Tag Archives: graphic novel

Blankets (graphic novel)

Blankets is a 2003 graphic novel by Craig Thompson. It’s one of the most important and influential graphic novels of the last twenty years. It’s an autobiographical story about questioning faith, childhood, and first love. The story begins with Craig’s experiences with his younger brother and family in Wisconsin. His parents were devoutly religious and brought up Craig to be the same. He reads the Bible nightly and begins considering a career in the ministry as he gets older.

Craig was a bit of a loner and an outcast, misunderstood and bullied by his peers at school and at Bible camp. He eventually joins a small group of outcasts, including a free-spirited girl named Raina. Craig and Raina begin to develop feelings for each other, but their relationship is hindered by the fact that they live in different states. They keep in touch through letters, phone calls, and care packages. Raina invites Craig to come stay with her for a couple of weeks and he does.

Craig meets Raina’s family, which is a little more complicated than his to say the least. Raina’s parent’s are in the midst of a nasty divorce. She has an older sister named Julie. Julie is married and has a baby, but Raina seems to take more care of the baby than Julie does. Raina also has two adopted siblings named Ben and Laura. Ben and Laura are both mentally challenged and Raina feels responsible for them as well. Raina’s social life is also very different than Craig’s. She is actually popular and has lots of friends. She’s the life of the party while Craig feels awkward and left out.

A good portion of the story is about those two weeks he spends with Raina. He discovers more about himself. He finds love and happiness, and also learns that love and happiness don’t always last. Thompson’s story is simple and complex simultaneously. He uses flashbacks and metaphors and weaves in and out of the main narrative but tells the story chronologically. It’s like life; you’re always going forward but you can still look back and remember the things that brought you to this point.

Comic books are not always about superheroes. Real life can be a lot more interesting. Thompson’s story is deeply personal to him and it resonates onto the reader. You feel the joy of his victories and the pain of his losses. It’s easy to see why Blankets is one of the best graphic novels of all time, up there with Watchmen and Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. It’s not just one of the best graphic novels, it’s one of the best novels period. Read it for yourself and see why.

Critically Rated at 16/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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From Hell (comic)

From Hell is an epic graphic novel about Jack the Ripper. And when I say epic, I mean it’s fucking epic. It’s a 572-page collaboration between writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell that combines fact and fiction, truth and speculation, history and fantasy into a dark and gripping story about one of the most notorious serial killers of all time.

Alan Moore did a bunch of research and combined a couple of conspiracy theories to create a coherent storyline. The true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been revealed, but Moore suggests that Queen Victoria’s royal physician, Sir William Gull, was the killer and that he killed the women as part of a royal/Masonic cover-up. Supposedly Prince Albert Victor had a secret affair with a commoner that resulted in the birth of an illegitimate child with royal connections. A few lowly prostitutes know about the child, and they use that information in a blackmail attempt. The queen doesn’t like being blackmailed, so she sent her trusted physician out to remedy the situation by killing them to death. And so Gull did, using his surgical expertise and Masonic beliefs to transform into Jack the Ripper.

This is not a historical textbook about Jack the Ripper. It’s a comic book interpretation of a conspiracy theory that uses a lot of historical figures and actual events that creates a gritty and realistic depiction of Victorian era London. Moore uses a little artistic license to tweak some facts around to support his story, but he doesn’t try to deceive you. The collected trade paperback edition includes over forty pages of notes and annotations that tell you what really happened, what might have happened, and what he made up entirely. He tells you where he got the information, what he was inspired by, and how he came to that conclusion.

Alan Moore’s dark story is perfectly complimented by the scratchy and rough pen-and-ink style of Eddie Campbell. The illustrations are harsh and crude, which adds a sense of hopelessness and despair. From Hell is complicated. It’s not for your average reader. You can’t just read it one time and pretend like you know what it’s about. It’s not just a murder story. It’s about religion, corruption, time, gender, and power. It’s about how fact and fiction are sometimes integral parts of each other. We may never know who Jack the Ripper was, or what his motivations were, but he’s become a symbol and he’ll never be forgotten. Whoever he was.

