Originally published in 1/30/14 in Chico News & Review.
Wading into the sea of options available at your local comic store can be a bit overwhelming, even for seasoned fans of the format. But if you don’t know your Ant-Man from your Giant-Man, breaking into the world of comics can seem downright daunting—especially if you’re not even sure you want to make the commitment to an ongoing monthly comic series. Graphic novels and trade paperbacks, on the other hand, offer a self-contained story and can be the perfect vehicle for newcomers to discover the medium and for fans to find new favorite writers and artists.
Here are four graphic novels that showcase what the medium has to offer; from stark black-and-white teen angst to colorfully cartoonish battles, this is an introduction to the series people will be talking about in 2014:
• Battling Boy, First Second Books
When his father sends Battling Boy on a rambling rite of passage to rid Arcopolis of the monsters that threaten the far-off world, the young boy faces not only building-size monstrosities but also local politicians, public accolade and the need for self-reliance. For younger readers, Battling Boy is an identifiable hero—inexperienced and unsure—kicking monster butt and saving the world in a classic tale of good versus evil filled with oddball characters and cartoonish villains. Older readers may look deeper into the story and find government and military satire, plenty of nods to classic comic books and TV shows, and—with the inclusion of Aurora, the young daughter of Arcopolis’ fallen hero—an examination of the father/child relationship.
It’s a great story that fully utilizes the medium. Colorist Hilary Sycamore’s use of a single background color throughout a scene or location adds a distinctive atmosphere to an alien world or depth to an island floating in space. Writer Paul Pope optimizes the layout, making a single panel explode with action or a two-page spread overwhelm the reader in its still gravity. It’s one hell of a ramble.
• Beautiful Creatures, Yen Press
The graphic adaptation of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s 2009 young-adult novel boils down the supernaturally Southern teenage love story to its core. Unlike the 2013 film adaptation, the graphic novel takes a more subdued approach to the story and focuses on Ethan and Lena’s struggle against cursed love, family secrets and a claiming that will determine Lena’s eternal fate.
Artist Cassandra Jean’s black-and-white manga style echoes the all-or-nothing extremes of teen angst and love, with the stark visual contrast amplifying the already elevated emotions. The art and subject are a great pairing, and together they create a moody modern fairy tale.
• Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon, Marvel
In writer Matt Fraction’s hands, Clint Barton is an everyman—an everyman backed by Earth’s mightiest heroes. When he’s not saving the world with the The Avengers or training Kate Bishop to replace him as Hawkeye, Barton is a pissed off New Yorker surrounded by crime and indecency too inconsequential for superheroes to notice. While The Avengers’ job is always the same—save the world—Fraction understands that an alter ego’s life is far from routine, and this allows him to tell a variety of stories that look at the character from different angles, all without losing an ounce of action or the boomerang arrow.
• Five Ghosts, Vol. 1: The Haunting of Fabian Gray, Image Comics
With plenty of story and art nods to the pulp comics of the 1930s, and similarities to Indiana Jones and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Chris Mooneyham’s Five Ghosts exists in that time and space where science and magic seem interchangeable, artifacts are more powerful than weapons, and it’s the good guys versus the bad guys until the bitter end.
The ongoing series is an exciting adventure with our awesomely named stoic hero, Fabian Gray, who magically—thanks to shards of Dreamstone embedded in his chest (that are slowly killing him)—calls upon the talents of ghosts resembling Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Merlin, Miyamoto Musashi and Dracula so that he may escape run-ins with Nazis and a hostile tribe that worships giant spiders. Full of biplanes, magical cities and dragons, Five Ghosts is a deliciously guilty pleasure that will leave you hunting for the next issue.