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Scribbled in the Dark

Charles Simic. Ecco, $22 (96p) ISBN 978-0-06-266117-3

In his latest exemplary collection, Simic (The Lunatic), one of American poetry’s most revered and acclaimed figures, reveals a mysterious world that is simultaneously sinister and whimsical, observable through the minute details trailing in the wake of life’s most fleeting moments: “For a mind full of disquiet/ A trembling roadside weed is Cassandra,/ And so is the sight/ Of a boarded up public library.” The book’s references to mortality, the undertaker, and the graveyard could easily mark these as typical late poems, but Simic has always had a knack for channeling the morbid—and managing to blend it with the joyous. It is in navigating those kinds of opposing emotions that he is at his most clever and profound: “I came here in my youth./ A wind toy on a string./ Saw a street in hell and one in paradise.” Something similar could be said of how he handles isolation and the theatricality of the mundane: “The woman I love is a saint/ Who deserves to have/ People falling on their knees,” he writes, “Instead, here she is on the floor/ Hitting a mouse with a shoe/ As tears run down her face.” Image by image, Simic composes miniature masterpieces, offering what appears as a seemingly effortless study in language’s cinematic possibilities. (June)

Reviewed on 04/14/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Roughneck

Jeff Lemire. Gallery 13, $29.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6099-8

Lemire (Essex County) dives into the murkiest depths of addiction, abuse, and family trauma in this heartbreaking volume. Derek Ouellette’s glory days in the NHL are far behind—now, he’s known mostly for alcoholism, public urination, and bar fights. When his younger sister, Beth, arrives in town, addicted to Oxycontin and fleeing an abusive boyfriend, he finds he can no longer hide at the bottom of a bottle. The siblings take to the wilderness, in search of sobriety, solitude, and, possibly, a second chance. This is well-worn territory, even within Lemire’s oeuvre, but powerful nonetheless. Derek and Beth are trapped within the vicious cycle of abuse and addiction that plague so many like them—poor, First Nations, rural—but Lemire handles their struggles with grace and uncommon feeling. Every craggy furrow in Derek’s face, every wayward hair escaping Beth’s braids are imbued with thoughtfulness. It is a pleasure to watch Lemire explore the emotional landscape of lives many prefer to forget—and to demonstrate anew how valuable they are. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/14/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Water Dragon’s Bride, Vol. 1

Rei Toma. Viz, $9.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-4215-9255-8

This teen book should not be confused with the adult Korean manhwa Bride of the Water God, although they’re probably based on the same legend. Asahi is a plucky, talkative child who one day finds herself transported into an ancient time period. But even when the village chieftain tries to sacrifice her to the local water spirit, she isn’t overcome; she meets the water god, who is far more childlike than she, and bargains her release—at the price of her voice. Asahi makes it to the surface with her local friend, a boy named Subaru, but the troubles are only just beginning, as all the gods and villagers are now watching them. Toma’s sophomore US release shows growth from her previous Dawn of the Arcana; where that felt stale, this has charm and relatability, instantly drawing the reader in. Attractive character designs and whimsical portrayals make this story all that you want in a shojo manga. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/14/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All Star Batman, Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy

Scott Snyder et al. DC, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-4012-6978-4

Not to be confused with the infamous Frank Miller and Jim Lee project, this new series from Snyder (Batman, American Vampire) showcases different all-star artists and a new direction for both the Dark Knight and the duplicitous Two-Face. Romita (Kickass) partners with Snyder in the title story, taking Batman on a violent B-movie-esque road trip to cure Harvey Dent of his psychosis. It’s a much better fit for Romita than his previous stint drawing Superman–his sketchy lines combined with White’s vivid, occasionally dreamlike colors make for bright yet gritty visuals. Snyder has the most fun of anyone, though, allowing Batman to finally make jokes again. Despite a cameo-crowded nonlinear narrative, his story never becomes tangled or impenetrable. A backup story, “The Cursed Wheel,” with art by Moon Knight’s Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, is a quieter, more precise detective tale that contrasts with the main story both thematically and visually. As Batman collections go, this has it all. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/14/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Instrumental

Dave Chisholm. Z2, $24.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-940878-15-7

Tom, a middling trumpet player in a going-nowhere jazz band, acquires a supernatural trumpet that produces music so beautiful it kills listeners with weak hearts. As music becomes a matter of life and death for him, he confers with the shades of great musicians of the past as well as his mortal bandmates. Creator Chisholm is a jazz musician himself, and this Gaiman-like fantasy about the blurred line between art and magic is solidified by an underlying sense of lived reality; the characters inhabit a real world of burned-out speakers, coffee-shop gigs, and day jobs. The book’s central weakness is the art, which strives for Craig Thompson–like elegance but is too often sketchy and unpracticed. The ending also falls a little flat. But Chisholm has produced beautiful art elsewhere—see his gorgeous music-themed contribution to the anthology Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream—and this is a solid first graphic novel. Hopefully, in the future he’ll really cook. The book includes a CD of a soundtrack also by Chisholm. (May)

Reviewed on 04/14/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea

Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni. Dark Horse, $14.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-5067-0143-1

A 19th-century ghost ship on the high seas shanghais Hellboy during his escape from a deserted island in this brief but welcome return to Ol’ Red’s world by creator Mignola and Eisner Award–winning artist Gianni (Prince Valiant). The spectral crew—unaware of their deceased status—plots to sell the recalcitrant (and baffled) Hellboy to a circus sideshow while an eerie woman onboard seeks forbidden knowledge beyond her ken. Quickly, the primordial powers lurking in the ocean rear their heads for a maritime showdown. Mignola weaves literary nautical quotes and the superstitious lore of old-timey sailors into his storytelling and stays true to his iconic Lovecraftian, tentacled themes. Gianni’s detailed artwork, inspired by classic pen-and-ink illustrations, and Stewart’s judicious use of color (Hellboy is fire-engine red against a backdrop of subdued blues, grays, and browns) is a fresh contrast to Mignola’s weighty aesthetic and moves the narrative-light plot along. (May)

Reviewed on 04/14/2017 | Details & Permalink

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