THREE TRADES/GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR REVIEW
BATMAN: NINE LIVES is an original graphic novel that DC released a few months back. It's a noir Elseworlds tale, recasting the major players of the Batman mythology into a shady world that feels not unlike the era of The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca. When Selina Kyle shows up dead in the sewers beneath Gotham City, Bruce Wayne is at the top of the suspects list. He's not alone, however, as we're introduced to a cast of suspects including characters we know best as The Riddler, Robin, The Penguin, The Joker, and more.
Dean Motter writes the book like a serious Dick Tracy story. The characters have colorful nicknames and sometimes dress a little in character, but are not the over-the-top villains with bright spandex suits we're used to seeing. Nor do they have the disfiguring characteristics of Chester Gould's characters. Artist Michael Lark ("Scene of the Crime") keeps the characters easily identifiable without resorting to cheap tricks or those colorful costumes. His artwork shows the signs of a lot of research into the noir film era. The architecture, the cars, and the clothes all look as if they've come out of a time capsule. (Portions of his sketch book, along with some of the written proposal and script, are reprinted in the back of the book.)
Matt Hollingsworth does an impressive job with the coloring scheme, keeping everything saturated in dark earthy tones. The book may not be black and white, but the dark colors maintain an almost monotone noir feel throughout the book. It's a great example of restrained coloring being so much better than some of the crazier schemes available with computers today.
The story is easy to follow, despite the rather large cast of characters, and it never gets too cute. There's a nice surprise ending and some homages to classic noir movies along the way.
BATMAN: NINE LIVES is an excellent use of the Elseworlds format. It purposefully reformats things from the way we've come to know them. It's got a definite and consistent style to it. And it stands well on its own. Besides all that, it's entertaining and a joy to read.
It's a 128 page hardcover book done in landscape format (complete with sideways binding). The pages are glossy and easy to read, but the whole book feels like it's about to rip apart at any second. Particularly when you're at the beginning or end of the book, it feels like the slightest tug could rip a page right out. I didn't try to flip the pages any harder than necessary for fear of ruining the book, so I can't tell you if it was a figment of my imagination or not. Nevertheless, it held up when I read it. I think part of the problem may be that the pages are only attached to the binding along about five inches of space, as opposed to the normal 8 or 9 inches it gets when bound on the other side of the page.
Cover price is $25, but I think it's worth it on this one, particularly for fans of the type of crime comics work that Ed Brubaker or Brian Bendis is doing. While I imagine DC will eventually put out a trade paperback for this sometime next year, I can't guarantee it.
If you want to see more about the book, check out the trailer DC put together for the book at the DC website.
FATHER & SON is a $10 trade paperback from Jeff Nicholson, best known for his work on THROUGH THE HABITRAILS and COLONIA. The trade collects the four issues of the series of the same name that Nicholson did for Kitchen Sink Press, along with a few pages of new material at the end.
The book (running 120 black and white pages) is a collection of short and short short stories, ranging anywhere from one to nine pages. It's the story of a businessman father berating his slacker grunge 20-something son for mooching off of him, playing guitar aimlessly, and doing nothing with his life. The two yell and scream, scream and yell. It's not a very deep strip at all. The clichés are all in there, but they're playfully presented. The book is done completely for comedic effect, with some stories playing out like sit-coms, others like comic books, and some like talking-heads comic strips. The art is stiff and simple, but that fits in well with the story. It reads like a Simpsons or Flintstones comics that way.
Let me tell you how to read this book for maximum effect: Read a story or two between meals of other comics. Read a story before you go to sleep at night. Sprinkle them around a little at a time. If you read the entire book in one or two sittings, your mind will go numb and you won't enjoy it as much.
It's not a bad book, but like I said: It's not very deep. This is a weakness not entirely lost on Nicholson, who even prints a very negative review of the series from the pages of THE COMICS JOURNAL in the back of the trade. Like he says in his own defense, though, "It's too bad the Comics Journalists can't just let a comic be something simple and fun." That's exactly what FATHER AND SON is: simple and fun.
Nicholson self-published the book through his own Colonia Press imprint, which can be found on the web at ColoniaPress.com.
NOBODY collects the original four issue Oni mini-series, NOBODY: SACRIFICES. It tells the tale of Jessica Drake, a paranormal investigator trying to prevent a serial killer from striking again. Against elements of the supernatural, she struggles, invoking spells and fighting demons. She's not immune from the absurd, either, as she's possessed of the ability to change her face at will to look like anyone else's.
Written by Alex Amado and Sharon Cho, the book has a great high concept. It's the weird being investigated by the weird. Drake's own ability gives her a unique ability to fight against the powers that are lined up against her, but are they ultimately futile? The book is an easy enough to follow fantasy murder/mystery. It has a nice build up to the final issue, where the ultimate struggle between Drake and her adversary are fought both physically and mentally in a tense struggle.
The art by Charlie Adlard is some of his best pen and ink work. It's very crisp and clear. The panel arrangements are simple, and his ink line complements his pencils as best I've ever seen.
The problem with the book, though, is that it doesn't follow through on its promise. There is a lot of material to be mined here. If you consider this just a teaser for a future series, then you might enjoy it. (Since there's no future series planned right now, it's the ultimate comic book tease.) If you're wondering about the psychological ramifications of Jessica's powers, then you've come to the wrong place. (Might I suggest THE HUMAN TARGET by Peter Milligan, instead?) If you're wondering about the history of Jessica and any other "Nobodies," you're not going to find it here. If the relationship between Jessica and her "trusted confidante," Marcus, intrigues you, you're going to be left out in the cold. If the overall arc potential of the forces of darkness lining up against Jessica are what drive you from page to page, you're going to hit a big fat brick wall at the end.
There's a lot of untapped potential in NOBODY. That gets frustrating by the end and is ultimately the book's undoing. There is too much set up and not enough follow through on the core concepts of the book.
NOBODY is a $12.95 paperback from Ait/PlanetLar. It went back to press for a second printing this past spring and should be easily available from your local retailer.
OK, so one strong recommendation, and two iffy ones. I'll do better next week. Come back on Tuesday and Friday for some more reviews, including one for what might be the best book I've picked up at any convention in years. It's a little thing called STYLISH VITTLES. OK, at 208 pages, it's hardly little. It's definitely worth your attention, though. Drop back in next week to read all about it, and why I think it's the best comic in its class.
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