The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers (Jan. 1–16, 2013)

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers (Jan. 1–16, 2013)
Published on Thursday, January 17, 2013 by
Books from Archaia Entertainment, Dark Horse, and Image Comics share the spotlight in our trade paperback and hardcover review coverage for the first half of January. If you have difficulty finding any of these books, don’t forget that they can be back-ordered through your local comic book shop or purchased directly from any number of online retailers. Also, unless stated otherwise, all review copies have been provided by their respective publisher.

Archaia Entertainment

Cursed Pirate Girl, Vol. 1

  • CPG Preview - CoverStory and art by: Jeremy Bastian
  • Format: 152 pages, black & white, hardcover; collects Cursed Pirate Girl #1–3 originally published by Olympian Publishing
  • Sale date: 19 December, 2012 (comic book shops); 22 December, 2012–01 January, 2013 (book stores)
  • List Price: $24.95
  • Description (from Archaia.com): Adventures on and under the high seas lead a cursed pirate girl to encounter mythic creatures, gnarled and crusty pirates, and ghostly apparitions as she tries to find her lost father, one of the dreaded Pirate Captains of the mythical Omerta Seas. A whimsical swashbuckling tale of wonderland journeys and unimaginable dangers, starting in Port Elisabeth, Jamaica in the year 1728, and quickly heading across—and beneath—the waves. The first three issues are collected in this edition with an all-new epilogue; a pin-up gallery featuring illustrations from the likes of Mike Mignola, David Petersen, and Katie Cook; and a fold-out Wanted poster.
  • Read the eight-page preview here.

Like many of the better children’s fantasy adventures, a layer of genuine horror lies just underneath the whimsical surface of this tale of a plucky and charmingly irrepressible pirate girl’s fantastical quest in search of her father. In some instances, that horror even gets to poke through and reveal itself briefly, as when [SPOILER WARNING: highlight the following text to read] the book’s heroine is mutilated on the orders of the Jamaican governor. Bastian’s meticulously detailed linework (see the preview in the link above) seems to be inspired at least in part by Sir John Tenniel’s work on the 1865 first edition of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is both a good thing and a bad thing: good in that it grounds the story in an appropriate era and atmosphere, bad in that the copious amount of hatching and storybook-style filigree occasionally interfere with storytelling clarity. Still, the overall package should be solid fun for readers of all ages. Recommended.

Iron: Or, the War After

  • Iron or the War After CoverStory and art by: Shane-Michael Vidaurri
  • Format: 152 pages, full color, hardcover, original graphic novel
  • Sale date: 19 December, 2012 (comic book shops); 22 December, 2012–01 January, 2013 (book stores)
  • List Price: $24.95
  • Description (from Archaia.com): It is the aftermath of a long war, in a world of constant winter. An intelligence spy from the Resistance—the rabbit, Hardin—steals secret information from a military base of the Regime. His actions set off a chain of events that reverberates through the ranks of both sides, touching everyone from Pavel the crow to Giles the goat, from the highest-ranking officials to the smallest orphaned child. When the snow finally settles, who will be the true patriot and who the true traitor? A spellbinding, beautifully illustrated anthropomorphic tale.
  • Read the seven-page preview here.

What happens to old soldiers when a war is finally won (or lost)? Can the cycle of violence born of wholesale armed conflict be so easily expunged with the signing of an armistice? These are some of the central themes Shane-Michael Vidaurri attempts to tackle in Iron: Or, the War After, a fable in the classic sense in that it uses anthropomorphized animals to serve as actors in a thoughtful, didactic tale of the difficulty of post-war reconciliation. Vidaurri’s choice to deal with generalities—details about the narrative’s preceding war and its politics are doled out sparingly—helps and hurts the story’s cause: it emphasizes the importance of character and its development, but at the cost of moral nuance and instructive context. The subdued palette of the book’s watercolor art echoes the somber mood of the book.

Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights

  • Sharaz-De CoverStory and art by: Sergio Toppi
  • Format: 208 pages, partial color, hardcover, original graphic novel
  • Sale date: 19 December, 2012 (comic book shops); 22 December, 2012–01 January, 2013 (book stores)
  • List Price: $29.95
  • Description (from Archaia.com): A set of tales inspired by the Arabian Nights from the late European comics master Sergio Toppi, exploring a barbaric society where the supernatural is the only remedy to injustice, as Sharaz-de, captive to a cruel and despotic king, must each night spin tales to entertain her master and save her head from the executioner. Tales filled with evil spirits, treasures, risk, and danger, but with ever at their center the passions of gods and men. Translated from the original French publication. Features a Foreword written by Walter Simonson.
  • Read the five-page preview here.

Excerpted from our previously posted full-length review:

It is Toppi’s art of course, that should demand most of the reader’s attention. Toppi employed a wide variety of line art techniques, using hatching, cross-hatching, solid blacks, and areas of white space to great effect, creating ornate suits of armor, highly detailed robes, lush vistas, soaring mountain ranges, panoramic deserts, and dreamlike cityscapes that draw the reader in…

… Toppi combines flawless draftsmanship with a maverick’s flair for experimentation and stylization…

… Toppi’s talent for drawing faces and facial expressions is superlative…

… [Toppi] frequently breaks away from the conventions of what experienced readers would normally consider functional visual storytelling, but it is always in the service of some grand page design idea, and never at the cost of clarity…

Very highly recommended.

