Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Writers: Peyo (Pierre Culliford), Yvan Delporte
Artist: Peyo
$19.99, Papercutz, 192 pgs.
ISBN 978-1597074452

The internationally revered Smurfs are little blue creatures (three apples high) who live in mushroom houses deep in an enchanted forest. Created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo in the late 1950s, the Smurfs emerged from the pages of the French-language comic Johan et Pirlouit and quickly transcended their status as supporting characters (in an ironic twist, Johann and Peewit, the stars of Johan et Pirlouit, later appeared as supporting characters in the Smurfs' wildly successful television series). The Smurfs appeared in sixteen volumes between 1959 and 1992, ultimately outliving their creator: since Peyo's death, there've been another 14 volumes written and drawn by other hands but always published under Peyo's byline. The Smurfs' many adventures—often due to the machinations of their adversary, the evil wizard Gargamel—have entertained millions upon millions of children worldwide.

Oops! Those who know me, or who've attended any of my classes or presentations on comics and graphic novels, know my fondness for Franco-Belgian comics (bande dessinée). The rest of you just got far more information than you bargained for. Je suis désolé.

This second hardcover collection of the newly translated and re-mastered Smurfs comic albums is a delightful collection of six full-length Smurfs adventures that readers of all ages will appreciate. The stories are exuberant, the cartooning is flawless, the hardcover presentation and slick paper stock are quite impressive for the price-point, and the strips are reprinted with astonishing clarity and vibrancy. This is a superb edition of an international classic.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: Is this book worth your collection development dollar? It's an all-ages graphic novel in a shelf-worthy hardcover format; it will appeal to both kids and nostalgic adults. Do the math.

READERS' ADVISORY TIPS: Kids will love it. Adults who grew up on the cartoons will love it. Folks who appreciate the kind of comic art typified by classic Disney cartoons will love it. It might even serve as your patrons' gateway to the wider world of European comics!

CONTENT ADVISORY: It feels strange, writing a content advisory for a Smurfs book, but the lead story in this volume, "The Smurfette," is—let's be blunt—pretty sexist. The original comic was published in 1967, and Smurfette's characterization is very much a product of its time. While Papercutz did some strategic re-coloring when they reprinted "The Black Smurfs" (even going so far as to re-title the story "The Purple Smurfs;" see THE SMURFS ANTHOLOGY Vol. 1) just to make sure nobody would misconstrue the story's original intent, this story's awkward gaffes are on full display.

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Writers: Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden
Artist: Don Kramer
$24.95, InkLit, 128 pgs.
ISBN 978-0425256664

Her name is Calexa. It's not her real name; she doesn't remember who she used to be. Calexa is merely the name she chose for herself upon waking up in the cemetery after someone tried to kill her. Afraid to venture outside the cemetery should she run afoul of the would-be-killer she can't identify, Calexa ekes out a life amid the tombs and tombstones while trying to recover her past. Calexa must also come to terms with a newfound ability: she can see the souls of the dead as they depart their bodies upon burial. This is a mere curiosity at first, but when Calexa witnesses a graveside murder and finds herself playing host to the victim's memories, it becomes slightly more problematic.

CEMETERY GIRL is, technically speaking, a well-executed graphic novel; the art is tonally and stylistically appropriate, the script is clear, and Calexa is a likeable if somewhat bland teenage protagonist. Where the book suffers is in the same area virtually all of Charlaine Harris's work suffers: the heroine doesn't really do anything. Calexa doesn't  take action; she doesn't initiate. She reacts. Everything the character does is in response to external stimuli. Calexa meanders through her strange quasi-life just "getting by," waffling when faced with any kind of decision. In the book's final act, it's only because of the immediate proximity of the villains that Calexa is forced to finally take the action the reader will have been begging for her to take for dozens of pages, said action being both simple and obvious.

