Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, ready to hit 88 mph and bring to you a handful of advance reviews! We've got books from Vertigo, IDW, BOOM!, Fantagraphics and Archaia for your reading pleasure, and we aren't stopping there -- for more back issue reviews, check out the Best Shots Topic Page here! Now, let's take a look at Vertigo's latest original graphic novel, as we go back in time to Cuba: My Revolution...Cuba: My Revolution HC
Written by Iverna Lockpez
Art by Dean Haspiel and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Pat Brousseau
Published by Vertigo
Review by David Pepose
For me, biography comics are always difficult to read critically, only because the question remains -- is theirs a story that needs to be told? If it's a story that moves toward being intrinsically entertaining -- like Ted Rall's The Year of Loving Dangerously, which told the story of a young man sleeping his way out of homelessness for a year -- then the execution matters.
But what happens if it's a story that needs telling? What if this comic is a peek at a time in history that needs no smoothness around the edges? That's the dilemma I had when I read Cuba: My Revolution, which is based on a true story of an artist who fled from Fidel's Cuba even as the economy and society was shaking itself apart.
Iverna Lockpez's story, in many ways, is so earnest that it defies critique. It certainly starts off a bit slow -- and the level of exposition is pretty shallow, with characters saying "I'm drawn to Fidel's bold and dominating figure!" or "Our gas is being rationed, but the people aren't even protesting... they want justice more than gasoline" -- but at the same time, isn't that the sort of rationalization that so many under Fidel's thumb would engage in? And yes, the overall plot arc is a bit disjointed, but isn't that how life is sometimes? Is it necessarily the best-laid plans of mice and men that get you out of tyranny, or is it the random kindess of strangers? You decide.
I will say, though, that this book picks up immensely when Lockpez's avatar Sonya dives into the field of medicine -- and in the horrors of Castro's government. It's these sequences that really define the book, and in many ways actually desensitizes you during the last third of the book. The images are evocative, shocking, almost reminiscent (if it didn't seem so tacky to compare the two) to V for Vendetta. But this is real, and in a lot of ways, this is why I think Lockpez's story needed to be told.
Now as far as the art, I'm curious as to what the process was for putting this book together. Dean Haspiel's art, at most times, feels like there's a missed opportunity here -- perhaps some of that is due to the subject matter, which focuses primarily on Sonya's life rather than giving us some more weight by checking in in the rest of the world, but his work is so steady that I feel it robs Lockpez's story of a little bit of its own unique visual voice. The black, white and red color scheme here feels a little heavy-handed, but it does occasionally have its benefits, such as a particularly horrific scene in a prison. But where Haspiel does succeed is in his character design -- I love the way Sonya evolves throughout this book. She's not the same person at the end as when she started, and it's great to see that visually as well as emotionally.
So here's the question -- is this a great book? I think it has the potential to be an important one -- Lockpez's story here really does illustrate the hardships of living through a revolution, and highlights a period of real fear that I think so many people don't think about. If you're reading this for entertainment's sake, I don't think the execution is smooth enough to hook you -- but comics don't always have to be about wish-fulfillment or drama. Cuba: My Revolution is the story of a woman's life and her struggle for freedom. Dismiss it at your peril.
Written by Michael McMillian
Art by Anna Wieszczyk
Lettering by Shawn DePasquale
Published by Archaia
Review by Brendan McGuirk
Magic! Aliens! Government conspiracies! All this and more, in the first issue of Lucid!
At least, that's how the book wants to be read. Michael McMillian and Anna Wieszczyk's mystical and intergalactic covert ops team book has many of the makings of a hit. It's got a dashing lead, a unique enough hook to keep audiences listening, and visual conceits that make the story particularly suited to comics. The anatomy for long-term success is there, but Lucid #1 stumbles out of the blocks. The question then becomes, will the book's underlying strengths prove to be enough to recover as it goes the distance, and will it race through the finish?
