It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted some shorter reviews, so it’s time to get back to it. This time around, I share some thoughts on a new Cyanide & Happiness collection, the latest issues of Infidel and Iron Man, and a benefit book aimed at helping the still-suffering people of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
By Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker & Dave McElfatrick
I’d seen the occasional installment of webcomic Cyanide & Happiness turn up in my Facebook feed over the years, but I hadn’t read a lot of the strips at once. This printed collection of parenting-related commentary served as my first multi-course meal of C&H strips, and they’re thoroughly entertaining, more for the creators’ willingness to go to dark places as they satirize over-idealized visions of family life and expose the ugliness of humanity against the backdrop of what’s usually seen as heartwarming subject matter. The strips are funny, yes, and morbidly so. But what’s more interesting is how biting the creators’ concepts are, as they pull back the curtain on a society that’s deeply flawed and in denial about its failings as a culture.
That being said, I found this book to be a bit of a disappointment, because there just aren’t enough strips here for a $10 book. Most of the pages feature a single strip, and the next page is always a longer piece of writing to accompany the strip, offering further commentary. While boasting the same sort of sacred-cow sacrifices in their perspectives, these text pieces weren’t nearly as entertaining as the more succinct strips. It almost felt as though the creators were explaining the jokes from the strips as they endeavored to build on the ideas. The result is a book that feels a bit too thin on content. 5/10
by Pornsak Pichetshote & Aaron Campbell
After I review the first issue of a new title and find something strong and unique, I like to check out the next one if I have the time to see if the quality continues past the debut issue. With Infidel, that definitely proves to be the case, but the story takes an expected turn — which should come as no surprise, given the sophistication of Pichetshote’s writing. The cultural aspects the writer explores here remain relevant and convincing, but his ghost story pivots sharply to one that also delves into the notion of mental illness. While I’m certain this remains a horror comic, Pichetshote actually has me questioning whether Aisha’s literally haunted by spirits of hatred lingering after a devastating incident in her building or if she finds herself in the throes of something more mundane but equally terrifying from her perspective: a struggle within her own mind. Either the heroine is manipulated by forces to appear as though she’s the villain, or she actually is.
Campbell’s art here, at least for the more grounded scenes, put me in mind of the gritty and convincing linework of Michael Lark on Lazarus, but the more extreme depictions of what Aisha sees that others does brings a disturbingly surreal tone to the story that’s jarring — intentionally so. These horrifying visions leap at the reader, shattering the peaceful, everyday moments. 8/10
by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli & Alex Maleev
You know what’s truly striking about this comic book, which is building on a few years of storylines, bringing them to a head? A new reader, unaware of all of that history, could pick this issue up and follow what’s going on. Bendis (who’s now moved over to DC Comics) delivers a thoroughly accessible script, but he also offers another satisfying chapter in the long-running storyline that will please his regular readers. His trademark humor and dialogue beats are still to be found here, and I love the blend of bombastic super-hero fun and the return of an espionage-genre underpinning.
Honestly, the more captivating aspect of this issue is the understated and quiet nature of the Doom subplot. The story arc’s title, “The Search for Tony Stark,” directs the reader’s attention to what’s going on with the disappearance of the original Iron Man, but we know how that’s going to play out. Tony will return to the role and his heroic adventures. But Doom — his journey is a complete mystery. His relationship with Amara is fascinating, and I feel certain Bendis has something shocking and intelligent in store, because he’s so clearly trying to direct our attention toward Tony over Doom. It’s classic misdirection, and I’m excited about what’s to come.
Maleev’s simpler, grittier style, and the dialogue-driven nature of those scenes, also contribute to the misdirection. Stefano’s crisper, brighter figures are a lot of fun to drink in, but Maleev’s more morose scenes, aided by the muted colors he employs, bring a lot more tension and mystery to the mix. 8/10
by various writers & artists
Given the success of Love Is Love, a benefit book released in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, it’s no surprise to see other similar projects arising in reaction other tragedies and injustices, and that’s an excellent development. These books help to raise funds and awareness on important issues, and for comics enthusiasts, they also serve to introduce readers to new names, new talents. That’s one of the things I enjoyed about Puerto Rico Strong, though to be honest, I was drawn to it because I wanted to see what former Puerto Rico resident Tom Beland had to say (I’m a huge fan of Beland’s work and have been for years). Not surprisingly, he offered an angry and vehement criticism of President Donald Trump’s reaction (or lack thereof) to the devastation on the island, and there are other such instances of political commentary to be found in the book. It’s sad that while it took months for this book to be produced and released, its messages remain just as applicable today, as the island is still suffering the ill effects of the hurricanes and the U.S. government’s failures to provide aid and support.
But honestly, what kept me reading story after story was the celebration of Puerto Rican culture and history. I found Puerto Rico Strong to be incredibly educational. Most of my knowledge of the island flows from Beland’s work (both on True Story, Swear to God and Chicacabra), and this book exposes its audience to a much wider and even richer tapestry. There’s a certain sense of melancholy that looms over the book, given its catalyst, but there’s also a sense of pride in the past and potential for the future. It’s a lovely and touching book that offers such a diverse array of material that every reader is bound to find several segments that appeal to them. 7/10