Now I suppose this passivity, this "Average Jane reacting to remarkable circumstances" quality, might make Calexa relatable for many readers (at the risk of being dismissive, it worked for Harris's Sookie Stackhouse character). Personally, I found it made for a very dissatisfying read. I prefer a protagonist with plans and goals, and the gumption to pursue both. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I found Calexa incredibly frustrating. She's not a strong female lead. If you're looking for one of those, read LAZARUS, FATALE, VELVET, SAGA, or BATGIRL.  

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: While this book presents a self-contained story that's digestible on its own, it is the first book in a planned trilogy. I point this out because--as we all know--buying the first book in a series tends to force us to buy subsequent volumes to keep patrons happy. This one might be worth the investment, though, if only because of Harris's established fan base.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: And speaking of Charlaine Harris's fan following, this is another of those prime opportunities to introduce new readers to graphic novels. If your readers enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse novels, they may "dig" CEMETERY GIRL (sorry...I've been watching Tales from the Crypt reruns). This work is far less graphic than Harris's novels, so if that's what attracts them to Harris's work, they'll be disappointed. That said, CEMETERY GIRL's not children's fare; to borrow a term from the film industry, this is a "PG-13" kind of book.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Violence, adult language, supernatural elements (which might offend some folks), adolescent mayhem and mischief (including drinking and violence)

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Carlos Pacheco, Nick Klein, Klaus Janson, and Mariano Taibo 
$24.99, Marvel Comics, 136 pgs.
ISBN 978-0785189510

After more than a decade in the hellish Dimension Z, Captain America returns home. Once again he is a man out of time, out of place, scarred by the losses of his adoptive son Ian and his fiancée Sharon Carter. While Cap's grief threatens to consume him, the rogue super-soldier Nuke embarks on a campaign of violence in politically volatile global hotspots. Can Cap and the Falcon stop Nuke's rampage before the world plunges into war? Who is the Iron Nail, and what is his relationship to the mysterious Weapon Minus?

Writer Rick Remender continues to introduce new characters into Cap's mythos. At the same time, he restores one of Cap's most historically significant traits: Cap is once again out-of-place in the modern world. While Marvel's film series trades heavily on this conundrum (a dramatic device dating back to the character's classic 1960s comics appearances), comic book Cap has been firmly embedded in the Marvel Universe for so long that he's been, for the most part, quite at home the past couple of decades. This third volume changes all that, thus restoring the character to his classic dramatic roots even as it pushes the narrative in new directions.

One of the best things about this book is the energy invested in the supporting characters. While we don't yet know much about the mysterious Iron Nail (Could this be Cap's next arch-nemesis?), the Falcon, Jet Black, and even Nuke are given layers of characterization too rarely seen in superhero comics. The friendship between Cap and the Falcon is especially well-handled, which—given the Falcon's significant role in the recent film Captain America: The Winter Soldier—will resonate with both fans of the film franchise and fans of the comics that inspired it.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: If this series has circ'ed for you thus far, there's every likelihood it will continue to do so. It might even circulate better than the previous two volumes (see below). Though this hardcover collects only five issues of continuity (a practice we're seeing more and more often from Marvel), it has some nice extra features, including the full script for issue #11, sketches, concept art, and a gallery of variant covers.

READERS' ADVISORY TIPS: This third volume collects Captain America (Vol. 7) #11-15, but is a surprisingly good jumping-on point for new readers. It also demonstrates a tone much more in keeping with that of Cap's film series than the previous two volumes (on which fan opinion has been somewhat divided); this makes it a solid suggestion for lapsed readers and filmgoers interested in picking up the comics. 

CONTENT ADVISORY: Superhero action/violence

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Writer: Dr. Hana Roš
Artists: Dr. Matteo Farinella 
$24.95, Nobrow Press, 144 pgs.
ISBN 978-1907704703

This engaging educational graphic novel takes the reader on a journey through the structures and functions of the human brain. Learn about axons, dendrites, and about a million other fascinating pieces of the human puzzle...and meet some key personalities from the history of neuroscience along the way! Despite its fanciful vibe, the material herein isn't "dumbed down" or simplified; this is not a book for young readers. That said, this complex science is made easily accessible to lay readers through a highly effective combination of words and pictures. The text is clear and concise, and the imagery walks a fine line between surrealism and technical illustration.

