Thursday, August 28, 2014

A new tool for my fellow librarians!

Yes, it’s been quiet around here lately…too quiet. Your humble reviewer has been a bit overwhelmed with work—both in the library and beyond—and reviewing time has been hard to come by. But just so you don’t go thinking I’ve abandoned you (perish the thought!), I’ve created a little something special for my library peeps. Yes, available for the low, low price of absolutely nothing, it’s…a downloadable mini-poster advertising your library’s graphic novel collection, plus shelf-talkers!


I’ve been meaning to create some special shelf-talkers for you folks for some time, but…well, insert something about roads, infernal nether-realms, and good intentions here. But the right moment has finally presented itself! I just created these characters (I call them the Library Legion!) for an unrelated library project, and it occurred to me I could repurpose them for this one! The mini-poster and shelf-talkers are all contained in one handy PDF. Just right click THIS LINK and hit “Save As…”, then print them on 8.5x11” paper or cardstock and enjoy.

Look for my return to reviewing next week. I’ve been backlogging some good ones!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

AMAZING X-MEN Vol. 1: THE QUEST FOR NIGHTCRAWLER



AMAZING X-MEN Vol. 1: THE QUEST FOR NIGHTCRAWLER
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Ed McGuinness
$17.99, Marvel Comics, 136 pgs.
ISBN 978-0785188216

In this throwback to the fun and exuberant X-Men tales of the late 1970s/early 1980s—arguably the X-Men's peak period, and one Marvel would do well to revisit more often—our mutant heroes embark on a cross-dimensional adventure in the afterlife. There they reunite with fan-favorite Nightcrawler (dead since 2010) to cross swords with Nightcrawler's demonic father Azazel. It's a swashbuckling, pirate-flavored adventure with the very fate of the afterlife hanging in the balance. It's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and it's absolutely wonderful.

This is also a very well-crafted comic. Jason Aaron's script hits all the right emotional beats, balancing humor and that special brand of soap opera melodrama that makes the X-books unique among superhero comics. Ed McGuinness' artwork has taken an evolutionary leap forward with his work on this title, boasting a clean, expressive line that perfectly matches the bombastic energy of this story. This is a comic simultaneously "retro" in its sensibilities and modern in execution, the work of a creative team clearly having a great time with the material.

If you don't try to take it too seriously, you'll have a great time, too.  

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: If you're trying to keep up with all the X-books, don't panic! This title actually picks up where Astonishing X-Men ended, so there'll be no more volumes of that series. Marvel isn't sticking you with yet another X-title on which to spend collection development funds. Well, not yet. Give 'em time.

READERS' ADVISORY NOTES: Fans of Marvel's mutants will enjoy this one, particularly those readers who prefer the more lighthearted vibe demonstrated by titles such as All-New X-Men. This is also a good return point for lapsed readers who were alienated by Marvel's "darkening" of the X-books back in the '90s, a trend that is only now starting to abate. Finally, let's not overlook the fact that this is, despite its supernatural and superheroic elements, a pirate story...and who doesn't love a pirate story?

CONTENT ADVISORY: Superhero action/violence; story elements some readers might find ideologically uncomfortable

Review©2014. C. Michael Hall

Friday, August 1, 2014

BLUE EXORCIST Vol. 1

BLUE EXORCIST Vol. 1
Writer/Artist: Kazue Kato
$9.99, Viz Media/Shonen Jump, 200 pgs.
ISBN 978-1421540320

Brothers Rin and Yukio Okumura are orphans. Raised in a boys’ home by the stern but caring Father Fujimoto, the boys are polar opposites. The volatile Rin is foul-tempered and quick to fight, while Yukio is studious and bookish, soon to enter True Cross Academy in pursuit of his goal of becoming a doctor. Their differences become even more pronounced with Rin learns that his mysterious father is, in fact, Satan himself. Determined to make Satan pay for ruining his life, Rin vows to use his newly-discovered demonic powers to become an exorcist. He too enters the True Cross Academy, only to find that his relationship with Yukio is about to get a lot more complicated…

If any of this sounds familiar, it ought to: BLUE EXORCIST is very well-done, with a briskly paced script and some very slick art, but it’s quite possibly the most derivative manga I’ve ever read. That doesn’t mean the series isn’t enjoyable. It is. As I said, it’s a well-done manga. It’s just that it feels cobbled together from a manga checklist. Teen protagonist with father issues? Check. Brother issues for good measure? Check. Young hero must come to grips with unwanted power he inherits on the cusp of adulthood, a power which might destroy him? Check. Emotional volume turned up to eleven at all times? Supernatural overtones, many of which are more than a little derivative of other franchises? A school setting? Check, check, and check. If you’ve read three or four manga—or watched an anime or two—odds are you’ve seen all of this before. There’s even a scene in which Rin falls to his knees while yelling “Father!” Now that is classic!

Of course, just like fans of American superhero comics eagerly devour the same basic storylines over and over again (as a lifelong fanboy, I say that without judgment), fans of shonen manga respond well to the familiar, provided it’s delivered with a high level of craftsmanship. For fans of certain genres, familiar tropes enrich the experience. At best, the familiarity acts as thematic shorthand enabling the reader to feel as if they instantly understand the setting and relate to the characters. At worst…well, who doesn’t love a paint-by-numbers popcorn movie? Bottom line is, every critic goes on about BLUE EXORCIST’s copycat nature, but they all like it. Including me.

TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: This series has only been published in English since 2011, so there are no money-saving combined editions; you’re stuck buying the individual tankĊbon. Eleven volumes have been released to the U.S. market thus far, with a twelfth dropping in November. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with manga demography, stop by the “Resources for Librarians” page of this website and download my Graphic Novel Collection Development guide; it’s all explained in there.

READERS’ ADVISORY NOTES: This series is marketed under the Shonen Jump Advanced label, meaning that it courts a slightly older audience than the average shonen manga. It’s not an adult title; it’s no seinen manga by any stretch of the imagination. The content is comparable to a PG-13 film, and audiences who’ve enjoyed series such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, and even the Harry Potter franchise (trust me, there's more than a passing thematic similarity) will probably enjoy this one. Writer/artist Kazue Kato is a woman, too, a fact that will interest many readers looking for female voices in comics.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Mild adult language, stylized supernatural action/violence


Review © 2014, C. Michael Hall.