I'd never heard of this 2005 graphic novel until I came across a copy of it recently. JEW GANGSTER, written and drawn by Kubert, is exactly what it says: the story of a young man, Reuben "Ruby" Kaplan, growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression, who falls in with some of the local mobsters and is torn between ambition and greed on one hand and his family and his own moral code on the other.
It's an excellent, fast-paced, noirish story that ultimately doesn't render any judgments. Kubert's black-and-white art is as stylish and effective as ever, with plenty of powerful images including a series of drawings depicting life in Depression-era Brooklyn that serve as chapter breaks.
If you're interested in crime fiction or in some fine work by a comics legend (and I fall into both of those categories), you should definitely check out JEW GANGSTER. It's well worth reading.
I'd gotten out of touch with the continuity in the DC universe (and still am, to a large extent), but this volume has a quick summary of what's been going on. Bruce Wayne has given up being Batman (what, again?) and left Gotham City. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now Batman. Tim Drake, one of the replacement Robins along the way, is now sort of grown up and is a character called the Red Robin. Bruce Wayne's son Damian, introduced in BATMAN AND SON, is now Robin. Luckily, the stories in this volume focus almost exclusively on Dick as Batman, so my confusion about the other two characters didn't really keep me from enjoying the four connected story arcs that make up the book.
The title story, "The Black Mirror", is actually the first one and concerns Batman's attempts to break a ring of black marketeers dealing in stolen supervillain technology and artifacts. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon takes center stage in the next arc, "Skeleton Cases", as his son James Jr. (I don't know where he came from, either, I wasn't aware that Barbara Gordon had a brother) returns to Gotham City. Problem is, James Jr. may well be a serial killer. "Hungry City" features the return of another new character from the past (if that makes sense), the daughter of the crime boss responsible for the murder of Dick Grayson's parents. She seems to have gone straight and become a very successful businesswoman, but is she really? A bizarre and almost impossible crime draws Batman into an investigation of her activities and naturally winds up with him almost getting killed a couple of times. Then the ongoing mystery of James Gordon Jr. comes to an end in "Skeleton Key", which also features the return of the greatest Batman villain, The Joker.
So, having read Batman comic books for more than fifty years, what do I think of this almost current version? Well, not bad. Snyder's scripts are pretty good, featuring some actual detective work on Batman's part, goofy touches reminiscent of classic Batman (a giant killer whale inside a bank lobby, for instance), an evocation of Gotham City as a gritty, noirish place, and a few nods to continuity and history. I wish I could say that I liked the artwork by Jock (Mark Simpson) and Francesco Francavilla in these stories, but I really don't. Francavilla's work is the stronger of the two, in my opinion, but to an old curmudgeon like me, the storytelling just isn't clear enough. Now, if you'd had Neal Adams or Jim Aparo illustrating these same stories, the way they did back in my day . . . (Yeah, yeah, that's a nice story, Grandpa.)
All in all, though, I found enough to like here that I'll probably read more of Snyder's Batman work. There are at least two more collections available.
Volume 4 collects three storylines from the comic. The first one, "The Beast in the Cave", is a Western, a prequel story that finds Skinner Sweet, who will later become the American Vampire of the title, and his adopted brother and soon-to-be nemesis Jim Book fighting on the same side as U.S. cavalrymen during the Apache Wars. As you might expect, a supernatural angle crops up and leads to plenty of bloody violence, although things don't really play out the way you might think they would. This arc has some nice artwork by European comics legend Jordi Bernet that reminds me of Joe Kubert's art.
The second storyline, "Death Race", has art by series co-creator Rafael Albuquerque and is set in California in 1954. The protagonist is a typical teenage delinquent and hot-rodder, only as usual things aren't what they appear. This JD has a secret that involves Skinner Sweet, and this four-issue arc features an epic chase and battle between the two of them.
A two-parter called "The Nocturnes" rounds out this collection and spins a yarn set in Alabama in 1954 that mixes doo-wop music, the Korean War, and a type of monster that's new to this series. The art is by Roger Cruz and Riccardo Burchielli.
All these stories were written by Scott Snyder, and the scripts are fast-paced, bleak, and occasionally punctuated by some very dark humor. I think there were too many flashbacks in "Death Race", which made the story a little hard to follow, but overall I enjoy Snyder's work and I like this series. I'm sure I'll continue to read these collected editions as they come out.
Are you headed to San Diego for Comic Con this week? So am I! (It’s my first Comic Con, so forgive me for leaning on the exclamation marks in this post.) On my SDCC agenda are panels and signings with three Mulholland authors: Austin Grossman, Duane Swierczynski, and Charlie Huston. I’ll also be making appearances at the Hachette Book Group booth (Booth 1116) to give away limited edition pieces from JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst’s forthcoming book, S. And I may have a few copies of a certain detective novel to give away, but you’ll have to follow @mulhollandbooks for the details on that. Here’s where to find Mulholland at the Con:
Thursday, July 18: 11am-noon
Author of Fun & Game, Hell & Gone, and Point & Shoot
Signing at the Hachette Book Group Booth (#1116)
Thursday, July 18: 1:45-2:45
Ode to Nerds Panel
Everyone knows that published science fiction authors reign on the Geek Heirarchy charts because the Internet tells us so! (See, The Brunching Shuttlcocks.) Join us on this epic panel as the genre’s top names in publishing celebrate all things geeky and nerdy with Charlie Jane Anders of io9.com! Geek out with Charlie Jane and Cory Doctorow (The Rapture of the Nerds), Chuck Palahniuk (Doomed), Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind), Austin Grossman (You), DC Pierson (Crap Kingdom) and Robyn Schneider (The Beginning of Everything).
