Friday, January 29, 2010

Fate's Favorite Superman Books

I've devoted a not inconsiderable amount of thought to reviewing graphic novels in recent months. I LOVE graphic novels and I read at least one of those to every "normal" book I read, and of course I have plenty of thoughts about them, but I couldn't figure out how best to do reviews. There's not much point in telling you how much I liked Elongated Man #783 (fake example) if you don't know who Elongated Man is and haven't read the preceding 782 issues.

For the moment, I'm going to try to do graphic novels that stand alone and tell a complete story, and I'll probably continue to do more than one at a time when I do them. So, without further ado: Superman!

My three favorite titles, through mild coincidence, have nothing to do with each other but do tell an overall story. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Superman: For Tomorrow by Brian Azzarello, and Kingdom Come by Mark Waid.

All Star Superman is the only Grant Morrison title that I have any kind of enjoyment for, but it is AMAZING. We already know the basic story, about how Superman was sent as a baby from the planet Krypton, raised by a good farming couple in Kansas, etc. The Superman story has been told at least a thousand times, and Superman, on average, kind of bores me. All the stories are the same sometimes. But Morrison gets rid of the transitional material, the "story glue," and just shows us the panels that are important to the story. He shows us the heart of Superman, the reasons why we loved the story the first time we heard it. He shows us a naive, innocent man who is able to wield amazing power, and what's more, wield it well. The art is hard to explain, but I really like it. The whole story is contained in two volumes.

Superman: For Tomorrow is another two volume book, set a year after The Vanishing, a moment in which a substantial portion of Earth's population simply disappeared. It's a darker and edgier story, sparely written, and deeply moving. You have to fill in a lot of the story yourself, so it'll bear multiple re-readings. I was really surprised by how well the whole book was done... Azzarello shows us what happens when Superman loses his naivete and finds out the world is more complicated than he thought it was. It breaks his heart a little bit, but it doesn't break HIM. He doesn't lose his idealism. The art captures that story beautifully too... It looks like Superman in all his iconic awesomeness, but it incorporates shadows and uncertainty.

Now, if you've been following me for a while, you know how much I love Kingdom Come. It's one of my favorite graphic novels EVER, but it's also becoming one of my favorite Superman graphic novels. The Kingdom Superman is full of sorrow, and even bitterness, and he isn't perfect, but that doesn't make him any less Superman. He's still trying to do the right thing, and trying to save people. He still knows how to throw a punch and how to fill out spandex. I think Kingdom Come can be thought of almost as the future of For Tomorrow in a way.

I see these three graphic novels as partly a timeline, showing an almost childlike Superman growing up, but also as three kinds of Superman/Superman story. The simple kind, the kind that looks at the darkness, and the kind that goes all the way. Whole, breaking, broken. And the best thing is that all three kinds are about idealism. I love all of them. I love Superman. I love to turn a page and see a big, full-page drawing of Superman flying above all of us who are on the ground, because he's better than us, and he inspires us to be better too. Even when he's not perfect, he's inspiring.

There have been a few other ones I liked (Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb was great, and the Superman: Man of Steel series that started in the eighties is my favorite longterm series) but these are my absolute favorites so far. For those of you who have never read Superman, I envy you the joy of discovering him for the first time, and I recommend Superman for All Seasons and then All Star Superman as a great place to start.

Buy All Star Superman (Volume 2 should be out in paperback at some point.)

Buy Superman: For Tomorrow

Buy Kingdom Come

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reasons by Tracy Fabre

Thanks to Stimulating Conversation and for this one!

Delphi Brent was seriously injured in a hit-and-run when she was a teenager in Colorado. Ten years later she plans to return to spend the summer with the Laughlins, old friends of her family, only to have her parents reveal that it was the Laughlin boys who were in the car that hit her. She goes anyway, and finds herself falling in love with one of the brothers.

The premise held a strange fascination for me, for no apparent reason, but even being interested in the outcome I found myself skimming a lot of the book. The characters all seemed very similar, and hardly did anything but talk to each other about whatever character happened to be absent. The characters and conversations were very realistic, to the point where their conversations weren't any more interesting than the conversations I could be having in the real world.

I think Tracy Fabre does a little bit more telling (as opposed to showing) than she should. We're told about the characters, but they don't really do very much, and we never get much of an insight into their thoughts or emotions. Kind of like a real conversation, only without even visual cues to give us a hint. The story just kind of meanders slowly to the end, with a few little surprises but no big ones.

Basically, the book was very realistic, so I was bored, which is more of a reflection on me than the book. I do recommend it though, if this is the kind of book you like.. It's got a very calming, Midwest small town atmosphere, and the romance is gentle and not overblown. This would be a nice book to take out to a small town and read out in a field somewhere... Mm...

See Tracy's website for information about her upcoming new release, Sending Rupert Home.

Buy Reasons

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & Jim Ken Niimura

I spent forever trying to work up a review for this book but I'm finally facing facts: This book has to be read to be appreciated, and I cannot do it justice, so this is more of a "short blather" than a review.

Before I read it I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was about a post-apocalyptic little girl with an ax... In case someone else got that impression, it's completely wrong and has nothing to do with this book. This story is about a present-time girl named Barbara, about 12ish I think, who has an ancient Norse hammer in her bag, with which to kill the giants of the title.

This is a sad book. Barbara basically stole my personality from when I was younger, and I think anybody could find a similar element to identify with. It's also a funny book in some places, and an exciting book especially toward the end, and an intense book all the way through. The art is fantastic, nightmarish, disturbing and cute as scenes demand. The design of the book as a whole is fantastic too, I love just holding it.

The story is complete in one book (unfortunately.) I suggest Courtney Crumrin(review here) as something also amazing and of similar content and style, but not the same.

Buy I Kill Giants

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Deep by Claire Nouvian

I was going to talk about Avatar this week, but I think plenty of people are doing that. Suffice it to say that I didn't love it unconditionally, but I did love it. Among (many) other things, the alien planet really looked alien, and it had a variety of cool animals and creatures populating it.

Which brings me around to The Deep. I'm absolutely terrified by creatures that live in the ocean--not in rivers or fishbowls, just in the ocean--but I'm also fascinated by them. They're so beautiful, and different, and complex, and simple, and alien. That's what this book is about.

This is an oversize book, one that you'll want to read at a table, and there's hardly any text. The whole book is huge, full-color pictures of deep-sea animals on black, like the cover, and it is truly amazing. The vast majority of them were animals I had never seen before, despite my ocean-dweller fixations, and they're animals I couldn't have made up if I tried. Each one has a small, inconspicuous paragraph with it's significant informtion, and every so often there are short essays to give you an impression of the big picture (ha, pun) but they support the pictures, not the other way around.

After I read this I immediately went out to look for more, but there's not much out there for laymen. This is the best of its kind, with current information and pictures you can stare at for hours. I knew there was some strange life on Earth, from pachyderms with prehensile noses to my weird grandmother, but I never knew there were things like this.

Buy The Deep