Category Archives: graphic novels

Manga Man (Barry Lyga) 2 out of 5

mangamanLongtime readers of this blog may suspect that graphic novels always get high ratings.  It’s true: I’m crazy about Sandman and can’t say enough good things about Locke & Key.


Mangaman is a giant meh.  It pains me to say this because I really like Barry Lyga.  I have 3 of his novels in the review queue, all of which I enjoyed, so I found Mangaman confusingly weak.

Basically, Mangaman is a manga character who falls through an “extra-scientific event” and lands in our world.  His stress lines manifest as physical lines that float in mid-air, and his appearance changes completely when he experiences extreme emotion.

Mangaman falls in manga-love with a human girl, blah blah blah.  I can see where Lyga is going with his East-meets-West collision of cultures and graphic styles, but it’s all kind of cardboard.  I don’t even like the texture of the pages on my fingertips.



Locke & Key 3: Crown of Shadows (Joe Hill) 5*

Omega key Animal key Harlequin key Musicbox key Angel keyAmazingly, Joe Hill is sticking to the high standard he set in the very first book of Locke & Key.  Three books in, we circle back to see our very first baddie, the wonderfully named Sam Lesser.

Ah, Sam.  How have you been?  Is death treating you okay?

Kinsey is showing her steel now, and she has two adorable boys (fast-talking Scot Kavanaugh and “I’m not your ethnic sidekick” Jamal Saturday) who are both semi-secretly in love with her.  And they go!  To the drowning cave!  Hooray!

The heart of the book, however, is with Nina in the final pages.  Of all the characters, Nina moves me the most.  She’s a hip and beautiful widow, a not-gonna-talk-about-it rape survivor, and an openly alcoholic mom.  Joe Hill draws flaws with the grace of a master.  The magic is rich, and the artwork is beautiful, but in the end this series is entirely character-driven.

Nina missing the magic

Here’s a snippet:

NINA: [As she catches Kinsey going through her dresser drawers] I turned a blind eye to you tiptoeing into the house the other day after you went for a swim with those boys till almost dark.  I can forgive you being a little wild.  But not being a sneak.

KINSEY: That’s funny, Mom.  I can forgive YOU for being suspicious and mean and angry all the time – after what you went through in Willits, you’ve earned it –

NINA: You don’t know anything about it.

KINSEY: — But I have a harder time forgiving you for being a shitty, irresponsible drunk.  Waking Tyler up in the middle of the night to cry all over him.  Like he isn’t dealing with a few things himself.

NINA: You mouthy little… I ought a –

KINSEY: Christ, you’ve already been drinking.  I can smell it on your breath.  At least you’re only driving YOURSELF.  I can’t imagine you taking Bode in the car.

TYLER: [Appearing in the doorway] Go for a walk, Kinsey.

KINSEY: Or what?  You going to drag me out?  It’s my house too, Tyler, and you can’t scare me into –

TYLER: I know I can’t.  That’s why I’m asking.  Please.  Be done here.

NINA: I don’t even know who you are anymore, Kinsey.

KINSEY: [Leaving] You got that right.  You don’t know.  You crash the car driving drunk, I’m not going to cry over it.  I’m all cried out these days and you know what you’re doing.  In theory.

TYLER: Christ.  Will you.  Get.  Out?

Next panel: Mom, she didn’t mean –

NINA: [Leaning over the dresser, not looking at Tyler in the doorway.]  She meant every word.

TYLER: You know…we’ve talked about what happened to Dad in Willits but we…we never talk about what happened to…

NINA: Will you leave me alone, Tyler?  I need a second.

[The empty doorway behind her, Nina drinks.]

Locke & Key 2: Head Games (Joe Hill) 5*

giant key ghost key head key anywhere key shadow key echo key gender key healing key

I’ve already enumerated the reasons why this series is just so good.  The story gets even juicier (!) now that Lucas is on the scene.  Who’d have thought that we’d one day look back with nostalgia on the days when Sam Lesser was the worst that could happen.

In addition to being wickedly wicked, Joe Hill is wickedly funny.  At one point, a supernatural evil creature asks for computer help to send “one of those, what are they? I-mails?”

