Three new graphic novels explore everyday life in fantasy land
Most people consider comics a form of escapism - and after last fall's election results, some readers may be eager to spend time in another world. But who's to say life is any easier in the pages of a comic book? As four recent graphic novels show, even the most extraordinary worlds are full of workaday Joes, Janes, and Juans.
DC Comics' Gotham Central offers a surprisingly realistic view of police work in a comic book universe. Inspired by TV's Homicide: Life On The Street, writers Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker present a multi-ethnic squad of cops with personal lives as interesting as their caseloads. Michael Lark's art emphasizes how human they are: rumpled shirts, favorite coffee mugs, and kids' drawings stuck on the refrigerator. But these cops live in Gotham City, Batman's hometown, and the criminals they face are anything but average.
In Gotham Central's first collection, a detective's chilling murder sends the entire force scrambling to catch the killer before sundown. If they fail, a certain pointy-eared vigilante will swoop in and do their jobs for them. Gotham Central's detectives resent Batman as much as they rely on him, and that tension adds an extra layer of suspense to an already compelling series. Though the sprawling cast can be confusing, Brubaker and Rucka's intriguing mysteries and Lark's near-photographic art make for an outstanding read.
Andi Watson also gives superhero worlds a fresh spin in Oni Press' Love Fights. Secret identities, cosmic crossovers, and alternate realities become obstacles in the love story of comic book artist Jack and wannabe reporter Nora. Can they stop bickering long enough to discover who's framing their town's biggest hero? And will their love survive Jack's insecurities, Nora's selfish ambition, and the jealous meddling of Jack's super-powered, super-smart cat?
Carla Speed McNeil brings a sense of time and place to her self-published series Finder that fans of Gilbert Hernandez' Love & Rockets will recognize. McNeil's richly imagined future world overflows with complex cultures and customs; she's the sort of creator who knows what kind of drawings her characters keep in shoeboxes at the bottom of their closets. Thankfully, she doesn't take her sci-fi trappings too seriously. However beautifully drawn, her characters still have boring jobs, bad commutes, and dirty socks on the floor. McNeil's not afraid to be funny, either, which lightens up her complex storylines.
Finder vaults genres effortlessly, embracing family drama, social satire, suspense, and romance simultaneously. Mystery Date, the most recent collection, is a good example. Its short stories feature Vary, a bright college girl in a love triangle with two of her professors. But Vary's also a prostitute - in a world where that is safe, respectable, and considered an art form - and her professors are an embittered cyborg and a cheerful dinosaur-bird creature. It sounds ridiculous at first, but McNeil's characters are charming and surprising, and they wrestle with universal issues of love and sex, respect and identity.
Which brings us back to the question of escapism. Why do we go looking for other worlds in the first place? These books suggest that we aren't searching for something different, but something familiar. Though these characters lead lives very different from ours, there's a little piece of us in each of them. •
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