The allure of Rodolphe and Léo’s Kenya series is essentially twofold. Readers witness a smorgasbord of various genre elements—globe-trotting adventure, alien invasion tale, spy thriller (with added dinosaurs for taste)—mashed together to somehow produce a cogent, compelling tale. And they see Léo draw the aforementioned beasts and creatures in splendid manner. Set in 1947, this third book, Aberrations (Cinebook), sees interested parties from the British, Americans, Russians—in addition to a few fringe fractions—return to the foot of Mount Kenya to continue investigating reports of strange beasts, crafts, and lights in the sky while surreptitiously eyeballing one another. With the vestiges of aliases and pretense cast off, the search to find and secure evidence of the inexplicable occurrences is underway. British agent Kathy Austin is determined to be the one who gets to the bottom of things.
The weakest element of Kenya is the use of flat, dated character tropes that act as conduits for the plot. There’s the smart, plucky British girl. The misogynistic, brawny American explorer. The cultured, sensitive European. The eccentric, effeminate Count. The cold, vengeful Russian. That extends to the dialogue, which is clunky and cringeworthy in parts, as per brash explorer Remington to Kathy: “Usually I don’t care what others think of me… but not this time. I don’t know why. The truth is I’ve never dealt with a woman like you.” And so forth. It’s enough to make you ponder the probability of pastiche, or even satire, but the tropes can’t be blamed on accurate era attitudes. It reads unnaturally and unconvincingly; how you’d imagine a certain person would talk, rather than how they’d actually talk.
Kenya is proficient at offering readers a sense of the investigators’ bewilderment. The dinosaurs, creepy aliens, and fantastical objects appear and disappear as suddenly as they’re glimpsed. Solidly present and breathtaking, and then gone. The reader is provided the same frustrating, wondrous experience as the characters, and left grappling with the same questions. This awe and spectacle—and the reader’s belief in it—is largely accomplished via Léo’s artistry. He captures a spirit of adventure through place, and while his figure work can be somewhat stiff, his ability to draw dinosaurs and intriguing beasts in a fine, clear-lined style—with crisp colors—is masterful.
It’s remarkable that the cardboard character work and disparate genre elements don’t result in a piecemeal mess, so give credit to the well-executed narrative pace. It’s fairly slow-burning as the series reveals the bigger mysteries at play, but as the plot unfurls, Aberrations introduces minor intrigues and explores character motivations to maintain interest. More than anything, Kenya reads like an enthralling-despite-itself creature feature, one that Léo’s efforts lifts into superior territory. [Zainab Akhtar]
Breaking into an industry that’s as saturated with talent and stories as comic books can seem downright Sisyphean, especially when you want to tell a story the mainstream isn’t ready for. Joe Glass has created a book that confronts real-world homophobia and bigotry—instead of simply alluding to it—by creating the first LGBTQ superhero team. The Pride #5 (Queer Comix) is the penultimate issue of this series, barreling toward confrontation between the heroes and their nemesis. New threats lend some emotional weight to a book that occasionally felt too featherweight in earlier issues. The first few were dialogue heavy and the characters didn’t have completely distinct voices. But Glass is an amateur in the very best sense of the word: He writes this comic because he loves it, and that adoration shows in the book’s growth. Though there are six different artists on this issue alone, the story flows well and the pacing feels good as the team mourns a loss and prepares for the upcoming showdown. The fight scenes by Gavin Mitchell and Christian Wildgoose in particular are well executed; JD Faith, Jack Davies, and Kendall Goode do an excellent job conveying the different ways that people experience and display grief. Often when an individual issue has this many artists on one book, it becomes a distraction and an annoyance, but each scene is isolated enough that the transitions feel natural. Marc Ellerby, who draws the final pages and the big reveal for this issue, delivers cartoony panels with both comedy and drama, proving that style is no limitation on story.
Completely self-published, copies of The Pride won’t be in most stores, but you can buy issues on Comixology or at Glass’ website. It’s worth starting at #1 and reading through the clever character backstories at the end of each issue. Don’t forget to pick up The Pride Adventures #1 and #2, featuring short stories outside of the main arc; Glass does some great heavy lifting on these, especially the story of the hero Outrage. He’s confronting serious issues of bigotry and prejudice, focusing not only on the way external groups treat the LGBTQ community, but the kinds of ignorance and privilege that exist within it. Pride #5 is the first issue where the team welcomes a straight ally onto its roster, a moment that’s bracketed by an education of both the cost of violence and the sheer variety of people that fall under that one rainbow-hued acronym.