If NEUROCOMIC has a flaw, it's that it is fairly formulaic as far as instructional comics go. Now, as an experienced creator of instructional comics in my own right, I understand there's often a roadmap for these kinds of projects, and there's nothing wrong with that! However, NEUROCOMIC hews a bit too close to the model established by Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS (which has a rather "meta" cameo in NEUROCOMIC). This isn't so much a criticism as it is a cautionary note: if you're familiar with McCloud's work, NEUROCOMIC's presentational style may feel a bit too familiar, which can make the book feel a bit derivative in spots.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: Educational comics are always worth having in your collection; they engage readers, introduce new readers to the medium of comics, and go a long way toward silencing those old-fashioned folks who still say comics lack redeeming qualities.

READERS' ADVISORY TIPS: Science buffs, self-described geeks, and just about anyone intrigued by the human brain will surely enjoy NEUROCOMIC. And remember, non-fiction comics are a great way to get people who otherwise wouldn't read comics and graphic novels to give the medium a try!

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Jae Lee, Paolo Siqueira, Ben Oliver, et al 
$22.99, DC Comics, 144 pgs.
ISBN 978-1401245092

When DC re-launched its superhero universe with the "New 52" initiative in 2011, some of the company's flagship characters—and their relationships to one another—underwent major reinventions. BATMAN/SUPERMAN, though launched only recently, serves as a prequel of sorts to the New 52. Here we see the early days of the relationship between the titular heroes in a tale set prior to the events of the current JUSTICE LEAGUE series.

Upon meeting for the first time, the young Superman and young Batman are immediately distrustful of one another. They soon find themselves thrown into the parallel world of "Earth 2," where they encounter alternate versions of themselves and their loved ones, sometimes to agonizing effect. This cross-world escapade is no accident, though: our heroes soon realize they are being put to a diabolical test, one that will eventually come to fruition in the pages of the aforementioned JUSTICE LEAGUE and utterly transform the DC Universe.

Greg Pak is a fine writer and Jae Lee is a brilliant artist, but the two never really seem to gel as a creative team. Their narrative sensibilities just don't mesh especially well: Pak's work is big and bold, while Lee's is more muted and atmospheric. Frankly, Lee is better suited to horror or fantasy than he is to superheroes. Guided by such incongruous creative forces, BATMAN/SUPERMAN Vol. 1 is dreamlike, even surreal, a strange approach for a superhero comic tied so meticulously into an existing continuity (see the New York Times best-seller JUSTICE LEAGUE Vol. 1: ORIGIN by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, ISBN 978-1401234614). That said, BATMAN/SUPERMAN Vol. 1 is a good book: the dialogue is sharp and the art is positively gorgeous. It's just not necessarily what you'd expect from a book pairing these two marquee characters.

But then, maybe that's a good thing.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: It's got Batman. It's got Superman. It will circulate. What more do you need to know? Buy it.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: It's got Batman. It's got Superman. It will circulate. What more do you need to know? Suggest it. Oh, all right: it also has an enjoyable guest-starring role for Wonder Woman, and the art might appeal to readers who are turned off by the bombast of more "traditional" superhero art.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Superhero action/violence

 Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis (with Neil Gaiman)
Artist: Sara Pichelli, Francesco Francavilla, Kevin Maguire
$24.99, Marvel Comics, 168 pgs.
ISBN 978-0785168294

The fabric of space and time has been torn by the cataclysmic finale of Marvel's "Age of Ultron" event, and the universe is transformed. The mad titan Thanos returns from the grave, and his daughter, the Guardian called Gamora, is not happy about it. Complicating matters is the emergence of a powerful new player on the galactic stage, Angela, a being of allegedly divine origins and questionable goals. And of course, the Earth hangs in the balance as S.W.O.R.D., Earth's first line of defense against alien invasion, falls before the forces of the returned Thanos...though not before S.W.O.R.D.'s desperate cry for help reaches the Guardians.

