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White Death

Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard. Image, $14.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-63215-142-1

This savage historical chiller is among the year’s most harrowing graphic novels. It’s 1916 in the Trentino mountain range. Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers are battling the brutal elements, as well as each other and their maniacal officers. Morrison’s (Nikolai Dante) book, written in 1998, is presented in a new edition and has lost none of its punch—the intro refers to the 2013 funeral of two Austrian soldiers found frozen in the ice after being shot dead nearly a century earlier. The story follows Italian Pietro Aquasanta, who was drafted by the other side when war started, then captured and sent to fight for his home country. The bloodily dehumanizing monotony of trench warfare familiar to students of the “war to end all wars” is just the first step in a ladder of horrors unique to the terrain. Frozen corpses are used as sandbags and soldiers are buried alive by the thousands by artillery barrages that start avalanches. Artist Adlard is best known for The Walking Dead, so he’s no stranger to putting dread on the page; his charcoal and chalk on gray paper illustrations manage to be both deadening and beautiful at the same time, perfectly attuned to this story’s snow-blinded wintry horrors. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Jim

Jim Woodring. Fantagraphics, $30 (224p) ISBN 978-1-606-99752-9

Those who have recently jumped aboard the Woodring train will likely find this collection of his early work from the ’80s a little disorienting. Large stretches of this comic bear little resemblance to better-known cartoony surrealist works like Frank, in style or subject matter. What’s so delightful and revealing, however, is just how fully realized Woodring’s work appears in these early zines. Sure, it’s a far cry from what the artist would accomplish in masterworks like Weathercraft, but his loosely inked cartoonish grotesques could well pass for the prime work of a lesser cartoonist. Current readers will likely find a thrill in the flashes and glints of Woodring’s mature style that peek through, from anthropomorphic frog kings to floating, disembodied hallucinations, but even on its own terms, the quasi-autobiographical strips are fun and funny more often than not. There’s also pleasure to be derived from inclusion of the ephemeral noncomics content that was once so common in underground single issues, including illustrated short stories, fake ads, and letter pages. For anyone who enjoys Woodring’s work, this collection is well worth buying. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Zenith: Phase One

Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. Rebellion/. 2000 AD (Simon & Schuster, dist.), $25 (112p) ISBN 978-1-781-08276-8

If you are looking for a formula here, it’s not too hard to find. Take Booster Gold, put him in a Watchmen-like situation, add in Nazis and Lovecraftian abominations, mix well with battle scenes. That’s not the sum total of the book, but it’s closer than it should be. Morrison (Final Crisis, Doom Patrol) created Zenith, a “realistic” superhero, back in the late ’80s to run in the magazine 2000AD, and ownership disputes kept the comic in the attic until now. He does some nice worldbuilding in this tale of the last superhero, who is more interested in being a pop star than mussing himself up saving the world. But when Nazi superhero Masterman threatens to destroy the planet, Zenith may be forced into action. Morrison’s script is no-nonsense—though the scenario is similar to that of Watchmen, its brimming with action thanks to its original short, serialized form. Yeowell’s art is serviceable, doing the job in that busy, realistic style of ’80s comics. The story has the same scrappy appeal of other 2000AD comics of the period and is able to meld some intriguing ideas with the derivative aspects. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wendy

Walter Scott. Koyama (Consortium, dist.), $18 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-927668 09-2

Wendy, a Montreal art-scene girl, keeps her fingers crossed while she applies for a coveted art residency on Flojo Island, in this debut collection. The rest of the time, she haplessly pursues the no-good musician Jeff, keeps up a love/hate friendship with her pal Tina, and makes bitter small talk with Vienna, who is having actual success in the art world. Wendy finds herself continually mired in a cycle of self-loathing, jealousy, and excessive drinking and partying. Even after she makes it to the promised land of Flojo, she struggles to express herself; she has genuine talent but must find a way past her self-doubt and competitive peers. Dark and hilarious, this comic looks hard at being young and the resultant anxieties about life choices, something Scott captures throughout with his minimalist cartoony illustrations. Despite how flippant and silly the drawings can seem (one of Wendy’s friends, Screamo, has a face that is a wailing skull), this is a comic with real depth. Wendy’s features become distorted and turn into a kind of ridiculous, soulless mask when she falls into jealousy or suffers some embarrassment. It’s not a pretty picture, but some readers are sure to see themselves mirrored here. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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