Exhaustive but exhausting.

THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND

A metaphysical examination of 20th-century comics artists takes an odd turn.

With both metafictive and metaphysical slants, this exploration of midcentury photorealistic comics artists introduces Jack, a pretty young White woman working at Local Heroes Comic Books & Graphic Novels. She finds a strange comic on the counter called “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond,” and as she finishes reading it, the next issue suddenly appears. Chronicling the untimely death of artist Raymond, Sim and Grubaugh’s work transports readers along a comprehensive and dense history of the photorealistic style and the cadre of artists that shaped its evolution. However, about halfway through, the narrative switches course, eliminating Jack almost entirely and instead drawing increasingly tenuous and esoterically obsessive links to Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. As the title dives down these rabbit holes, the text increasingly descends into incomprehensibility, punctuated with recursive chants and repetitive numerology. This devolution makes further reading extremely challenging, as intricate panels become cramped and text bubbles obscured. The finely detailed, highly stylized art, however, is beyond masterful and a true accomplishment. Ultimately, this is overly complex for a casual comics history buff and perhaps best appreciated by an academic audience.

Exhaustive but exhausting. (Graphic fiction. 17-adult)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73686-050-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Living the Line Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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An enjoyable creeper that needs a bit more room to run.

THE ABSENCE

A village on the English coast wrestles with postwar realities and quantum physics in graphic designer and playwright Stiff’s debut six-issue horror/science fiction miniseries.

At the center of this tale set amid the cliffs, moors and pub of a seaside English village are dapper, disfigured veteran Marwood Clay and Robert Temple, an aloof scientific visionary who fought—and won—World War II on a radically new front. Marwood was born in the village, but he and Temple are both considered outsiders thanks to a fiery tragedy in Marwood and the villagers’ shared past. Temple has come with deep pockets and bizarre plans to erect a mammoth, meticulously designed structure referred to by his local foreman as “this pile of shite.” After an initial, congenial introduction, Marwood and Temple soon find themselves at odds as each attempts to engage with the villagers. Meanwhile, the village struggles with a rash of inexplicable disappearances. Is it murder? Is it Marwood? Or does something darker lurk beneath the village’s quaint facade? An opening scene of a localized cataclysm shares the date with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, quickly establishing a connection between advanced technology and primal fear (exemplified by Temple’s boss, a decrepit, amputee government agent who wants Temple’s knowledge to further his own agenda). The story maintains a creepy atmosphere throughout, with elements of The Twilight Zone, The Manchurian Candidate and Donnie Darko, well served by Stiff’s simple, expressive black-and-white illustrations that have the outsized chunkiness of Howard Chaykin and the energetic crudity and classic paneling of Steve Yeowell. Stiff stuffs his story until it bristles with science-fiction tropes like liquid mirrors, sinister German doctors, prognostication via equations, crumbling religious iconography and nods to Schrödinger’s cat, but the sheer number of ideas and the brevity of the series give any individual concept short shrift.

An enjoyable creeper that needs a bit more room to run.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1782760382

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Titan Comics

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

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Best for diehard fans.

THE TIES THAT BIND

From the Riverdale series

A suspenseful stand-alone graphic novel tie-in to the popular CW franchise.

Set in the dark, contemporary world of television’s Riverdale, Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead all face separate horrors on one fateful night as a sinister secret society stalks them. As Jughead and Archie both find themselves locked in at their respective schools, Betty and her sister, Polly, are terrorized at a run-down motel, and Veronica (along with pal Cheryl) is pursued through an eerie, seemingly deserted mall. Readers realize that a creepy conglomerate is responsible. Using a symbol of two interlocking infinity signs as their secret mark, a nefarious group calling themselves Ivanovniki targets and toys with the Riverdale citizens, but their motives are tenuous at best (and true-to-brand, answers are uncovered while the foursome is packed into a booth at Pop’s Chock Lit Shoppe). While the trademark thrills and chills from the show are present here, too many questions are left unanswered. The lack of exposition and overreliance on plot-driven action may be alienating for those new to or unfamiliar with the series. Despite this, the full-color, cinematically styled illustrations resonate; those who know the characters will find them instantly recognizable. Riverdale aficionados will certainly relish more time with the beloved cast and will forgive the narrative gaffes. Archie, Betty, and Jughead read as White; Veronica has brown skin.

Best for diehard fans. (Graphic fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64576-958-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Archie Blue Ribbon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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