Grandville: Bete Noire, by Bryan Talbot
The casual reader in me really enjoys this series, even as my critic side points out I really should be keeping up with Blacksad instead. None of which says I can’t enjoy both; the two works intersect in only the broadest strokes. Grandville isn’t Talbot’s best work–Alice in Sunderland still gets that accolade from me, so far as his solo work goes–but each volume still provides an enjoyable hour or so, and that may literally be the most you can ask from a furry steampunk alternate-history detective series. To be fair, Talbot’s expressive artwork goes a long way toward saving the premise, and there are some interesting concepts on display here, such as humans being a persecuted underclass and how a person’s species informs their personality and outlook. And when your protagonist is a badger, well, no matter how intelligent and polite he may be in ordinary circumstances, you just know he’s eventually gonna go completely berserk and messily kill dozens of people, and half the fun of this series is guessing precisely when LeBrock is going to lose it. Bete Noire is easily the most political book of the series so far (though it’s never been what you’d call disinterested in such matters), and while its points may be a bit on-the-nose (though nowhere near so much as its pop-culture references, easily the book’s biggest failing) it’s nothing disagreeable, at least not to me. Except for Talbot’s apparent bizarre, conspiracy-theory-ish dislike for abstract art.
Captain Atom (New 52) vol. 1: Evolution, written by J.T. Krul, art by Freddie Williams II
How can this be? This is, or at least was, a pad-out title featuring a character neither I nor anyone else gives two tugs of a dead dog’s cock about, even if he was created by Steve Ditko. It’s by a writer I’ve been given ample reason to dislike and an artist I’ve never heard of. And, despite all that…I don’t hate this book. I don’t even really dislike it. Oh, it’s not great, I’m not even sure about calling it truly good, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.
Captain Atom’s always been one of those characters I’ve never been given a reason to care about. Even in the original Justice League International, a series I adored, he was just kinda…there. To be blunt, I liked him better when he was called Dr. Manhattan. This book does little to change my mind, but I can now at least see why I might potentially like the guy. Atom’s clearly a pretty decent fellow, thrust into extraordinary circumstances and determined to seize the opportunity to make the world at least a tiny bit better place. That said, the former point might have hit home a bit harder had this not been yet another DC relaunch title that refuses to truly start over afresh (and lord knows, if any character needed such a reintroduction it’s Captain-freaking-Atom). Even more refreshing is how, despite his military background, Atom is nobody’s mascot and has no interest in becoming a sentient WMD. He’s still pretty cookie-cutter, as indeed are all other characters in this title, but he’s at least properly heroic. This may well be the best thing J.T. Krul has ever written, though he’s still pretty bad–the aforementioned characterization issues aside, the dialogue still sounds like it’s being read off a first-year creative-writing major’s script. I’m still not sure how much I like Williams’ art, but I can at least respect it, as he’s clearly trying–the composition is nice, and the linework goes in a completely opposite direction from what you might expect.
The real reason this book earns my grudging respect, however, is the final page, which is utterly hilarious. That it wasn’t the final issue astounds me, as it’s the perfect “fuck you” ending. It basically turns this collection into a six-issue setup for a one-page punchline. No other New 52 book has made me laugh this hard, not even Red Hood and the Outlaws. It’s pretty great.
Last Days of an Immortal, written by Fabien Vehlmann, art by Gwen de Bonneval
Yet again I am reminded why I love European comics. This is that rare sort of science-fiction story, one that favors far-out concepts over shootouts and spaceship battles. This book gives us a world where immortality is possible with a modicum of effort, where a screaming match with one’s holographic clone is considered an amusing diversion, where philosopher-police focus on the “why” rather than the “who”, and where death is a lifestyle choice rather than an inevitability. And, um, where some people prefer to revert to childhood before having sex. MOVING RIGHT ALONG…
Despite overstepping himself with the weirdness on occasion, Vehlmann succeeds in making the setting both recognizable and believable. Bizarre as they may often seem, humanity of this future is still capable of such familiarities as grief and loss. The positives are present as well of course, but it is these two which inform many of the protagonist’s actions and decisions. Bonneval’s stark, precise pencils (all uninked) bring to life a strange, often oddly sparse world which can still seem inviting in spite of itself. I enjoyed this book, even as I worry checking it out from the library automatically put me on some sort of watchlist. But hey, if Lost Girls didn’t get Chris Hansen knocking on my door…
Twin Spica vol. 12, by Kou Yaginuma
Last, but most certainly not least, I wish to bring your attention to the series that renewed my faith in manga. Yaginuma left the cookie-cutter plots and creepy fetishizing common to shojo by the wayside to tell a simple, sincere story about following one’s dreams. He also made a point of hammering home the idea that friendship is an asset, not the liability reality television (may whoever invented it rot in hell) would have us believe it to be. The protagonist would have failed a dozen times over, had it not been for four people ready and willing to pick her up and yell at her to keep going every time she tripped. Not that it’s a one-way street, either, as she did the exact same for them at least as many times. Damn it, I’m being vague. This is because I love you all (editor’s note: Charles is a notorious liar and does not even love himself, much less any of you) and want you to read this series; therefore, I am trying to avoid spoilers. This is a beautifully-drawn series that plays your emotions like a fancy musical instrument, without ever seeming cheap or exploitative about it. If this concluding volume is a bit on the long side, with roughly as many endings as The Return of the King, I find myself not caring–I didn’t want to let this story go any more than Yaginuma did. Even the unresolved subplots aren’t an annoyance, as there weren’t that many and I’d forgotten about them until Yaginuma pointed them out in his afterword.