The Impostor's Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell [Little, Brown and Company; $24.99] is one of the best graphic novels of the year in a year when there are treasures a'plenty. It's a modern-day quest tale wherein the cartoonist seeks the truth about her mad, prevaricating father and, in doing so, must also discover who she herself is. There are demons - inner demons - to be slain on this quest as she unravels literally decades of her father's fanciful lies and shattered relationships.
From the opening pages, Sandell's father looms large. He is a brilliant man and capable of being very supportive of her art and other efforts. Yet he is a mass of contradictions with his tales of high adventure and achievement and his reality of odd behavior and multiple frauds.
Once Sandell is of age to travel, her own life takes amazing twists and turns. She travels the world, becomes a Tokyo stripper, tracks down her father's oldest relatives, and eventually ends up interviewing stars like Ashley Judd. Living with her pretentious father gives her a knack for relating to celebrities on a personal level, as much a friend as a journalist.
Sandell's drawing is expressive and her storytelling is spot on. Colorist Paige Pooler enhances the work with her commanding, vibrant hues. The result is a can't-put-it-down hardcover graphic novel that looks great.
I was not a huge fan of the Sub-Mariner series that appeared in Tales To Astonish from 1965 to 1968. The other double-feature books from Marvel had such favorites as Captain America, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and others. I thought Namor was a good character, but, flawed as their stories often were, I had liked Giant-Man and the Wasp better and was disappointed when they were replaced by the Sub-Mariner. But, rereading the stories in Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1 [Marvel; $19.99] has given me a new appreciation for those underwater adventures.
The 504-page black-and-white collection opens with the classic Daredevil #7, one of the greatest stories in Marvel history. The one-sided battle between the proud, angry Namor and a Daredevil desperate to protect those in the path of the Atlantean monarch's rage, is as exciting and stirring a portrayal of human courage as any found in the history of comic books.
From there, the Sub-Mariner moved to Tales To Astonish and an 18-issue quest to retake Atlantis from the usurper Krang and then bring the evil warlord to justice. There are deadly perils at every turn as well as the fickle loyalties of Namor's subjects, a seeming betrayal by the Lady Dorma, and even Marvel Universe guest-stars. Though Gene Colan's art is ill-served by Vince Colletta's inking, the power and grace of Colan's pencils and of Stan Lee's scripts carry the stories in sterling fashion. Other contributors to the serial include Bill Everett, Dick Ayers, Jack Kirby, Jerry Grandenetti, and Roy Thomas.
The 16 other stories reprinted in this volume aren't as vast as the initial epic, but are remarkable in consistently portraying Namor as a angry warrior who seeks peace and security for those he rules. He is alien to us, but we have much in common.
When the Sub-Mariner gets his own book - only the first issue is reprinted in this volume - Roy Thomas would quickly make it one of my favorite Marvel titles. But I've shortchanged these stories from Tales To Astonish for decades. No more. They are fine tales and, as such, they earn Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1 the full five out of five Tonys.
Two non-traditional Marvel comics crossed my desk this month and I found them both captivating.
X-Men: Misfits Volume 1 [Del Rey; $12.99] by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman with art by Anzu is a shojo manga take on Marvel's popular mutants. Wide-eyed high school student Kitty Pryde, whose powers have become difficult for her to control, enrolls at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Her normal anxiety at going to a new school and meeting new classmates only increases when she learns the nature of the students and that she's the only girl attending the school.
Cast aside your previous conceptions of the X-Men characters when you read this book. Magneto is an instructor and recruiter at the school, but his social views are poles apart from its founder. There is a Hellfire Club within the school; its members being the elite among the students. The Angel is a snob, the Beast is a big cuddly teddy bear of a teacher, the Iceman is an angry young man, and the Blob is as amiable kid as you could hope to know. Anzu's art is in the shojo tradition of dreamy, effeminate boys and soft backgrounds, but he has a knack for illustrating fast-paced, violent action as well.
In X-Men: Misfits Volume 1, Telgemeier and Roman weave romance into a super-hero story. This debut earns four out of five Tonys.
The second non-traditional Marvel I enjoyed was Spider-Man Noir [$14.99] by David Hine with Fabrice Sapolsky and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico. The way things usually work in the comics industry is that Marvel innovates and DC imitates. This time out, we have what is essentially a Marvel version of DC's late, lamented "Elseworlds" series.
Set in the middle of the Great Depression, Noir brings us Aunt May as a crusading Socialist in a New York city ruled by criminal and governmental corruption. Peter Parker gets his powers from a mystic spider. Ben Urich is a hard-nosed reporter caught in a web of his own weakness. Felicia Hardy owns a speakeasy. Norman Osborn and his henchmen are brutally terrifying freaks of nature. It's a wild dark ride from start to finish.
Spider-Man Noir isn't a classic. It's part garish pulp mag, part 1930s B-movie, and part modern movie violence. But all those elements combine into an entertaining story that earns this trade collection a perfectly respectable three Tonys.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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