This book wallows in stereotypes that, in another setting, would be offensive and cruel. Here they’re reclaimed on behalf of the very real people they represent, characters slowly revealing nuance and personal histories that make them feel authentic and sympathetic. It’s certainly not untrod ground, but Glass and his team of friends are doing the same thing that the books’ characters set out to do: They’re normalizing the LGBTQ community by presenting it as one that is substantive and sincere and as difficult as the rest of the world, as far as a world full of superheroes can be substantive and sincere. After all, under the capes and cowls, we’re all just nerds in disguises, hoping to recognize people like us when we see them. [Caitlin Rosberg]
In 2015 it seems inevitable to conclude that Ayn Rand was the most significant philosopher of the last century. Certainly, in terms of her impact on the world, and the degree to which her ideas have influenced those whose actions affect billions of lives, she has Russell, Heidegger, De Beauvoir, and Derrida beat cold.
Yet you will search long and hard for any philosophy or literature department in the country that takes her seriously. But for those who believe, that’s part of the charm: She explicitly rejects the last few hundred years (if not the last few thousand) of moral and political philosophy, all the while acting with complete disregard for the most basic rules of fiction. This makes discussion of her work both deceptively difficult and depressingly necessary.
Darryl Cunningham contributes the latest volume to this growing genre of criticism in the form of The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, And The Financial Crisis (Abrams). Cunningham is British, and therefore approaches the topic from a slight remove. Rand has so far proven resistant to export, rendering her peculiar brand of cod-Nietzschean American individualism opaque to most of the rest of the world. Cunningham begins the volume by observing that she is “largely unknown in Europe,” but he pairs this observation with the optimistic statement that she is still “surely a fringe thinker” in the States. This sits uneasily with the remainder of the book, which successfully hammers the point to which she has become dreadfully mainstream.
Rand’s hold on the popular imagination is a fruitful topic, judging by the number of books on the subject that have appeared in the last few years, prompted by the 2008 financial crisis and its aftershocks. It’s debatable whether or not any one volume could ever do the subject justice, and at only 230 pages Cunningham has a tall order to fill with this book. That it succeeds as much as it does is a testament to the efficiency of comics as an expository medium. This is not a volume for anyone who considers themselves already versed in the subject. Cunningham doesn’t cover any new ground here, but what he has done is provide an accessible primer for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the principle concepts at work.
Still, what shortcomings there are can be laid at the feet of Cunningham’s distinctly utilitarian cartooning style and the topic’s intimidating scope. His simplistic figurework is effective for translating difficult relationships into physical dimensions, but falls short in the face of a large cast of mostly indistinguishable, ineffective caricatures. Additionally, while it might seem churlish to praise Cunningham for having produced an accessible primer while also failing to adequately cover the material in this extremely compressed narrative, that’s the size of the problem. If you’re new to contemporary economic history, there’s enough here to sketch the outlines of the situation, but not much more. Thankfully, Cunningham provides a helpful list of sources for anyone finishing the book who remains curious about the men and women whose peculiar ideology has done so much to shape the current shambles of our world. [Tim O’Neil]
More and more TV properties are finding second lives as comics, but without a strong creative vision, many of these titles fail to leave much of an impression. Lion Forge Comics tried its hand at a Miami Vice comic last year, and while that series was a slick continuation of the series, it doesn’t compare to the energy and style of Miami Vice Remix (Lion Forge/IDW). This comic takes James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs in a more fantastic, gonzo direction, involving a voodoo-practicing crime lord that is turning the citizens of Miami into brain-dead killers with his latest product.
Writer Joe Casey, artist Jim Mahfood, and colorist Justin Stewart capture the sexy, ’80s-chic world of the TV series, but the visuals are a dramatic departure that makes this title especially notable in the larger licensed comics landscape. Mahfood is an inspired choice for this series, and his graffiti-inspired art gives the book a distinctly urban feel while heightening the liveliness of this popular vacation destination with streets and beaches full of animated characters. The exaggeration of his art style immediately downplays the reality of the setting, and Casey takes advantage of the visual shift to make the comic’s story far more madcap and mystical than what the writers attempted on TV.
The ’80s setting is primarily established through wardrobe, and this art team has a sharp understanding of the fashion of the time, filling the cast with men attired in flamboyantly colored and patterned suits that look a few sizes too large. The ’80s were an especially colorful time and Miami is an especially colorful city, so Stewart naturally fills the book with a huge range of saturated shades that give the linework even bigger impact. Mahfood also hand-letters the book, which strengthens the visual aesthetic and allows him to convey changes in vocal tone by making subtle adjustments to letter size and spacing.
A big part of Miami Vice’s charm is the contrast of the bright, glamorous atmosphere with the darkness of the city’s criminal elements, and this creative team fully embraces that dynamic while adding another layer in the supernatural nature of the primary villain. Casey introduces a lot of plot elements in the first two issues, but it gives the book a brisk pace that matches the intensity of the artwork. This is a licensed comic that takes full advantage of the creative freedom allowed by the medium, cleverly using a cartoonish art style to create narrative opportunities that would be harder to swallow with a more realistic approach. [Oliver Sava]