Comics


Criminal (Vol. 5): The Sinners: Will have you feeling conflicted

Criminal (Vol. 5): The Sinners by Ed Brubaker

Tracy Lawless, whom we met in Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless, returns in The Sinners, volume five of Criminal. In this volume, he’s working for Sebastian Hyde, the man behind most of the organized crime in the city. He doesn’t want to work for Hyde, but he’s given his word (due to reasons explained in volume two), and Tracy always keeps his word — which keeps getting him into trouble. When other people involved in organized crime start getting killed for seemingly no reason, Hyde makes Tracy take on the role of detective: Find out who is doing the killings and dispose of them.

For the most part, Tracy is a hired killer. But what makes him an interesting character is his twisted sense of ethics: While he goes about killing many of those Hyde orders him to, he has certain rules he follows. First, he won’t... Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 5): Story gaining momentum and richness

Paper Girls (Vol 5) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) & Cliff Chiang (artist)

This is the fifth volume of  Brian K. Vaughan’s PAPER GIRLS, and the larger story is really starting to take shape. The early volumes were quite elliptical and disorienting, so it’s great to be able to understand the various storylines and the larger world-building that is revealed, and get to know and like the four main protagonists even more as they are thrown into a series of tense adventures across time.

[SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD - DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ VOLUMES ONE-FOUR]

Finally we get to delve into the far-future world inhabited by the old-timers, with the sleek and beautifully-colored futuristic cityscapes that were just hinted at in previous volumes. The girls find themselves in a far future city that is surp... Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 4): The most satisfying of the series so far

Paper Girls (Vol 4) by Brian K. Vaughan

This is the fourth volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls, and we are finally given enough glimpses of the larger plot to make sense of what’s happened until this point.

[SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD - DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ VOLUMES ONE-THREE]

After being thrown into the distant past and battling cavemen and befriending fierce natives, the girls once again in their future (and our past), namely during Y2K before the millenium. There are all kinds of strange things happening, not least of which are giant robots duking it out like Transformers in the streets of quiet Stony Stream, but for some reason only one of the girls can see them.

We also get far more details on who the old-timers and young ones are, and why they are fighting a war across multipl... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night: The twists and turns in plot are some of Brubaker’s best

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night by Ed Brubaker

Jacob Kurtz is the focus of Bad Night, the fourth volume of Ed Brubaker’s wonderfully disturbing noir series Criminal. His job is writing the newspaper comic strip that shows up in Criminal (vol. 1): Coward. The comic, based on Dick Tracy, is entitled Frank Kafka, Private Eye, and it’s as puzzling as the stories written by Franz Kafka, after whom he’s named. Frank is put on cases that go nowhere with leads that could never result in understandable clues. As the comic opens, our cartoonist goes wandering the streets at night, as is his custom because of his constant insomnia. He goes into a diner and has an uncomfortable verbal exchange, a near-violent one, with the boyfriend of a woman named Iris, a red-headed woman who is this comic’s femme fatale.

The story’s tension begins immediately, as Jacob’s... Read More

Abbott: Elder gods and tough reporters in 1970s Detroit

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed & Sami Kivela

BOOM! Studios has released the trade edition of the first series of the period dark fantasy Abbott (2018), words by Saladin Ahmed and art by Sami Kivela. Set in 1972, the story follows Elena Abbott, a reporter for the Detroit Daily. Abbott may not be the paper’s only woman reporter, but she is probably its only Black reporter and definitely the only Black woman reporter. Currently, she is in trouble with the paper’s owners for her accurate expose of the police murder of a Black teenager. She is sent to cover the mutilation of a police horse. To further punish her for her stand against police lawlessness, the paper has taken away her photographer and given Abbott a camera. This is a status hit that her white male competitors immediately comment on.

To ... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying: Does not disappoint

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying by Ed Brubaker


The Dead and The Dying, the third volume in the Criminal series by Ed Brubaker, continues the noir tales that began in volume one. In this series, we get the background on a few characters we’ve already met in the previous two volumes, and we are reminded that in the world of noir, the meaner you are, the more likely you are to end up on top, at least in the criminal underworld. The Dead and The Dying gives us three stories: One about Gnarly Brown, a heavyweight turned bartender, and about Sebastian Hyde, Gnarly’s friend and heir to his father’s criminal empire; one about Teeg Lawless, a pretty criminal down-on-his luck and in debt to dangerous ... Read More

SAGA Volume 3: This series is so addictive!