Matthew Dee was a typical, distracted young man, until he was swept into a world of hunting extraterrestrial-worshipers and rune-casting. He is the classic hero, and, from all indications, his will be an iteration of the classic hero's journey. He's the master of his domain, until new management starts to cramp his style. As the mysteries deepen, it will fall on Dee to adjust and prove himself to be a champion.
So again, Lucid has the parts. And Wieszczyk's visuals are stark enough to make the book stand out. While some backgrounds are left for coloring to flesh out, her figure work is stylized and dynamic.
Much of the issues with this first chapter is found in the relaying of chunks of information. Words and pictures can be an incredibly efficient way to convey message and story, but there is no more common a mistake than to allow one's story to outpace the page, creating a weighted exposition that drags the narrative. The early pages of this issue tip the scales in that expository direction. Even the early action sequences feel saturated. And while structure is an important tool, especially when trying to maximize the audience's attention, it is not all that far from formula. This book will need to maintain an awareness of that.
But once that background is out of the way, promise begins to shine through. It's big revelation, the amalgamation of Arthurian legend with the paranormal, could prove to be an inspired stroke, provided the execution rounds into form. There's a lot of room for fun in Lucid. If this book looks to build something, and expands out with a spindling web of intrigue, compounding itself with disparate genre tropes that inspire the imagination, it could be great. If it tells its “origin story,” tidily, and closes, it will feel like a crass exercise in using comics as the most convenient way to sell a story. Lucid has potential, and hey, isn't that what legends are made of?
28 Days Later #14
Written by Michael Alan Nelson
Art by Alejandro Aragon and William Farmer
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Teresa Jusino
I’m generally not a fan of comic adaptations of already-existing properties. My rule for comic adaptations of TV shows is that I will not read the comic version of a show that’s currently airing (sorry True Blood and Fringe!); unless the show in question is Doctor Who, and the comic uses a previous Doctor. My rule for comic adaptations of films is generally – Don’t Read Them. I mean, what would be the point? Any film worth adapting into a comic would had to have been good to warrant the adaptation, and if it was that good…why mess with it in another medium? Another of my rules? A quality issue of a comic is its own story. Every issue should be a standalone. Not that it can’t be a part of something larger, but whether it’s part of a longer story arc or not, fan and newbie alike should be able to pick up any issue of any comic and be able to get something out of it without prior knowledge. In an age of everything being written for graphic novels, that’s changing, and it’s become easy for publishers to forget that individual issues should be a “gateway drug” to reading a title.
I loved the film 28 Days Later, and so when I saw that there was a comic adaptation I rolled my eyes and ignored it. I wouldn’t have read it at all were it not for Newsarama giving me Issue #14 to review this week. Issue #14, meaning that I was starting well into the story. This issue pretty much had everything working against it.
I’m happy to report that Issue #14 of 28 Days Later has proven an exception to my rules.
Writer Michael Alan Nelson starts this issue in the middle of an intense moment. The moment when a man decides to give his life for his friends. This moment is intrinsically infused with drama, but if the reader doesn’t care about the characters, it could easily fall flat. Nelson gives us everything we need to know in precise dialogue that makes us care about these people. With no knowledge of these characters, other than my knowledge of Selena from the original film, I could easily get a sense of who these people are. Derrick, the blinded smart-ass with a heart of gold, and Clint, the guy who tries to be tough and capable, but who wavers in moments of crisis. In the first three pages of the issue, I was drawn into their moment, and saddened when the ultimate decision was made, and Derrick was left behind to become fodder for the infected. It takes real talent to pack so much emotion into few panels, and Nelson does that with different moments throughout the whole issue as Selena and Clint move on, forced to deal with the death of their companion as they continue to fight for survival.
I was thrilled, too, to see that Nelson chose Selena as the character from the film that would go forward in this adaptation. It’s important that we get to see a powerful woman of color in a comic, and nothing says powerful like a woman who’s survived the apocalypse wielding guns and an enormous machete.
