The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Complete Maus is a must have in the collection of any serious lover of graphic novels. The story of Art Spiegelman recording his father’s memories of being persecuted by the Nazi Regime during World War II is told in stunning detail in this magnificent graphic novel. The black and white drawings have the fine detail of etchings as Vladek and Anja’s story is lovingly immortalized with the Jews represented as mice and the Germans represented as cats. I especially liked the way the novel journeyed from past to present with smooth, believable transitions, including the on-again, off-again relationship between Vladek and his second wife, Mala, as they are drawn toward one another more because of their past suffering than because of their present love.

Vladek carries many emotional scars from his past that bleed over into his day to day life, and Art honestly conveys the trauma of his mother’s suicide on himself and his father. History is recreated in the most personal way possible, through the lives of real people, and I highly recommend The Complete Maus to anyone.

My Rating:  

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Castle Waiting by Linda Medley


Castle Waiting opens with a re-telling of the tale of Sleeping Beauty, but after Beauty rides off with her prince, the inhabitants of her former home are left with no one to rule them. Many move away, but a few stay with the castle that is now a sanctuary for travelers and awaiting a new king to claim her. From the opening pages until the end, Castle Waiting never loses its fairy tale quality, the black and white drawings are simple yet pleasant and the nouveaux fairy tales are an enjoyable read.

I understand that part of Medley’s allure is the unresolved “ever after,” but I felt a little cheated when I finished this graphic novel, because I would have liked to know more about Medley’s fairytale world and her characters. I would have liked to know Lady Jain’s past and why her child looks like he does; what is the significance of Jain’s arrival at Castle Waiting; and why Rackham and Chess (and other assorted characters) are depicted as sentient animals. I enjoyed the last few chapters depicting the story of Sister Peace and the Solicitines better than any in the entire book.  These final chapters felt like the most complete story in the book with a beginning, middle, and an end.

However, throughout the entire novel, the characters are engaging and these enchanting stories are a lovely way to spend a quiet afternoon.

My Rating: 

All-Star Superman – Volume 1 by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, with Jamie Grant

Is Superman dying? Well don’t look at the Dragon! I’ll not give it away, but I have nothing but praise for this fabulous graphic novel with artwork that has the 1940’s feel of the original comic, but with enough modernity to appeal to younger fans. Here the artwork is bright with teal, magenta, and lapis giving the overall feel as one of youth and vigor.

Beginning with the words “. . . the measure of a man lies not in what he says but what he does” All-Star Superman takes the reader on a much more emotional journey than the Superman comics I remember. Superman must face foes much stronger and more devious than Lex Luther (although our friend Lex does make his appearance) when he faces the possibility of his own mortality, his desire to win Lois’ love, his own evil heart, and his love of his parents. All the while, Morrison, Quitely, and Grant serve up adventure Superman style with panache, verve, and humor never letting the reader forget that graphic novels can be fun and convey a moral.

Once upon a time, it was felt that Superman was too dated, that his moral standards were obsolete for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but I’m glad he’s back. I hope he stays . . .

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Okko: the Cycle of Water by Hub

Another in the “James Library Gets Graphic” series is Okko: the Cycle of Water a delightfully drawn tale well told. When the Inn at Kappa is raided by pirates and the geisha, Little Carp is abducted, her young brother Tikku enlists the aid of the Ronin (masterless Samurai) Master Okko and his companions, Noburo, and the inebriated monk, Noshin. Set in the mythical Empire of Pajan during a period that closely mirrors medieval Japan, Okko resurrects good, old fashioned story telling as Hub chronicles the adventures of the quartet on their ten day journey to solve the mystery of Little Carp’s abduction.

The artwork is not soft, fuzzy manga, but is drawn with strong lines that competently convey this is an adult graphic novel. The subtle shifts of color used within the pages of Okko carry the reader from one scene to another flawlessly encapsulating the mood of each scene. Hub’s combination of excellent story, great dialogue, beautiful art, and memorable characters make Okko: the Cycle of Water a graphic novel you’ll want read and re-read. I’m already thirsty for the next installment, Okko: the Cycle of Earth.

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Tales from the Farm – Essex County Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire

A sweet tale, sweetly told is Tales from the Farm.  Lemire tells Lester’s story almost entirely through the nuanced illustrations of this black and white graphic novel, the dialogue is spare, but every word has meaning.  Lester wears a cape and mask to hide himself from the world when his mother dies and he goes to live with his Uncle Ken, but the only thing Lester and his uncle Ken have in common is a love of hockey.  Lester dreams of drawing comics and fighting evil space aliens bent on destroying earth, so when Jimmy LeBeuf gives Lester a comic at the gas station one day, Lester’s life starts to change.  Tales from the Farm follows the intertwined relationship of Uncle Ken, Lester, and Jimmy over the course of year, beginning in the summer and ending in the spring. An absolute master of the subtleties of black and white shading, Lemire’s drawings convey moods and emotions by the minute changes to the character’s eyes or the simple mannerisms exhibited in a frame.

If you would like a preview, visit topshelfcomix.com and be sure to have your sound on for the music.

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Batman: the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (Author), Lynn Varley (Colorist), Klaus Janson (Illustrator)

Well, Wild Things, the James Library got graphic and the Book Dragon loves graphic [my wicked life . . . hehe] so reviews from the Dragon will be graphic for a while. It was hard to pick favorites, so I’ll start them in alphabetical order with Batman: the Dark Knight Returns.

Batman is my favorite “superhero” simply because Bruce Wayne is the ultimate antihero; an emotionally scarred man who earnestly believes he can make a difference, but interestingly enough only creates more chaos in his wake. With no miraculous super powers, Bruce Wayne relies on his own technology, ingenuity, and physical strength to carry out justice on Gotham’s dark streets. But the Batman is getting older, it’s more difficult to out-brawl the villains threatening Gotham, and there is no successor to the Batman, even Robin is gone – well, at first, anyway.

Frank Miller does an astounding job with the artwork and storyline resurrecting the Dark Knight from his ten year hiatus and giving him a new, feisty Robin drawn in tight panels that are so inflamed with activity and color they leave you reeling. While the story of Batman’s return to stifle Gotham City’s crime wave plays out, other panels highlight a media blitz that blares in the background like CNN on an acid trip. Definitely not a relaxing read, Batman captures the media’s need to milk every second from the world’s catastrophes intertwined with the violence that results from Batman’s vigilante justice.  Bravo, to the excellent team that put this graphic novel together!

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The Killer’s Wife by Bill Floyd

This is Floyd’s first book, and unfortunately it shows.  The plot centers on Leigh Wren, mother of a young son and ex-wife of a serial murderer who is sitting on death row.  After moving to Cary, NC to start a new life, Leigh is accosted one day in the grocery store by the father of one of her ex-husband’s victims.  She and her son are exposed to their new community, while at the same time a new killer is emerging, focusing on victims tied to Leigh’s former life.  I have a dislike for books written from a female perspective by a male writer.  Maybe that’s not fair, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but to me they never really ring true.  The characters here are fairly one-dimensional, the writing a bit pedestrian, and the plot reminiscent of a movie-of-the-week.  Not totally awful, but not that great either.

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