Graphic Novel Friday: Best Comics of May

Alex Carr on May 25, 2018
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This May, we feature seven graphic novels involving the dark web, self-image, household pets-turned-sleuths, family secrets, and superhero dating.

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Sabrina by Nick Drnaso: Existential despair and dread are the driving forces behind what makes this new graphic novel by Nick Drnaso so compelling and unfortunately topical. After the titular character is kidnapped, her boyfriend, Teddy, travels to stay with an old friend, Calvin. While Teddy wallows, Calvin goes to work at a bleak U.S. Air Force station and tries to woo his estranged wife via late-night Skype chats. Soon, a horrific VHS tape emerges involving Sabrina, and her disappearance suddenly becomes a national narrative, embroiling Teddy, Calvin, and Sabrina’s family not only in the news but also the dark web of online conspiracies and fringe lunacy. For these characters, the emotional toll only mounts, while the reader must confront the ever-growing divide between online personas and empathy. It’s a maddening read and one of the most powerful graphic novels so far in 2018.

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Love That Bunch by Aline Kominsky-Crumb: In the 1960s, Aline Kominsky-Crumb appeared on the underground comix scene as a voice that demanded to be heard while also shouting down her own talents. In a series of heavily self-deprecating comics, Kominsky-Crumb (or, her alter ego “Bunch”) stumbles and picks her way through casual sex, body image, feminism, and motherhood. Beginning with pieces from the 1970s, the stories collected in Love That Bunch are as shocking and graphic now as they were when originally published. You’ve been warned but also encouraged.

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All the Answers by Michael Kupperman: Against the encroaching dementia that plagues his father, Eisner-winning artist Michael Kupperman seeks to unfold a period in his father’s life that remains largely unspoken. In World War II-era America, young Joel Kupperman was a child prodigy who became a celebrity thanks to the radio and television program, Quiz Kids. The sensation of fame quickly soured, and Michael Kupperman explores the nature of this stardom, and why his Jewish father seemed to be groomed for the role. Kupperman’s visuals are more subdued than his previous work ( Tales Designed to Thrizzle, for example), but given the subject matter, the quieter layouts provide ample room for father-son reflection for both the writer and reader.

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All Summer Long by Hope Larson: Coming of age never looked this good. Bina is a 13 year-old girl facing a stretch of summer vacation with her best friend, Austin—until Austin announces he’s leaving for summer camp. But who needs Austin anyway? Bina has movies to binge, her guitar to play, and Austin’s older sister, Charlie, to befriend. Yet for Bina, summer soon becomes much more than all of these external inputs, as she discovers a self is greater than the sum of her interests. Larson treats her protagonist with due frankness that any young or adult reader will appreciate, and the illustrations are easy to enjoy, with each character having a distinct look and characterization.

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Batman, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement by Tom King, Clay Mann, Joelle Jones, and Lee Weeks: Sure, Bruce Wayne is impossibly rich, impossibly handsome, and his alter ego Batman is impossibly smart, fast, and resilient to permanent harm, but can the guy get a date? Not when there’s a Bat-signal in the sky, and yet he also happens to have the most impossibly alluring villainesses, queen among them, Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman. In this newest collection, writer Tom King finally gives the Caped Crusader a long-term relationship. Bruce and Selina explore the usual romantic tropes: double dates with super-friends, sword fights with the ex, and far-future timelines. The results are nothing short of the liveliest Batman storytelling in a decade (not to mention the disparate but knockout artwork by Joelle Jones, Lee Weeks, and Clay Mann).

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Runaways: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka: The Runaways used to be a team of teens who were sons and daughters of super-villains, and they banded together to combat the very forces of evil who were their parents. Then things got messy: teammate deaths, teammate betrayals—teammates no more! In this relaunch, written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Kris Anka, the band gets back together, which can be difficult when the heroes are spread apart and in various timelines and stations in their lives. Thankfully, in superhero comics, there is always a solution to those pesky problems. Rowell keeps the drama heavy but the humor light, while Anka must be praised for his characters full of facial expressions, body language, and fashion.

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Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson: Beasts of Burden recalls classic adventure storytelling, only with talking animals solving paranormal suburban mysteries. Think Homeward Bound meets The Monster Squad or Goonies. In Thompson’s beautiful, engaging watercolors, the domesticated animals battle ghosts, monsters, and fearsome possessed creatures. It’s rare when a story retains its charm while fearlessly exploring horror. There’s a reason Beasts of Burden is a six-time Eisner Award-winning series, and Animal Rites showcases this in a beautiful new and tall paperback edition.

Programming note: ABR readers, this year marks my 10-year anniversary writing Graphic Novel Friday, and it's been my pleasure to wave the cape and cowl for comics everywhere. I'm stepping away from this great responsibility (although I never did find the great power that Peter Parker mentioned), and this month will be my last post, I'm both happy and sad to type. Thank you for reading (Mom!) and for giving me this opportunity.  Up, up, and—oh, I can't even bear to type it. Away!

—Alex


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