Artist Alejandro Aragon is a wonder with single images. In this emotional issue about the death of a friend, there was much that went unsaid and had to be captured in glances and images. Aragon’s facial expressions were heartbreaking, as were moments like the three panels he used to have Derrick fade from sight as his friends go on without him. Where Aragon struggles a bit is with action, and I was often lost and confused by action and the placement of certain panels. However, Aragon made up for all that with the final, disturbing image of the issue that left me asking, “What’s next?”
Issue #14 of 28 Days Later was part of a larger story that I’m looking forward to catching up on. Yet, it was also a smaller, focused story about the loss of a friend, and how two people who don’t really wear their emotions on their sleeves grieve and try to move on. This issue surprised me, and made me want more.
5 Days to Die #2
Written by Andy Schmidt
Art by Chee
Lettering by Robbie Robbins
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Amanda McDonald
When I reviewed the debut issue of this series, I was really excited to see it play out. Five issues in five weeks, a little something different to keep my pull box interesting. While this second issue is good, it didn't pack as much punch as I was expecting.
We do meet the elusive 'Hoverman' in issue two, and learn that he may not be the mastermind behind the attack on Ray and his family as Ray suspects he is. Of course, Ray doesn't know this and continues on a murderous rampage in search of answers.
Schmidt's storytelling is solid as he adds in the subplot of Hoverman and introduces us to Ray's deceased wife's sister. Chee's art has the same gritty style as the first issue and while it is executed well, there's nothing that struck me as absolutely amazing.
This is a neat concept and a good story, but I'm not sure I would follow it if it were an ongoing series. However, for a limited run I find it to be a pretty good read, and I'm intrigued enough to follow it through to the end to see what happens. It's kind of morbid, but I'll admit -- I want to see if he really does die at the end of his five days.
Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream & Other Stories
Written and Drawn by Moto Hagio
Lettering by Rich Tommaso
Published by Fantagraphics
Review by David Pepose
Confession time: I definitely approached A Drunken Dream with more than a little trepidation. I'm a binge-reader who naturally gravitates toward superhero and high-concept action. Was I really going to like an anthology collection of shojo manga?
The answer: Yes. There's a lot to take in from this primer on Moto Hagio, which is less of a storytelling smorgasbord and more of a buffet line -- there's something for everyone here, regardless of whether or not you dig every story in this collection.
For me, it was the first half of this book that dragged a bit. That's not to say that Hagio's grasp of characterization wasn't there, but the pacing was almost pointillistic, there wasn't that unique spin or paradigm shift to really define these stories of standing up for yourself or missed connections or the like. But to Hagio's credit, her artwork is the one constant in all this -- outside of, say, the titular "A Drunken Dream," it's clear that her sense of composition, of emotion, of that resonance that shojo brings to so many readers is clearly evident. But -- as would be obvious for someone early on in their career -- the early stuff shows potential, but doesn't quite hook me.
That all changes after A Drunken Dream. Literally, I could not put down this book once I hit the second half. Every story is fantastic, because it takes these interesting genre detours and makes them seem just as more true than you could possibly imagine. Whether its seeing the sibling rivalry between conjoined twins in "Hanshin: Half-God" or the question of whether or not humans will evolve to be angels in "Angel Mimic," you feel for these characters.
My personal favorite of the bunch is "Iguana Girl," a story that incorporates bittersweet humor and the traumas of family and expectations. The expressiveness is only heightened by Hagio's cartoony drawings for the story, and it's actually in many ways more effective than her more realistic style for "A Drunken Dream."
With all of the spectacle of the Big Two -- and believe me, I don't knock it, it's what helps give the industry some of its enthusiastic character -- I think sometimes people overlook the sheer potential that human conflict can give. Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream, if nothing else, is a reminder of that, giving a plethora of all-too-human situations under the occasional sci-fi or fantasy trope. If you're looking for a densely-written change of pace that gives great insight into the career of a fantastic artist, you owe it to yourself to give this a look.What're you looking forward to this week?