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Top Shelf Comics

More Top Shelf Reviews


SUPER SPY
Written and Drawn by Matt Kindt

SUPER SPY is, without hesitation on my part, the best book Top Shelf has produced in the past year or better, including LOST GIRLS, and is an instant candidate for year-end honors and lists. Seriously- it’s that good.

Serialized online over the course of a year, SUPER SPY is a collection of fifty-two chapters dealing with the work done by spies in Europe during World War Two. Men and women, young and old, each has an agenda and a side… or two… or three. The only thing each character can be certain of is that one false step means a grisly, horrible end, whether from a bullet, a knife, or a garrote. But there’s a job to be done, and risks to be taken, damn the consequences. And while there should be no time for love or trust, each character, in their way, must deal with these distractions most of all. After all- there must be something to fight for, or there’s no reason to be involved. And if that reason is a person- so be it.

Matt Kindt’s previous graphic novel was the excellent 2 SISTERS, but this far surpasses it. What impresses most? Name it- the large number of well thought out characters? The sharp, minimalist dialogue? The stark, tightly drawn pages? The way the plot comes together in cohesive fashion in the final third of the book, when you spend the first two hundred pages not realizing that it’s all actually meant to be one larger story? Any of these reasons is enough to recommend the book, but bringing them together demonstrates what makes this a must read.

I don’t really want to say any more about the book, because it’s so full of surprises and so entertaining, that telling you more would ruin an incredible reading experience. Just trust me- go buy it.

Marc Mason

DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX
Written and Drawn by David Yurkovich

A chocolate maker on a visit to Switzerland finds his life changed forever in DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, David Yurkovich’s masterpiece of oddity. The candy creationist makes a horrific discovery: the Swiss chocolate stems from an alien, and that causes the American to be marked for death. Instead, he emerges from a vat of chocolate transformed into living chocolate, merged with the alien itself. Fueled by the creature’s rage, his ability to turn other items (including people) into chocolate leaves a trail of damage across the world, until he eventually gains control and becomes exactly what you (wouldn’t) expect: an F.B.I. agent. Partnered with a woman named Anderson, he is placed in the “Food Crimes Division” and sent out into the world to make it a better place. Hopefully, he won’t melt first.

Like his other books, including LESS THAN HEROES, Yurkovich’s gift for oddity takes center stage. But it all works; DEATH BY CHOCOLATE never delves into a sense of parody about its lead character. Instead, “Agent Swete” is portrayed as a tragic figure. His powers, such as they are, result in the deaths of an entire town. His handiwork causes the release of horrific creatures. Later chapters in the book have a bit more of a lighter tone to them, but the opening rounds set the reader on a particular emotional course, and the book generally doesn’t waver from there.

Much of the material here has been completely re-mastered for this collection, having appeared in bits and pieces elsewhere. The final story in the book, though, is brand new, and it is the one weak link. Why? Because it looks stiff and inorganic… and it just so happens that it’s the one bit that Yurkovich didn’t draw by hand- it was done completely in Photoshop (and it shows). Still, the rest of this stuff is so entertaining that I can’t do anything but recommend it highly. Yurkovich is a terrific talent- read this and see just how good he can be.

 

Marc Mason
 

LONE RACER
Written and Drawn by Nicolas Mahler
Translated by Mark Nevins

Lone Racer was the greatest in the world when it came to circling around the track. And thanks to that, he had fortune, fame, and a wife whom he loved dearly. But now he’s gotten older. There are younger racers dominating the circuit, and they hold Lone Racer in contempt. Now, he’s a has-been, eating their dust, and he’s struggling to even finish races. In fact, he’s losing sponsors and may not be able to get on the track at all. But the worst problem facing him is his wife’s health; she’s in the hospital, barely aware of her surroundings, and Lone Racer feels horribly, terribly adrift. Thankfully, he has his drinking buddy, Rubber, to hang out with and rehash old times.

LONE RACER surprises, as on the surface it appears to be a very simplistic, basic tale with a terrible punchline at the end. But looking below the surface, it’s quite an affecting story. Racer is struggling with his life, and yet when he turns to look around at his peers, so are they. He is a man with nowhere to turn, not really; even when another drinking buddy, Irksome, tries to rope Racer into robbing a bank, which would help pay Racer’s wife’s hospital bills, Irksome is ultimately someone too paralyzed by his fading existence to make a difference (negative though it might have been). He even tries dating (chastely), but Racer can never quite restart the beating of his heart the way it went when he was winning on the track. Faded glory is all he has left.

Mahler’s art is an acquired taste, but no question that his writing skills are sublime. It’s a pleasant thing to come across something that looks and feels so fluffy, but instead is filled with pathos. I have no real complaints about the book itself, though the production does let down on one point; the credits list a translator, but no mention of a previous place of publication or original language is given. That sort of thing is helpful to know when approaching a foreign work.

 

Marc Mason
 

FOX BUNNY FUNNY
Written and Drawn by Andy Hartzell

There are two types of people in the world: foxes and bunnies. Foxes are expected to be tough, strong, and vicious; bunnies are meant to be beaten, abused, and used as food. That’s the lesson every fox receives as it grows up. But one young fox has begun to ask himself questions. Very serious questions. And his thoughts and feelings about the nature of things have begun to lead him to a point where he can no longer control his curiosities and desires. But faced with an oppressive culture, how will he fare when forced out into the open and pushed towards what is believed to be “normal”?

Andy Hartzell’s FOX BUNNY FUNNY is a sharply written and drawn tragi-comedy that explores the nature of society’s role in forcing people to conform against their will and what happens to someone labeled a “deviant” in that society. To what lengths will they be pushed to prove that they “belong”? How long will turning one’s back to your true nature last before it explodes out of you?

Wrapped in a parable about the nature of the food chain, FOX BUNNY FUNNY is really a tale about how gays and transgender persons are treated in our society. Honestly, it’s so out there on the page that it barely qualifies as subtext. There’s humor throughout the book, but it serves mostly to illustrate just how painful a predicament that the young fox finds himself in. But Hartzell maintains at least the smallest element as he pushes forward, and delivers an ending that satisfies and uplifts in a way that you don’t quite expect.

Done completely without dialogue, FOX BUNNY FUNNY works as well as it does not only because of the terrific story, but also because of the amazing storytelling on the page. There’s never the slightest question about what’s happening; every little bit of what’s happening makes sense on its own merits. You don’t need to be told a single damned thing. Except, that is, to pick up this absolutely terrific book.

 

Marc Mason
 


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