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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God Loves, Man Kills (comic)

The X-Men has always been a metaphor for human rights, equality, and acceptance. Nowhere is that more apparent than in this 1982 graphic novel. In God Loves, Man Kills, a deranged minister leads an anti-mutant campaign, calling for the death of all mutants in the name of God. Stryker is a capable politician and the public seems to support him, and hatred and fear of mutants reaches a fevered peak. To add even more drama to the story, Stryker kidnaps Professor X and manipulates him and Cerebro to attack all the mutants. The X-Men’s main enemy, Magneto, joins them in a shaky alliance against Stryker. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they recycled the basic story for X2: X-Men United. Chris Claremont’s story is still relevant and celebrated more than thirty years later. He touches on themes of racism and persecution. He makes direct references to the holocaust and genocide, and isn’t afraid to use N-word to make a point. Brent Anderson’s art fits the story perfectly.  The panel layout adds a nice sense of pacing. Sometimes it’s very structured, sometimes the art overlaps and flows into another panel. It makes it feel more dynamic and spontaneous. God Loves, Man Kills is more than just a comic, it’s accepted literature.

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Sandman: Endless Nights (comic)

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of the most important comics of all time. Endless Nights is a follow-up to the acclaimed series. There are seven stories, each one focusing on one of the Endless. They are character studies of Death, Desire, Dream, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Destiny. There’s a different artist for each story, so each story feels more unique and reflective of the main character. On the Peninsula (Destruction’s story) might be the highlight of this graphic novel. It has amazing art by Glenn Fabry and an interesting plot about an archeologist uncovering artifacts from the future. All in all, Endless Nights is not essential reading, it has no bearing on the main storyline. It’s a way to learn more about Dream’s fucked up family and get a little more information about The Sandman Universe. So only read it if you’ve read all the other ones, otherwise you’ll be lost.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Kingdom Come (comic)

Comics should have a good story and good art. Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come has a great story and even greater art. The world is in trouble. Superman has retired, and a bunch of new but dangerous vigilantes rise up to fill the void, so Superman has to get back in the game. He starts recruiting heroes to try to restore balance between metahumans and regular people. Batman thinks Superman’s ideals are outdated, so he creates his own team of heroes, mostly ones without powers. Lex Luthor leads a gang of villains called the Mankind Liberation Front, because you need a league of villains to fight.

Kingdom Come has a lot of similarities to Watchmen. Rorschach even makes a cameo. The glory days for heroes has passed. A lot of heroes have retired, only a few are still active. A growing threat emerges, and heroes are forced to confront it. The heroes have to pick a side, and they don’t always see eye to eye. Right and wrong isn’t always black and white.

The story deals with regular people being threatened by metahumans. The metahumans fight with each other, recklessly destroying things and endangering innocent bystanders. Superman comes out of retirement to remind them that with great power comes great responsibility. I might be paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.

Alex Ross’s drawings are practically photorealistic, making the superheroes look even more super. The artwork is amazing. The DC Universe seems to come to life. Alex Ross is a great artist. The panels looks like photographs, sometimes you think you’re reading a scrapbook with captions and not a comic book. The battle scenes are intense and chaotic. He crams a lot of background details into each panel, look carefully and you can find lots of Easter eggs, like characters from other comics or real people.

There are a bunch of DC characters running around the story. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Green Lantern… most of the big boys make appearances. Captain Marvel plays a significant role; he is probably the most important character. Captain Marvel a.k.a. Billy Batson is the only one who is both a regular mortal person and a metahuman. He is initially being brainwashed and used by Lex, because he is the only one capable of stopping Superman. He eventually regains control of his mind and saves the world. Sorry, that was kind of a spoiler.

This book is worth buying. Not only does it have a good, satisfying story, but the art takes it to a whole new level. You can read it multiple times, and you should read it multiple times. In fact, you should have already read it. So go do that if you haven’t yet.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II

Alan Moore is the shit. The League or Extraordinary Gentlemen proves that. This is the second installment, and solidifies Alan Moore as a Comic Badass. The first issue in this series brings together a bunch of Victorian Literature characters together, and this second volume reunites them. We already know the characters so we can have fun with them. That’s that Moore does. He jumps right into the story, and it’s a better story than the first one.

The first issue of this series is important, because it introduces the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now that we know each character and what the represent, the new conflict will either make or break the ensemble, and there is more drama and tension if it does so. There is much more at stake than in the previous story. The plot recreates the War of The Worlds, and so not only must man deal with foes from beyond, but they must deal with themselves internally.

Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man go at it. Much of what occurs between the two is implied, but it is horrific. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there is man rape in this story. Savage, dirty man rape. And it is justified. Literature doesn’t have to spare feelings; it just needs to reflect the real world. And man rape is a part of the real world.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen celebrates literature. The second volume rejoices in it. You have cameos from John Carpenter and creatures from The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Wind in the Willows. The character are much more active and independent from their creative author, Alan Moore gives them much more room to explore their boundaries.

