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Unfollow: 140 Characters

Rob Williams, Mike Dowling, and R.M. Guera. DC/Vertigo, $14.99 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-4012-6274-7

When an enigmatic young billionaire, dying of pancreatic cancer, spreads his wealth among 140 selected individuals, it sets off a violent chain reaction in which the recipients of his largesse find themselves fighting for survival—because if any of the 140 die, the survivors split the remaining share. This first volume of what promises to be a longer saga raises more questions than it answers, following five of the 140 inheritors, including a young man trying to survive the troubled, crime-riddled streets of St. Louis; an Iranian reporter; an ex-military survivalist bunkered up in Alaska; a Japanese novelist with two artificial legs and nudist tendencies; and a rich young woman trying to repudiate her family’s wealth. Writer Williams (Judge Dredd) deftly juggles their interlocking sometimes chilling, sometimes amusing narratives. Several intriguing mysteries unfold with a pitch-black sense of humor enhanced by artist Dowling’s (Death Sentence) bold and gritty artwork. (May)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Minimum Wage, Vol. 2: So Many Bad Decisions

Bob Fingerman. Image, $14.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-63215-737-9

Recently divorced cartoonist Rob Hoffman sets forth in the terrifying world of single life in New York City in the second volume of Fingerman’s urban soap opera comedy. Starting over with the desire to do more personal comics, Rob gains a casual mentorship from comedian Marc Maron, hilariously dates a hostile, overly sensitive goth woman, and hooks up with his ex. When Fingerman portrays the events of Rob’s life the book is gripping, but the flow is too often disrupted by Rob’s constant anxious monologues about his situation. Fingerman remains very skilled in capturing the art of casual conversation, and his depiction of the social spaces of New York City is flawless, with a gallery of vivid urban bystanders who could all be going through their own crises of self-doubt. The book is drawn in b&w with a blue wash, but several dream sequences—all hammering home our hero’s cluelessness and worries—are rendered in full color. Self-absorption aside, there is plenty to enjoy. (May)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cigarette Girl

Masahiko Matsumoto, trans. from the Japanese by Spencer Fancutt and Atsuko Saisho. IDW/Top Shelf, $24.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-60309-382-8

Like Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the late Matsumoto is a master of gekiga (realistic, literary manga) whose work captures the quiet little realities of daily life. An often underappreciated artist, Matsumoto had a gift for showing how people—in their awkward, apprehensive, and delightfully absurd ways—relate to one another. Drawing in a simple, cartoony style that bears a startling resemblance to a more humane Family Guy, Matsumoto is well-represented in this short story anthology edited by Sean Michael Wilson. He tells stories without complicated dialogue, often getting everything out of a panel through something as simple as emotive, onomatopoeic sound effects. Whether it’s Ichihashi-San’s drunken efforts at an amorous rendezvous with Ume-Chan in “Slither,” or the protagonist’s utter infatuation with a young woman who sells cigarettes in the title story, much of the emotional resonance comes from silence and images. At its best, Matsumoto evokes a touching verisimilitude in the quiet rattle of a window shutter or in two characters walking silently together at the close of day. (June)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Einstein

Corinne Maier and Anne Simon, trans. from the French by Etienne Gilfillan and Arran Brown. Nobrow (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 (72p) ISBN 978-1-910620-01-4

Maier and Simon previously took on Freud and Marx, and they’re back with a third graphic novel biography of one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers, originally published in France (like the first two). In a deft translation, Maier’s sharp, clever dialogue gives this portrayal a rapid pace, matched by Simon’s energetic and spirited art. Though her figures are drawn in a relatively simple cartoon style, Simon’s adroit panel and page composition illustrate not only Einstein’s life but the wonders of the cosmos. She often expands the visuals to encompass a full-page vista of Einstein’s imagination, his ambitious discoveries portrayed as figurative journeys across lushly colored woods, a Möbius strip, and a maze-like giant brain. The savvy script and illustration celebrate Einstein’s life and work in a memorably imaginative visual saga. (July)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Fate Zero, Vol. 1

Shinjiro and Gen Urobuchi. Dark Horse, $11.99 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-61655-919-9

Seven humans have been chosen by the Holy Grail to fight a war through familiars who happen to be legendary figures from history, including King Arthur and Alexander the Great. But these avatars are not what you'd expect: Arthur's an iron-willed woman and Alexander is a mighty bear of a man. As the players meet their masters and the chess pieces assemble for battle, bonds are forged and tested, with betrayals imminent. Based on the popular dark anime, this is a fairly standard commercial manga adaptation: it's got pretty art but lacks true artistic initiative. Some characters are extremely generic, forcing the few who are genuinely alluring to carry the story. The plot is confusing and frantic; a lot happens, but a main character is frustratingly hard to find. Older teens will enjoy the action, and its momentum makes the reader curious for the continuation, but the book fails to improve upon the anime's flaws and instead has carried them over to the page with the unfortunate addition of stiff dialogue. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Zone Continuum

