Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Steve Epting with Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)
$9.99, Image Comics, 128 pgs.
ISBN 978-1607069645

It’s 1973 and Jefferson Keller, Britain’s deadliest secret agent, has just been murdered. When the evidence implicates Velvet Templeton, secretary to the Director of the shadowy ARC-7 agency, Velvet is forced to go on the run to solve the mystery herself. What the agents pursuing Velvet don’t yet realize, though, is that Velvet is more than “just” a secretary: back in the ‘50s she was ARC-7’s lone female agent, trained in the arts of combat, seduction, and stealth…and she remembers her lethal craft very, very well.

This Cold War spy thriller is brought to you by the same writer/artist team that gave us the best Captain America run in modern comics history (including the story arcs The Death of Captain America and The Winter Soldier), so you know from the outset to expect action and international intrigue aplenty. What the reader might not be prepared for is Velvet herself: one of the best female protagonists in comics today, with great emotional depth and a rich back-story. Velvet is unusual for American comics. Not only is she a strong female lead, she’s in her 40s, an age demographic typically ignored by adventure comic books, especially those starring women. As the story unfolds, Velvet’s innermost self—the personality she has buried under years of training and pretense—reemerges, and we realize this is not just an adventure story. It’s the story of a woman grappling with regret, betrayal, and grief.

The action in VELVET is stylized, but realistic; combat is bloody and often fatal. Sexuality, itself a weapon in Velvet Templeton’s world, is treated with frank candor. This is a spy comic that manages to strike a perfect balance between the realities of Cold War espionage and the glamour of big-screen spy thrillers. Flawlessly written and elegantly drawn, it’s an incredibly satisfying comics experience courtesy of one of comicdom’s best creative teams.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: This is another of Image Comics’ bargain-priced first volumes. Move quickly; when this book goes to its second and third printings (and it will) it will likely be priced higher. The story is not self-contained, though, and if history is any indicator, Brubaker is writing with the long-game in mind. You’re going to end up buying more of this series, but it’ll be worth the investment.

READERS’ ADVISORY NOTES: Readers with an appreciation for good female characters will love VELVET, as will fans of the Bourne and Bond film franchises. Because of the creative team’s track record, this is a good way to tempt die-hard superhero fans into trying their first non-superhero title, and there’s enough action that they won’t feel too far from their comfort zone. It’s also an excellent title with which to entice fans of spy thrillers who’d normally never read comics.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Violence, strong language, nudity/sexuality

Review © 2014, C. Michael Hall.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Matteo Scalera with Dean White (colors)
$9.99, Image Comics, 152 pgs.
ISBN 978-1607069676

(NOTE: Your reviewer is actually on vacation for the next couple of weeks, but he wrote reviews for you in advance of his departure! Now that, dear reader, is love. You should return the love, and share this blog with all your librarian friends far and wide!)

Brilliant iconoclast and absentee father Grant McKay has mastered the forbidden art of Black Science: his invention, the Pillar, allows him to travel between alternate realities. Unfortunately, the Pillar is damaged on its maiden voyage. It cannot be shut down, and it departs for a new reality after intervals of randomly-determined length. With his children and a handful of compatriots in tow—one of whom is responsible for sabotaging the Pillar—Grant must survive one harrowing trip through the Eververse after another, hoping to eventually find the technology to repair the Pillar and make his way back home. Along the way, Grant must also try to repair his eroding relationship with his estranged children.

BLACK SCIENCE puts writer Rick Remender smack dab in his element: pulp-inspired science fiction. Everything happens at a breakneck pace, and we are whisked along with Grant and company from one bizarre reality to another. While some readers might feel cheated that we never really get to see too much of any of these realities, that’s kind of the point: by keeping us off-balance, Remender lets us share in the insanity of the life Grant has accidentally created for himself and his children. It’s a dizzying adventure, full of unearthly weirdness brought to life by Matteo Scalera’s edgy, unique artwork and Dean White’s rich colors. It’s a shame White’s color palette changes radically from the first chapter to the second—originally, he digitally painted over Scalera’s art rather than coloring it in a traditional style—but the end result is still gorgeous, rich in alien wonder and horror alike.

There’s nothing else on the shelves like BLACK SCIENCE. An elegantly simple concept with visionary artwork and a narrative combining the adventuresome spirit of pulp science fiction with interpersonal drama, BLACK SCIENCE is a profoundly different kind of comic book.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: Like a lot of Image’s first volumes, this one is bargain-priced to attract new readers; there are six comics in this issue for the dirt-cheap price of only $9.99 before wholesaler discount. You can’t go wrong at that price, but don’t wait forever to order; if this book goes to a second printing, and it may very well do so, odds are the second printing will be at a more conventional price-point.

READER’S ADVISORY: Suggest this to your science fiction fans, your alternate history buffs, and those readers looking for action/adventure with a unique, even bizarre stylistic twist.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Mature themes, ideologically sensitive material, violence, adult language…and, um, does it count as nudity when the naked people are aliens? Because that happens, too.