Spaceship battles and gunfights ensue. Many things explode. It's all very exciting.

When I reviewed the first volume in this series, I gave it high marks. Unfortunately, this book verges on incoherence, its continuity muddied by events taking place outside the confines of the series. Marvel's "Age of Ultron" event takes place between volumes one and two of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and the "Infinity" event takes place smack-dab in the middle of this book (though of course, that story's not actually in this book).

When the Guardians' story is allowed to move forward organically, the characters quipping and flying spaceships and—in the case of Tony Stark and Gamora—engaging in some awkward romantic shenanigans, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a ripping good time. When the larger Marvel Universe intrudes, the book stumbles. There's a lot to enjoy here, but hopefully future story arcs are freed of the outside interference of Marvel's event schedule.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: In my review of the series' first volume, I opined that it might be a little "light" for the price tag. Not so in this instance: volume two features a full seven issues, plus bonus materials. With the Guardians' film debut due in August, patron interest in this series is high. It's worth the money.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: More science fiction than superhero epic, this one will appeal to fans of military SF, space opera, and the like. As mentioned in the review, certain plotlines in this book spin off from two large-scale Marvel "event" storylines, so it's a terrible jumping-on point for new readers. It's not completely inaccessible (assuming you've read the first volume in the series), but it's by no means a standalone book.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Sci-fi action/violence, mild adult language, adult situations (sexual themes). Hmm...that list makes the book sound a lot racier than it is. Think of this one as a movie with a PG-13 rating.

 Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Writer:  Rick Remender
Artists:  John Romita Jr. (with inks by Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer, and Scott Hanna)
$24.99, Marvel Comics, 136 pgs.
ISBN 978-0785168263

In a radical departure from writer Ed Brubaker's celebrated run on the title (the direct inspiration for the blockbuster film Captain America: The Winter Soldier), this tale transplants Captain America from the superhero spy thriller genre of the Brubaker era  to a realm of pure pulp science fiction, Rick Remender's preferred wheelhouse. The result is a strangely unique Captain America story arc that alienates some readers while fascinating others.

Nazi mad scientist Arnim Zola maroons Cap in an alternate dimension populated by legions of Zola's monstrous scientific creations. With no way home, Cap must fight not only for his own survival, but also for that of Ian, a young boy Cap rescues from Zola's clutches and comes to think of as his adoptive son. The pair's years-long journey across the surreal and hostile landscape of Dimension Z is paralleled with Cap's recollections of his Depression-era upbringing, and a peculiar theme emerges out of all the monster battles and otherworldly goings-on: family.

Comics fans constantly bemoan the lack of new directions in comics, yet when a creative team actually dares to do something different with a character, the fan backlash can be noisome and intense (see: The Superior Spider-Man; fan reaction to). What Remender and Romita have done here is not particularly earth-shattering; we know the status quo will somehow be restored when the story ends, because it hasto be: Marvel has tied the character into too much of its ongoing continuity for this to be a permanent reinvention. That said, Castaway in Dimension Z is an exciting yarn and a different kind of Captain America story, which—when you're talking about a 73-year old character—is a laudable achievement.  

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: Captain America first appeared in Captain America Comicsway back in 1941. How, then, could this possibly be "Volume One?" That's an excellent question, and the answer is that every so often, Marvel re-launches its titles with new "first issues," and that marketing stunt numbering is reflected in the numbering of the collected editions as well. (I go into greater detail about this practice—which, to be fair, isn't limited strictly to Marvel, though they are the industry's most frequent offender—in my Graphic Novel Collection Development guide, downloadable for FREE from HERE.) It's confusing, I know, but generally speaking, it's safe to start carrying any title with a "Volume One," even if it's not really a "Volume One." Publishers intend these to be jumping-on points, so they're usually a decent place to start when developing a collection. Oh, by the way, the second volume of this series is available now and the third volume hits stores this week!

