May 11, 2014

Graphic novel roundup: Ghost brides, dystopian violence

The Undertaking of Lily Chen. Danica Novgorodoff. First Second. 432 pages. $29.99.

The Undertaking of Lily Chen. Danica Novgorodoff. First Second. 432 pages. $29.99.

The tale is contemporary — one of its main characters is an airline pilot — but Novgorodoff’s dreamy, picaresque road saga is a timeless journey of love, pride, greed and postmortem marriage set in China. Her story of a guilty but duty-bound son seeking a ghost bride for his dead brother is rough, rollicking and surprising, with art that’s gorgeous, finely rendered and imaginatively colored.

Over Easy. Mimi Pond. Drawn & Quarterly. 272 pages. $24.95.

Pond’s been a favorite for years, but this work, an extended autobiographical narrative, may be her masterpiece. A funny and sly memoir of her post-graduate work in the diner division of the school of hard knocks, she does a fantastic job of capturing the place (San Francisco Bay) and time (late 1970s). The characters are limned so vividly that anyone who has lived through the era can vouch for the open heart, visceral authenticity and seedy flavor that Pond so expertly captures and conveys herein. Highly recommended.

Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York. Liana Finck. Ecco. 128 pages. $17.99.

Building an epistolary narrative around a series of advice columns is nothing new. But Finck takes a handful of poignant turn-of-the-century letters and responses from troubled New World immigrants published in the venerable Jewish newspaper, The Forward, and constructs a rich, hilarious and authentic fable. The story includes an extended ghostly visitation by the paper’s then-editor and other dramatics, and Finck’s versatility and imagination makes this book a delight.

Astro City Vol. 9: Through Open Doors. Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson. Vertigo. 176 pages. $24.99.

This remarkable creator-owned series returns from extended hiatus with a thoughtful and rousing series of adventures. Journeyman auteur and master of comics minutiae Busiek finds plenty of life left in the hoary superhero genre. His classic yet fresh and affirmative take proves that there are still many stories to tell, especially in the spaces between heroes and semi-heroes. Artist Anderson’s storytelling remains strong, as the cast of archetypes continues to defy expectations.

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust. Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano. First Second. 80 pages. $16.99.

Originally published in France, this kid-level tale of the Holocaust resonates powerfully. Dauvillier and Lizano’s portrayal of subterfuge and survival is depicted starkly and in personal terms. This heartrending book would make an excellent gift for teen readers who might need to be reminded of this all-too-recent chapter of history.

Hinterkind. Vol. 1: The Waking World. Ian Edginton, Francesco Trifogli. Vertigo. 144 pages. $9.99.

Ho hum. Another future post-apocalyptic dystopic yarn with heroic human teens, monsters and mayhem. But Hinterland is a thrilling page-turner that’s violent and authentic, and despite its elves, ogres and trolls, the emotion is palpable and authentic. For those captivated by the current fantasy fiction of A Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games et al, Hinterland is a great option.

White Cube. Brecht Vandenbroucke. Drawn and Quarterly. 64 pages. $22.95.

These odd, wordless strips (the title comes from a modern British art gallery) stars pink-faced twins whose slapstick, often-violent machinations serve as commentary on the vagaries of art, especially the contemporary variety. Vandenbroucke, a Belgian whose work appears in a number of publications, including The New York Times, is a wildly imaginative illustrator. His colorful, rude and whimsical book is an anarchic delight.

Batman, Doug Moench and Kelley Jones. Doug Moench, Kelley Jones. DC Comics. 448 pages. 39.99.

Moench was a ’70s Marvel mainstay, best known for his run on Master of Kung Fu, which capitalized on the martial arts craze and brought Sax Rohmer’s villainous Fu Manchu into the Marvel Universe. As part of the ’80s creative diaspora from Marvel, he landed at DC, and Batman was a natural vehicle for his noirist tendencies. The subsequent team-up with fellow ex-Marvelite artist Gene (The Dean) Colan was dynamite. But when he later hooked up with Kelley Jones, who was a mainstay at Dark Horse and other indies, magic happened, and their Batman stories are considered to be among the Dark Knight’s best. This essential collection gathers some of the pair’s best work (abetted masterfully by inker-extraordinaire John Beatty), perfectly capturing Moench’s taut scripts and Jones’ moody, atmospheric and often grotesque depiction of Batman, Gotham and its denizens.

Richard Pachter is a writer in Boca Raton.

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