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Writers: Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes
Artists: Renato Guede with Marcelo Maiolo (colors)
$14.99, DC Comics, 144 pgs.
ISBN 978-1401243234

Don’t let the “Vol. 1” label fool you: the character of John Constantine has quite a history. Created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben during the team’s now-legendary 1980s run on SWAMP THING, the acerbic Constantine eventually transcended his guest-star status and landed his own series. That title, HELLBLAZER, ran for a mammoth 300 issues from 1993 to 2013 and was a cornerstone of DC’s Vertigo imprint, the premier source for “mature readers” comics in the United States. Constantine inspired a disappointing film adaptation in 2005—the producers couldn’t even be bothered to make the character blond or British—and is set to star in a forthcoming TV series on NBC. Not bad for a non-superhero character in a comic book marketplace that normally prefers fights-in-tights to supernatural thrillers. 

Since DC folded the Vertigo imprint’s more prominent characters back into the mainstream DC universe, Constantine has been a key figure in the supernatural corner of DC’s “New 52” continuity, first in JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK and now in his own series. Constantine’s solo title requires no prior knowledge of the character. We find Constantine in territory similar to that explored during the HELLBLAZER series: the chain-smoking Constantine is alone, haunted by the horrors of his past, and forced to defend reality from evil wizards, secret cults, and horrific supernatural creatures. In this book, our (anti)hero travels the world in search of a powerful mystical relic, the pieces of which must be recovered before they fall into the hands of a sinister cult. It sounds simple, but for John Constantine, things never are.

In addition to putting Constantine through some familiar paces, this series reinvents many of DC’s old mystical characters, many of whom haven’t been seen much since the New 52 re-launch of 2011. Writers Lemire and Fawkes keep the emotional stakes high in an effective blend of horror and urban fantasy, and the art is appropriately moody. The book’s only weak spot is an interlude that ties-in with the Justice League’s “Trinity War” crossover, but to be fair, it’s not entirely out of place, thematically speaking. (That will make more sense when you read the book.)

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: This volume does not contain the complete story; this first story arc is shaping up to be a long one, it seems. However, the second volume hits shelves in August!

READERS’ ADVISORY NOTES: Horror and fantasy buffs should appreciate the tone and content. While not a truly “adult” title, CONSTANTINE pushes more envelopes than the rest of DC’s mainstream output. This book has the potential to appeal to older, lapsed comic readers who remember the character’s original iteration, as well as those who are new to comics and simply looking for some modern fantasy without the superheroics. You might find this also appeals to fans of supernatural manga, giving your collection a title with which to bridge the divide that often keeps manga readers from enjoying American comics and vice versa.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Mild adult language, horror violence and bloodshed

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Writer: Arnaud Plumeri
Aritst: Bloz
$10.99, Papercutz, 64 pgs.
ISBN 978-1597074902

Most graphic novels for kids are, to be blunt, junk. Not all, mind you, but many—far too many—are poorly drawn, poorly written, and rushed to market by publishers who know plenty about getting their books into libraries, but next to nothing about making comics worth reading. Thankfully, Papercutz is a company committed to more than profiting off the kids’ graphic novel market; they want to provide kids with good comics. Editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup is a veteran of the comic book industry. He cares about the medium, and that caring is reflected in the product.

Like THE SMURFS  ANTHOLOGY editions Papercutz publishes (one of which is reviewed here), the DINOSAURS series is an import. Plumeri and Bloz hail from France, but their material transcends national and cultural boundaries. We’re talking about dinosaurs, here. Dinosaurs. This stuff circs itself! This book is full of interesting dino-facts based on the latest dinosaur research, but those facts are delivered by talking cartoon dinosaurs fond of goofy wordplay and groan-worthy jokes. The art in this collection of one- and two-page strips is colorful and vibrant, executed in a lively animated style sure to appeal to readers young and young-at-heart.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: There’s already a second volume in this series, with a third on the way. They’re worth your collection development dollar. Kids will read them. This book also contains a preview of GERONIMO STILTON, another Papercutz series for kids. Visit the company’s website at www.papercutz.com for more information. And no, before you ask, I’ve never worked for this company…I simply respect what they do.

READERS’ ADVISORY NOTES: Kids, dino-fans of all ages, and aficionados of Disney-esque cartooning will get a kick out of this book. The material is based on scientific fact, so if you’ve got young patrons whose parents are skeptical of the educational value of comics, this book might be just the ticket.

CONTENT ADVISORY: DINOSAURS isn’t without a measure violence and bloodshed. It’s about dinosaurs, after all. The blood and gore are played for laughs, though, and somehow it works: even younger readers aren’t likely to find the material frightening or gross. There are also some poop jokes, since much of what we know about certain species of dinosaur comes from studying their droppings. Ah, science!

Review©2014, C. Michael Hall.