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: This story's science fiction-inspired setting takes Captain America's adventures in an unusual direction, which might alienate fans who prefer more straightforward super-heroics. Of course, the upside here is that this temporary status quo (the third volume in the series returns Cap to more familiar stomping grounds) might attract fans of science fiction to examine a character they might otherwise have ignored. Note that this is the first volume in a two-volume story; make your suggestions accordingly.

CONTENT ADVISORY:  Superhero action/violence

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall. 


Writer:  John Layman
Artist:  Rob Guillory
$12.99, Image Comics, 128 pgs.
ISBN 978-1607067672

In the wake of a lethal avian flu epidemic, chicken is banned. So of course, poultry becomes the hottest illegal commodity in America, making the FDA the nation's highest law enforcement authority. FDA agent Tony Chu is a chibopath, able to receive psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It's a handy (if gross) skill for an investigator to have. However, Tony is not the only person with peculiar, food-related superpowers, which complicates his work a great deal.

In this volume, Tony throws himself into that work as he struggles with his grief over the death of his twin sister, murdered by the so-called "Vampire Collector." Tony's investigation of an energy drink that causes spontaneous human combustion leads to a cult of homicidal egg worshipers who may be connected to the fiery alien writing in the sky; the Vampire tries to recruit Tony; and Tony's partner, John Colby (who's dual work romances are about to collide), manages to apprehend elusive rogue FDA agent Mason Savoy. Meanwhile, Tony tries to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter Olive. There's a lot going on in these 128 pages. A lot. Did I mention Tony also takes on a secret mission for the Navy somewhere in there?

CHEW is a strange, strange series. And yet, its characters are likable and accessible, the narrative is tightly constructed, and the conflicts are visceral and engrossing. It's also one of the most consistently entertaining comics on shelves today. The series isunforgiving toward newcomers—you'll need to start from the beginning to make sense of it—but it's well worth catching up on.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: There are eight volumes of this Eisner Award-winning series currently available. The first couple of collected editions made the New York Times Bestseller list, so it's possible even those patrons who don't read graphic novels have heard of it and might check it out if they see it on your shelf. The series is also available in hardcover "Omnivore" editions, each of which collects two volumes of the series.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES:  CHEW blends humor, horror, and action with the police procedural and a dash of science fiction, defying easy genre classification. Many adult readers will embrace it for this reason; others will find the disparate elements incongruous and off-putting. I've not yet found a reliable pattern for predicting which readers will respond positively and which negatively. I've even seen readers enjoy certain volumes and hate others!

CONTENT ADVISORY: Graphic violence, adult language, sexual themes

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Super-Special Spider-Man Edition: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN Vol. 4: NECESSARY EVIL...plus bonus book suggestions for librarians!

Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Ryan Stegman, Giuseppe Camuncoli 
$17.99, Marvel Comics, 112 pgs.
ISBN 978-0785184737

Peter Parker is dead, but Spider-Man lives on! Inhabiting Peter's body is the mind of Dr. Otto Octavius, better known as Dr. Octopus, one of Spider-Man's greatest foes. And yet, Octavius has embraced the role of Spider-Man, determined to prove that he can be a greater Spider-Man than Peter ever was... a superior Spider-Man. Octavius reinvents the Spider-Man persona with ruthless efficiency and scientific brilliance, resulting in one of Marvel's most consistently entertaining—and, given many comics fans' resistance to changes in their beloved characters, controversial—ongoing series.

