Judas by Jeff Loveness, illustrated by Jakub Rebelka. BOOM!, 2018. 9781684152216. Originally published as Judas #1-#4.
Judas is more than simply bummed out after betraying Christ. He is so distraught he hangs himself then wanders around hell. There are demons (see Ezekiel 1:4-8 for a description, though the drawings are freakier). Judas contemplates Christ’s power and the suffering in the world (in particular Judas’s own mother’s death). The Devil appears in answer to Judas’ prayers, but doesn’t provide the answers Judas wants. As they walk together the Devil tells Judas that they’re trapped, were used and cast aside, and that they are both the villains the story needed. Then the Devil brings Jesus to hell.
I’ve read bits of the Bible and several comics versions. I enjoy the Lucifer character from Sandman and Mike Carey’s related series. The striking gold foil thorns on this book’s cover caught my attention, and the book’s balance between the imagery and words kept me moving through it. It was hard to look away from Rebelka’s gorgeous drawings, scenes that went from dark and moody to bloody, horrific suffering, from forgiveness all the way to rage.
Other Bible-related graphic novels I recommend: Tom Gauld’s deadpan Goliath.
Usagi Yojimbo Book 32: Mysteries by Stan Sakai. Dark Horse, 2018. 9781506705842. Contains Usagi Yojimbo #159 – #165. 195pp.
This is my favorite new Usagi Yojimbo collection in years. The thing Stan Sakai does better than anyone is in drawing action scenes — Usagi’s sword fights are chaotic and carefully composed, and the frames are crowded but the action is easy to follow. They’re high stakes but really cartoony, too — perfect for adults but not too much for most kids. And it all takes place in an Edo era Japan drawn with classic shading techniques — I’m so happy these aren’t published in color!
This book is full of assassins and gangsters, and there are several thieves that are easy to love, among them recurring characters Kitsune and her sideckick Kiyoko plus the masked, Robin Hood-like Nezumi. Usagi saves a young girl, helps Inspector Ishida solve a few related murders, and has several epic fights. (In one of them Usagi even wields a fish along with his swords.) It’s a lot of fun and another classic that I’m adding to my permanent graphic novel collection.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. Tor, 2017. 9780765395238. 176pp.
Sarah: So you told me wild west, hippos instead of cows.
Gene: Very LGBTQ friendly, and a great western.
S: I was like, yeah, maybe, and then I picked it up and I was like YES!
G: Isn’t it the greatest? Just putting the team together…
S: That was one of my favorite parts. The second person he tries to hire tries to poison him.
G: That’s Hero. The guy in charge, his name is Houndstooth. But first, the world. There’s a timeline of events in the back. It’s based on a thing that almost happened.
S: But later.
G: At some point the US government was going to turn part of the Mississippi River into a marsh and bring hippos in to solve some meat shortage. In this book that happens in 1857, part of the river is dammed to create habitat, and it’s named The Harriet after President Buchanan’s favorite cow (a nice touch). It’s declared neutral territory in the Great Hippo Compromise. A ranch is destroyed, hippos are released into the marsh and become feral.
S: Hippos in real life are vicious and will eat you, so this area is declared lawless.
G: And there’s a big gate to contain the hippos.
S: The area has been taken over by a criminal who runs a riverboat gambling operation. So his influence rests on keeping the hippos there for his illegal empire.
G: He feeds people to the hippos if they mess up.
S: Over the edge and into the water!
G: The government wants it cleaned up. Enter: Houndstooth, and his hippo Ruby.
S: A Cambridge Black, gorgeous, with gold teeth.
G: Sleek, fast, deadly.
S: He’s hired to get the feral hippos out, and the government assumes it will take decades.
G: He’s taking the job for revenge, but we don’t know why or against whom. He has a plan to do it really quickly. He’s got to put a crew together. He’s dapper, has a bag of gold.
S: People don’t know about his background but he’s British, and they keep saying he doesn’t look he would be…
G: And then he sleeps with the guy who hires him. Oh! This isn’t going to be like other westerns!
S: Right. I was wondering if Gailey could sustain that, and the answer was yes.
G: There’s a great moment where he’s looking at photos of the people he’s going to hire, and they’re not described much. The next person is Archie the Con, a very large woman, very sexually desired, on a mostly blind albino hippo. She’s a seductress and a pickpocket. Then he has to go to Hero.
S: They’re retired, sitting on a porch, drinking iced tea. Offers Houndstooth some tea. Hero takes a sip. And then the tea eats through the glass, the bannister, and a rose bush, which was so good, I was in at that point.
G: There’s not a great description of Hero.
S: Definitely doesn’t identify as a woman or a man. Some people don’t get it, but some do.
G: But most get it. This is an alternate history where more folks were like, They’re part of your crew? Awesome!
S: It was. There are lots of generations of westerns where they’re reframed to put the current us into the adventure. And so successive generations add themselves in like this. I love it!
G: Then they go into the Harriet to find the other two people, one a poor gambler, the other the most brutal contract killer in the world. Everyone on the crew has a good entrance.
Doesn’t someone keep asserting they’re trying to pull off a caper?
S: Yes. Houndstooth disagrees, he says it’s an operation. Reminded me of some of my favorite parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, some of the little back and forth quips that establish the characters.
G: Then the western proceeds in the swamp, with hippos. And you can’t explain any more, because it would give away too much of the plot.
S: It’s a short book that moves fast.
G: I love novella length stories that don’t get bogged down in explanation.
S: Someone asked me about this after I’d just finished it. I said I had been worried it would be one of those books where the LGBTQ aspect makes it feel like an issue book. This is not an issue book, it’s just a part of it. It’s deliberate and incorporated.