Everything else I have to say involves non-specific spoilers which probably don’t spoil things, but also probably don’t make sense. Continue reading

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (Joe Hill) 5*

the girl in the wellBelow: The Ghost Key, the Anywhere Key, the Gender Key, the Head Key, the Shadow Key, the Wind-Up Soldier Key, the Echo Key, the Animal Key, the Mending Key…and last of all the Omega Key: the keys

I can’t decide on my favorite thing about Locke & Key:

–          The utterly badass artwork by Gabriel Rodriguez (seriously, it’s the best I’ve seen in any graphic novel – the angles, the clarity, the expressiveness, the naturalistic creepiness!).  The narrative slides back and forth in time with utter grace, like when Tyler Locke sits in the hallway while funeral guests gather in the living room, and he watches his younger self tiptoe across the hall and eavesdrop on his parents when they were both alive.

–          Joe Hill’s knack for names.  The killer who stalks them is Sam Lesser, a wonderfully fleshed-out baddie who had all the test scores but was denied the privilege that the Locke kids enjoy.  He finds them in their summer home in Willits, California, which is an even better place name than Lovecraft, Massachussetts.

–          The individuality of the three kids, both before and after grief, and the complex cohesiveness of the Locke family.  By the middle of the book, looking at an old family photo of the Locke family in happier times almost brought tears to my eyes.

–          So subtle.  I almost missed the fact that Sam Lesser was doing a sexual favor during one scene.  And nobody even says what Sam and his friend did to the mom.  She’s just becoming an alcoholic, that’s all.

The story starts off with murder.  Sam Lesser knocks on the door of his high school guidance counselor, Mr. Locke, and proceeds to demand a certain key.  Then he kills him.  The narrative rotates amongst the three kids: Tyler, a broad-shouldered 17-year-old whose square jaw and big hands look just like his dad’s; Kinsey, a 15-year-old girl with dreadlocks and piercings; and Bode, a 6-year-old trouble magnet with a knack for finding keys.

Afterward, the family moves from sunny California to their uncle’s drafty old mansion on the island of Lovecraft in Massachussetts.  The house has a name – Key House – and is chock full of shivery secrets that grown-ups can’t see.  Magic keys and magic doors are hidden everywhere, and the house will make sure that the keys are found.

The spirit in the well says at one point, “Kids always think they’re coming into a story at the beginning, when usually they’re coming in at the end.”  Something happened 25 years ago, but Uncle Duncan just can’t remember.  Whatever it was, it had drifted out of Rendell Locke’s memory too, so he didn’t even know why Sam Lesser was waving a gun in his face.  This longstanding mystery adds another layer of drive to the story, when the story already has six pistons of grief, guilt, danger, family, justice, and magic.

Here, have a sample:

GIRL IN THE WELL: I’m glad you came down to see me tonight.  You saved me a step.  I was going to have Sam bring you to me.

BODE: Sam? Oh, no.  Oh, nonono.

GIRL IN THE WELL: Poor, brilliant Sam.  Did you know they skipped him over eighth grade, after he finished the entire year’s reading in nine days?  His mother celebrated with her second arrest for drug possession in a year.

BODE: He killed my dad.

GIRL IN THE WELL: That’s not the only thing about him that matters, you know.

BODE: Yes it is.

GIRL IN THE WELL: So what brought you ‘round to see me, Bode?  So late at night? Especially if you decided you didn’t trust me anymore.

BODE: You knew some things about my dad.  So I figured if you really are an echo, you must be an echo of someone who knew him.  I just wanted to know who.

GIRL IN THE WELL: My names are legion, Bode.  But I’ll tell you what.  In a place called once-upon-a-time, your daddy would’ve done anything to make me happy.  And before tonight is over, you’re going to feel the same way.


Y: The Last Man, Book 1: Unmanned (Brian Vaughan) 4*

Yorick is an out-of-work English major when he suddenly becomes the last man on earth.  A mysterious plague has killed every other Y-chromosome mammal in an instantaneous, blood-spewing way.  Brian Vaughan never once says “Alas, poor Yorick” — he leaves that to the reader.  The whole book grants a lot of respect to the reader’s intelligence.

My favorite moment of the first volume happens right as the disaster hits.  We see freeze-frames from around the world: on the floor of the Tokyo stock exchange, every single worker falls down dead; in the Vatican, a nun kneels over a dead priest; at a women’s soccer game, the players crowd around a fallen referee and spectators spew blood; at mission control, men collapse at their consoles while an audio link asks, “Houston, Houston, do you read?”*

This is the first volume of 10 graphic novels, and I think the arc is going to cover all of Yorick’s family: his mother, a Democratic Congresswoman who is pro-life; his father, a dead Shakespeare professor who named his kids Yorick and Hero; and his sister Hero, who is not at all as meek as the original Hero — she’s an EMT who knows how to use a gun.  Also, Yorick has a pet (male) capuchin monkey named Ampersand.