In this fourth volume, Octavius grapples with trying to earn a doctorate in Peter Parker's name (something Peter never did, much to Octavius's disgust), juggling his school commitments with his start-up business and his personal life. Enter the Spider-Man of the year 2099, here from the future to correct a ripple in time, even as the mysterious Goblin King continues to marshal his forces for the inevitable confrontation with Spider-Man. In short, there is a great deal going on in this book, but writer Dan Slott juggles all these disparate plot threads with ease. It's not the strongest volume in the series, but it's breezy, funny, and fun, and the tension building up to the series' conclusion is palpable.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: Volumes 5 and 6 of this series—the finale—are scheduled for release in April and July, respectively. With a new Spider-Man film set for release this summer, now is the time to ensure your Spider-Man collection is up-to-date! In addition to the four existing volumes of Superior Spider-Man, you might want to consider these volumes, which lead up to the series' current status quo. In order, from first to last...

Amazing Spider Man: Big Time: Ultimate Collection ISBN 978-0785162179
Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time: Complete Collection Vol. 2 (Marvel changed the title convention from "Ultimate" to "Complete," confusing things as usual...typical Marvel shenanigans!) ISBN 978-0785185406
Amazing Spider-Man: Trouble on the Horizon (This picks up where the 2nd "Big Time" book leaves off.)  ISBN 978-0785160045
Amazing Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth ISBN 978-0785160069
Amazing Spider-Man: Lizard - No Turning Back ISBN 978-0785160083
Amazing Spider-Man: Danger Zone ISBN 978-0785160106
Amazing Spider-Man: Dying Wish ISBN 978-0785165248

...and that leads right into Superior Spider-Man

Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy  ISBN 978-0785167044

Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 2: A Troubled Mind  ISBN 978-0785167051

Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 3: No Escape  ISBN 978-0785184720

Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 5: The Superior Venom  ISBN 978-0785187967 (scheduled for release later this month, April 2014)

Now, if your patrons want to read some vintage Spider-Man tales from the '70s, '80s, and '90s, here are some classics...

Amazing Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys  ISBN 978-0785167273
Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt  ISBN 978-0785134503
Spider-Man: Birth of Venom  ISBN 978-0785124986
Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin  ISBN 978-0785158547
Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff  ISBN 978-0785157212
Spider-Man: Revenge of the Sinister Six  ISBN 978-0785160564

If your patrons are interested in the original 1960s Spider-Man comics, those vintage stories are available in black-and-white paperbacks called "Marvel Essentials" and in color editions called "Marvel Masterworks." The Essentials are cheaper and easier to find, but they're printed on newsprint, which doesn't weather circulation all that well; the Masterworks are better suited to circulation, but they go out of print from time to time, making them harder to obtain, and they don't collect as many issues as the Essential volumes. Still, the production values on the Masterworks editions (paper quality, color, etc.) make them a smarter investment of your collection development budget overall, so I've chosen to list them here.

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 1 ISBN 978-0785136934

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2 ISBN 978-0785136941

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 3 ISBN 978-0785136965

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 4 ISBN 978-0785142805

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 5 ISBN 978-0785145653

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 6 ISBN 978-0785150541

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 7 ISBN 978-0785159353

Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 8  ISBN 978-0785188070 (scheduled for release in August 2014)

In addition to the Spider-Man with which the average reader is familiar, Marvel publishes what they call their "Ultimate Comics" line, which re-imagines marquee Marvel characters in a separate, standalone continuity. The Ultimate line first launched back in 2000, so it's acquired plenty of continuity of its own since then. That said, the Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man title underwent a re-launch a few years back, debuting a new Spider-Man, teenager Miles Morales, and creating a perfect jumping-on point for new readers (the Miles Morales Spider-Man is also a face of color in an otherwise too-often monochromatic superhero landscape).

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1 ISBN 978-0785157137

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 2 ISBN 978-0785157151

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 3 ISBN 978-0785161769

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 4 ISBN 978-0785165033

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 5 ISBN 978-0785168027

Spider-Men (This is a crossover starring both the Peter Parker Spider-Man and the Miles Morales Spider-Man!) ISBN 978-0785165330

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: Spider-Man has been one of Marvel's most popular characters since the 1960s, so there are many, many Spidey stories available for just about any reader who enjoys superhero comics. Spidey's continuity can be a challenge, though, so use the lists I've provided here to ensure your readers are able to enjoy the various series in order.