G: It’s just not a big deal.
S: It’s not a problem.
Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9780553535204. 304pp.
(Note from Gene: I’ve known Kelly since back when she was a children’s librarian back in the early 2000s, I meet her to write a few times a month, and I loved her first book.)
Gene: So your book, your fantastic book. Give me your pitch for it.
Kelly: It’s about a girl, Annis, whose father is murdered and instead of becoming a governess she’d much rather become a spy. Unfortunately the War Office doesn’t see eye to eye with her.
G: Don’t you have to pitch it as a Regency first though?
K: I don’t, actually. I typically don’t. When I’m talking to elementary school kids about what I’m writing next, I say this happened 200 years ago and then I give that pitch. This one kid was like It’s exactly like Maximum Ride! And I was like, um…
G: I haven’t read that. But what about the Alex Rider series. This is if Alex Rider wore a dress and he could sew.
K: Yes. That is exactly not what it is like.
K: It’s a Regency but it’s not a romance.
G: She doesn’t find for a while that her dad is murdered. She’s kind of cast out of her life because she and her aunt suddenly don’t have any money — all of her dad’s money goes missing. And she goes to the War Office in a very haughty moment, after she knows she has magical talent, and tries to convince them to hire her as a spy. She goes about it in completely the wrong way.
K: I think that is basically her approach to pretty much everything for most of the book, if not the entire book. She has her idea of how things should be done and nobody else ever agrees with her.
Continue reading “Spies Like Thus”
Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Loïc Locatelli-Lournwsky, translated by Sandra Smith. Pegasus Books, 2016. 9781681772172.
Locatelli-Lournwsky’s retelling of the story of Pocahontas (also known as Matoaka) opens with her becoming a woman and getting married, though she is still treated like a child. Trying to teach herself to hunt, she is injured and rescued by John Smith. After they are found her people want to kill Smith but she intercedes and saves his life. From that day forth she is called Pocahontas, which the book translates as “shameless whore.” Smith returns to Jamestown where Pocahontas visits frequently and learns English. As the white men continue cut down trees and destroy the forest, moving ever closer to the Natives and affecting their ability to hunt, tensions rise. When the Natives are about to attack the settlement she warns Smith in an effort to save lives on both sides, but loses her place among her people because of it. She moves into a different settlement, converts to Christianity, and marries a widower. She is eventually taken to England where she is presented at court.
This graphic novel’s setting and subject matter reminded me of Nick Bertozzi’s epic Lewis & Clark, though this feels like more story than history. This version of Pocahontas is an expressive, strong character quietly determined to move forward despite the difficulties of her life. She pulled me through the story as much as Locatelli-Lournwsky’s artwork — he uses one color, an orangish yellow, along with black, to create a sense of everything from the wild forests of North America to the formality of the English court.
Have a look at some pages from this book.
Black Road Volume One: The Holy North by Brian Wood, Gary Brown, Dave McCaig, Steve Wands. Image, 2016. 97816321587.
Contains Black Road #1 – #5.
Brian Wood is one of my favorite comics creators, and his Vertigo series Northlanders was one of the best things he’s written, so there was no way I wasn’t going to pick this up. In Norway, in about the year 1000 A.D., the Christian conversion of Viking civilization is in full swing. Magnus the Black is just trying to keep his head down as he tries to decide whose side he’s on. He’s hired to escort a Roman cardinal on the Northern Road to Hammaruskk, “…a path
built of misery, sorrow, blood, and bile.” The Cardinal isn’t worried as he says he has a guardian angel. (His angel can’t stop his murder, but she does try to complete the Cardinal’s mission. And along the way she gets vengeance for him.)
Full of double crosses, murder, and gloriously bloody violence, this reminded me of the more brutal bits of Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. And it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger — I’m happy that there’s more coming.
PS: I highly recommend Wood’s current monthly comic from Dark Horse, Briggs Land, about a woman trying to take control of (and improve) the secessionist community her husband created, after her husband goes to prison. (Her husband isn’t happy about it, but luckily she has the support of most of her sons.)
PPS: You should also try Wood’s Rebels, a graphic novel of the Revolutionary War that features Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys and others. Good stuff.
The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen by Jorge Zentner, Rubén Pellejero. EuroComics (IDW). 9781631406065. 260pp.
This omnibus includes eight shorter comics and three graphic albums featuring adventurer Dieter Lumpen, originally published between 1985 and 1994, written by Zenter (Argentina) and drawn by Pellejero (Spain). I must have ordered it from the Seattle Public Library when checking for new graphic novels, which I do periodically. I’m not much of a fan of realistic European comics of this time period, but artist Tim Sale’s introduction gave me a way in: he talks about Pellejero being a kindred spirit in terms of how he balances black and white in his drawings. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Sale’s work (my favorites are probably Batman: The Long Halloween and Catwoman: When in Rome) you’ll love these stories more than a little, too.
Full of sex, violence, criminals, and settings around the globe, the eight short comics were the high point of the book for me. “A Dagger in Istanbul” opens with Lumpen on the run from a gunman in a Turkish market. He’s been hired to chauffeur a widow who is out to recover a dagger her husband donated to a museum, which has been stolen. The next short, “Games of Chance,” picks up right where this left off (as does the next, and so on.) After a run of bad luck, Lumpen must kill a man to clear his gambling debt. But after the man saves his life, Lumpen tries to find a way to do what he must and maintain his honor.
See more of Tim Sale’s art and Rubén Pellejero’s art.