The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: October 2013 Releases

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: October 2013 Releases
Published on Thursday, December 19, 2013 by
Click through to read our reviews of Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts, Vol. 1: The Head That Wouldn’t Die!, Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 3, and Brian Wood and Ming Doyle’s Mara. Unless otherwise indicated, all reviewed titles are digital copies provided free of charge by their respective publishers.
God Hates Astronauts, Vol. 1: The Head That Wouldn’t Die! (Image Comics) [EDITOR’S PICK]
  • GodHatesAstronautsV1coverStory & art: Ryan Browne
  • Additional art by: Jenny Frison, Tom Scioli, Hilary Barta, Tim Seeley, Nick Pitarra, Tradd Moore, Megan Wilson, Christopher Mitten, Riley Rossmo, Andy McDonald, Rico Renzi, C.P. Wilson III, Gabriel Bautista, Cody Schibi, Zander Cannon, Greg and Fake Petre, Alejandro Bruzzese, Kyle Strahm, Sean Dove, Tom Fowler, Steve Seeley, Mike Norton, Ethan Nicolle, Rebekah Isaacs, Shane White, Alejandro Rosado, Brad McGinty, Jim Terry, Randy Field, Kevin Knipstein
  • Format: 180 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 09 October 2013
  • Publisher’s description: GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS follows the story of a group of incompetent, small-minded, super powered narcissists called “The Power Persons Five” who are hired by NASA to stop all farmers from launching themselves into space in homemade rocket ships. Unfortunately for NASA, this goal is scarcely even addressed and the book focuses more on extramarital affairs, bank-robbing owls, big gross swollen heads, ghost cow heads, olde tyme boxers, tigers eating cheeseburgers in the Crab Nebula, buffalo judges and tons of aggressive swearing. Not so much a superhero book as it is a parody of basically everything and a celebration of weird that is jam-packed with references to RoboCop and Die Hard.

I don’t want to oversell what Ryan has accomplished here, but I gave God Hates Astronauts to a blind man and he regained his sight.

– Jonathan Hickman (EAST OF WEST, The Manhattan Projects, The Avengers)

  • Click here to read the preview.

A common problem with personal comics projects, particularly those of the comedy variety, is that reading one often feels like watching somebody else have fun—it’s like listening to a guy laughingly tell a joke, spoiling the punchline for everybody but himself. And there probably is some sort of intimate personal truth wrapped up in the bizarre, anything-goes, superhero comedy of Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts, Vol. 1: The Head That Wouldn’t Die, but glimpsing it isn’t particularly essential to having a rollicking good time with the book. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like God Hates Astronauts. Off the top of my head, the best comparative description I can come up with is Ulises Farinas’ Gamma-meets-the Nicolle Bros.’ Axe Cop and even that, I think, undersells just how offbeat and funny the book can get. I mean, just check out the following page:

GHA_TheRightToBearArms

Look past the book’s unending parade of oddities and non sequitur humor and you will find an actual plot which revolves around one man’s fall from grace, the collapse of his marriage and professional career, his descent into an existential crisis, and his subsequent attempt at retaliation, and later, redemption. In this case, however, that fall from grace involves the protagonist getting—quite literally—a grotesquely swelled head (hence the book’s subtitle) from injuries sustained in a careless and foolhardy brawl with 19th century heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan. It’s the book’s combination of tragicomedy and flat-out absurdity that keeps it interesting and engaging, even with the rare instances where Browne’s attempts at humor fall flat.

Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 3 (Dark Horse)
  • atlbtsv3Story: Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
  • Art: Gurihiru
  • Cover: Gurihiru
  • Format: 80 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $10.99
  • Sale date: 30 October 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Avatar Aang travels to the spirit world to parley with an ancient power, bringing Fire Lord Zuko ever closer to discovering the truth about his mother’s fate—and his own past. Yet Zuko’s sister Azula is becoming increasingly dangerous, threatening to ruin everything that Zuko, Aang, Katara, and Sokka have struggled to achieve on their search!
  • Click here for our review of Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 1.
  • Click here for our review of Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 2.
  • Click here to read the preview.

