do in the ‘90s.

Immonen does a neat job in these early scenes of comparing Jubilee’s nascent vampirism, and the weird-ass treatment of it—she has to drink plastic bottles of Wolverine’s blood daily—to the treatment of a more minor mental illness. It’salso  fun to watch the various Kitty Pryde-inspired characters of Jubilee, Armor and Pixie bickering with one another.

A fight plot eventually intrudes, and it’s one that has nothing to do with Wolverine, Jubilee, mutants or vampires, really, and thus seems kind of grafted on, something chosen from a pile of readymade plots simply to give Wolverine and Jubilee  (and Rockslide, whose name isn’t in the title but appears throughout anyway) something to physically fight with their superpowers.

It’s all diverting enough, even if it wanders pretty far away from its starting point, and Immonen writes engaging dialogue and characters. Noto’s art is great, although a little over-colored here for my tastes.

Because even Marvel realizes you can’t charge $15 for less than 90 pages, the book is further filled out by a reprint of Jubilee’s first appearance in 1989, some pages of character designs and artist Nimit Malavia’s covers.

X-Men: Great Power (Marvel) Writer Victor Gischler’s script for this story arc from his adjectiveless X-Men series—the one that became all-but-in-name X-Men Team-Up after the vampire-fighting "Curse of the Mutants" storyline—reads like something Chris Claremont might have written in the later years of his heyday. Even the cultural references are dated to the late ‘80s, with a joke about Boris Karloff and Club Med in the same panel and, a scene later, there’s a reference to Cagney and Lacey. Which I had to google to get. Because I'm "only" 35.

The plot is pure formula. The X-Men, trying to do the superhero thing, team-up with Spider-Man (after a misunderstanding in which a punch is thrown) to fight a menace that, it turns out, was cooked up by an X-Men villain and a Spider-Man villain. Convenient. (The villains don’t team-up, per se; the X-Men one, who is a minor enough character that I’ve never heard of him, uses the Spider-Man villain, whose identity is immediately apparent within the story).

Artist Chris Bachalo livens up the proceedings quite a bit, and offers perhaps the only reason to read the book. His character designs are delightful, as are the subterranean sets he builds for his heroes to run, crawl and fight through. So integral to the readability of the storyline is Bachalo that when a fill-in artist appears to finish up the epilogue of the story, the result if visual whiplash.

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