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Sunday, Jan 6, 2008

As 2007 was coming to a close, time, and the allocation thereof, took a runner, and left many of us in the critical appraisal business with too much to opine upon and a shortage of waking hours in which to do so. The problem was, that once you make your existence and potential usefulness known to publishers, they don’t exactly take holidays. In other words, whether or not time existed in which to appraise them, the books just kept coming in. They piled up on the desk, in dark corners, dust beginning to gather on their perky press releases, and waited in passive aggressive accusation to have their pages turned.  Eventually, in between the usual year-end wrapping-up and holiday commitments, they are dragged out and opened up—particularly the graphic novels because, let’s face it, they’re shorter and the covers are always better.


Herewith, a miscellany of opinion on some items that came across the transom over the past couple months.


Super Spy by Matt Kindt (Top Shelf)


The setting is never quite clear but it seems to be your basic World War II-era Europe, all long shadows, nice suits, trains, and fedoras. But in Matt Kindt’s odd, haunting novel, the details are merely backdrop to a more existential tale about the moral blankness and enervating suspicion that must form the life of the spy. In taut, sepia-toned panels, we follow spy after spy as they struggle through Byzantine codes and indecipherable instructions, parsing enemy from lover, and more often than not meet death, bleakly and pointlessly. Kindt’s book appreciates the romantic trappings of fictional espionage, but undercuts it at every possible opportunity with cynical humor and an understanding of the tragedy of lives wasted in the shadows.


Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)


This slim little volume of racial and sexual self-loathing has already been roundly and rightly praised elsewhere, but let’s give it another pat on the back. Tomine is a queasy chronicler of the bad relationship, as he so acutely showed in 2003’s Summer Blonde, but he outdoes himself here in a scenario about a Japanese-American slacker in his late-twenties who’s doing his level best to suffocate any chance at success (particularly romantic) in his life. Like Chasing Amy without the groin jokes.


Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm by Percy Carey (Vertigo)


Given the deep love given comics by so many rappers, it’s a strange oversight how so few graphic novels even come close to depicting their world. Sentences is a half-successful attempt to try and make up that disparity, and in the meantime try to also add an entry to another woefully underused graphic genre: the memoir. It’s the life story of Percy Carey, aka M.F. Grimm, who grew up on the Upper West Side back when it still had some grit, and later got into rapping at the same time that he was also hustling, ending up in a wheelchair for his troubles. Though Ronald Wimberly’s manga-inspired art has a welcome edge to it (recalling a reality-based The Boondocks at times), and Carey’s voice is refreshingly straight-ahead and no-excuses, the overall effect is somewhat less than exciting.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore (DC Comics)


In the League books, Alan Moore has pretty much had a grand old time pressing into service his frightening knowledge of literature for a cracking good series of superhero adventures that thrill as much as they make you want to stock up on Penguin Classics. This newest mini-classic—in which the League enters the postwar era in somewhat ragged fashion after the police state of Orwell’s 1984 goes on the wane— is as rollicking a ride as any. Moore’s imagination works overtime on spot-on literary pastiches (everyone from Evelyn Waugh to H.P. Lovecraft, Virginia Woolf and Victorian-era erotica) that are interleaved in between story episodes containing the expected lashings of fights, escapes, and skullduggery. Too clever by far, but by the time James Bond shows up (as the villain) and you’re using the helpfully included 3-D glasses, it hardly matters.

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