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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Graphic Novels 

I've never talked about graphic novels here before. But there's no time like the present. Here's a run down of some good titles, some very recent, some not-so-much.

After the Fall, vol. 1. 2008. Angel, the Joss Whedon TV series that was a spin-off from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer (and my prefered show, I think), ended after 5 seasons. Buffy ended after 7. But just as Buffy is continuing into a Whedon-approved, in-the-official-canon Season Eight in graphic novel form, Angel Season 6 is being released in graphic novels. The first arc is a set of three books, entitled After the Fall. Only volume 1 has been released. If you were an Angel fan, pick up this book. Feel free to wait until it is in paperback, of course. But this book is a very solid continuation of the epic. The themes of fighting in the face of overwhelming odds against unstoppable evil and of the search for black and white in a world of gray feature prominently. Characterization and dialogue is spot-on. Art is great - and it's even good as art based on actual people, something few comics based on TV shows or movies are able to pull off. This is a book that, like all of Whedon's work, benefits from multiple viewings (or rereadings). Previous Angel graphic novels (some better than others) pale in comparison, I think because the long story arc allows the artists to really draw the reader back into the moral ambiguity and the desperation of an unwinnable war. The story begins not at the cliffhanger ending of Season Five. The TV series ended at the start of a battle, the four standing heroes against an army of hell ("You take the 30,000 on the right."), but the comic starts weeks or months after the conclusion of that battle. Gradually you learn how the battle went, who survived and what they've done afterward, and how they are dealing with a Los Angelos that has been literally sent to hell. The heroes have fallen into separate paths, and the book details Angel's attempts at finding help (if any is available) in yet another stand against the demon lords. That's as much as I'll say, plot wise. The book is funny, horrifying, evil, and a perfect continuation of what fans grew to know of the show.

The Crow
, J. O'Barr. (1981, first release). This is the book the movie was based on. The movie took the liberties it needed to, in order to create a story with a plot and conflict. The comic doesn't have an interesting or novel narrative structure - it is a pounding, plotting story of revenge: Eric and his girlfriend are accosted on an abandonded highway by a carload of men neither of them know. The movie gives a reason for the men to target Eric, but the comic doesn't bother - this is a random crime, with only the goal of physical pleasure through distruction. The men, high on crack and whatever else, shoot Eric to get to his fiance. They rape and kill her as he lays dying on the road. Somehow, he is brought back by the Crow to right the wrongs, to kill the men who took everything from him. And he does, methodically, one after another. None stand a chance. There is no loss of invincibility at the worst possible moment as in the movie, no doubt as to the ending. This story is brutal, vicious, and violent. This is a story of monsters and one man seeking vengence without becoming a monster himself. Powerful.

Kabuki: Circle of Blood
. (1997). This is the beginning of David Mack's Kabuki books and by far the most accessible. Setting is a near-future Tokyo. Kabuki is a member of a circle called the Noh, who try to keep some control on the violence of the gangs and warlords by maintaining a contstant TV presence and targeted assassinations. Kabuki's main enemy is Kai, her father. Her mother was a WWII comfort woman. A Japanese general fell in love with this comfort woman and planned to marry her. On the day before the wedding, the general's son, Kai, furious over this disrespect of his dead mother (his father marrying a whore?), rapes the woman. She becomes pregnant and dies giving birth to Kabuki. When Kai realizes that he has a daughter, he attempts to kill her. Somehow, she survives, and her adopted father, the general, sends her to live with martial artists and to the Noh, not knowing what else to do with her. As Kabuki grows up, Kai becomes more and more powerful in the underworld.

More later, maybe, if anyone is interested in hearing about graphic novels.

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