SAGA Volume 3, Issues 13-18 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

This highly original space opera romance is incredibly popular, and for good reason. Anyone who has read Saga Vols 1 & 2 will undoubtedly be fans of star-crossed lovers Alana & Marko, who come from opposing sides of a galactic war, Marko’s sharp-tongued mother Klara, freelancer assassin The Will and his lie-detecting cat, and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. Not to mention the difficult-to-hate Prince Robot IV and all the other bizarre creations of Vaughan and Staples. The authors have continued to breath life into their fresh, genre-bending blend of space opera, romance, family drama, and chase amid a galactic war tale with an amazingly effortless sense of humor. What I like most about this series is their willingness to go off on weird story tangents without losing the momentum of the larger story.

Witho... Read More

Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless: Should not be missed

Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless by Ed Brubaker

In Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless, Ed Brubaker tells a noir story of family loyalty. One brother — a criminal — dies and the other seeks justice, doing what he can to be an avenging angel on the wrong side of the law. When we meet Tracy Lawless, he’s been in the military, and for some unexplained reason, he’s been thrown in the hole for eighteen months (we do get the explanation later in the book). When he gets out, he is told that his brother, Ricky, died ten months earlier in February. Nobody bothered to tell him because when they put him in isolation, all communication between him and the outside world was cut off. But as soon as he finds out Ricky’s been murdered, he heads straight home seeking some kind of justice.

He is sucked into the Undertow, a bar where criminals hang out (it was originally called the Undertown but the “n” burned out back in t... Read More

Criminal (Volume 1): Coward: Noir comics at their best

In Ed Brubaker’s Criminal (vol 1): Coward, we get noir comics at their best. Until I first read the Criminal series about ten years ago now, I was still not persuaded that comics could be a great form of art. But once I read this series, I was convinced I should read more: I thought, if comics can be this good, then there must be many more out there like this one. And so my passion for comics began with the story of Leo, a thief who always has a meticulous plan of escape laid out before he will consider taking on a heist, and in the case of Coward, the heist will get his team five million dollars worth of diamonds from a police van carrying contraband. Leo, unfortunately, is known as a coward because of his escape plans. He is known as someone who runs away.

At the time we meet our cowardly lion, Leo has tried to stop being a part armed robberies because the last one he was in on ended with d... Read More

Batman: Year One: Worth reading and rereading

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Batman: Year On... Read More

SAGA Volume 9: The most shattering volume to date

Saga (Vol. 9) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been nine months since I read Vol 8 of Saga, which is something special. It’s the only comic series that I follow, and the characters are as vivid, complicated, lovable, despicable, cruel, and conflicted as any I know. This is a space opera that tackles the most difficult and relevant topics of our own society, doesn’t hesitate to shock readers, flip the script, and most frightening of all, doesn’t hold back from killing off major characters that we are deeply invested in. It’s a cruel message, that even the best people trying to just live their lives and maintain their ideals can be snuffed out by those with less scruples, and that those that have used violence in the past can rarely escape the consequences, even after having turned to a peaceful path. This volume will leave you stunned, gutted, and struggling to recover. Not only t... Read More

Clockwork Apple: From Tezuka’s most mature period

Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka

Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka is a collection of short stories from Tezuka’s most mature period of writing. The stories were published with dates ranging from 1968 to 1973. The collection itself was translated by Steven LeCroy and published in English by Digital Manga, Inc., a company that is making it possible for fans to read in English the great works of the “God of Manga.” There are eight stories in this collection:

“The Execution Ended at Three O’Clock” is about a Nazi officer who tortured and killed many people, in particular a doctor who is the focus of the story. The doctor has invented a special drug that slows down time, and the Nazi officer wants the formula. He eventually gets it and uses it, but it turns out to b... Read More

Under the Air: This is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka

Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka

Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka, a collection of fourteen manga stories, was published from 1968 to 1970 and translated in 2017 by Grady Martin and published by Digital Manga, Inc. This collection is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka. That this is a five-star collection would not be debated by any who read it; even Tezuka thought highly of it, and he was very critical of his own work. The afterword to this collection is the first one I have read that did not include Tezuka’s humble apologies for a less-than-perfect work. The manga collection is fully mature in its themes, and for the new reader interested in Tezuka, it introduces most of the topics that preoccupied him throughout his long career.

“Joe’s Visitor” opens ... Read More

Yaketpachi’s Maria: How on earth do I evaluate this book?