Dark Horse Books

Reset

  • reset1p0Story and art by: Peter Bagge
  • Gray tones by: Joanne Bagge
  • Format: 96 pages, black & white, hardcover, collects Reset #1–4
  • Sale date: 02 January, 2013
  • List Price: $15.99
  • Description (from DarkHorse.com): If you could relive major events in your life, would you take a stab at making things better—and would your best attempts only make things worse? Or would you use your second chance to put your most twisted, perverted fantasies in motion? These are questions washed up actor and comedian Guy Krause asks himself after he signs up to be the main research subject for a virtual reality experiment! This new hardcover graphic novel from Harvey Award-winning writer/artist Peter Bagge—creator of Hate and Apocalypse Nerd—collects the hilarious, offbeat Reset comic-book series in its entirety.
  • Read the five-page preview here.

Despite being a celebrity (after a fashion), Guy Krause, the washed-up comedian and actor who serves as Reset‘s protagonist, is the kind of everyman loser that most readers will find themselves rooting for despite his faults. There’s a lot to like here: the Groundhog Day-meets-eXistenZ premise is genuinely intriguing, the twisty plot will keep readers off-balance and on their toes, the character designs are hilarious, and the whole affair is compact and concise enough that the dialogue’s cynical jokiness never threatens to wear thin. Look past its offbeat sci-fi comedy trappings however, and Reset reveals itself to be a story that is entertaining and affecting in equal parts; a modern parable about learning to let go of the past, learning from mistakes, and moving on with life. Recommended.

Cherubs!

  • cherubs_coverStory by: Bryan Talbot
  • Art by: Mark Stafford
  • Format: 192 pages, black & white, hardcover, collects original material and material previously published by Desperado Publishing as Cherubs!: Paradise Lost
  • Sale date: 09 January, 2013
  • List price: $19.99
  • Description (from Darkhorse.com): Falsely accused of heaven’s first homicide, five churlish cherubim escape to New York in pursuit of the renegade archangel Abbadon on the eve of the Apocalypse! Befriended by exotic-dancer Mary and chased by unstoppable Seraphim terminators, the Cherubs alone stand against hell’s hordes as Satan prepares to make war, not love!
  • Read the six-page preview here.

I enjoy occasional good-natured, irreverent jabs at religious and spiritual mythology and on this score, Bryan Talbot and Mark Stafford’s Cherubs! does not disappoint. The book finds protagonist Mary and her retinue of cherub allies traipsing all over New York like a stripper Snow White and a bunch of naked, profane, winged dwarves on a mission to stop a celestial coup and the end of the world, having all manner of hilarious misadventures in the process. Additionally, Talbot takes the opportunity to skewer “horror entertainment” tropes: vampires, zombies, werewolves, witches, The Exorcist, and horror comics all get the satirical treatment. While one can argue that Talbot’s going after low-hanging fruit, I couldn’t help but grin and snicker at the introduction of such characters as “Bald” the vampire hunter and the bearded magician “Eroom Nala” (no bonus points for figuring out who those are supposed to be)—what can I say, I’m an easy mark. The dialogue is awash in pop culture references too, featuring everything from Terminator 2 to Ghostbusters to Harry Potter to Miley Cyrus, which can be distracting and annoying even, particularly when they’re used as Family Guy-style, non sequitur “virtual jokes”—that is, jokes that have no punchline, just winks and nudges to pop culture memes—and the relentless onslaught of quips can be wearying after a while. Talbot’s humor is more often on target than not, however, and Mark Stafford’s storytelling and character designs work perfectly well with the material.

Conan, Vol. 12: Throne of Aquilonia

  • conanvol12tpb_coverWritten by: Roy Thomas
  • Penciled by: Mike Hawthorne and Dan Panosian
  • Inked by: John Lucas and Dan Panosian
  • Colored by: Dan Jackson
  • Format: 152 pages, full-color, trade paperback, collects Conan: Road of Kings #7–12
  • Sale date: 16 January, 2013
  • List Price: $19.99
  • Description (from Darkhorse.com): Conan finds himself wrapped up in a plot to unseat the king of Aquilonia as his journey down the Road of Kings concludes. But when everything goes wrong, the Cimmerian and his coconspirators become lost in the catacombs beneath the city, surrounded by zombies and monstrous insects, all while a civil war brews above their heads! Also in this volume, an encounter at a tavern lands Conan at the end of every sword in a small port city, in a story leading directly into Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s acclaimed Conan the Barbarian!
  • Read the seven-page preview here.

This book is a trade paperback edition of the Conan, Vol. 12: Throne of Aquilonia hardcover released last year. As such, my assessment of the hardcover’s contents in the full-length review we posted last year also applies to this book:

All in all, Conan, Vol. 12: Throne of Aquilonia is another well-considered addition to Dark Horse’s impressive retelling of the Conan legend. The book’s “fill-in” nature makes it far from an ideal jumping-on point for new readers and will inevitably irk the more persnickety Howard fans, but for everybody else, this volume is the perfect opportunity to read new Conan material by the godfather of Conan comics.