If the following criticisms and comments on Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 3 come off as a bit non-specific and vague, it’s because I’m trying to avoid spoiling the reveal that is the graphic novel series’ raison d’être for those fans and readers waiting for the inevitable Library Edition collecting all three installments of The Search.

In my review of The Search, part 1, I mentioned that the mystery at the core of The Search—the whereabouts and fate of Zuko and Azula’s mother—is the kind of officially canon, “expanded universe” style material that would earn the instant enthusiasm of devotees of the property (and I count myself as one of them). What fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender wouldn’t want to know the answer to one of the biggest, heretofore unresolved questions of the hit animated series? (If you want to get an idea about how much fans have obsessed over the fate of Zuko’s mother in the three years since the series concluded, just google “Zuko’s mom theory.”)

One of my main issues with The Search is that it reads like an exercise in padding page counts. I think the whole thing—three volumes totaling 240 pages—can be improved by being boiled down to a single 120 or even 80 page graphic novel. The middle installment is most guilty of narrative wheel-spinning, but this third volume also does its fair share of rehashing exposition already covered in previous chapters, to the ultimate detriment of the story’s pacing.

The real problem, however, might have to do less with the execution of the title and more with its central conceit. Sometimes, some questions are best left unanswered and some mysteries best left unresolved—call it the wabi-sabi principle of storytelling, if you like. Think of how Marvel’s decision to reveal Wolverine’s true origin in 2001 ended up robbing the character of much of his mystique. I can’t help but feel that the neat, almost too-convenient settlement of the personal tragedy that informed the divergent character evolution of Zuko and Azula, while satisfying the fan’s desire to “know everything,” has a similar overall effect, albeit one that isn’t so far-reaching in its consequences.

Mara (Image Comics)
  • Mara_TPB_coverStory: Brian Wood
  • Illustrations: Ming Doyle
  • Colors: Jordie Bellaire
  • Format: 136 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $12.99
  • Sale date: 30 October 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Acclaimed creator BRIAN WOOD  (The Massive, DMZ, X-Men) and brilliant newcomer MING DOYLE (Guardians of the Galaxy, Fantastic Four, Girl Comics) bring you MARA, the story of an especially gifted woman in a sports- and war-obsessed future.  When she starts manifesting strange superpowers, the world that once embraced her turns against her, and for this young woman who once had it all, it’s almost too much to bear.  Both an intimate coming-of-age story and an epic superhero drama, MARA takes the genre to new places. Young adult friendly. Perfect for readers of WOOD’s Demo, Local, and X-Men work. Collects MARA #1-6.
  • Click here to read the preview.
  • NOTE: The following review is based on a reading of the single issue review copies of Mara #1–6 previously provided by the publisher, and not of the actual compiled volume.

I will admit that I initially felt disappointed with Mara‘s narrative direction once it became clear about two issues into the miniseries that it wasn’t really a comic book about volleyball. Sports-themed comics, when done right (such as Blair Butler’s MMA comic Heart), can be as exciting and gripping as any fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero title. I had the notion that Mara would be a contemporary Western comics update of the volleyball-themed comic subgenre exemplified by manga like Chikako Urano’s classic 1960s sports manga Attack No. 1. As it turned out, the volleyball-as-the-sport-of-the-future conceit of the Brian Wood-penned Image Comics miniseries serves primarily as the opening hook for a narrative that has much more in common, thematically, with Chapter IV (“Watchmaker”) of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen than Urano’s work. Mara isn’t so much about sport and volleyball as it is a somewhat grim meditation on the price of celebrity and the potentially dehumanizing effect of superpowers on their bearer. The story is a solid one for sure, and lead character Mara’s characterization makes her a sympathetic character, but I guess I just wasn’t in the right mood for superhero angst the week that I read the book.

I did get past my minor dismay over the thematic bait-and-switch in quick order however, and much of that had to do with Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire’s art. Doyle’s figure work, especially on Mara and the other female volleyball athletes is to be commended: They’re lean and long-limbed, as the best volleyball athletes often are, but not impossibly statuesque. Bellaire’s muted palette complements the linework, which is on the somewhat subdued side of the stylization spectrum.

Check out our reviews of 2013 trades & hardcovers by clicking on the links below:
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