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Catalyst Comix

Joe Casey, Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas. Dark Horse, $19.99 trade paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-61655-345-6

If you’re looking for a series of stories that shine a strange light on the traditional superhero tale, you’ll find it here. Reprising but also reenvisioning some of the heroes of the Comics Greatest World imprint from the 1990s, Casey (Sex, The Bounce) writes nine interconnected issues featuring the likes of Frank “Titan” Wells, Amazing Grace, and the Agents of Change. Readers will appreciate Casey’s unpredictability, such as when she begins the very first story with an apocalypse. Add in narration that is humorous, off-beat, and richly allusive with frequent homages to pop culture and oddball superhero characters. Artists McDaid, Maybury, and Farinas are each well-suited to the stories they illustrate—McDaid’s explosive pages in the Frank Wells story line is especially powerful. Colorist Brad Simpson fuses the styles of the different artists with a palette that makes each chapter part of a very cohesive visual narrative. All in all, this collection may well prove to be the “catalyst” for an engaging new approach to these little-known heroes. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cork High and Bottle Deep

Virgil Partch. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (180p) ISBN 978-1-60699-716-1

Though his name may not be immediately familiar, it’s likely the reader knows gag cartoonist Partch’s signature style, thanks to his work’s ubiquity during the post-WWII era. His figures are instantly recognizable for their large heads and blasé facial expressions, and his aesthetic evokes the happy-hour world of boozy would-be sophisticates who are most at home when bellied up to the bar of some watering hole redolent of stale Marlboros. This small volume’s one-panel explorations of the antics of drunks hits one note too hard—but it stands as a time capsule for the period when Rat Pack–style entertainment was in vogue and kicking back six martinis after work was expected behavior. In Partch’s inebriated grotesques, there’s an honesty on display that lends his humor a subtle melancholy, and this volume captures a breed of period-specific manliness that only remains as a half-century old pop cultural artifact. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics

Edited by Chris Duffy. Roaring Brook/First Second, $24.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-62672-065-7

If any poetry cries out for adaptation as sequential art, it is that of the Great War, and this anthology is an exemplary testament to this. Various artists adapt the works of some of the most famous WWI poets, including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Isaac Rosenberg. The talented cartoonists, including Hunt Emerson, Sarah Glidden, and Stuart Immomen, use different approaches to illuminate poems known for its bitter irony and brutal honesty. The collection is divided into three sections—“A Call To War,” “In the Trenches,” and “Aftermath”—and the adapted poems capture the horror of the Western front. For example, Kevin Huizenga’s adaptation of the Charles Sorley poem, “All the Hills and Vales Along” does an excellent job of incorporating Sorley’s sardonic take on the themes of duty and the glory of war, which characterized much pre-war poetry. Stephen R. Bissette’s adaptation of Kipling’s “The Coward” uses a unique textual arrangement to magnify the brutally laconic epitaph. The real strength of the anthology comes both from the poems selected for it and the variety of visual approaches—ranging from the cartoonish to the phantasmagoric— that prevents it from relying simply on the visual carnage of the “war to end all wars.” (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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