CONTENT ADVISORY:  Superhero action/violence

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.


Writers: Jim Butcher & Mark Powers 
Artist:  Joseph Cooper
$24.99, Dynamite Entertainment, 160 pgs.
ISBN 978-1-60690-438-1

Chicago private investigator Harry Dresden is a wizard: a modern-day magician and monster-fighter who tackles cases of a decidedly supernatural bent.  Ghoul Goblintakes Harry from his Chicago hunting grounds to a small Missouri town, where he must solve a series of murders than have plagued the local Talbot family for generations. His investigation complicated by hostile locals, competing monsters, and a nasty case of the flu, Harry's magic alone might not be enough to end the curse haunting the secret-riddled town of Boone Mill.

Ghoul Goblin isn't the first Dresden Files graphic novel, but it is the first original one; previous Dresden graphic novels have been adaptations of the books (also by author Jim Butcher, who co-writes here with Mark Powers). This first foray into original territory is a rousing success, though, briskly-paced and full of exciting, well-drawn action sequences. Some readers might find Joseph Cooper's art a bit cartoonish for a story with pervasive horror elements, but the overall tone of the work is wonderfully evocative of the source material. Also, despite its relationship to the novels' continuity, the story is perfectly accessible to those who've never read Butcher's books.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: Jim Butcher isn't the only well-known prose author to have his name attached to comics and graphic novels. Joe Hill, Charlaine Harris, and James Patterson have also attributed their names to graphic novels (though Hill is the only one to actually script his own comics). If you're tasked with collection development at a library where—for whatever reason—there's resistance to the idea of adding graphic novels, comics by brand-name authors might be the perfect way to start chipping away at that resistance.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: Fans of Jim Butcher's popular Dresden Files series will appreciate this book a great deal, obviously (continuity-wise, the events of this story take place after the second novel, Fool Moon), as will fans of horror and fantasy comics. As is often the case, a comic book inspired by a book series is a fine way to introduce prose readers to graphic novels, but don't forget, that's a two-way street! If you've got patrons who read only graphic novels, suggest this one; if they like it, you can encourage them to read Butcher's novels, thus adding traditional prose to their reading table!

CONTENT ADVISORY: Adult language, graphic violence

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

BLEACH 3-IN-1 Vol. 7

BLEACH 3-in-1 Volume 7
Writer:  Tite Kubo
Artist:  Tito Kubo
$14.99, Shonen Jump, 608 pgs.
ISBN 978-1421559117

New to IPL's graphic novel collection this week is the seventh 3-in-1 edition of Tite Kubo's Bleach. Equal parts modern-day samurai epic, youth-driven drama, and supernatural thriller, Bleach is the ongoing story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a Soul Reaper: a young warrior dedicated to defending the world from Hollows (wayward souls that consume other souls) and to sending lost spirits on to the next world. As the series progresses, Ichigo's mission is complicated by the introduction of rival factions warring within the shadowy recesses of writer/artist Tite Kubo's fictional universe, tensions which come to a head in this volume.

Trying to summarize the plot of a series this deep into its narrative—this book collects the original 19th, 20th, and 21st tankōbon volumes—would be an exercise in futility. This is by no means a point of entry for new readers. Bleach is a consistent favorite among manga fans, though, a genre mash-up that plays to multiple audiences. Also, thanks to its anime adaptation, it's an excellent way to entice new readers familiar only with the TV version into reading manga.   

As they do in many manga, the fight scenes in Bleach last entire chapters and often spill over into subsequent chapters. This "fight manga" style is infuriating to some readers (those who expect their plots to progress faster) and exhilarating to others (those who groove on the metered-but-violent pacing of chambara cinema, for example). Your mileage may vary. 

