Archive for the ‘Comics & Graphic Novels’ Category

Book Review: Doctor Strange the Oath – Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Once upon a time Doctor Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon and an arrogant man-of-the world seduced by material wealth. One fateful day, a tragic car accident deprived him of his surgical skills. After hearing rumours of the mystical Ancient One, Strange went to the East to ask this mystical master to cure his hands. The Ancient One refused and instead offered to teach Strange in mysticism. Stephen Strange became the Ancient One’s student and later the Sorcerer Supreme – earth’s first line of defence against magical menace.

I know, all of the above sounds a bit corny. Frankly, until recently I wouldn’t call myself a Doctor Strange-fan. Since Strange is one of the residents of the Marvel Universe, he frequently guess-starred in comics I read, be it Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four or Avengers. However, the fair Doctor did make an impression in those stories, and maybe that’s why I picked up a big pile of Doctor Strange-comics when I came across them in a sale at a local comic book store last year. After reading a couple of these comics from the late eighties, early nineties, written by Roy and Dann Thomas, I was hooked on the wonderful mystical world in which Strange operates. I also grew fond of his interesting and weird supporting cast: his apprentice is a green alien bull and his brother a vampire, to name just two oddities that stand out. Also it seems that the mage has become quite a nice guy and seems a total different person from the selfish surgeon he once was.

Currently the good doctor doesn’t have a series of his own, but every once in a while Marvel Comics publishes a limited series, like The Oath: a five-part story that got collected in one volume in 2013. The Oath is written by Brian K. Vaughan, best known for intelligent and entertaining series like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Saga. The artwork is by Marcos Martín, who uses a wonderful personal style that looks a bit retro while still feeling contemporary.

In The Oath, Doctor Strange’s servant Wong is suffering from a brain tumor. Medical science may be unable to treat it, but the master of the mystique knows of an elixir, which is kept in a deadly dimension, that might cure his good friend. After fighting a monstrous entity that guards the elixir and returning home, they soon discover that there is more to this elixir than meets the eye. When a burglar is hired by a big pharmaceutical company to steal it from Strange’s house, the Sorcerer Supreme gets shot during the robbery.

Vaughan treats the reader to an interesting and fast-paced story that has a couple of unexpected twists and turns, and ties Doctor Strange’s past to current affairs. He also manages to put forward an ethical dilemma within the relatively limited confines of the superhero comic book, which makes it even more interesting.

Two things bothered me a little bit, though: knowing Strange from the stories by Roy Thomas, Vaughan’s characterisation of Strange seems a bit off when he lets the doctor curse and swear. I am not against swearing in general and in the past I have heard the mage exclaim stuff like: ‘By the hoary hosts of hoggoth!’. But hearing mundane curse words coming out of the mouth of Stephen Strange seems a bit out of character. Another thing that bothered me is this: in the past there were stories in which Strange’s hands were cured and he could operate again. In The Oath the fact that Stephen’s nerve endings aren’t fixed is an important part of the story. This could be an error in continuity, but since it is not clearly stated when The Oath takes place within Doctor Strange’s history and it therefore could be a tale from the early days before his hands got fixed, I am willing to turn a blind eye.

Since I probably sounded like a total continuity nerd just now, I will stop rambling, and leave you with the recommendation that The Oath is a pretty good start if you want to get to know the wonderfully groovy world of Doctor Strange.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website,

Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martín also work together on digital comic The Private Eye.

Image credit:  panel taken from

Book Review: Battling Boy – Paul Pope

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Even though in the past superhero comics were mainly aimed at kids, there weren’t a lot of child characters that were superheroes. Sometimes kids, or shall I say teens, were sidekicks, like Batman’s Robin. When the Amazing Spider-Man was introduced in 1962, it was the first time a teenager became the hero. And what a smash success it was, and to this day, still is. Since then, teenage superheroes are a lot more common. DC Comics has The Teen Titans for instance, and Marvel The New Mutants and Power Pack, which is a team that consists only of kids. Now American comic book writer/artist Paul Pope (THB, Batman: Year One Hundred) brings us Battling Boy.

The city of Arcopolis is ruled by fear: monsters roam the city streets and a gang of terrorists, lead by a ghoul named Sadisto, is kidnapping children. When the city champion Haggard West is killed, his sidekick daughter Aurora tries to step into West’s footsteps. Unknown to her, the demigod Battling Boy is sent to Earth by his parents on the eve of 13th birthday. It’s time for the boy’s ‘rambling’: in their culture, the rite of passage into adulthood consists a trial which teen boys must undergo. For Battling Boy this means it is up to him to fight the monsters and make Arcopolis a safe place again. Twelve enchanted T-shirts that imbue him with the powers of animal totems, a special cloak and an invisible credit card are the boy’s tools in accomplishing this immense task or die trying.