Bruce Zick. Dark Horse, $15.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-61655-950-2

Unlike many creators who handle both the writing and art duties, Zick doesn't shy away from adding a lot of words to the page in this graphic novel that started as a comic in 1996 and continued in 2006 as a web comic. Sadly, the word count veers strongly towards excessive. The existence of the glossary in the back indicates that the work relies too much on words and not enough on pictures. Instead of feeling complex, it just seems complicated. The fairly pedantic science fiction concept—two superpowered beings who live in secret enclaves on Earth battle for the future of the world—doesn't help matters. However, the art carries things: Zick's Steve Ditko influence shows in all the right ways, with chunks of black ink and exaggerated gestures. Overall, this suffers from the same flaws as many comics written by artists: it's pretty to look at, but the story never reaches the level of the art. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Archie, Vol. 1

Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. Archie, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-62738-867-2

There's a lot that's new about everybody's favorite freckled, love-tossed Riverdale teen in this contemporary relaunch. To start, Staples's (Saga) art is bright, snappy, and crisply dramatic, not to mention three-dimensional. Also, Riverdale High is as multiethnic and sharply attired as a CW series. Jughead sports ripped jeans and a goth pout, Veronica is a "jillionaire" reality-show star, and the whole thing is rated "Teen" for some barely risqué innuendo and dialogue like "Oh, hell no." The writing from Waid (Kingdom Come) balances winsomely romantic (Archie says Betty "smells like flowers and motor oil") and honestly funny, like something that a PG-rated Kevin Smith could have pulled off. It would seem risky to mess with the tried-and-true Archie formula, but this heartfelt collection is less a tearing-down of the old order than an exuberant exploration of its possibilities. Staples and Waid keep the characters' foundations in place—Archie's still a lovable goof who can't decide between girl-next-door Betty and vampish Veronica—while building a wonderfully new Riverdale for them to explore. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Black Canary, Vol. 1: Kicking and Screaming

Brendan Fletcher and Annie Wu. DC, $14.99 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-4012-6117-7

In the DC Universe, there are so many superheroes floating around that they've got to go off and get other gigs. Of course, as far as crime-fighting fallbacks go, rock star is pretty solid. Dinah Lance, now the front woman of a group that shares a name with her costumed alias, uses her vocal and aerobatic prowess to wow audiences and occasionally take care of rabble-rousers between sets. Fletcher's (Batgirl) new Black Canary series is a fun excursion from the standard superhero fare, and Wu's (Hawkeye) artwork really shines. Her work is downright gleeful, with a sketchy and free line that hops between standard narrative and flights of fancy with little effort, coupled beautifully with Lee Loughridge's sparing use of color. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein, and Other Horror Stories

Guido Crepax. Fantagraphics, $75 (440p) ISBN 978-1-60699-890-8

Erotic comics master Crepax, who died in 2003, never made much of an impact in the U.S. during his lifetime. Like so many bleeding-edge European artists, he was simply operating a few decades ahead of delicate American sensibilities. This deluxe collection leads the charge on introducing the Italian artist, and does it with guns blazing. This first of a planned 10-volume complete set of Crepax reissues offers a beautiful and extremely expansive introduction to the artist's work with little attention to chronology, instead collecting stories from across his long career. His adaptations of the classic horror novels Dracula and Frankenstein get top billing, but the real star of this massive tome is Valentina, Crepax's most beloved creation, an empowered figure of sexual liberation (inspired by silent film actress Louise Brooks) whose adventures operate on an otherworldly plane of reality. Crepax's rough but fluid black-and-white art marries Jazz Age excess with psychedelic science fiction, illustrating stories built on their own oft-confusing dream logic. The tales recall the work of avant-garde film makers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, presenting sometimes baffling narratives that are idiosyncratically beautiful and well worth exploring. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Bloody Mary

Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra. Image, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-63215-761-4

Ennis's (Preacher) sharp, dark-humored postapocalyptic saga was originally published in 1996 as part of DC's little known SF line, Helix; this edition rescues it from obscurity. "Bloody Mary" Malone, master commando (are these stories ever about "adequate" commandos?), faces off against sadistic effete fops, brutal bioengineered killers, and the religious right. It's prescient in its treatment of the current European discussions over welcoming immigrants, but no fan ever came to an Ennis story expecting a crystal-clear reflection of modern society. It displays an early version of the military corps black humor Ennis would later hone in books such as Adventures in the Rifle Brigade (also with Ezquerra) and The Boys. Ezquerra's art fits this tone well and walks the fine line between realism and grotesquery that Ennis's over-the-top characters and script require. Intentionally muted color palettes by Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Chuckry ground the action despite the dozens of smoking guns and piles of skulls. Ennis completists will be happy to see this back in print, and it makes a solid introduction to his later, more macabre work. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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