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: As will surprise no-one who's read my graphic novel collection development guide (downloadable for free from HERE), I can't praise these 3-in-1 editions enough: they're a great way to carry manga series while getting the most from your collection development dollar. Individual tankōbon run between $8.00 to $13.00, depending on the series and the publisher, while these triple volumes tend to run between $15.00 and $20.00. It's a great way to save money and reduce time spent cataloging new materials. And this is a series that's popular enough that it is almost definitely worth adding to your collection.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: See the second paragraph in the review section.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Supernatural violence and bloodshed

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.


Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
$24.99, DC Comics, 176 pgs.
ISBN 978-1401235413

When DC Comics re-launched its entire line in 2011, the news caused quite a stir in the fan community. Some longtime fans condemned the move, but others applauded it, hailing this new beginning as the perfect entry point for new readers. What just about everyone could agree on, though, is that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo produce a superb Batman comic.

Nobody knows Gotham City like Batman. He knows its every secret, its every shadow...or so he believes. Hidden away from even the Batman's ever-vigilant gaze lurks a secret society that wields so much power and pulls so many strings that it has managed to remain virtually invisible for years. And now, that mysterious agency--the lethal Court of Owls--has set its sights on destroying Batman before he can expose their existence and end their secret reign over Gotham.

Snyder and Capullo get Batman; they understand the character and what makes his adventures exciting. This volume captures the perfect blend of technology, action, detective work, andfilm noir-inspired darkness that makes Batman one of America's most enduring comics characters. Snyder and Capullo also understand that Gotham City is a key element of the Batman mythos, and in this story Gotham is depicted almost as a character in her own right. All fictional settings should be so interesting, and all superhero comics should be this smart and exciting.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: As DC Comics intended, this is the perfect jumping-on point for new readers. It's available in a cheaper paperback edition, but this hardcover edition is worth the money; you're going to circulate this book a lot, and the hardcover is much more resilient. This is the first of three volumes to be released thus far, with a fourth due for release in May.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: Lapsed Bat-fans who haven't read a comic book in some time will love this fresh start. Likewise, this book is the perfect way to entire those who enjoy the character's appearances in other media (film, television, video games), but who don't yet follow the comics.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Superhero action/violence

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.


Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
$9.99, Image Comics, 96 pgs.
ISBN 978-1607068099

It is the near future. The fantastically wealthy Carlyle Family is one of a handful of clans that rule the world. There are no politics but Family politics, no means to power except money and birthright. Those who serve the Families as Serfs are provided for, while the masses live as impoverished slaves: the Waste. Forever Carlyle is her Family's sworn protector, theirLazarus, bioengineered, cybernetically enhanced, and trained to be a one-woman death squad. Forever loves her Family. She defends her Family. But Forever has doubts, not only regarding the society into which she was born, but also about the loyalty of others within her Family's house... 

LAZARUS is one of the best American comics running. Like many works of science fiction, it's allegorical of the issues facing people today. What makes LAZARUS great, though, is that writer Greg Rucka never forgets that his characters must ring true, that their world must be a believable construct, not a mere soapbox. LAZARUS is tightly-plotted, tense, and emotionally powerful; artist Michael Lark's action scenes are brutally realistic and drive home the viciousness of the world he and Rucka have created.

This is a series that later generations will recall as being among the best of its era.  

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: This bargain-priced first volume is about as a worthwhile a use of your collection development dollar as you're likely to find. If you have patrons who question whether or not comics can ever be an intelligent or meaningful art form, LAZARUS--written by an award-winning novelist--may well change their mind (a useful tip if you ever find yourself having to justify your collection to those who don't understand its value).

READERS ADVISORY NOTES: Fans of science fiction, dystopian fiction, action, intrigue, and strong female lead characters are almost certain to enjoy LAZARUS. It's a very adult series, though, so it's definitely not for everyone (see below).

CONTENT ADVISORY: Graphic violence, adult language, mature themes

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.