Conan, Vol. 13: Queen of the Black Coast

  • conanv13_00Story by: Brian Wood
  • Art by: Becky Cloonan, James Harren
  • Colors by: Dave Stewart
  • Cover by: Massimo Carnevale
  • Format: 152 pages, full color, hardcover, collects Conan the Barbarian #1–6
  • Sale date: 16 January, 2013
  • List Price: $24.99
  • Description (from DarkHorse.com): Kicking off Dark Horse’s sweeping adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast,” Conan turns his back on the civilized world and takes to the Western Ocean. Finding first danger and then passion in the arms of the pirate queen Bêlit, the Cimmerian begins a new life of pleasure and pillage along the Black Coast, in this epic of romance and terror!
  • Read the nine-page preview here.

It feels like I’ve been mainlining Brian Wood comics for the past year. I recently reviewed his excellent Channel Zero and I’m about a third of the way through The Couriers while also following his run on Dark Horse’s Conan the Barbarian. Wood has established himself as one of comics’ best new talents of the past fifteen years, but given the focus and tone of Wood’s most popular works, I had some concerns about how well he would fit in the medium’s premier sword-and-sorcery title, adapting and elaborating on one of the most revered entries in the original Weird Tales Conan catalogue, no less. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. Wood clearly respects the source material, but knows when to trust his own skills as a comics writer to tune it for sequential art and visual storytelling. And while Queen of the Black Coast may be the 13th installment in Dark Horse’s original adaptation of the Conan canon, it is about as accessible to the new reader as any of the early volumes featuring stand-alone stories. Becky Cloonan and James Harren’s art is also some of the best the Dark Horse Conan title has seen, and that’s strong praise considering the level of illustrator talent that’s worked on the line since its inception. I especially liked Cloonan’s take on the Cimmerian—it just makes sense that the barbarian would have the lean and functional musculature of an athlete instead of the bulky physique of a full-time bodybuilder that some of the prior artists have favored. Very highly recommended.

Dark Horse Manga

Oreimo, Vol. 2

  • oreimo_vol2_coverWritten by: Tsukasa Fushimi
  • Art by: Sakura Ikeda
  • Character design by: Hiro Kanzaki
  • Format: 168 pages, black & white, trade paperback, oriented in right-to-left reading format. Collects material originally published in Japan by ASCII Media Works, Inc.
  • Sale date: 09 January, 2013
  • List Price: $10.99
  • Description (from Darkhorse.com): Things are heating up at home for Kyosuke and his little sister Kirino! It’s getting difficult for Kirino to keep her love of kids’ anime and naughty video games a secret, especially from her nosy clique of popular girls and her stern, strict father! With all this chaos, might it be possible for Kirino to turn to her brother and really see him as a friend? Clever and engaging, Oreimo is full of surprises!

I’ve already gone over the issues and somewhat culture-specific themes that inform Tsukasa Fushimi’s Oreimo in my review of the first volume of the manga’s English edition so I won’t repeat them here. The “cringe” comedy factor is dialed back somewhat in this second volume and the—let’s say somewhat unorthodox—source of narrative tension from the preceding installment takes a backseat to the themes of accepting family for who they are, being true to oneself, and a more conventional romantic subtext. Especially impressive is how Sakura Ikeda manages to keep the pages consistently engaging visually, considering that a great deal of the book is set inside Kyosuke and Kirino’s home, featuring conversation sequences that span multiple pages at a time. Also worth noting for fans of the Oreimo anime: the manga and anime are quite similar in content, but I found subtle shadings of character and context in the manga that I either missed or were absent in the anime, although this could simply be a case of differences in translation.

Image Comics

Frank Cho: Women, Selected Drawings & Illustrations, Book 2

  • frankcho_women_vol2_coverArt by: Frank Cho
  • Format: 80 pages, full color, hardcover
  • Sale date: 16 January, 2013
  • List price: $24.99
  • Description (from ImageComics.com): This is the second art collection book by the internationally renowned and Emmy Award-winning master artist, FRANK CHO. This book highlights the latest covers, pin-ups, illustrations, paintings and sketches by FRANK CHO, including art from his recent Liberty Meadows project. This book contains the images of women in various states of undress and in full cheesecake glory.

There’s not really a lot for me to write when it comes to reviewing an art book such as this specialty title from one of current comics’ most well-regarded artists. You either like Cho’s buxom, often well-muscled depictions of the female form or you don’t. I’m something of a casual fan having never really followed any of his long-running comics work, but a fan nonetheless—he possesses refined draftsmanship skills that any comics reader can and should appreciate. Many of the pin-ups selected for this volume exhibit a cheeky (ha!) sense of humor and a strong sense of single-panel narrative, a callback to his cartoonist roots. A picture is worth a thousand words as the cliché goes, so here’s about six thousand words’ worth of pre-approved preview imagery to help you make up your mind if this book is something you might be interested in laying down the scratch for:

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