With Battling Boy, Pope specifically aims for a young audience. In an interview with he said the following about that particular choice:

‘It’s not that I don’t think modern comics aren’t accessible to kids, they can be. I just wanted to do something which has all of the cool stuff I remember loving from Silver Age comics and Heavy Metal. I wanted to do a story which had that, but the story is accessible for young readers as well. We all know many modern comics are aimed at readers who started in the Silver and Bronze Age. Guys my age at least (I am 43). I want to make material which will get new readers hooked on comics for life. Many of the kids I am meeting at seeing Battling Boy and I can tell it is their first comic book. That’s cool, it’s assuring future readers.’

Because Pope aims at teenagers, it is not surprising that most adult characters in this book – except the heroic Haggard West and Battling Boy’s parents – are either sleazy politicians like the major of Arcopolis, helpless parents whose kids get kidnapped or baddies who do the kidnapping. The mayor of the city tries to score points with his constituency by organising a big parade to introduce the new hero as ‘Arco-Lad’, who he the tries to use as a stooge. Here Pope shows his mistrust of institutions, bureaucrats and button-pushers, also seen in earlier work like Batman: Year One Hundred and The Ballad of Doctor Richardson. In Battling Boy he translates this theme into a worldview that must appeal to adolescents who by nature rebel against their elders. For Battling Boy it seems safer to mistrust adults all together, since none of them seem to be reliable partners. Let’s hope Aurora is able to give the lad a hand since Boy’s first fights with evil are anything but flawless.

Pope seems to know the hero’s journey as written by American mythologist Joseph Campbell by heart and clearly used it as a structural reference while composing the comic. He also refers to Silver Age comic books and Jack Kirby-style characters such as Battling Boy’s father, who seems to be a nod at Marvel comics’s mighty Thor. (On a funny note: this guy never takes off his helmet.)

I thought the people of Arcopolis were actually quite passive and seemed to be in a constant need of saving. This set-up might be a great stage for a kid superhero, but seems a bit too contrived for my taste. The story raises a couple of questions, like where do the monsters and ghouls come from, but Pope doesn’t address these in this first instalment of Battling Boy. Since this volume is only part one of a series, and not a completed story, I suspect answers will be given in future chapters. Be advised that after reading some 200 pages, a cliffhanger is waiting, leaving you wanting more.

Besides these minor points, Battling Boy is an entertaining, accessible, fast-paced coming-of-age story disguised as a superhero yarn dipped in some magic sauce, and actually quite entertaining for adults as well as kids.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website,

THB and The Ballad of Doctor Richardson are currently not in print.  They are available through our supplier of second-hand books (the copies currently available aren’t cheap, though!).  Contact us for more information regarding second-hand books.

Book Review: Peter Pan – Regis Loisel

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Peter Pan by French comic book artist Régis Loisel has been a wonderful reading experience. It’s been a while a graphic story was able to suck me in with great art and ditto storytelling but Loisel’s Peter Pan more than lived up to my expectations.

First of all, Loisel’s graphic novel is not a mere adaptation of J. M. Barrie Peter and Wendy, the classic story that has been adapted numerous times and itself was Barrie’s adaptation of his own stage play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Loisel has made a sequel to Barrie’s novel in which he relates the origin story of the beloved Peter Pan character. Readers who are only familiar with the Disney incarnation are in for a surprise, because this is a dark and brooding tale aimed at adults, not kids. Loisel shows us how a young lower-class kid named Peter came to be Peter Pan, how the Pirate Captain became Captain Hook and how even seemingly lovely fantasy lands can have terrible secrets.

London, Winter 1887. Peter is a young boy who entertains his friends with stories and fantasies. Because all his friends live in an orphanage, one particular popular subject is Peter’s mum. They like to hear about how loving she is and how much she likes to take care of her little boy, which is as far from the truth as possible: Peter’s mum is an alcoholic who hates Peter’s guts. His only adult friend is Mister Kundal, the proprietor of a bar who feeds Peter food and stories. The world Peter lives in is very unfriendly to kids and all adults seem to be lowlifes craving booze and sex. It’s like Dickens with raging hormones. Peter basically hates all adults, except Mr. Kundal, and despises the sexualised Victorian London he lives in so much that he vows to never grow up and become a ‘dirty’ adult. When Peter’s mum has kicked him out of the house, he spends the night at the docks. Then a fairy appears whom Peter names Tinker Bell. She lets Peter fly through the air and takes him with her to Neverland, where fantastical creatures of all sorts welcome him as their savior from the dreaded Pirates that try to steal their treasure.

