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NBM Publishing

More NBM Reviews!

Writer and Artist Uncredited
Published by Papercutz

Stepping off Cartoon Network and into comics, TOTALLY SPIES makes a successful jump to a new medium. The cartoon and comics feature the adventures of three high school girls who, when they aren’t worried about vapid pursuits like getting manicures, battle evil as spies for WHOOP (World Organization of Human Protection). The gag is, that, no matter what odd place the trio may find themselves, random bits of machinery move and drop the girls into their headquarters and into the presence of their boss Jerry.

Each graphic novel features two stories, and the stories are fairly compressed, meaning there’s a lot of content within these books. Jerry sends the girls off to the future in one story, where they discover that their school rival Mandy has taken over the world; in another, a villain uses a strange weapon to age everyone and their clothes back to the 80s; in yet another, an old foe of the girls causes Mandy to grow to 50ft tall and go on a rampage. These tails are briskly paced, snappily written, and certainly harmless, making them perfect for fans of the cartoon that find the books on the shelves, or any other young reader (particularly female) you might be looking to buy a gift for this holiday season.

As much as I enjoyed these two volumes, and as nicely as they are produced, I was left with one qualm about them: the lack of writing and art credits (not to mention color). I know that licensed comics are always tricky from any point of view, but to deny credit for 180 pages of what had to be hard work does not sit well with me; these creators deserve plaudits for their work, not anonymity.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Naomi Nowak

Luca is a young woman with a life that is barely her own; her father is dead, her mother is institutionalized, and her sister is on the way to be institutionalized herself. So she has very little time to develop herself, outside of the college classes she manages to squeeze in here and there. But as bleak as things might seem for her, there is a creeping fear that they will only get worse, as questions arise as to whether or not her father was actually murdered because of his work (on primate development, a subject not well-loved by the local religious zealotry) and whether or not the church-based hospital taking care of her mother and sibling have sized her up for their fate. No one likes questions that threaten to un-bury the past, after all. Then, yet, she might just be kinda crazy. Who’s to say?

UNHOLY KINSHIP is the first graphic novel from Nowak, a young (21) Swede. Her art is the most striking aspect of the book, a lovely melding of classic Euro styling and manga. Her ability to create and capture scenes through the use of color is very strong as well. She’s clearly a gifted artist, and I’m intriguing to see where and how her art will grow as she refines her technique; these pages suggest that creating painted pages might be a direction for her to take over time.

When the book does falter at various moments, it is within the confines of the story, not the art. Nowak doesn’t quite explain until very late in the story why the church-based institution carries so much power over the girls, even though they’re legal adults, and it gets frustrating and confusing. The subplot about the pair’s father gets undercooked as well; Nowak starts picking up a bit of steam with it in the final third of the story, and then pulls back away from it and never returns. While I realized that the idea being conveyed was that it didn’t matter and only the sisters sticking together did, the swerving towards the father plotline wound up only serving Luca’s descent and provided no answers.

Still, these are pitfalls that you see from many younger creators as they find their footing, and I would expect she’ll become a stronger storyteller with her next effort. This is a very good debut, literate and thoughtful, and I look forward to more from this talented creator.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, and Kerascoet

The DUNGEON saga, which takes place over decades, sees another piece of its conclusion fall into place with this latest effort from some of Europe’s greatest creators. When last we left the TWILIGHT era, Marvin the Dragon was blind, had lost his arms, was known to most as the Dust King, and was on one final quest in the hopes that he would finally be allowed to die. But fate was not being so kind to this old warrior; his old friend Herbert the Duck had become evil and was interfering with his quest. And omens seemed to indicate that Marvin was, indeed, immortal.