Alan Moore has fun unifying classic literary characters. He pays homage to their origins, but also makes them his own. Mr. Hyde is the best example of this. Everyone who pretends to be cultured knows about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Moore makes Hyde more of a villain and more of a hero than Robert Louis Stevenson ever could have fathomed. He redeemed Mina Murray in a savage and brutal, yet honest way, the only way that he could have.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a great comic. There are more than two volumes, but they are all the evidence you need to prove their longevity. They are essential. They are necessary. They  are worth reading, so get on it.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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The Death of Superman

This is the best selling graphic novel of all time! That doesn’t mean it’s the best! It just means a lot of people bought this comic to see how the iconic Superman died. A mysterious creature named Doomsday appears, causing a trail of destruction as he makes his way towards Metropolis.

Doomsday is unstoppable. He destroys the Justice League with little effort. His strength rivals Superman’s and with each conflict he only seems to grow more powerful. Superman tries repeatedly to keep Doomsday from advancing to Metropolis. Eventually he fails, and the two have an insane battle before they beat each other to death. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.

The beginning seems really dated. This isn’t a stand-alone story; it came directly from the comics so there are a few random characters and forgotten plot lines that don’t make much sense. Jimmy Olson being Turtle Boy… ok DC, that was a memorable arc. But once the action gets going it doesn’t stop until the final panel.

This isn’t a great story really. But it is essential for any collection. You have to have the best selling graphic novel of all time. That’s a given. It is entertaining, and although it lacks depth, it is still pretty interesting to see Superman straining and struggling to defeat Doomsday. It was downright shocking to see him die. I hope he comes back!

Critically Rated at 13/17

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Watchmen

Watchmen

This is it. This is the perfect comic. The essential graphic novel that appears on more lists than any other. There is a reason for it. Alan Moore created a 12 issue series featuring original but familiar Superheroes, all of which became icons.

The story itself is rich and dense. It starts with a simple question: what if Superheroes were real? How would the world be different? Most of the superheroes are like Batman, the Green Arrow or the Punisher; they are not immortal, they have no powers, they are real people who don costumes and take on criminals. And what happens when a freak accident results in a new breed of Superheroes with godlike powers?

The world of the Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985, and Superheroes have been outlawed. Only a handful of “masks” are still active and primarily work for the Government. After the death of a former mask named the Comedian, a rogue vigilante believes he’s stumbled across a plot to eliminate former masks. Rorschach enlists and warns fellow allies, and they must work together to foil the plot, unaware of the bigger conspiracy that has a shocking outcome.

The characters of Watchmen are icons now. The Comedian was only in the story through flashbacks, and you only get to know him through the other characters. You see many different aspects to his personality, and some characters are very biased so he is hardly depicted in a good light. Rorschach is instantly recognizable with his trademark inkblot mask. He sees the world in black and white, good and evil. He is an active mask, but he works alone, not for the government. Dr. Manhattan is a God, and he’s American. He is the only character with true powers, however he is no longer able to relate to anyone, not even his girlfriend Laurie. Laurie is also a second-generation mask, known as the Silk Spectre, like her mother before her. Another mask goes by the name Nite Owl, he is very similar to Batman in a lot of ways, just more of a wuss than a badass. Rounding out the main cast of superheroes is the self-proclaimed smartest man in the world, Ozymandias.

Not only is the plot complex and the characters well thought out (possibly excepting Laurie), but the artwork, panel layout and color schemes add even more depth to the story. Chapter 5 (Fearful Symmetry) is symmetrical for crying out loud! Watchman uses a 9 panel layout primarily, but it manipulates is often to give a sense of action or pacing. It reads like a movie, they zoom in and out, they pan over, they enlarge details in scenes. There are hidden smiley faces and crazy background details. There is a comic within the comic. How meta is that?

Not only is Watchmen worth reading 2 or 3 times, I feel you have to read it at least that many times. There are so many throw away lines that allude to different events and characters. The story is so dense, the plot lines weave in and out and blend together. If you ever thought about getting into graphic novels, this is the one to start with.

Critically Rated at a perfect 17/17.

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Maus

Maus is one of those graphic novels that you give to people who think that graphic novels are all about superheroes and childish things. Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel is based on the true story of his father Vladek, and how he survived the Holocaust. The characters are depicted as animals. Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, and other animals represent various nationalities.

The framing is also interesting. It is set up as Art interviewing his elderly father over several visits, and it flashes back to the events leading up to and including Vladek’s experiences in the camps. Not only does the novel delve into the traumatic experiences, they also show how damaged Vladek is as a result. He is a broken individual, hard to deal with, hard to love, but impossible to ignore.

This graphic novel transcends being a mere comic. It is a literary masterpiece, proof that comics are a valid form of literature. I would recommend Maus and/or Watchmen to any first time comic reader.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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