Sunday, September 16, 2007

Graphic Novels

This is another genre that I've recently become interested in (though I did buy and read a hardcover compilation of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller back in the late 80's or early 90's, and I read 3 of the Sin City series, also by Frank Miller, a couple of years ago). Graphic novels are often thought of as just collections of comic books, filled with superheroes, which they can be, but they can also be books in their own right, books which use art to aid in telling the story.

A brief review of the graphic novels I've recently read:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (volumes I and II) - A fun series, which brings together several 'fictional' characters as a sort of 'A-Team' - set during the end of the 19th century. We have Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Jekyll/Hyde and others. These are full-color, glossy productions, which really show off the artwork. The scenery is almost steam-punk in style. I definitely enjoy books that treat fictional characters as real (see my earlier post on Jasper Fforde and the Tuesday Next series), and this one is definitely fun. It may not be as erudite as Fforde's work, it is still an interesting premise, and the artwork makes it quite fun to read.

Fables by Bill Willingham, et al - Similar to Extraordinary Gentlemen, this series creates a world where storybook characters (Red Ridinghood, The Big Bad Wolf) etc., find themselves exiled from their world, and finding refuge in modern-day New York City. A fun premise and a fun read (I'm up to volume 5), and a bit more light-hearted than EG (though some bad things definitely do happen). These are full-color spreads, but not glossy - they definitely have that "comic book" look - though this is not necessarily bad. I have enjoyed this series - fun, light reading.

Violent Messiahs: Book of Job by Joshua Dysart, et al - A dark, nihilistic, sci-fi/horror story that bills itself as a "story about criminal politics, the nature of violence and man's search for individuality." I have to say that this was probably a bit too dark & violent for my liking. I wasn't surprised by this, after all, the title pretty much gives it away, but it was just too much for me. This volume is printed in full-color, glossy format, which is a plus, and enhances some of the really creative graphics. Not sure this is a series I'll continue, however.

Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer, et al - What most people think of when they think of graphic novels: it's main characters are the DC superheroes (Superman, Batman, etc). However, the story is not your 'typical' comic book plot, with some bizarre bad guy or mad scientist threatening to blow up the world. This novel deals with the issues faced by the families of these superheroes: parents, wives, husbands. We see the superheroes interacting with their families, and trying to reassure them. This becomes more difficult when the wife of The Elongated Man is killed. Someone is targeting the families of these superheroes, in order to get at them. It's an interesting premise, and the story is definitely more mature than the usual comic book fodder. Full-color, glossy format - and a good story: a good read, despite men in tights. :-)

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman - This is a beautiful book (hardcover, glossy, full color), and an intriguing premise: what if the X-Men were "born" in 1602, in Europe. There is the expected opposition to the "mutants", but combine that with the Spanish Inquisition, and fear of witchcraft/sorcery. The mutants are labeled "witchbreed" and hunted as spawn of the devil. The artwork is spectacular, and definitely cinematic. Really, really sophisticated. It was fun to see a new take on an old story - and I'm not surprised that Neil Gaiman is behind it. I've discovered that his books/movies are VERY original and creative. This book is a fine example of the best of the genre.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd - A 'groundbreaking' book. Originally published as a series of comic books in England in the 80's, they are collected here in one book. It is considered groundbreaking, because it was one of the first comic series to step outside of the superhero world, instead, bringing a story quite relevant for the current age. It has a bit of 1984, dealing with a controlling big brother-like government, and one man's attempt to wake up the populace. "People should not be afraid of the government; the government should be afraid of the people." This is a very intelligent, thought-provoking story, that just happens to be told with the help of graphics. A very good movie was made of the story, that came out a few years ago. I highly recommend the movie as well as the book!

300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley - Another 'grown-up" graphic novel - not based on comic book characters, but a real-life incident in ancient Greece: the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held off the army of Persia. Another beautiful hardcover, with lush, painterly graphics. If you've seen the movie (which I actually liked, and which prompted me to get the book), you've seen the book. Many frames of the book are reproduced exactly in the movie. The movie fleshes out some of the characters, that the book does not. But the book is another "must have" for anyone's graphic novel collection, and a "must read" for anyone interested in the genre (and not interested in superheroes)

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