“Northlanders Volume 2: The Cross + The Hammer” by Brian Wood and Davide Gianfelice (Vertigo, 2009)

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Wood continues his powerful Northlanders series in this second volume, after Sven the Returned, with a look at two cultures fighting over one piece of land.  The year is 1014, the place is Ireland.  The Vikings have invaded, quickly taking over and subjugating most of the people, claiming what they consider to be rightfully theirs.  But there are some who disagree, including one hero, Magnus, who seeks to wipe out any Vikings he sees, while doing what he must to protect his precious daughter.  Magnus is a powerful warrior, who seems unstoppable, yet his one failing may be that he has lost his mind.  But Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson thinks little of this, stopping at nothing to end Magnus and clear the way for a full Viking conquest.

In The Cross + The Hammer, Wood takes a brief break from his main character, Sven, to address another part of the world where the Vikings are making themselves known.  Even with a different artist, the work is fresh and interesting,  maintaining an acuteness to detail and accuracy, while Wood does his work in telling a story that may well have happened at some time in the eleventh century.

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Originally written on August 22nd, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Ball Peen Hammer” by Adam Rapp and George O’Connor (First Second, 2009)

Ball Peen Hammerstarstar

While the cover and title will certainly be misleading for some readers who look at this graphic novel for the first time, I recommend they read the inside flap for a description.  It’s not about S&M and violent sex games, but in fact a world where a sickness has wiped out a considerable amount of the population.  In the style of Children of Men, people are fighting to survive, fighting for food, and fighting to get a sample of the vaccine that will cure them of the lethal sickness.  With a harsh, rough art style that lends greatly to the dark and doomed storyline, Rapp introduces a subplot on top of all the sadness with the murdering of innocent children.  If the characters don’t comply, they will suffer for it, so what choice do they have?  Rapp does introduce some happiness with the girl depicted on the cover searching for the musician whom she fell for, but Ball Peen Hammer ends before this is possibly reconciled, leaving the reader wondering if there’ll be more or is that the bleak end of it all?

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Originally written on August 22nd, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“The Color of Heaven” by Kim Dong Hwa (Pantheon, 2009)

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In this concluding volume to the Color of Earth trilogy, Kim Dong Hwa takes the relationship between Ehwa and her mother to a new level, for the little girl is now seventeen and a blossoming woman.  The women find they have more in common than they thought, as they wait and yearn for their lovers who are far away, wondering when they will return.  Nevertheless, Ehwa still has some crucial lessons to learn from her parent.  But Hwa must bring the series to a close, and he does so with Ehwa’s betrothal to Duksam, and their beautiful wedding.  Her mother says goodbye to the daughter she’s had in her home for so long, and while her lover now returns to her for good, she finds herself once again looking out from her home, waiting, this time for the return of her daughter who she now misses greatly.  Kim Dong Hwa’s artwork and scenery continue to astound, while The Color of Heaven does an incredible job of revealing facets of Korean culture rendered in such a beautiful way.

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Originally written on August 8th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“The Color of Water” by Kim Dong Hwa (Pantheon, 2009)

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In the second book of the trilogy, The Color of Water, after The Color of Earth, Ehwa is now a growing girl and boys are on her mind all the time, but readers can see the beautiful woman she will become.  And yet she still has a lot to learn about life, the world, and more importantly, men and what they can be like.  Fortunately she has her mother to educate her on the ways of the world and the ways of men and their desires.  Ehwa is a naïve young girl, but a fast learner.  With the expression “third time’s the charm,” Ehwa has high hopes for this third, new boy in her life, Duksam.  Friction grows between Ehwa and her mother, as the girl is always wanting to go out and find Duksam, while ignoring her duties and chores.  Ehwa has also attracted the eye of an old man who will do everything he can to get her.  There is also jealousy growing between Ehwa and her mother, who receives infrequent visits from her “picture man.”  Kim Dong Hwa continues his beautiful artwork and wonderful poetic words that combine simile through nature to educate Ehwa and readers about love and life.  Readers will be left anxiously waiting for the conclusion of the trilogy, The Color of Heaven.

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Originally written on July 18th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge” by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon, 2009)

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Originally serialized in SMITH Magazine, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld is a remarkable graphic novel that manages to capture both the raw look of a city attacked by natural forces, but also to reveal the emotions and reactions of people who remained in the city, as well as those who watched from afar.  Told from the viewpoint of six New Orleanians, they each experience Hurricane Katrina differently, but ultimately suffer loss.  There is Denise, who experiences the pandemonium at the Superdome.    Abbas, and his friend Mansell, who live out the storm first within the market that Abbas owns and runs, and then on the roof as the water level rises.  The Doctor, who remains in the French Quarter throughout the hurricane, a haven for others, miraculously unscathed.  Leo – a comic book collector – and Michelle who leave New Orleans in time, but lose everything they own.  And Kwame, a Pastor’s son, who leaves before the storm and has his life irrevocably changed.   A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is the next great graphic novel in a growing genre of journalistic or non-fiction graphic novels, that combine words and art to tell incredible stories of real life and real happenings.

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Originally written on June 18th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Josh Neufeld check out BookBanter Episode 14.

“The Color of Earth” by Dong Hwa Kim (First Second, 2009)

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The first in a trilogy, the graphic novel The Color of Earth is now available to English-speaking (and reading) audiences for the first time.  While author and artist, Dong Hwa Kim, has published a number of graphic novels – or manwha as they are called in Korea – like My Sky and The Red Bicycle, this trilogy represents a new foray for him.  Ehwa is a young girl who doesn’t have a father, and her only role model is a single mother who is mocked by men at the local tavern she owns and runs.  In her early years, Ehwa looks down on her mother for allowing men to treat her this way, but as she grows into womanhood and becomes interested in boys, she begins to understand more.  Her mother knows that the men are harmless, but when they go too far, she is quick to stop them or at least stick up for herself.  The Color of Earth explores Ehwa becoming a teenager and her first simple relationships with boys, as well as her mother finding a new love in her life.  The trilogy is continued in The Color of Water, and has become a bestseller in Korea among both men and women, for Kim has a talent in telling a beautiful story, but also for getting to the heart of humanity.  It is a story that will grow on you and become a classic like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

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Originally written on June 18th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

“Science Fiction Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Seventeen” by H. G. Wells, et. al. (Eureka Productions, 2009)

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In this seventeenth volume of graphic classics one might’ve expected the series to have stretched beyond its ability to delight and entertain, and yet this volume offers some of the best stories yet, done with some great adaptation and some truly original artwork.

Volume 17 kicks off with a bang with the graphic adaptation of H. G. Well’s famous War of the Worlds.  Writer Rich Rainey must be commended for condensing the novel into just 48 pages, and yet maintaining enough storyline and action to be true to the original book.  The artwork from Micah Farritor helps set the scene of the nineteenth century, giving each of the characters a very human look.  As for the aliens, Farritor borrows from the classic look of War of the Worlds, but also adds his own style.

A day in the life of a man who looks much like George Jetson is the setting for the next story: Jules Verne’s “In the Year 2889.”  Stories from Stanley G. Weintraub and Arthur Conan Doyle are included, each presenting their own unique art style from a different artist.  Graphic Classics Volume 17 is a great addition to the collection, leaving readers looking forward to what’s to come next.

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Originally written on June 18th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.