Graphic Novel Friday: Best Graphic Novels of May

CageThe sun is shining, spring is in the air (I'm sneezing but happy), and there are great comics to discuss.

Welcome to the last Friday of the month and to our picks for Best Comics and Graphics Novels of May.

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Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn and Quarterly): Writer/artist Jillian Tamaki is on one heck of a successful creative streak: She and cousin Mariko were awarded a Caldecott Honor for the New York Times-bestselling This One Summer, and then Jillian published another New York Times bestseller with the funny vignette collection SuperMutant Magic Academy. With Boundless, she maintains the vignette approach, but this collection of stories sees the artist exploring greater emotional depths. In “1. Jenny,” the protagonist finds a mirror version of herself on social media and becomes at first curious, then obsessed, resentful (“The tiny ponytail was the last straw…”), and eventually—well, I won’t spoil it. Here, Tamaki chooses to sparingly drop text into her narratives, often juxtaposing them against images that do not immediately relate, or they need to be rotated on the page to fully grasp (as with the two stories that bookend the collection, complete with animal POVs). Jilliantamaki_boundless_birdIt makes for a ponderous read, and her stories involve plenty of introspection as well, like “Bedbug,” where a couple confronts exhaustion as a result of an infestation. Perhaps the most immediately intriguing story is “Sexcoven,” focusing on a single music track that is anonymously uploaded online, only to inspire multiple teen deaths and a cult. Tamaki’s artistic choices vary between stories and sometimes within the narratives themselves, but she opts to limit her palette to rarely more than two colors per story. It’s curious, conscious decisions like these that keep the reader lingering, and Boundless is one more Jillian Tamaki book warranting just that.
 

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Wonder Woman Vol. 2: Year One by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott (DC Comics): Just in time for her big-screen solo adventure in cinemas, Wonder Woman finally has a new-reader-friendly title from DC Comics. (Of course it comes confusingly titled “Volume 2,” because this is a superhero comic after all, but that “2” can be entirely ignored.) Writer Rucka returns to the character to tell her origin story, one that showcases not only the strength of the Amazon warrior princess but also her heart, and this new retelling revisits the themes that have kept her a part of the social consciousness for over 75 years. Wonder Woman’s homeland sees its first man crash-land on its shore, and the meeting between Steve Trevor and Diana kicks off a series of events that leads to her powers manifesting and to her arrival on foreign soil (ours). It’s a familiar enough origin story but one with plenty of action to keep longtime readers engaged. Plus, there’s that gorgeous line-work by Nicola Scott, who imbues Wonder Woman with equal parts power and charm.
 

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Cage! by Genndy Tartakovsky (Marvel Comics): Sure, hero Luke Cage now has his own television show where he is brooding, conflicted, and tortured by the curse that is his superhero gift—you know, like most superheroes these days. Instead of all that grimness, Genndy Tartakovsky, the animation genius behind programs like Samurai Jack, turns his skills to the page with great success and obvious love. In Cage!, the titular hero is brightly dressed and returns to his goofier roots of the 1970s, where villains named The Bank Rollers strut in rollerskates with bags full of money. At first, it’s all hilarious dialogue and bell bottoms (while deftly avoiding some of the earlier, more problematic portrayals the character has experienced), but Cage soon finds himself far from home and against villains far from human. Yes, it’s silly and yes, the artwork and writing recall a Saturday cartoon more than a modern dirge, but it’s a welcome change of pace for the character and superheroes in general. Smile once in a while when reading a comic, ya dig? Shapow!
 

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On the Camino by Jason (Fantagraphics): After years of fictional tales involving characters in outlandish but deadpan situations, the Norwegian artist Jason turns to…travel memoir? It’s a bizarre choice that nicely fits into his already peculiar bibliography, but fans need not fear: Jason keeps his anthropomorphic aesthetic. As he travels in Spain along the Camino de Santiago, Jason (in dog-person form) travels alone, despite being surrounded by other travelers on a train, in hostels, and with groups. His anxiety and inability to connect are also expressed in his usual, unblinking portrayal of events and interactions. This, in turn, carries over into the reader’s experience of reading a travel memoir that neither illuminates the destination nor the subject—at least initially. As with most of Jason’s works, the longer one invests, the more is revealed, and the same is true here, as Jason does eventually open up into splash pages of beautiful scenery and character interaction. While not as immediately humorous as previous Jason collections, On the Camino is a unique entry into a unique body of work, encouraging exploration as much as it does head-scratching.
 
--Alex
 

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