Picking up, Marvin and his traveling comrades (including a rabbit named Marvin the Red) are escaping Herbert’s forces and heading deeper into the dungeon lands to continue the Dust King’s final journey. But almost immediately, a new problem arises to affect everyone in the lands: the dungeon world shatters to pieces and falls apart. Various lands begin to move and float through the sky, creating new subkingdoms, different travel issues, and other such hurdles. For an idea of what I mean, consider that you may wish to go to one land, but it may not float within jumping or flying distance for weeks or months at a time. So you may have to plot a course through the other islands, or just wait.

Rather than stealing the spotlight or drawing attention away from Marvin’s quest, though, this change in the dungeon world merely enhances the background and makes his journey all the more fascinating. What it boils down to is his desire to return home and to change the politics of dragon society before he dies. This revolves around why he lost his eyes, which I won’t spoil for you, and presents a richly dramatic scenario for the reader: there’s a lot more to the dragon than you would have ever imagined when you first began reading the DUNGEON books years ago.

Kerascoet are a husband/wife art team, and they step in to help Sfar and Trondheim in the second half of the book. Their addition is basically seamless; I’d actually forgotten that there was a change, period. Really, more power to the entire creative team. This series of books has been so good, for so long, that it truly ranks as a classic. Any new release is cause for celebration, and this is no different.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Luis Royo

Hmm. The last time a new art book by Luis Royo crossed my desk, it made my end-of-the-year top ten list. So I’ll admit to reacting with strong enthusiasm when DARK LABYRINTH hit my mailbox. After all… at this point, Royo has already achieved legendary status, and he’s one of the finest fantasy painters in the world. So what could go wrong?

Absolutely nothing as it turns out.

DARK not only presents Royo’s amazing artwork on heavy paper that holds his color schemes about as well as you could ask for; Royo also uses his art to propel along a story. The story tells us of a young man who visits his favorite artist in an effort to discover why the man’s art has turned from sensual to dark. But rather than explain to the young man, the artist makes him his apprentice… and sets him upon a path to discover what the artist already knows: the darkness within his heart… and within the younger man’s as well.

What astonishes about Royo’s work isn’t just the lush beauty he layers into sometimes grotesque or frightening backgrounds; it’s the raw sensuality of the men and women he places his focus upon. As an added highlight, portions of Royo’s sketches are placed throughout the book, and even the simplest of pencil pieces explodes with the radiance his paintings eventually exude. The power of an artist lies in his ability to captivate and attract, even to those things we might shy away from. Personally, I can get lost in much of Royo’s work. This volume amply demonstrates why.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Richard Moore

BONEYARD’s fifth volume gets off to an interesting start with a note from Moore in his “what came previously” remarks before the story gets underway, and it’s an important designation. Volume four ended on a cliffhanger, which was kind of unusual for the series, and Moore admits that was a blunder on his part. Having been mystified by the absence of the final issue of the previous storyline, I appreciated the mea culpa and that he explained what happened. Always easy to respect someone who admits an error.

Moving past that, and getting into the story, Moore does his almost sleepily typical excellent work of throwing his characters into the mix and turning out wonderful stories. For those unfamiliar with the series, BONEYARD is about a man named Michael Paris who inherits a graveyard full of strange creatures, including a fetching vampire named Abbey, and how the group deals with supernatural oddities and waits for Michael and Abbey to admit their feelings for one another. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s adventurous… and Moore can draw like a madman. One of those truly unsung talents in comics, mainly because he prefers working on his own material and hasn’t blown it off to go draw a giant crossover for Marvel or DC.

Moore also enjoys playing with horror film genres and how they affect his cast, so in this book we not only get the conclusion of a zombie thriller, but Abbey heads off to work undercover at a summer camp where a serial killer is terrorizing the populace. It’s all done in good fun and spirit, but there’s also a serious aspect to it as well, as the violence gets very real, and an old foe returns to the book to do terrible things to the characters.

However, it all comes together nicely, resulting in some clever storytelling and an ending that feels both marvelously satisfying and somewhat gratuitous. Which makes Moore something of an idiot savant, I suppose, and keeps me smiling and anticipating the next volume in the series.

Marc Mason

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