Graphic novels

Ellis conjures up 12 imaginative tales

 

•  Global Frequency. Warren Ellis. DC Comics. 288 pages. $19.99.

Even before his current bestselling police-procedural-on steroids novel Gun Machine, the prolific Ellis, who redefined super-hero teams with compression and widescreen storytelling in Stormwatch and The Authority, also scattered an amazing array of scientific extrapolations across the fictional landscape, mainly in monthly comics and miniseries. The best is Planetary, in which his extraordinary league of archaeologists — whose mission is “keeping the world strange” — uncovers hidden connections beneath the underbelly of pop culture. The 12 stories in this collection, each by a different artist, brilliantly reveal even more of his ferocious imagination, with ultra-condensed characterization and elevated dramatics.

• Legion of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Nemo: Heart of Ice. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Top Shelf. 56 pages. $14.95.

What started out as a fairly simple pastiche of vintage boys’ adventure-hero pulp fiction evolved into a heavy-meta series requiring extensive annotation to completely appreciate. O’Neill’s wildly inventive art is as thick with Easter eggs as Moore’s script, which tells the tale of Captain Nemo’s daughter’s ill-fated Arctic dustup with Citizen Kane’s hired electric gun, Tom Swift. But this rollicking side-trip from the unfolding LOEG text is still great fun on the surface and even better when you dive deeper.

• Hand Drying in America. Ben Katchor. Patheon. 16 pages. $29.95.

Surreal architecture, obsessive compulsions and the minutiae of city life fuel Katchor’s deadpan ironies and imaginative renderings. For those familiar with his work in The Village Voice and other periodicals, the expansive format of this collection and its gorgeous coloring is mind-blowing.

• Susceptible. Geneviève Castrée. Drawn & Quarterly. 80 pages. $19.95.

Squinting at her tiny cursive lettering, I savored Castrée’s sad, presumably autobiographical confessional of her early life with her clueless young lookalike French Canadian mother and passive-aggressive stoner stepfather. A figuratively and literally distant Anglophone father makes a few brief appearances, but Castrée’s angry and claustrophobic upbringing is viscerally conveyed in this taut minor masterpiece.

• When David Lost His Voice. Judith Vanistendael. Self-Made Hero. 280 pages. $24.95

Originally published in French as “David les femmes et la mort,” this naturalistic narrative tells a simple but profound and moving tale of a struggle for life and death. Vanistendael’s fine art is dazzling, breathtaking and a visual tour de force, one of the best things I’ve seen in a graphic novel. Thoughtfully colored, with each page exploring and reflecting the shifting mood, Vanistendael shows how David suffers and succumbs to cancer while his wife, daughter and granddaughter try to live and fathom depths of the unthinkable.

• Babble. Bryan Coyle and Lee Robson. ComX. 128 pages. $16.99.

With a fascinating concept and clever characterization, Robson’s story uses the Tower of Babel legend as a springboard and metaphor for human misunderstanding and lost connections. Coyle’s pen and pencils are competent, though the narrative could be a bit more clear and consistent. But the bigger issue is why the medium of graphic storytelling was chosen for this yarn. The talky, exposition-laden tale may have been better conveyed in prose rather than with pictures.

• Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff. Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, R. Crumb, Gilbert Hernandez, Alan Moore, et al. Fantagraphics. 136 pages. $19.99.

This previously uncollected compilation of one-off collaborations and odd solo work is a hoot. Funny, silly, incorrectly political and often tasteless, Bagge’s strips continue to amuse and entertain, and even though there’s no single theme here, his work is surprisingly cohesive and consistent.

• Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo. Alex Raymond. Titan Books. 208 pages. $39.95.

The dialogue is stilted, and the poses seem stiff by modern standards, but the unmistakable artistry of Raymond’s remains potent. The five stories here (by uncredited scribe Don Moore) seem trite compared to modern hyperbolic histrionics, though the mix of space opera and brash American heroics was popular when Flash Gordon originally ran from 1937 though 1941. But the restoration and reproduction of Raymond’s highly influential pen work are gorgeous, and the stories’ campy beats are still enjoyable.

• Pantalones, TX: Don’t Chicken Out. Yehudi Mercado. Archaia Entertainment. 120 pages. $19.95.

This funny, silly, fully realized all-ages adventure from animator Mercado looks like an elaborate storyboard presentation. Maybe it is, but it’s also a superb graphic novel with memorably outrageous characters, comical and colorful art, and frenetic storytelling. Too much fun!

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.

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