Thursday, July 18: 3:15-4:15
Ode to Nerds Panel signing
Thursday, July 18: 4-5pm
Keep ‘Em at the Edge of Their Seats Panel
The gory, gruesome, and paranoia-inducing elements in these novels will take readers on a jet-fueled ride to the dark side. These writers spare no expense to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up with stories that will surprise you at every turn. Their protagonists solve crimes, kick ass, and don’t let anyone—or anything—stand in their way. Thrill to the discussion with James Rollins (Eye of God), Duane Swierczynski (Point & Shoot), Stephen Blackmoore (Dead Things), Charlie Huston (Skinner), Jeffrey J. Mariotte (Season of the Wolf) and Roger Hobbs (Ghostman), led by David Mariotte of Mysterious Galaxy.
Thursday, July 18: 5:30-6:30pm
Keep ‘Em at the Edge of Their Seats Panel signing
Friday, July 19: 12:30-1:30pm
The Pole with Soul: Spotlight on Duane Swierczynski
Comic-Con special guest Duane Swierczynski writes violent, bloody, pulpy comics (Judge Dredd, X, Bloodshot) and violent, bloody, pulpy novels (Fun & Games, Point & Shoot, Severance Package). But deep down inside, he’s a sweetheart. Which is why he’s inviting you to hang out with him for a special afternoon of prizes! Surprise guests! A soul-searching Q&A! And a hug. Okay, maybe not a hug.
Friday, July 19: 1:30-2:30
Author of You
Signing at the Hachette Book Group Booth (#1116)
Friday, July 19: 3-4pm
Author of Skinner
Signing at the Hachette Book Group Booth (#1116)
Friday, July 19: 6:45-7:45pm
Science Fiction that Will Change Your Life Panel
What science fiction stories from the past year made you think, as well as entertaining you? Panelists talk about the year’s smartest books, comics, movies, and TV with io9 staffers Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, Meredith Woerner, and Lauren Davis, joined by Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Middleman), Marc Bernardin (Alphas), Austin Grossman (You), Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy), and Jose Molina (Vampire Diaries, Sleepy Hollow).
I've talked here before about Will Eisner, specifically his work on the classic comic strip The Spirit. (Of course, callingThe Spirit a comic strip really isn't accurate, but it's not exactly a comic book, either . . . but I'm getting sidetracked.)
TO THE HEART OF THE STORM really does deserve the name "graphic novel". Told in flashbacks as a young recruit, an artist named Willie, rides a troop train in the early days of World War II, it's the story of Eisner's own family and his childhood and adolescence growing up as an artistically talented youngster in Brooklyn and the Bronx. One of the themes is the anti-Semitism that Eisner and his family encountered, but that's hardly the whole story. This book is filled with touches that are universal to childhood: being picked on by bullies, having to care for a younger sibling, dealing with parents, etc. It's great stuff, wonderfully written and drawn, and ultimately quite moving. I highly recommend it.
As a rule, I'm a little leery of "Year One" stories, because they're often just an excuse for the dreaded retconning. Not so much here. The plot works well and doesn't violate established continuity. (Although, does "established continuity" mean anything in the DCU anymore? I think not, he said snarkily.) Two-Face is the main villain here, although the plot twists enough to include run-ins with the Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, and the League of Assassins. The going proves to be unexpectedly rough for Robin, but he winds up being able to hold his own against some major league bad guys.
The script by Dixon and Beatty is excellent, with its hardboiled narration interspersed with journal entries by devoted butler Alfred Pennyworth. I'm less fond of the art by Pulido and Martin, which has that modern look that manages to seem hyper-stylized and unfinished at the same time. Their storytelling is decent most of the time, though, and the art doesn't detract any from the script. (Boy, you can really tell that I'm a word guy instead of an art guy, can't you?)
Overall I enjoyed ROBIN: YEAR ONE quite a bit. It feels like it fits in with the classic era of Batman, and that makes it good stuff as far as I'm concerned.
Darwyn Cooke continues adapting Donald E. Westlake's Parker series into graphic novel form with THE SCORE, the third volume in the series. And like the first two, it's wonderful, with a terse script and evocative artwork that captures the mid-Sixties era perfectly. This is the one where Parker and a crew that includes Alan Grofield try to loot an entire copper mining town in North Dakota, only to run into some unexpected problems. Seeing how Parker deals with those problems is one of the ongoing pleasures of this series.
I haven't read any of Westlake's novels that feature Grofield as the protagonist. He's an interesting character. I need to check them out. And as long as these graphic novel adaptations by Darwyn Cooke keep coming out, I'll be reading them, too. Highly recommended.