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Threesome

Edited by Matthew Bright. Lethe, $15 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-59021-294-3

Bright (The Myriad Carnival) delivers an erotic collection of all-male threesomes that boasts astonishing breadth and delightful verve. The 12 stories cover a variety of territory. The first of the anthology's three sections opens with N.S. Beranek's touching and gentle "Call for Submission," in which a writer and his partner experiment with inviting a stranger into their bedroom and, in the process, rekindle their passion for each other. Another highlight of the section is Lawrence Jackson's "The Big Match," a hilarious epistolary story of two men using an upcoming soccer match as cover for their illicit hookup. The second section of the anthology is racier and less tender, opening with Dale Chase's "Dr. Dave," in which a longstanding relationship's flaws come to a head in the course of the couple's weekend encounter with their dentist. The final section contains four speculative stories with unambitious but solid fantastical elements; the best of these is Jerry L. Wheeler's surreal and unsettling "Strawberries," the tale of a land developer's doomed encounter with local farmer who won't sell. This powerful anthology unambiguously marks Bright as an editor to watch. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Take It as a Compliment

Maria Stoian. Singing Dragon, $24.95 (100p) ISBN 978-1-84905-697-7

These twenty true stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault illustrated in comics form by Stoian are haunting, infuriating, and, while sadly all-too-familiar, powerful testaments of survival. In her graphic novel debut, illustrator Stoian is an art chameleon, adapting her style and use of color to each story. In the tale of a young girl groped on the subway, passengers are in plain black-and-white, while the hands reaching for her are rendered in nauseous greens and oranges. Stark black lines give way to sketchy pencils in a story of betrayal, and garish blocks of color depict a wordless story where the potential for danger looms as frighteningly as in any horror movie. Stories from women and men, submitted anonymously online or told to Stoian in interviews, reveal the many ways predators–strangers, friends, and intimate partners alike–take advantage of others' vulnerabilities. Included at the end is a guide to how to support survivors, get help as a survivor, and spot and intervene in instances of harassment or abuse. Eye-opening and lyrical. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Empty Zone, Vol. 1

Jason Shawn Alexander. Image Comics, $9.99 (136p) ISBN 978-1-63215-548-1

With this series, Alexander makes a major departure—both aesthetically, and in terms of scope—from his previous work on books such as Abe Sapien: The Drowning and Queen & Country. Alexander's comics writing debut, drawing upon an idea he had as a teenager, stars Corinne White, a woman with peculiar technological powers who is haunted by ghosts from her past. When the souls of Corinne's dead friends are enslaved by a deranged billionaire, she's drawn back into the life that scarred her many years ago. Alexander weaves a lively near-future SF tale of industrial espionage and bioengineering, but his art truly places this book ahead of the pack, as he experiments with a style that resembles a mash-up of the most bizarre aspects of Ben Templesmith and Dave McKean's moody expressionist work. One scene in particular, in which a spirit is torn from its cadaver, brings chills to the marrow with its use of sharp contrasting color and eerie lettering. Corinne's character arc is somewhat abridged, but it's clear that she has further lessons to be learned in future volumes. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Yowamushi Pedal, Vol. 1

Wataru Watanabe. Yen, $24 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-30952-3

Watanabe (Train Man) personifies the Japanese flair for taking the most mundane of pursuits—fishing, cooking, etc.—and transforming them into epically melodramatic manga. Here he gives bicycle racing the graphic aggrandizement treatment, and it works to spectacular effect despite being framed in yet another narrative featuring the tropey tribulations of an awkward high schooler. Nebbishy otaku Sakamichi Onoda's daily 90-kilometer rides over steep slopes on a "mommy bike" have unexpectedly rendered him a formidable cyclist, which catches the attention of some highly-skilled cycling enthusiasts. It's the same "loser gains glory in a specific field of endeavor" yarn that readers have seen a million times, but Watanabe's jaw-dropping depictions of high-speed, stamina-testing bike racing set this effort head and shoulders above others. The dynamic imagery and copious speed lines place the reader right in the middle of the action, feeling the strain of muscles and the burn of lactic acid. Unremarkable in every other way, this series is saved by the world-class frisson provided by its racing sequences. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Southern Cross, Vol. 1

Becky Cloonan, Andy Belanger, and Lee Loughridge. Image, $9.99 (160p), ISBN 978-1-63215-559-7

This uneasy blend of science fiction noir and horror comics, written by Cloonan (Gotham Academy), has a setup that's unrealistic even for SF. It's difficult to imagine a real-life system in which oil is pumped and refined on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and then shipped back to Earth on streamlined spaceships that resemble the anime Space Battleship Yamato! Punkish former thief Alex Braith is Titan-bound on the eponymous vessel, anxious to find out why her sister, Amber, was killed. But the trip itself becomes a terrifying ordeal. The ship's crew are alternately surly or unctuous, and generally creepy; the passenger across the hall is a member of her old criminal gang; her overly chatty cabinmate vanishes; and something is going terribly wrong with the gravity drive that powers the ship, as decaying but not-quite-dead people keep popping out of nowhere with cryptic warnings. The story is sharply illustrated in bold close-ups and eerie space vistas by Belanger and Loughridge. Readers who can get past the absurd setting will find that a puzzling mystery story is just getting started as the action breaks off at the end of this first volume. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Gahan Wilson's Out There