When I was a wee slip of a girl, I remember reading Frank Herbert’s The White Plague, in which all the women die within about 2 weeks.  At that time, I remember thinking that the structure of society is much more vulnerable if all the women check out than if all the men check out, since having all families become suddenly single-dad households is rougher than single-mom households.

I take that back.  Society crumbles in either scenario.

Y: The Last Man thinks through the aftershocks in pretty cool ways.  For example, the widows of conservative Senators show up demanding their husbands’ seats, since knocking out the Y chromosomes leaves a decidedly smaller and more left-leaning Congress, and no self-respecting Republican lady is going to let a bunch of feminist loonies hijack the country.

Pia Guerra’s artwork is clean and stylish.  Here are Victoria, bitchin’ leader of the Amazon vigilantes, and Alter, a crazy-ass Israeli soldier (“Who wants peace when we have not yet begun to fight?”).

y last man victoria  y last man alter  y last man cover

* Yay!

Ego and Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (Harvey Pekar) 5*

“I was raised as a dog,” Michael begins.  He proceeds to give an account of his life in a Book-of-the-Dead/Judgment Day style, except that he is the judge, and in his judgment he was right and everyone else was weak and jealous and wrong.  I wish I had followed through on starting a book club, because I could gossip about Michael for a month.

First of all, Michael Malice is real.  Michael Malice even appears to be his real name.  I thought it was a snarky pseudonym because the review I first read had excerpted a bit where Michael recounts the suicide of an acquaintance and ends, “Now if you were going to kill yourself, I don’t see why you wouldn’t sleep in.  And for God’s sake, practice your penmanship!  His parents showed me his suicide note, and it was embarassing!”

He’s maniacally self-centered and a brilliant conversationalist.  He’s lazy and has no mercy for the weak — Michael doesn’t play well with others and takes joy in getting people fired.  He’s criticizes everyone’s ethical structure and sees the world in black and white.  I mean to say he’s deeply principled in a Randist sort of way: arrogantly principled, very bright, no empathy whatsoever, with a wisdom deficit the size of the Marianas Trench.  He’s proud and proud of being proud.

Harvey Pekar has edited Michael brilliantly.  Michael says his family doesn’t matter, that he has given up that ghost, but the monologue circles back to them obsessively, and the final sign of his success is that he is suddenly not bothered by his family’s criticisms.  He’s proud of his outsized confidence but mentions a study that showed that when people were asked to estimate their own intelligence, smart individuals tended to get it accurate or slightly underestimate, whereas dumb individuals would overestimate dramatically.  Michael proudly relates trivial instances when he stood his ground (for no particular reason that the reader can discern), but when the only girl he’s ever loved was diagnosed with one-month-to-live cancer, and his college friends ganged up and pressured him to dump her, he dumped her.

The clean line illustrations are a neat, black-and-white counterpoint to Michael’s pseudo-honest autobiography.  The story is filled with Michael’s judgments and just begs for the reader’s judgments of the same facts.  I wish I had a book club!  It’d be the funnest evening of playing amateur psychiatrist.

If you’ve read it, where would you start with your diagnosis on What’s Wrong With Michael Malice?

Sandman series (Neil Gaiman) 5*

I’ve finished.  What started as a bit of rubbernecking (“What’s all this about graphic novels?”) turned into a growing compulsion to go home and feed on stories.

I think the best way to read the series is to start on Book 4, Season of Mists (reviewed here). Sandman is an epic, so follow the Greek tradition and pick up the thread in the middle.  After Season of Mists, Books 1-6 can be read howsoever the books come conveniently to hand.  Starting on Book 7, Brief Lives, it becomes a good idea to read in order.

The first half of the series is frolicking good fun, but the undertow will come out and grab you in Brief Lives, World’s End, and The Kindly Ones.  Books 10 and 11, which are essentially epilogue and afterglow, only make sense if read last.

The series is, surprisingly, a single piece of work.  It makes the Bookcase.  When my wandering days are over, I’m buying the hardcover set.