New Releases: The Book of Transformations by Mark Charan Newton

Graphic Novel Round-up: Man, Manly Man and Mark Millar

A belated round-up of some recent (and not-so-recent) reading in graphic novels.

Authority The Authority: Under New Management (Warren Ellis / Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar / Frank Quitely): Watching a title go from Warren Ellis to Mark Millar is like watching someone hand the Porsche keys to their cider-pissed 16 year old nephew. Ellis, of course, ends his spectacular run on the title with, well, something spectacular. It is the eve of the 21st century and God, that is, the Ellisian alien pyramid-tentacle-thing, has returned home, and It is a little miffed that Its beloved space-sphere is now crawling with pesky monkey-creatures. Jenny Sparks and the Authority need to save the day. Sparks, "the spirit of the 20th century" is one of Ellis' most enduring creations and this is her finest hour.

Of course, turn the page, and you're suddenly watching a banal imitation of Captain America threatening Apollo with rape. 'Cause, see the American overlords are coming and something something something, let's see how fast she can go! Lookit, no hands! Millar takes something exquisite, sleek and dramatic and promptly slams it into a wall of puerile adolescence. "Provocative" doesn't mean superviolent - a lesson that I'm sure Millar will learn once people stop buying his titles by the tens of thousand (sigh). Quitely's strength is still the visualization of the subtle and the surreal - not drawing superheroes. Putting him on the job is like making sure that the self-same Porsche has a stereo loaded with the best in contemporary jazz.

Pride and JoyPride & Joy (Garth Ennis / John Higgins): Jimmy Kavanagh is an ex-crook that got away. After betraying a Big Bad, he managed to run off to distant parts, meet a nice lady and have a great family. Inspired by his father, Jimmy likes to keep things simple and manly. Men use guns and take care of their family. When the Big Bad comes catching up with him, Jimmy has to take his own (book-readin') (Nirvana-lovin') son and his wide-eyed innocent daughter on the road to keep them safe.

The bulk of the story is the relationship between father & son. What constitutes manliness? Can men really never cry? The learning really only goes one way, as the story builds to the inevitable moment when long-haired emo kid accepts that Manly-Manliness is the Way. Ennis, to his credit, still manages to spin a good yarn, but his preaching of old school John Wayne chivalry & gunsmoke is best when it is subtly woven into a bigger story. On its own, it can be a bit heavy-handed.

The Tourist (Brian Wood / Toby Cypress): Moss is a mysterious stranger, a scruffy American backpacker in a small Scottish town. Of course, he's really something more - a really dirty American soldier, in town to smuggle drugs. Moss' plan is foolproof. Except, don-don-DON, he falls in love with a local waitress. With DMZNorthlanders, and Demo, Wood has a much better body of work. The Tourist aims for a certain noirish style, but Moss is a pretty reprehensible character, and his ultimate moment of redemption comes as a damp squib. Too little, too late, and the result left a bad taste in my mouth. Toby Cypress' art isn't to blame. The rare splash pages are the best part of the book, but his angular, forlorn looking characters don't do much to fan the barely-flickering embers of empathy.

North 40

North 40 (Aaron Williams / Fiona Staples): Something halfway between The Walking Dead and Under the Dome, with a bit of Wild Cards thrown in for good measure. A small town (Texas?) is overrun by eeeeeeeeevil as a pair of disaffected teams open the the Necronomicon and start chanting. The folks in town all get a bit weird(er) - some get super-powers, some get handy mutations, some just get... gross. Petty crime, revenge, a date to the dance... all your standard small town tensions, except acted out by dirt people, steampunk robots and necromancers.

The trade collects all six issues of the miniseries and manages to resolve nicely while leaving the door (and portal) open for more. Aaron Williams brings his experience with gaming tropes and cheeky fantasy staples with him, although the book does take itself a bit too seriously at times. Fiona Staples' art is the real champion. She adds so much to the (otherwise a bit thin) characters and makes the monsters wonderfully... well... monstrous. From a giant wriggly Cthulhu to a zombie waitress, everything to brought to life (or, er, undeath).