Gahan Wilson. Fantagraphics, $29.99 trade paper (304 p) ISBN 978-1-60699-845-8

Wilson has been one of America's top cult cartoonists for over 50 years, with his unique take on the universe marked by the head-on collision of the mundane and the macabre, rendered in a deceptively minimalist style. He's best known for his onepanel gags for the New Yorker, but this volume collects nearly 20 years of his cartoons from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, some dating back to the early days of his career. Wilson's wry drawings are replete with monsters, aliens, deities, and murderers, a playing field informed by a lifetime of absorbing science fiction, lurid pulp stories, and horror. Mixxing the uncanny and the absurd, these cartoons are a heady visual and conceptual stew that Wilson's admirers will appreciate having in one convenient volume, with the unexpected bonus of Wilson's critical essays on the oeuvres of renowned speculative fiction authors including Richard Matheson and H.P. Lovecraft. This intelligent, engaging collection sheds new light on the career of a master. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Octopus Pie, Vol. 1

Meredith Gran. Image, $14.99 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-63215-632-7

In this collection of the first two years of the long-running webcomic, Eve’s boyfriend abruptly dumps her, and she finds herself in need of a roommate—a need filled by Hanna, a young woman Eve hasn’t seen since preschool (they’re now in their 20s). Together, they attempt to make a life in Brooklyn, where Eve works at an organic grocery store and marijuana-fueled Hanna runs a pastry company, Bake ‘n’ Bake. As the wonderfully diverse cast of flawed characters stumble through laser tag wars, renaissance faire shenanigans, a bizarre Halloween party, and shallow Brooklyn art shows, they confront their own shortcomings and desperately try to find (and keep) love. Gran’s (Marceline and the Scream Queens) cartooning is top-notch, as is her pacing; the wit is far more sophisticated than a typical “gag a day” strip. Part send-up of the borough’s hipster residents, part soul-searching slice-of-life saga, Gran’s work dissects what it means to be a modern 20-something. Agent: Hansen Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Prez, Vol. 1

Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell. DC, $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-5979-2

This new version of a 1970s series that lasted only four issues finds America’s first teenage president gender-swapped. Prez, now female, is elected via Twitter and deals with Middle Eastern terrorists and Big Pharma in a broad satire of modern America. While Russell’s (God Is Disappointed in You) story gets many of its political beats correct, and its heart is perhaps in the right place, its devotion to broad satire comes at the expense of any personality for the title character. Prez is ballsy but naive, she cares about the marginalized and says smart-ass things to old, white male politicians, but this is just a collection of traits rather than a character. These traits can’t compete with the huge collection of constantly shifting characters and scenarios that make up the story, despite the desperate need for a real center to the action. Although beautifully drawn, Caldwell’s art doesn’t manage to transcend the obvious. It’s a kitchen-sink approach to political satire that spreads itself too thin. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Uptight

Jordan Crane. Fantagraphics, $10 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60699-798-7

This ongoing anthology series, which includes stories from Crane’s (The Clouds Above) webcomic of the same name, mixes jarring emotional surrealism with clear, accessible pen work; this latest issue explores mortality. The first story, “Keeping Two,” connects two narratives of three people whose stability has been shattered by death. In one, William grapples with the death of his wife. In the other, suicidal Claire clings to the lifeline of a troubled pregnancy. Claire’s story is presented as a book that William reads to get his mind of his own troubles, not expecting it to be such a dour drama. Other stories cover a psychotic episode that leads to a cycle of murder, and a bungled space mining mission that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of disaster, rendered in an otherworldly lavender. The common link here is Crane’s portrayal of psychological space as an unpredictable netherworld that mixes our fears, sorrows, and immediate surroundings into a barely comprehensible prison, one made accessible thanks to Crane’s clean, down-to-earth drawing style. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Carpet Sweeper Tales

Julie Doucet. Drawn & Quarterly, $15.95 (184p) ISBN 978-1-77046-2397

This is an offbeat and startling new collection by a major voice in feminist and underground comics. Doucet (My New York Diary, Dirty Plotte) gave up traditional drawn cartooning a decade ago; here she rearranges found elements into a new work, built from images from Italian photographic romance comics (fumetti) clipped and shuffled into new narratives accompanied by clipped typography as free-form dialogue. The reader is instructed “read it out loud,” and the conversations take on a surreal, peppy, hip-hop-rhythmed cadence. Accompanied by the oh-so-serious longing gazes of the models, the gleefully unconventional panels evoke a beatnik poetry jam, or a spoken word reading of James Joyce or Spike Milligan. The dialogue appears to be babble at first glance, and the serious-faced characters take on the roles of current culture’s celebrants, spouting carefully restricted pop advertising slogans in retro typography. The playful combination of visual, verbal, and even aural elements (if you read the book aloud as suggested) that make up these avant-garde collage romances display Doucet’s fine eye and ear for storytelling outside of traditional pencil-and-ink comics. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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