Yaketpachi’s Maria by Osamu Tezuka

Yaketpachi’s Maria by Osamu Tezuka was written in 1970 and recently translated and published in 2017 by Digital Manga, Inc., a company that has been putting out editions recently of Tezuka’s later works. It is about a young tough boy in seventh grade (though he has been held back a year), who gives birth to a formless ectoplasm that requires a body to speak and move around. So, they provide this creature with the body of a toy doll — of the adult variety! If you think that is bizarre, even more so is that the book is aimed not towards adults, but towards adolescent boys.

Yaketpachi, it turns out, longs for a female figure in his life ever since his mother died, and so that is given as the reason for his “giving birth,” fo... Read More

Record of the Glass Castle: Tezuka explores the darker side of humanity

Record of the Glass Castle by Osamu Tezuka

Record of the Glass Castle by Osamu Tezuka is a manga that was originally serialized in 1970 and was recently translated by Marti McElreath and released by Digital Manga Inc. It has a great premise that allows Tezuka to once again explore the darker side of humanity, as he often did in his later work of the 1970s. The Glass Castle is a house in which a family has been in cryosleep for twenty years — from 1972 to 1992. And as this manga graphic novel opens in 1992, we are witness to the family waking up and turning on itself.

The father is known as a shameless and cruel man who forced his family into cryosleep in order to have his fortune increase over twenty years based on earning interest on a sum of money that is going unused by almost the entire family. Only one brother, Shirou, was allowed by the father to avoid cryosleep s... Read More

Alabaster (Volumes I and II): A dark but compelling story

Alabaster (Volumes I and II) by Osamu Tezuka



Alabaster (Volumes I and II), written by Osamu Tezuka in 1970 and published in 2015 by Digital Manga, Inc., is a dark but compelling story that touches on the evils of which humankind are capable and the resentment and desire for revenge that results in those who are mistreated. Alabaster’s story allows Tezuka to critique bigotry, specifically focusing on racism in the United States. James Block, a young African-American gold-medal winning Olympic athlete, turned into Alabaster because of his experience with the woman he loved as a young man. After a year of dating, James Block proposes to Susan Ross, only to be laughed at, mocked, and turned down by her because he was a black man. She displays shock that he would even imagine that she would stoop to marry ... Read More

The Euphrates Tree: Deals with serious topics of great importance

The Euphrates Tree by Osamu Tezuka

The Euphrates Tree is written and drawn by the great Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “God of Comics.” Tezuka warns us in the postscript not to take this story too seriously; however, I am afraid I will have to go against his advice, because I believe this volume of manga deals with serious topics of great importance. It is about three high school students who visit Jova Island and discover the mysterious Euphrates tree. The tree bears fruit that, if eaten, will give the person or animal great powers and heightened intelligence, but the one aspect of a person that is not changed is their sense of morality.

The three children — Oya, Kama, and Shiko — go to the island for their biology class to study a primitive forest. Tezuka suggests that the island has religious associations for us since at times, he hints that it shares qualities in common with the Garden of E... Read More

The Thief Inoue Akikazu and Other Stories: Shows off Tezuka’s mature work

The Thief Inoue Akikazu and Other Stories by Osamu Tezuka

The Thief Inoue Akikazu and Other Stories by Osamu Tezuka is one of the best collections of his short stories and shows off his mature work. Chloe Metcalf has done an excellent job in the translations, and we have Digital Manga, Inc. to thank for this volume’s availability in the United States. The stories were written from 1972 to 1979, and the collection was released in Japan in 1979. Digital Manga, Inc. released this translation in 2017. I hope there is much more to come from this company.

The five stories in this volume are not for kids. If anybody has been exposed only to Tezuka’s Astro Boy and other works for children, they will be shocked to read these tales. The first story, “The Record of Peter Kurten,” is based on a true story, and Tezuka’s source material is from Shunsu... Read More

Dust 8: Examines the wide varieties of human experience

Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka

In Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka, a plane wrecks on a strange island inhabited by peculiar beings. As the plane wrecks, it runs into part of a magical mountain, and bits of rock, or “dust,” land on ten people, bringing them back to life. Eight of these ten people leave the island and are rescued when they are found at sea. The other two stay on the island, and like the other eight, are alive only because they each have one piece of rock on them, as the mysterious creatures on the island explain. The creatures believe that the humans were fated to die, so they take back the rocks from the two survivors, who immediately collapse in death. The leader of the creatures sends off two others mysterious beings, who inhabit the two bodies of the recently perished humans, to retrieve the rocks, the eight pieces of “dust” from the eight survivors who have returned back to their everyday lives.

