Readers of The Lost Art

Criminal vol. 1: Coward

May 29th, 2009

Criminal vol. 1: Coward

Criminal vol. 1: Coward

Writer:        Ed Brubaker

Artist:         Sean Phillips

Reviewer:     Louise


Reading a little like “100 Bullets” crossed with “The Usual Suspects”, “Coward” is a gripping film noir-ish suspense thriller following the tale of Leo. Though a criminal and master heist-planner, Leo has strict principles: no guns, thorough planning beforehand, and stick to the plan, hence his nickname of “coward”. Against Leo’s better judgement, however, he becomes involved in a risky heist, during which things go completely wrong. Whilst on the run, Leo must challenge his own principles – whilst staying desperately to stay alive.

“Coward” is worthy addition to the genre of crime comics. It contains all the classic ingredients: a lead character with a criminal record, but a sense of personal morality, bad guys on his tale, a tough femme fatale, and plenty of violence. Crucially, though, Brubaker can really write. The plot, though convoluted, is never so complicated it becomes impossible to follow. The pacing, too, is good, with enough space in between the slam-bang action to allow us to get to know Leo as he grapples with the situation he’s in.

We quickly understand why he is the way he is, even as we increasingly fear for the safety of both himself and the woman he’s on the run with. I did particularly appreciate the fact that Greta, the woman on the run with Leo, is far more than a “love interest”. Though she’s not the main character, she has her own personality and story arc, which is rare in this genre. The artwork, too, is excellent; clear and well-suited to the story. Recommended.


Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (24 Aug 2007)

ISBN-10: 1845766105

All Star Superman: Vol. 1

May 20th, 2009

All Star Superman vol. 1

All Star Superman vol. 1

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  Frank Quitely

Reviewer:  Louise


 Like Batman, Superman seems to have been around for ever. Unlike Batman, it’s harder for the casual reader to see how he could be reinvented for the new darker, more self-aware era of comics so perfectly exemplified by “The Dark Knight”. After all, he’s not human. He didn’t have a traumatic childhood. He married the love of his life. Dammit, he’s far too happy to be a modern superhero… or is he?

At this point I must state my own position with regard to comics. I started out by watching the X-Men cartoon series as a kid, found the local comics shop and discovered that the actual books were way more interesting. Graphical storytelling (and yes, I know that sentence qualifies me for Pseud’s Corner, but I hate writing “comic books” lest people think I read the Beano) has been a great hobby of mine for years, but, because I started on Marvel’s output aged twelve, I kind of missed out the DC “classic” universe of heroes, going straight to DC Vertigo when I hit my misunderstood teenage years. (I hope at some point these will end. I’m still waiting.)

I can reel off a shopping list of DC heroes – Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash – but ask me for anything other than the basic details and I’m in the dark. They always just seemed too goody-two-shoes when I was younger, and I’ve never really had the time to catch up, not when there are so many interesting “adult” graphic novels out there (Maus, Fun Home, Watchman, From Hell) needing to be devoured.

In “All-Star Superman”, however, Grant Morrison proves both to me and anyone else who happens to be reading that it is possible to do something genuinely new and interesting with Superman by giving him the “million-dollar budget” treatment. The classic example of this, of course, is The Authority, in which the sheer scale of what’s going on – wiping out entire countries, killing “God” – is enough to make the reader’s jaw drop. To make this work, however, the writer has to manage the tricky balancing act between the scale of what’s happening and the humanity of the characters.

Which may be an odd word to apply to Superman, but Morrison manages it very well by [SPOILER… ] setting up a situation from the beginning in which Superman is mortally injured by being over-exposed to solar radiation. Suddenly, like everyone else, he must confront the fact that he will eventually die. This underscores the entire comic, juxtaposing the themes of life and mortality against a world in which Superman can dive into the sun to save a spaceship, create a key to his Fortress of Solitude that only he can lift from the dense matter of a dead star, kiss Lois Lane on the surface of the moon, and play “fetch” with his pet dog Krypto across the entire Milky Way. It really is stunningly good, and made me care about Clark Kent / Superman in a way which no-one else has managed. Suddenly, he’s interesting.

The artwork too is amazing. I could single out something on nearly every page that is worthy of a special mention, but I’ll agree with the introductory notes that Frank Quitely’s treatment of well-meaning, klutzy, baggy-suited, bespectacled Clark Kent should take pride of place. Suddenly, you realise why no-one would ever think this guy was Superman.

The only thing I would say is that if, like me, you’re not au fait with the mythology of Superman, you will probably miss a layer of references and reworkings that the fans will get instantly. Then again, this may not be a bad thing. Comics that rely entirely on in-jokes and in-house references have, by definition, a limited audience of fanboys and fangirls. Having read this without having been a life-long Superman fan, I still enjoyed it.

All that’s left for me to say now is, go read it. If only for the truly brilliant eight-word summing up of Superman’s origins. Really. It’s that good.


Paperback:  160 pages

Publisher:  Titan Books Ltd (24 Oct 2008)

ISBN-10:  1845763947

Three Shadows

May 14th, 2009

Three Shadows

Three Shadows

Writer and Artist:       Cyril Pedrosa

Reviewer:                    Louise


Lisse, Carlos, and their young son Joachim live an idyllic life on their farm, until one day three mysterious shadows appear on the horizon. In seeking a way to prevent their family being haunted, Lisse and Carlos are horrified to learn from the local wise woman that the shadows have come for their son, and there is no way to stop them. Whilst Lisse accepts this, Carlos refuses to, and takes Joachim on the run, desperately seeking a way to save his child – at any price. 