Peter, being the product of his times and upbringing, is quite the foulmouthed misogynist, calling Tinker Bell a slut at times, but basically is as stubborn and egotistical as every kid his age. On a side note: as if Pete’s world wasn’t dark enough, somehow Loisel ties Pan’s origin to the legend of Jack the Ripper as well. So yes, this Peter Pan-story is a bit on the dark side, but still Loisel offers a delightful adventure with well-rounded characters.

That’s all I want to say about the set up of the story, actually, because this comic’s wonders are best discovered by the readers themselves. Just prepare yourself for a wild, interesting and at times violent ride. The artwork by fantasy veteran Loisel looks stunning and lively; Tinker Bell has never looked so sexy. But be careful with this feisty little fairy, because she gets quite jealous and can be ruthless.

Peter Pan was originally published in France in six volumes between 1990 and 2005. Last year Soaring Penguin Press published the first English translation including all six albums in one big, high quality omnibus. I am surprised it has taken so long for an English version of this book to appear, but better late than Never(land), I’d say.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website,

Panel from Peter Pan: London taken from

Book Review: The Fifth Beatle – Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

When I was a teenager I found my father’s Beatles record collection in the attic (we’re talking vinyl, by the way). Ever since then, to me The Beatles has been the most important band on earth, ever. To this day, their music resonates within my soul, forming a large and interesting part of the soundtrack of my life. I guess everyone will be familiar with the Fab Four from Liverpool, so no further introduction is needed. Unfortunately, often the same can’t be said about their manager, Brian Epstein, who is far lesser known than John, Paul, George and Ringo.

One could fill a library with the large number of books that have been published about the Beatles over the years. In the last couple of years, a couple of comic books about the boys from Liverpool came out and now there is The Fifth Beatle: the Brian Epstein Story to complement the lot. Graphic biographies are quite the trend in comic book land, it seems, and while generally speaking most of them are a bit stale and predictably follow the high and low points of someone’s life, some of them offer a good read. Fortunately, The Fifth Beatle, written by Broadway theatre producer Vivek Tiwary and expertly drawn by Andrew C. Robinson, is one of the latter category.

The book tells the story of the young and talented Brian Epstein who saw the Beatles play in the basement club The Cavern in Liverpool in 1961, when he was twenty-seven years old. Brian was running his family’s music store and had tried his hand at fashion design before that. He decided to manage the Beatles and thanks to Epstein’s perseverance and vision they became an international success. Tiwary tells a very layered tale, not shying away from the dark episodes of Epstein’s life. Epstein was a gay man living in an area in which, according to British law, being gay was illegal. Even though he successfully managed the Beatles and other popular British acts, Brian kept focusing on his mistakes, feeling out of place and lonely, and trying to find a place to belong. He became addicted to drugs. Brian died at age 32, accidentally overdosing on sleeping pills.

The book focuses on Epstein, letting the Beatles play second fiddle, which is fine, because Epstein’s story deserves to be told.

I like the fact that Tiwary uses juxtaposition as a literary device. In a brilliantly executed sequence Epstein is meeting Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, for lunch. Parker is depicted as a greedy, ruthless and red-eyed devil who wolfs down his food, while Brian is shown to be a modest, well-mannered gentleman who hardly touches the grapefruit he ordered.

Robinson uses a very lively style that sits between caricature and realism, which works well with Tiwary’s tone of voice, which is serious and witty at the same time.

Cartoonist Kyle Baker got to draw some of the more unfortunate episodes in the history of the Beatles, like their troublesome tour in the Philippines and the backlash from John Lennon’s infamous ‘We’re bigger than Jesus!’ comment. Baker uses a cartoon-y drawing style that pays homage to the Beatles cartoon series, and the overall tone of this section of the book is brighter and funnier. In my opinion, since it doesn’t match with the rest of the book stylistically, it could have been left out.

‘As it turns out,’ the writer explains in his afterword, ‘almost everything in the pages you’ve just read actually did happen. But conveying the truth – while important – has never been my primary goal. My goal with The Fifth Beatle is to use 130 pages of my words and Andrew C. Robinson’s gorgeous art to reveal not just the facts but the poetry behind the Brian Epstein Story.’ As far as I am concerned, Tiwary succeeded very well in his intention. The Fifth Beatle is an interesting graphic poem.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website,

This Just In: Comics & Graphic Novels

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Six Recently-Arrived Titles from the Comics & Graphic Novels Section:

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