Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Art by: Niko Henrichon
Published by: Vertigo
Pride of Baghdad might be the most emotionally wringing graphic novels I’ve ever read. The action is based upon a true story: in 2003, an American bombing raid allowed a pride of lions to escape from the Baghdad Zoo. As the lions wander the war-devastated city, the action follows them fighting to survive in a world that is not where they–or anyone really–belongs.
The story is incredibly complex, touching upon issues of freedom, sacrifice, family, loyalty, and of course the true and all-too-often hidden costs of war. Animal lovers will be devastated by this piece, but the true power of this graphic novel is it has that effect on even the most hardened readers. The nobility and desperation of these creatures is too much like our own as humans, denying our claimed separation from the world and other animals. Like all great war stories, we learn that we are all connected, whether we like it or not.
The art is typical of comic books, but perhaps slightly more stylized, with clean backgrounds that allow the focus to remain upon the emotion of the protagonists. There are some panels that include speech bubbles by the lions, and the art is more effective without this, but the verbalizations do further the story and allow readers to see deeper into the lions’ minds. The heartbreaking final panels, including the last one with a word on it, are quite simply some of the most powerful images I have ever seen in comics, and I’ve been a comics fan for decades.
In short, Pride of Baghdad is a must-read by any graphic novel fan, as well as anyone who cares about or enjoys history, war stories, and/or philosophical commentaries. Read it and absorb the story. Like all important stories, it is not an easy story to read, but it is a vital one.
Written by: Charles R. Maturin
Published by: Oxford University Press
Melmoth the Wanderer, published in 1820, is a prototypical Gothic novel. It is a fairly simple story on the surface: the titular Melmoth is a scholar who, a la Faust, trades his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and 150 more years to live. If, in that time, he can find someone willing to trade his or her soul for his, he is free–but the volunteer is doomed to hell. The novel also references the legend of the Wandering Jew, doubling the tragedy of Melmoth’s life. The finding of someone to take his place and what he does when he succeeds in this quest is nothing short of fascinating, as well as an interesting psychological study. Is redemption even possible for such a lost soul?
The tale is not straightforward–its complicated structure has been the death of many an English major, but is well worth the unraveling. The book folds in upon itself, playing havoc with the reader’s sense of chronology, working backwards through time. The novel’s complex structure is reminiscent of the layers upon layers within Melmoth’s mind and soul; while he wants out of his deal with the devil, he still possesses some human morality. It is also a commentary upon the complexity of social conditions in England at the time of its writing. The author, Reverend Charles Maturin, was greatly concerned with what he saw as the breakdown of contemporary religion between the excesses of Catholicism and the pride of his own Protestantism.
The corpse, riddled with mysterious holes, lay in a drawer in a museum; the nature of the injuries confused and puzzled–stymieing even the fine minds of London‘s greatest natural history museum. However, just as a documentary was being filmed, the incisive mind of forensic scientist Heather Bonney made a shocking discovery–the victim had been shot! Further, “her investigation identified entry and exit wounds, and X-rays revealed a shotgun pellet still inside the the body. ” (emphasis mine)
The victim, a Goliath beetle almost 4″ in length (the size of a songbird), was apparently shot while “on the wing.” Beetles in the scarab family are notoriously difficult to catch by insect collectors, due to their fine ability to perform extensive and complicated aerial maneuvers.
The name of the murderer is being withheld at this time, pending further investigation; ditto the name of the Goliath beetle in question, as he was almost certainly a minor. Remember, folks: there’s no statute of limitations for murder…even for beetles.
Written by: Geoff Deane and Tim Firth
Directed by: Julian Jarrold
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Nick Frost
My Advice: See it… see it NOW.
The basic story of Kinky Boots is familiar enough: underdog faces trouble and certain ruin and launches crazy plan in the hopes of making a remarkable, feel-good comeback. What is truly interesting, however, is that not only is this based upon the true story of a British shoe company, but that it is the story of some rather, well, kinky boots.
It all begins when Charlie Price (Edgerton) inherits his father’s traditional, staid shoe company and is quite unprepared for the inevitable financial setbacks this entails. Faced with laying off his entire staff and closing the doors, Charlie sets aside the objections of the World’s Most Irritating FiancÃ©e and sets out to find a niche market. When Charlie has a chance encounter with cross-dressing singer Lola (playing with outstanding skill by Chiwetel Ejiofor, OBE, last seen displaying his creepy, gentle ruthlessness in Serenity), Charlie sees his niche: male transvestites who need sexy shoes that will support their weight. What follows is part comedy, part romance, part drama, and all splendor as we watch the Price shoe company’s very British staff get used to making stiletto healed boots with riding crops instead of men’s oxfords.
Written by: Yozaburo Kanari
Illustrated by: Fumiya Sato
Published by: Tokyopop
The Graveyard Isle, Kindaichi Case Files #15 is another stand-alone mystery in the series by Yozaburo Kanari and Fumiya Sato, published by TokyoPop. Because Tokyopop wants to keep the story intact (bless them!), Kindaichi volumes tend to be a bit heftier than most manga volumes, making them a very good value.