... Read More

Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories: A wonderful work by the “God of Manga”

Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka’s Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories is a wonderful work by the “God of Manga.” It is has been translated beautifully by Adam Seacord and is published by Digital Manga, Inc., a publisher that is doing an excellent job of putting out in translation many of Tezuka’s works that are completely unknown in the United States. This work is one of Tezuka’s mature collections from late in his career. The original collection is from 1974 (Tezuka died in 1989), and this first edition in English came out recently in 2017.

“Melody of Iron,” the first of three stories in the volume, is the main one in terms of length and weighty subject matter. In it, a young man from the U.S. whose family is a part of the mafia in New York, marries a young Japanese woman. The Albini family, at first resistant to havin... Read More

SAGA Volume 2: A comic book that lives up to its name

SAGA Volume Two, Issues 7-12 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

I’m so late to the party that the weekend is over and everyone is back to work on Monday. I like to write SF reviews to introduce new books to people who might not have read them yet, but SAGA is already so popular and well known that the only advantage to discovering this series so late is that I can read the first 5 volumes straight through without having to wait!

The story moves so propulsively you have to force yourself to slow down. The characters are so likeable that even the contract killers and military robot royalty are sympathetic. And the dialogue written by Brian K. Vaughan is so infectiously fun, snarky and charming that I kept laughing out loud. It’s a space opera, yes, and a story of star-crossed lovers caught in the middle of a protracted interstellar war. And they have a brand-new baby. Their arguments... Read More

SAGA Volume 1: A brilliant series

SAGA Volume One, Issues 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant new series SAGA is a mixture of fantasy and science fiction, with wonderfully humorous and realistic dialogue between a newlywed couple. But the subject being addressed (and critiqued) is war. It's also incredibly sexually explicit, so I must give my warning to those who either prefer not to have in their heads images of people with television heads having sex or want to keep such images from their kids. (Personally, I find it funny to watch one of the television head characters, a powerful and vicious military official and member of the royalty, struggle with impotence when out of his official attire.)

The premise of the story is that a couple and their new-born child, Hazel, are on the run from just about everybody involved in the war. When issue one begins, the war has been going on for many ... Read More

The Woods (Volumes 1-9): A wonderfully bizarre tale

The Woods (Volumes 1-9) by James Tynion IV is a science fiction coming-of-age story that tells a wonderfully bizarre tale across thirty-six issues (four issues per volume). A school in our world gets transported to another planet or dimension, we’re not sure which. We also do not know who is behind this event or what their reasons are. This comic book series is as much an adventure story as it is coming-of-age, and even though adults — teachers and administration — get transported along with the kids, it is a group of high school students who take the lead, venturing away from the seeming safety of the school out into the unknown of The Woods.

At first, the adults try to take charge, and the initial conflict is between adults and students, but as our main group heads out into the woods, escaping from adult supervision, we get to watch over a period of a few years as these teenagers grow into young men and women, battling both real monsters... Read More

Castle in the Stars: The Moon King: Artwork raises the overall result

Castle in the Stars: The Moon King by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Moon King is the second installment of Alex Alice’s graphic story involving a 19th Century space race between the two hostile nations of Prussia (led by Bismarck) and Bavaria (ruled by “Mad” King Ludwig. Book one tells of the attempt to prove the existence of “aether,” a substance that along with flight would potentially be a nearly limitless source of energy. The first book ended on a cliffhanger, with the prototype space vehicle unexpectedly taking off with more on board than expected. The Moon King (2018) picks up right afterward, with the vehicle entering space and then, thanks to sabotage, landing on the moon rather than returning to Earth. This version of our moon luckily has a thin seasonal atmosphere, so t... Read More

Mighty Jack: Exciting action and sensitive presentation of theme and character

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack (2016) is YA/MG graphic story by Ben Hatke, author of the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy (highly recommended. btw). Here Hatke has a lot of fun with the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale, though fair to say you’ve probably not seen a version like this.

Mighty Jack is set in modern times, with Jack the young son of a hard-working single mother. His little sister Maddy doesn’t talk (she’s presented as on the autistic spectrum), at least, she didn’t until one day at the local flea market when she prods Jack to trade the family car for a box of seeds from a strange individual. As one might imagine, mom is none too thrilled when she hears about this, and after filling out a stolen car report with the police (their car is later found several count... Read More