Thursday, July 08, 2010

Aaron's Take on the 2010 Hugo Nominees :: GRAPHIC NOVELS

I am no expert on graphic novels, but the point of including this category in the Hugo Awards is to highlight graphic works that should appeal to readers of prose science fiction and fantasy. So as a devoted SF/F prose reader, here is my take on the graphic novel (er, "graphic story") Hugo nominees.

By far the strongest of the five nominees to me is Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? This is a wonderful tribute to the character of Batman, a fitting end to DC's run of sequentially numbered Batman comic books. I'm sure to a long-time Batman fan the tribute comes across even more powerfully, as Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert have deliberately patterned sections of the story after various Batman creators of old. Even ignoring how this volume riffs on the history of Batman, it is a delightful book for its meditation on the significance of any old, oft-repeated tale. It is such a beautifully written story, I suspect most fans could identify it as the work of Neil Gaiman even if his name were left off the cover.

One reason I don't read more graphic novels is that I have long since tired of the superhero concept, in just the way I have tired of vampire stories. So there could hardly be a worse combination for me than Captain Britain and MI13: Vampire State, a graphic novel in which a group of superheroes battle Dracula and other vampires. Yet I found it impossible not to enjoy this book. Writer Paul Cornell crafted a strong storyline with many nice touches, such as the opening image of Dracula on the moon, dragging his boot across Neil Armstrong's footprint. I love how Cornell conveys the characters' Britishness, even including a long flashback to a superheroes' game of cricket. The tale is easy enough to follow despite the large extent of backstory built in, and the artwork by Leonard Kirk and several others is wonderfully vivid.

By all reports, and judging by its multiple Eisner Awards, Bill Willingham's Fables, peopled by a huge cast of reimagined storybook characters, has been one of the most inventive series of the past several years. After several books focused on the struggle against the "Adversary," the current Hugo nominee, Volume 12: The Dark Ages, begins a different story arc and introduces a new villain. This volume is somewhat lacking in drama, since the new conflict remains far from resolution by the end, but there are still plenty of clever moments. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of Fritz Leiber's characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

The highlight of Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm is the striking artwork by Phil Foglio (with lush colors by Cheyenne Wright). It's a good thing the book has such strong visual appeal, because the story ranges from jumbled to incoherent. I'm at a disadvantage for not having read all the previous volumes, but I'm hard pressed to see how anyone could care about the dense layers of background information that come into play. The humor is hit-or-miss, for me more miss than hit, although I admit I laughed out loud a couple times. A final strike against this is the abrupt "to-be-continued" ending.

Howard Tayler's Schlock Mercenary is a long-running webcomic, done in the newspaper style, with a punchline at the end of each strip. Like most comic strips, I find the humor erratic. (The only daily comics that ever struck me as consistently funny were Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes, so my standards are admittedly rather high.) While the volume of Schlock Mercenary nominated for last year's Hugo Award had some funny moments, I'm sorry to say the new edition, subtitled The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, did not make me laugh. That doesn't leave much to hold interest, for the story is routine at best (our mercenary heroes deliver a shipment of food to a space station) and takes far too long to develop.

Aaron's Ballot for Best Graphic Story
1. Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert & Scott Williams - Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
2. Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk & Mike Collins, et al. - Captain Britain and MI13: Vampire State
3. Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, et al. - Fables: The Dark Ages
4. Kaja & Phil Foglio & Cheyenne Wright - Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm
5. Howard Tayler - Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

No comments: