Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/01/2018 – 04/07/2018

This past week’s reading ranged in quality from the sublime to the dire, so let’s take it all in order, from best to worst:

Yellow Negroes And Other Imaginary Creatures presents a triptych of thematically inter-related stories by Parisian (by way of West Africa) cartoonist Yvan Alagbe focused on issues of race, class, the socio-economic divisions rising from/attendant with each, and the risks inherent in attempting to bridge said divides. Deeply rooted in the immigrant experience and illustrated in a breathtaking mix of styles from the intricately hyper-detailed to the amorphous and abstract, Alagbe is a master of utilizing space and shapes to confound expectation and personalize the political — truth be told, I can’t for the life of me recall ever seeing an artist imbue their drawings with so much charged, even combustible, visual information in such an expressive manner, each line a statement in and of itself yet also a component of something much larger. These works, originally published in Europe between 1996 and 2011 and here presented in English for the first time by New York Review Comics, ultimately explore the paradoxical yet co-dependent relationship that black racial identity and white racial identity have with each other, and what happens when the limits of each are breached and confronted in ways subtle and profound at the same time. What it means to be black is presented as largely a reaction to the expectations and strictures of white society, while what it means to be white is also inextricably linked with how blackness is viewed from the other side of the racial gulf, as well as how it views itself. There’s a longing to express a need for understanding here, a desire to teach and inform without resorting to lecturing, a kind of understated plea not to see the world as another sees it, but to feel it as they feel it. White readers especially should be prepared to be shifted well outside their comfort zones and to confront the realities of lives and voices too often marginalized, if not ignored entirely. This is striking, transformative work that will probably rank among the best releases of the year when all is said and done. The book retails for $22.95 and is worth every penny and then some.

I’ve sung the praises of Ed Piskor’s monumental re-telling of Marvel Mutant history in this column already, but to see the first two issues of his opus presented in glorious oversized format in X-Men : Grand Design Volume One really is downright breathtaking — and there’s a bit of irony here, as well, given that the packaging for this book mimics that of Piskor’s giant Hip Hop Family Tree tomes — which were, in turn, based on the “Marvel Treasury Edition” comics of the 1970s. In any case, I’ve learned one valuable lesson from all this — I’m not going to be buying the four remaining issues of this series in “singles,” and will instead wait for the two subsequent “treasury” collections, as this is undoubtedly the way this work was meant to be seen. Absolutely fucking glorious. Yeah, the $29.99 price tag is steep, but come on — five minutes on the internet and you know you can find it for a good deal less than that .

Back in the land of $3.99 “floppies” we’ve got Isola #1, co-written by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl, illustrated by Kerschl, and published by Image Comics. High-concept fantasy isn’t usually my bag, I’ll be the first to admit it, but this one grabbed me right out of the gate with its breathtaking art, fluid action, and absolutely lavish coloring courtesy of Msassyk, a name I admit is new to me. The story seems relatively straightforward — a female soldier named Captain Rook, apparently suffering from the effects of some spell, potion, or drug, is escorting a tiger queen named Olwyn to parts unknown for reasons unknown. There’s a lot of what’s generally termed “world-building” to be done here, but Fletcher and Kerschl are wisely choosing to let the stunning visuals do that — dialogue is sparse, caption boxes non-existent. They throw you in at the deep end and trust in the strength of their storytelling ability to entice, rather than overwhelm, readers. The result? Supremely confident comic-booking that is cinematic, thrilling, and captivating from first page to last. This one has “unfolding epic” written all over it.

Goddamn — three books, three winners! But didn’t I say that this week’s offerings “ranged in quality from the sublime to the dire” ? Time for the “dire” part —

Xerxes : The Fall Of The House Of Darius And The Rise Of Alexander #1 is an absolute mess in every respect, and Dark Horse editorial should have done the merciful thing and simply rejected this 300 sequel/tie-in upon delivery. Seriously, you’re better off just burning a five dollar bill than spending it on this garbage. It’s tempting to have no sympathy for Frank Miller given his extreme asshole-ism, but I take no pleasure at all in slagging off his efforts simply because he’s clearly in very poor health and has been for some time —and trust me when I say it shows here. Miller’s figure drawing is sloppy to the point of farce, his compositions make no sense, backgrounds are virtually non-existent, and his use of space haphazard and ill-considered. I was hardly a fan of 300 for any number of reasons, among them its extreme homophobia (which also rears its ugly head here) and romanticized bloodshed, but damn : at least it was exciting to look at. This comic, by contrast, is dull and lifeless at its best moments, downright embarrassing at its worst. The absence of Lynn Varley is felt on every page, it’s true, but let’s not kid ourselves : even she couldn’t save this thing. A flat and uninvolving script doesn’t help matters any, either, it must be said, but that’s the least of the book’s problems — this is just atrocious, ugly, even cringe-worthy stuff to look at. And the saddest part? Given his current physical condition, it’s not hard to imagine that Miller probably worked a lot harder at this than he has on other projects.

Seriously, publishing this is an inherently un-dignified act, and out of respect for what Miller used to mean to comics, the next four issues should just be cancelled. I may not care for the man’s retrograde politics and malignant prejudices, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to go out this way, suffering and straining to produce work that literally has no chance of even being marginally passable. If anyone from Mike Richardson’s company is reading this, I implore you to do the right thing and nip this in the bud.

And on that note — let’s call this column a wrap. I haven’t even looked at next week’s solicits yet, let alone my digital preview “copies” from various publishers, so I have no idea what’s coming out — but chances are we won’t have anything like the yin/yang polarities of this week. Join me back here and seven days and we’ll see how right, or wrong, that prediction turns out to be.