Try the Sampler Platter

Reviewed here: American Born Chinese, Faker and Off Road

My latest trip to the library not only yielded me around $20 in overdue fines (damn the man!) but also a stack of about 20 tpb/graphic novels to consume. I’m going to forego lengthy blogs about each for a review snack pack of three books in particular.

#1

american-born-chinese-jacket-cover1American Born Chinese written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. It was nominated for a National Book Award in 2006 for young adult literature, the first graphic novel to ever have that honor.

So – sounds pretty tasty right? Sounds like something meaty I could sink my teeth into, what with seeing it on many folks Top 10 Lists popping up all over the net.

This book was engaging, but never resonated with me on a strong emotional level. On a literary level, I appreciated the artistry and craft that went into intertwining the three different stories together. The art, with the muted color palette and clean, thick lines works well with the theme, and is especially pronounced during the Chinese mythology sequences.

Again – this didn’t catch me in any emotional core – and that could simply be my inexperience with how young-adult Asian Americans might experience America. I could get on board with the concept of being an outsider, teased and tortured by classmates, and those lovely awkward first moments trying to woo the opposite sex. There were definite laugh-out-loud moments…but there were also sections that I feel alienated from.

I would suggest this for it’s intended audience – which is young adults, and not just the Asian American ones –  but I can’t say it’s going to make any of my Top 10 lists.

#2

Faker. Written by (yet another British dude) current X-Men scribe Mike Carey and illustrated by (yet another British dude) Jock (aka Mark Simpson). It’s published by the fun and edgy DC Vertigo label.

Here is what I’ve been thinking lately: I love Marvel’s line of popular superheroes. And I love DC/Vertigo’s naughty and subversive “adult” content.

The cover art is actually what initially spurred me to pick this book up – and the name Carey splattered in the white space held a special kind of promise, as he is right in the midst of gutting my beloved mutants, I thought I’d see what kind of extracurricular shenanigans he’s been getting himself into.

For a British dude – he’s writing expertise sure can cater to my assumptions of what Minnesota college students are like. He gets that compliment right off the bat. But seriously – this is a thoroughly engaging story, and I found myself nearly consuming it in one setting. Mostly because I was stood up for an orientation, and had an hour to kill waiting around in Starbucks to see if the person really would show.

They didn’t. But I clipped cleanly through the pages and emerged on the other end.

Did it blow me away? No. Was it intriguing? Sure as hell. Was the premise inspiring or unique? Maybe. Did the plot hold my attention? You betcha.

It was everything I wanted out of a miniseries TPB. It told it’s story without a lot of fuss. It ended exactly when it meant to. The characters were a little cookie cutter, but they were college Freshmen from Minnesota after all. I think that statement is the definition of cookie cutter.

I had some beef with our main bad-ass chick character – Liz – being ultra tough as nails. She was frightening and pathological, but in disturbed ways that ultimately served to highlight the “tough act” as merely being a facade. This neutered her character for me. We had to have some sort of origin to explain WHY she is tough. Not simply that she could be tough in any given situation cause she’s hardcore.

She also talked crap about the bi-sexual members of the house – to eliminate the speculation of her sexuality ala Whiteout.

I ended up begrudgingly liking her – she’s pretty and fun. But her psychological issues were taking their toll on my generosity by the final pages.

The art is scrumptious. Dark and moody and noir-y in all the right places. The tones reminded me a bit of another book I’ve read recently – Elk’s Run, but were light enough and varied enough to keep the contrast. I would say, similar palettes, but with a lighter touch.

And worry not. All of our sexy College students are appropriately sexy. Which is one reason I’m probably going to put The Losers on my  library queue now. At least the first few issues, to give it a go.

I would suggest Faker to folks who are thinking of branching out to different Carey joints. It’s a nice one-shot deal you aren’t obligated to devote a serious amount of time to. It’s also a pleasant window into the mind of the man currently helming Marvel’s merry band.

#3

Off Road written and illustrated by Sean Murphy. This is one that I more or less plucked off the shelf based on the publisher – Oni Press. I find myself drawn to their books because they are a somewhat independent local Portland publisher who I think deserves some love. Off Road did not let me down.

Even though I snagged it off the shelves – it had to be delivered to my attention by Dan, who recommended it to me earlier this past weekend. It took me the span of an hour to consume.

As opposed to the heavy-handed fare that I’ve read in the past week – this was a light breeze. The subject matter was lite (like Bud) and amusing. The artistry, done all in black and white was actually one of the main draws of the book. It reminds me of a bit of Chris Bachalo, but not in a style stealing way. In an entirely complimentary way, of course. Chris Bachalo and Pablo Raimondi are some of my favorite X-artists, and I can say this guy’s style is comparable to theirs. Oni knows how to attract talent.

As for the writing style – I was/am fairly on the fence. There was amusing dialogue, and the characters were like real people taken from the artist’s life. Most of the story seemed a tad contrived…and I loathe the word contrived…so it’s not a term I sling around lightly. Despite that initial complaint, I found myself swept into the story after flipping through the first few pages. Again – I blame it on the enjoyable and expressive art.

Big Complaint: It was full of man love. Which is wonderful when you are a man, looking for a man love story. There was little room for me to be anything but a casual female observer. That’s fine I suppose – what can you really expect from a book titled “Off Road.” It’s going to be a lot of beer, “your mom” jokes, and mud. But of the two or three women that appear in the book – all of them trick, debase or treat the main characters badly somehow.

It’s a pitiful display of my gender.

Which – I will overlook again, because as was previously mentioned – I knew it was man love from page one. So, if you are a dude, and you like manly things – read on.

…That’s it kiddos. I just picked up two volumes from the library I’ve been anxious to get my mitts on. One is penned by Brian Michael Bendis, and the other is written by Charles Burns. Both of them have been optioned for screenplays, cause comic writers got it like that. Stay tuned…

Much Love, Mindy C

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

3 responses to “Try the Sampler Platter”

  1. Hisham says :

    I’ve considered Mike Carey to be one of the more underrated writers working today. I haven’t read much of his work on X-Men, but his work on the Lucifer series was great.

    I can’t say that I know of any of his superhero work that stands out. Maybe it’s a genre that he’s not meant to write.

    So, can we look forward to reviews of Torso and Black Hole next?

  2. tinyheroes says :

    I feel like the X-Books are going pretty well at the moment, and much of that is due to the skilled hand of Carey.

    I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite X-Writer…but honestly, there have been so many, that it’s hard to say WHO IS my favorite X-Writer.

    Pretty close – “Goldfish” and “Black Holes.” I’m reading the latter at the moment, and it’s pretty intense. I can’t wait to put my thoughts on…well, I was going to say paper. I guess the right word would be blog.

    What other Carey might you suggest?

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