“Three Shadows” was inspired by the death of Cyril Pedrosa’s friends’ young child, and as such it deals with one of the most harrowing questions of all: what price would a parent pay to save their child from what seems like an inevitable fate? If this sounds like a gloomy read, it’s not; Pedrosa leavens it with his own almost cartoon-like style (he once worked as an animator for Disney). Parts of the book are very funny, and the author performs the impressive feat of implying an entire world, without needing to spell out exactly when and where the action is taking place. 

Particularly impressive is the depiction of the relationship between Carlos and Joachim. A happy father-son relationship is rarely depicted in graphic novels, still less that between a father and a young son. The scenes where the two of them play together, intercut with those showing Carlos’ fear and rage at the thought of any harm coming to his child, make the reader sincerely hope that he will succeed in his quest, even as we increasingly wonder whether he can. 

The only real criticism I would make is to echo that made by another reviewer elsewhere on the Internet. Towards the end, the “Three Shadows” of the title have what he describes as an “irrelevant side adventure”, a description which I rather agree with. It’s not that their story isn’t interesting, just that it rather detracts from the momentum built up by the earlier story, and reads almost like it would have been better included elsewhere, maybe as a short story in an anthology. That said, this isn’t a fatal flaw, and I would recommend “Three Shadows” to anyone ready for a tale of fatherhood and love in graphic format. 


Paperback:   272 pages

Publisher:     First Second; 1st American Ed edition (26 Jun 2008)

ISBN-10:        159643239X

Fun Home

May 8th, 2009

Fun Home

Fun Home

Writer and Artist: Alison Bechdel

Reviewer: Louise


“One of the most eagerly anticipated graphic memoirs of recent years, “Fun Home” is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel’s sweetly gothic drawings. Like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, it’s a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form. Meet Alison’s father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter’s complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned ‘fun home’, as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic, and redemptive.” (Synopsis from


“Fun Home” sits in the same genre as Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”. Not quite a “misery memoir” – they’re both too well-written and un-self-pitying for that – but each tells the tale of a young woman’s difficult childhood and early adulthood. Lest I give the impression that either is worthy or dull, I should say that both are sufficiently well-drawn, and laced with enough black humour and sharp observations on human nature, to make reading them, if not a comfortable experience, then certainly a rewarding one.

Fun Home, as described in the synopsis above, tells the tale of Bechdel’s difficult relationship with her father. The name is both the family’s abbreviation of “funeral home” (their family business) and an acid comment on life with the family. Peeking in at other people’s unconventional families is always something of a guilty pleasure, and her family – particularly her father – are certainly that. His obsession with restoring the family home impacts on the lives of all its inhabitants, so much so that Bechdel recounts how she herself developed obsessive-compulsive disorder during her early teens.

Her drawing and writing definitely capture the claustrophobic sense of living in a family with a Big Secret, and it’s quite a relief when she escapes to college and meets her first girlfriend. Their times together are tenderly drawn, and it is refreshing to see a relationship between two women who actually resemble real people being depicted with warmth and humanity in a graphic novel.

Reading “Fun Home” is frequently an uncomfortable experience. Apparently Bechdel carefully plotted each scene, sometimes going so far as to pose as her father in some of the scenes and have someone take photographs. You do wonder whether the book’s publication was an entirely welcome experience for the rest of her family; there are times when the reader feels very much like a voyeur.

That said, reading it does very much give a sense of the impact of society’s attitudes to sexuality on the lives of the families of people who felt forced to live a lie, yet at the same time it’s never preachy. Ultimately, “Fun Home” is about family relationships, and how they change as we grow older. All of us go through this, and if our own families aren’t as dysfunctional as Bechdel’s (or so we hope), then we still learn from seeing how, as an adult, she tried to forge a relationship with her father. The final chapter is very well-written – not a sugar-sweet ending, but realistic and containing a note of hope. Recommended. 

Paperback:  240 pages

Publisher:   Jonathan Cape Ltd (14 Sep 2006)

ISBN-10:     0224080512


May 1st, 2009



Writers:          Rosario Dawson, David Atchison

Artist:             Tony Shasteen

Reviewer:      Louise

In which N.Y.P.D detective Sophia Ortiz (modeled on actress Rosario Dawson) stumbles upon a bizarre murder scene, and is recruited into a covert police unit – the Occult Crimes Taskforce. Can she stop the killer in time?

 I haven’t really a whole lot to say about this book, though I am trying. I can’t fault the artwork, and the plot isn’t too bad… I think for me the problem is.. well… did anyone else read the plot description above and think “Hmm, this sounds oddly familiar?” It is a very well-worn plot – the first episode of Torchwood is almost exactly the same.

Which, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. The first episode of just about any series featuring a secret or specialist “team” of some sort or other -vampire slayers, occult crime investigators, ordinary crime scene investigators, cyberwarriors fighting the Matrix, supervillains – will focus on the newbie a) finding out about the team, b) discovering they have a major role to play – often in the face of scepticism from the regular team members – and c) winning their way onto it. Unless of course the author is going for variation #1 on this plot; newbie doesn’t want to be recruited onto the team and has to be won over. Either way, it’s pretty familiar.

 It’s not so much whether the plot is new, as how the author handles it. Unfortunately, for me, neither the characters nor the scenario were really fresh or engaging enough to prevent the overwhelming feeling of “been there, done that”.


Paperback: 152 pages

Publisher: Image Comics (27 Jun 2007)

ISBN-10: 1582406758