Tag Archives: comic books

The Contract with God Trilogy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Contract with God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Will Eisner.

Eisner The Contract With God Trilogy

There is a tiny irony in the fact that when Will Eisner coined the phrase “graphic novel” in 1978 to describe his work A Contract with God, the book in question did not have the single plot of a unified novel. It was instead a set of four shorter narratives joined by a common setting at No. 55 Dropsie Avenue in the Bronx. The first of these is the properly-titled “A Contract with God,” and it concerns the moral vicissitudes of a Jewish immigrant in New York. The other three stories center on a Depression-era “street singer,” the building superintendent at No. 55, and a summer vacation season.

The Contract with God Trilogy collects the original book with its two sequels, both of which fully merit the “graphic novel” label. The Life Force is a complex story centered on the carpenter Jacob Starkah, and taking place mostly in 1934. Dropsie Avenue spans more than a century of transformations of the Dropsie neighborhood, pulling the events together into a single tale of striving, corruption, and transformation. The Trilogy volume is supplied with a preface and some new interstitial art from Eisner.

When he composed these pages, Eisner had already developed his techniques of visual storytelling to a high pitch, and throughout the work the characters and plots are presented with startling efficiency, while the compositions are striking and effective. The illustration is all in monochrome inks, presented in this handsome hardcover with uniform dark brown line art on ivory paper.

All of these stories raise powerful moral and emotional concerns, leavening them with occasional humor. They also clearly incorporate a level of memoir that powerfully documents 20th-century cultural history for the Bronx. I read a copy borrowed from the local public library, and I strongly believe it deserves a place in such collections.

The Life and Death of Conan

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Barbarian, Book One: The Life and Death of Conan [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Mahmud Asrar, Jason Aaron, & al., book 1 of the Conan the Barbarian (2019-) series.

Asrar Aaron Conan the Barbarian The Life and Death of Conan

This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the new iteration of the Conan the Barbarian title at Marvel Comics. Writer Jason Aaron and principal artist Mahmud Asrar appear to be accomplished creators within the contemporary Marvel operation, and they both do competent work here. I’m not really blown away the way that I was in the early numbers of the Dark Horse run back in 2003-4, but I did find these new comics to be quick and satisfying reading. It does seem like there’s an attempt to strike a balance between the tone of the original Marvel run and the Dark Horse title.

Aaron hits a few clinkers with his language, but on the whole his Conan seems more faithful to Howard’s original hero than most of the pastiche novel Conans have been (to say nothing of the movies). Each issue starts with the same Nemedian Chronicles quote (“… when the oceans drank Atlantis yada yada …”) and a full-continent Hyborian Age map highlighted to show the location of that number’s principal adventure.

This collection has stories set throughout Conan’s life, using as a framing device young Conan’s encounter with a malevolent witch who returns to kill him in sacrifice to her arch-demon benefactor many years later when Conan is king of Aquilonia. Whether she succeeds (as implied in the “Life and Death of” title of the book) is left unresolved at the end of the sixth issue.

Appended to the reprinted contents is a vast gallery of alternate cover art. For the first issue alone, there were at least a dozen covers. I really have to wonder if this now venerable publishing gimmick is really serving any purpose. Are readers foolish enough to buy multiple copies for the different covers? Well, I guess I represent the opposite extreme, since I waited for the trade collection and then borrowed it from the public library.

The Problem of Susan and Other Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Problem of Susan and Other Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Neil Gaiman, P Craig Russell, & al.

Gaiman Russell The Problem of Susan and Other Stories

The Problem of Susan collects four graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman fantasy stories. The first two are illustrated by P. Craig Russell, who also did the scripting and layouts for the third. The title story–a sequel/critique for the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis–is the longest of the four, and it’s one I had read some years back. Russell’s adaptation is magnificent, with repeated visual motives and a really glorious concluding panel.

The second story “Locks” is a very short one built around Goldilocks and the Three Bears and again bringing adult reflection to bear on children’s literature. In the third tale “October in the Chair,” personified months of the year have assembled around a fire in the woods for what seems to be a recurring convocation in which they exchange stories. October’s contribution is the centerpiece, and it’s suitably autumnal and spooky. The final piece in the book is hardly a story at all, more of a short poem really, called “The Day the Saucers Came.” Paul Chadwick’s art for this one is entirely in full-page illustrations, just seven of them.