This volume has our intrepid, under-achieving genius hero taking a vacation to the south of Japan with some friends–and Miyuki, who Kindaichi hopes will soon become his girlfriend. Their explorations (and boredom) lead them to an offshore island, known as Graveyard Isle, which of course no teenager could resist. Once they get there, they learn the tragic history of the island: thousands of Japanese troops fought and died there during WWII, and the island is said to be haunted by ghost soldiers. The heroes meet up with some other teens–wargamers who are “fighting” in two groups. A very real threat soon appears, however, as Our Heroes stumble upon the second group, savagely torn apart.
Written by: Tetsu Kariya
Art by Hanasaki Akira
Published by: VIZ Media LLC
The manga Oishinbo has been running in Japan since 1983 and has been collected in over 100 volumes. Now, Viz has collected various themes, such as sake or gyoza, into volumes of their own for an English-speaking audience. The basic story depicts the efforts of Shiro Yamaoka, a slacker newspaperman and brilliant food critic, to create the “Ultimate Menu” for his paper, the Tozai News. Shiro’s fellow journalists aid him, but a rival newspaper, the Teito Times, has hired Shiro’s renowned foodie father, also a living treasure potter, to create the “Supreme Menu.”
The manga revolves around learning about the history of foods; readers follow along on tasting trips and research along with the characters. Readers are even treated to a few key recipes now and then, especially if a given recipe is a plot point. There are, however, some background themes that appear now and then, such as the slow rebuilding of our hero’s relationship with his father, estranged since Shiro’s mother’s death. We also get hints of a romance between Shiro and his coworker Yuko.
Written by: Isobelle Carmody
Published by: Random House
Obernewtyn isn’t new, but it (and Australian author, Carmody) flew under the radar for long enough that it’s worth a look. It is the first in a sci-fi series, and while some readers claim it works well enough as a standalone, I have to disagree due to the lack of resolution in some cases and the number of loose ends.
The basic story follows Elspeth, born into a post-apocalyptic society bent on control via a fundamentalist religion that fears “misfits,” or people born with mutations or special mental abilities. Our Heroine is, of course, one such misfit, as were her parents before her, who were burned at the stake for these crimes. Elspeth fights to blend in, but is discovered before long and sent to live at a mysterious compound in the mountains, Obernewtyn, that takes in such misfits and makes them work, promising a possible cure.
While ostensibly science fiction, due to the post-apocalyptic setting and the psi powers, it reads in some ways as a fantasy–a typical hero’s journey and more. There is very little technology, and our heroes can’t get their hands on any of it. The only real “power” is Elspeth’s telepathy, which may as well be magic.
Written by Mary Stanton
Published by: Berkley
Defending Angels is the start of a promising new mystery series. The premise promised on the back cover is intriguing enough: a lawyer who defends the dead from a celestial court, shortening their time in Purgatory or even getting them reassigned from Hell to Heaven. While this premise in practice has more to do with finding earthly justice for murderers and the innocent, a law practice filled with mysterious assistants, ghostly visitors, and strange, uncontrolled powers is creative enough to keep even a relatively jaded mystery fan like myself interested.
The characters are, as always, a mixed bag. For example, “Gabriel Striker” is a character? Seriously? The main character, Bree Winston-Beaufort is far less irritating than your average “self-sufficient female,” though her little sister is one of the most irritating, bratty sisters I’ve encountered recently. Bree’s ex is predictably cardboard “evil” clichÃ©, but the other characters, even the “flaky” upstairs landlady end up much more complex than they seem at first.
The downsides are minimal and will probably only annoy cranky book reviewers like myself, such as the many Savannah stereotypes that–while on the one hand show a real understanding of how a city works when it’s a mix of new money and Old South–at the same time it makes use of clichÃ©s that haven’t been true in 100 years or more. This includes a very self-conscious use of “The War Between the States,” a phrase that isn’t even used by the elderly anymore, unless they’re just being tongue-in-cheek. Also beware the unnecessary and absurd slam at “desperate” English PhDs seeking employment and the misuse of the word “y’all” by supposedly Southern characters. I’m also not sold on making Metatron evil yet (?!), but I’ll give her another book or two to make that work for me.
Written by: Maria V. Snyder
Published by: Mira
Fire Study is the third book in Maria Snyder’s interesting “Study” fantasy series. The first book introduced the characters and began building the world, giving us the tale of Yelena’s training as a poison-taster and poisoner, while the second book upped the stakes and introduced the true depths of evil Yelena must face to gain acceptance in her world and control over her terrifying power as a Soulfinder.
Our heroine has learned she has a rare power that has the potential to make her an exile: she is a Soulfinder, which means she can control people almost completely and ideally, heal broken minds even beyond death. Her mage mentor Iris may be on her side, but the First Mage of the land, Roze, is emphatically not. Set against this personal struggle is a greater war between Ixia, the land where Yelena was raised, and Sitia where she was born and now resides. There are, as always in a fantasy, forces moving behind the scenes, and Yelena must survive to reveal the truth behind the evil facing her new friends.