Graphic Novel Friday: Best of January

Alex Carr on January 26, 2018
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Vision_cover1.jpgWelcome to 2018, where we begin with five excellent graphic novels that feature love, politics, and depressed superheroes.

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Riding high off the buzz from his current Mister Miracle book (with artist Mitch Gerads), writer Tom King’s previous series, Vision, gets the deluxe treatment. With artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, King crafts an original take on the android Avenger known as Vision, who explores the humanity that exists within his shell and finds what he lacks is a family. So, of course, he creates one for himself, without expecting the dire results of his experiment. His children attend school, while he and his wife, Virginia, play house. What begins as a family drama quickly erodes into quiet horror, as family members begin to question not only their own existence but the point of everyone's lives, leading to a devastating conclusion. This oversized hardcover collects all twelve chapters and a significant portion of bonus material, including King’s scripts and scans of Walta’s original artwork.

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Tommi Parrish’s painted art style immediately sets this 90-page graphic novel apart, as body proportions—already askew—change between characters and panels even on a single page, and certain illustrations remain purposefully unfinished. In The Lie and How We Told It, two old friends cross paths one day and then spend the rest of the night catching up, rehashing old stories and exploring new ones. Desire, regret, sexual orientation, and the mundane are all explored by big-bodied figures underneath tiny heads, and despite the ever-changing sizes (and styles) of their bodies, these characters never read as anything but truthful. Things only deepen as Parrish introduces a metatextual element, encouraging further examination of not only the dialogue and body language but intricacies underneath a deceptively simple, if mercurial, art style.

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Politics and love abound in 1970s Swedish winter. Despite being a married mother, Siv, a social Democrat, falls for a Marxist. It’s testament to the universal language of relationships that a region-specific political period piece translated into English (by Hana Stromberg) retains appeal for a wide audience, thanks to its message and intricate character study. Writer and artist Anneli Furmark’s gorgeous colors are on full display here, with blues both bleak and inviting, and red tinges at panel borders to offer warmth.

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Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer is a masterclass in depressed superheroes. Like Tom King’s Vision, it highlights the crumbling psyche of caped heroics. Here, a group of former Golden Age heroes has been mysteriously imprisoned on an abandoned farm, where they are decades-removed from their former, impressive selves. As they struggle with day-to-day doldrums, ancient grievances bubble to the surface. In this second volume, the team inches closer to the origin of their imprisonment—and a possible escape path. Dean Ormston’s artwork provides an especially unsettling template, where characters are haunted and haunting.

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Please believe me: this is not what you think it is! Artist and writer Tom Scioli is an indie talent given free reign with two vast franchises. What does he do with such potential? He pits them together in a battle to the end of the universe. Is it satire, is it loving homage, is it nostalgia-turned-mind-bending-awesomeness? I’m still not sure, but this is full-tilt storytelling, with colors that knowingly bleed outside the lines and pages that look properly distressed. Heroes and villains clash against the cosmos, while machines face inner journeys that rival any human therapist session. This gigantic collection somehow manages to stay bound despite bountiful extras, bombastic artwork, and a script (with John Barber) that challenges everything you ever (or never) knew about both G.I. Joe and Transformers.
--Alex


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