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Graphic Novel Review- “V-Wars: Crimson Queen

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

V-WarsWhen it comes the horror genre Jonathan Maberry is like a master bartender. He can serve horror to you straight or he can blend it with other genres creating a wide variety of refreshing and fantastic literary cocktails. If you’ve seen my other reviews on this blog you know how much I love his Joe Ledger series of novels which mixes horror, military thriller style action, and different genres to create stories that I look forward to reading every year and never disappoint me. And I did not get a chance to review Maberry’s first stab at fiction, the Pine Deep trilogy of novels, but it’s epic. If you haven’t read it yet you should. It’s almost a non post apocalyptic version of “The Stand.” Yes, it’s that good and that epic.

I first got to know Maberry’s writing via his work on Marvel Comics where he told a number of exciting and high action stories. My personal favorites were “Doomwar” and “Captain America: Hail Hydra” both of which are available in collected edition. So I was curious to see what he could do with comics where he was building his own universe.

That curiosity lead me to pick up the first collected edition of his “V-Wars” series, “Crimson Queen” from IDW Publishing which features art by Alan Robinson. It was not what I was expecting and that’s part of what made it so great. What I was expecting was a story about valiant humans waging a war against people who had been transformed into bloodthirsty evil vampires by an ancient virus. If it was that the story it would have been fun and quite thrilling.

Instead though “V-Wars: Crimson Queen” takes readers to a much more fascinating and complex world where the 250px-JonathanMaberryenemy is not vampires or humans, but war itself. That’s because in the world of “V-Wars melting arctic ice might has released an ancient virus that reawakens junk DNA which transforms people into a wide variety of vampires; some look completely human, some are more monstrous. So the vampires are not inherently evil and human beings are not paragons of virtue. The skirmishes of “V-Wars” are often the results of human prejudice towards vampires and vampires reacting. Or some vampires believing they need to dominate human beings. There’s also a greater mystery going on that suggests human and even vampire forces are perhaps interested in fanning the flames of the war for sinister purposes.

That setting means “V-Wars” is the best type of entertainment. It allows you to escape to an exciting and dangerous world, but while you’re there you’re given something timely to think about and use to consider in real world conflicts. It makes the series both poignant and powerful.

A great setting is only half the reason why “V-Wars” is so entertaining. The other component is of course the compelling character who we watch navigate this complex world. The chief character is idealistic college professor Luther Swann, an expert on vampire folk lore who finds himself thrown into the terrifying (and for readers exciting) world of Special Operations when he’s tapped to be an embedded advisor for a team of soldiers tasked with combating vampire terrorists and soldiers.

Luther’s politics bump up against some of the soldiers who see him as a bleeding heart and naïve liberal, which of course made me not like them at first, but Maberry shows the reasons why these soldiers feel the way they do and also illustrates how honorable and committed they are. There’s a great scene where the leader of the Spec Op Victor-8, or V-8, explains to a mob of humans that he’s not going to let them harm the vampire community he’s been charged to protect. It felt real, it made you respect the character, and once again illustrated how complex the world of “V-Wars” is.

Some of the other characters I found fascinating include reporter Yuki Nitobe, Corporal Taurus Harper a soldier that Luther bonds with, and Martyn a mysterious vampire who brings Yuki deeper into the world of vampire communities and the enigmatic Crimson Queen.

Earlier I mentioned illustrating, and I need to take some time to praise the work of the illustrator of “V-Wars: Crimson Queen,” Alan Robinson. Robinson’s work reminds me a lot of the great Humberto Ramos, especially in the way he draws characters and emotions, but he’s got a style all his own. He’s great with action scenes and he also makes you feel the visceral pain, power, and destruction of war; something that’s incredibly important in a story like this. In “V-Wars: The Crimson Queen” Maberry lays the building blocks and foundation for a fascinating and complex world, but it’s Robinson who fully realizes that vision and brings it to life.

So as you can guess, I’ve become hooked on another one of Maberry’s horror franchises. I’m eagerly awaiting the next “V-Wars” collection and I’m also going to seek out some of the prose anthologies. There are two collections of short stories where Maberry opens up the world of V-Wars and allows some of his friends who are equally talented writers to come play in the sandbox he’s created.

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Graphic Novel Review- “9/11 Heartbreaker”

January 6, 2011 1 comment

Tragically it seems like every generation has a defining moment of collective horror. For my grandparents it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For my parents it was the assassination of President John F Kennedy. And for me it was the events of September 11th. I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard what was happening. It’s been almost a decade since that tragic day so I don’t often think about it as much as I used to. I imagine for the people of Manhattan the spectre of that day is always lurking somewhere in the back of their mind especially if they stroll through the city’s financial district where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. But what about the people in other parts of New York? How did they cope with that day? What impact did it have on them? In his graphic novel “9/11 Heartbreaker” writer-artist Craig Staufenberg looks at the the way the titular day haunts and effects a resident of Buffalo New York. The result is a story that is somewhat problematic but still manages to have some very compelling moments.

In “9/11 Heartbreaker” an unnamed female protagonist and narrator meets a guy one night in a Karaoke bar who catches her fancy. They strike up a conversation and the guy reveals that his occupation is documenting people’s memories of September 11th. This has a profound impact on the protagonist and causes her to reexamine the history of her home town.

My first problem with “9/11 Heartbreaker” might just stem from what I’m used to as a reader of comic books. The standard full length comic story is 22 pages. “9/11 Heartbreaker” is only 16. So to me the term graphic novel feels like a misnomer. This is really a short comic story and for me “9/11 Heartbreaker” was just a little too short. It felt like if Staufenberg had expanded the story by even a few pages it could have a lot more emotional impact and we could have gotten to know the main character and some of her friends a little better

It also feels like at certain points in the story Staufenberg forgets he’s telling a story that involves images and words. In graphic novels and comic books the images should be just as if nor more important than the text. There are some sequences in “9/11 Heartbreaker” that are are almost all text though and they caused me to drop out of the narrative a bit.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t some things Staufenberg does very well in “9/11 Heartbreaker”. The writer successfully creates a compelling, haunting tone throughout the whole narrative. It feels like all of the characters are dealing with the ghosts of the past. And in the latter half of the story when the protagonist digs into the past of her hometown, you get a sense that you’re catching a glimpse of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. It was very interesting.

I especially enjoyed the section of the story where we got glimpses of what Buffalo is like now and got to visit some monuments to its storied past. Staufenberg really brought the town to life in a very real way.

So as a short graphic novel “9/11 Heartbreaker” has some very interesting moments, but doesn’t really work for me. It does have the potential to become an excellent story though. So if Staufenberg ever decides to tweak or expand his narrative I’d be very interested in the results.

Categories: Graphic Novel Review