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Brian Hibbs can’t have all the fun: Graeme reviews books.

Graeme McMillan

Not that I want to interrupt Hibbs’ pretty stunning run of daily posting or anything, but I feel as if I’m due some reviews on here myself. Not that I’ve read any new comics in the last couple of weeks, mind you, so have a few trade reviews instead while I try and get my head around the fact that Brian and I were written up on Wired (Hello, Annalee).

DEATH NOTE VOLUME 1: There’s a trick to reading a lot of dramatic manga, just as there is a trick to reading almost every superhero comic; a language to learn, so that the sudden exclamations act almost as (very) short theatrical monologues to the audience instead of part of the story itself, telling everyone the emotional state at that particular instant. I’m not sure that it’s something I’ve completely mastered yet – there were parts of this that still seemed very goofy, to be honest – but I could suspend my inner critic enough to dig the start of this mass-murdering spree story and want to see what happens next. The story shouldn’t work, of course; as soon as the mysterious law enforcement officer who keeps his identity hidden from everyone appears, logic starts jumping out the window, but what saves it is the idea that both he and Light, who possesses the Death Note and can kill anyone he wants any way he wants as long as he knows their name, both think that they’re saving the world in almost the same way – It’s perverse enough to keep me hanging on to see if they’re going to end up teaming up later on… For now, though: Very Good.

ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR VOLUMES 1 – 5: What’s really surprising about reading the complete Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four isn’t how jaw-droppingly awesome it is all the way through, but how long it takes before everything comes together – It isn’t until, weirdly enough, the addition of Joe Sinnott as inker at the start of the third collection (#44, for those of you paying attention) that everything gels; it’s not just the art (which, once Sinnott comes along, magically becomes both the stereotype “Marvel” look and the classic Kirby look at once), but the stories that suddenly snap into place. The same issue that Sinnott comes aboard also introduces the Inhumans, Kirby’s first attempt at a Magical Family that would later become the New Gods, the Eternals and probably countless other Krazy Kirby Koncepts in his head, and then BLAM! the characters go from fighting the bad guy of the month to jumping through infinity and feeling every single emotion in the world to an almost operatic level all the time. Which isn’t to say that it’s not good for the first 43 issues, because it is, but it’s good in the same underwhelming way that the Steve Ditko issues of Spider-Man are to me; classic and groundbreaking, sure, but in a strangely ugly disjointed manner that reads… kind of “off” (And this is where I get jumped on by purists. Sorry). Classic Marvel to me is art that’s a mix of dynamic layout and lush linework, and stories that have grand concepts that the script tries to have both ways, trying to convince you of its greatness and immensity while at the same time having some character offer a variation of “Can’t ya just speak English for once, stretcho?” as a punchline for the expositionary monologue as if winking at the reader and implying the Kirby line “Don’t ask! Just buy it!” Once Sinnott comes on board and smoothes out the art, and the stories seem to, well, become much more Kirby-esque, then it becomes the zenith of my definition of Classic Marvel – There’s such energy and potential in the stories, and such movement in the characters that you can understand, finally, why they could get away with calling it The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. Sure, Kirby clearly stopped giving his all by the time that you reach the fifth collection, but even mid-level Kirby at that point was still staggering. In terms of historical importance, all five volumes are a must read – they redefined what comics could be as a medium! – but in terms of just old fashioned good reads, Volumes 3 and 4 are Excellent, Volume 5 Very Good, and the first two volumes still a strong Good.

LOST AT SEA: I’m not sure what I expected from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s first book, and now that I’ve read it, I’m not sure what I got, either. But there’s something fitting about that, because this seems like a book about uncertainty and insecurity (and as such, the emotional opposite of Scott Pilgrim, where Scott is too dumb to think about such matters for the most part)… I’m not sure if there’s even a story here as much as a journey for O’Malley himself when he was creating the book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless; he hits some emotional points that feel true, and that makes all the difference on this kind of angst book, you know? A tenuous high Good.

Coming up later this week: More trade reviews, including my favorite two books of the year so far.

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