Last week I made note of Station 16, a new Dark Horse/Strip Art Features release of work by Hermann Huppen, longtime veteran of Belgian adventure comics. Unfortunately, I did not see a copy in stores, although I did get to looking at Hermann's last new-ish work to be released in English - 2007's Afrika, which DH/SAF put out in '12, right before beginning on a long effort at packing the artist's signature series Jeremiah into omnibus editions (three so far). Interestingly, Afrika also seems to be the last non-Jeremiah album which Hermann has written on his own - mostly, he collaborates with his son, Yves H., on new projects. It is also, I understand, considered by some to be a thematic sequel to an earlier solo album, 1991's Missié Vandisandi, which is not available in translation.
I cannot say it's the superior *thriller* it was advertised to be, though the art remains fine, particularly Hermann's drawings of wildlife and foliage, and his lovely painted colors - the story, though, meanders through a rather pro forma political intrigue scenario, with its angry, grasping European anti-hero endlessly lecturing a white lady journalist on the multifarious dangers of Tanzania, where the man (some sort of professional killer, now an expat) has made his home on a wildlife preserve. Everything he does is totally dedicated to the protection of its animal denizens, much to the chagrin of Iseko, his native girlfriend, who yearns for something more.
As it turns out, however, Iseko is the most interesting character in the story, and actually the means by which Hermann distinguishes his work. How do you deal with a white man who's made himself the ultra-capable guardian of foreign territory, in opposition to the cruel and greedy machinations of non-white political interests? Unexpectedly, Hermann hones in on futility - the impossibility of one man functioning as a veritable Batman of the preserve in the face of much broader and more complicated business and governmental interests. In reviewing the 1984 Jacques Lob/Jean-Marc Rochette comic Snowpiercer, the critic Ng Suat Tong recently suggested that "the French tradition" of comics-making -- contra the revolutionary posturing of director Bong Joon Ho's recent Snowpiercer film -- involves "an implicit rejection of the values of that more famous revolution of 1789 — no murderous rampage, no guillotine, no reign of terror, and certainly no cleansing Napoleonic wars."
Hermann is not French, but his perspective on resistance and revolt is likewise skeptical - the expat is trapped by both circumstance and rhetoric, made to see that governments can endlessly deflect blame for their trespasses. He seems to fade from the story by the end, while Iseko -- agreeing to an affair with another European man (with a truly outstanding haircut, see above) -- realizes her dreams of leaving Tanzania to travel the world. It is not an ambiguous denouement. There is even a 'montage' near the end, depicting how much better her life his without the album's notional protagonist, who finally returns, cloaked only in shadow or described in captions, to lash out against the world in a final, violent act. He becomes a brief point of discussion on the news, and then the white man, we might presume, is rightfully forgotten.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Shamanism: Among the more fondly-recalled of the Humanoids translations made available in the mid-'00s was a book titled The Horde. The writer/artist was Ukrainian-born: one Igor Baranko, his scenario careening from visions of a drugged-out SF Russian dictatorship to the world's last Chechen (and his mission from God) to intervention by space aliens and cameos by a wide variety of historical figures, regardless of chronological applicability. It was the best kind of reckless, blessed with the yet-stronger title of Jihad upon its 2013 re-release. Now comes a later (2005-06) Baranko series, the scene shifting to North America as a Lakota native stands willing to oppose the very flow of time to save the life of the woman he loves, even if this act endangers the region's historical autonomy. A 148-page hardcover (colors by Vyacheslav Xenofontov), standing 7.9" x 10.8". Baranko also did a three-volume sequel to Exterminator 17 with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, although that project has since been moved to Casterman - I think his only Humanoids series now awaiting translation is a 2010-11 diptych, The Egyptian Princess. Preview; $24.95.
The Motherless Oven: Rob Davis is probably best known around here as co-editor (with Woodrow Phoenix) of Nelson, a 2011 graphic novel tracking a character through many years of life, as illustrated by dozens of new and experienced UK cartoonists - to unfamiliar critics, it served as a useful and very prominent signal of the formidable pool of talent that had developed in that scene (mostly) away from the eyes of American English readers. But Davis, of course, also makes comics of his own, ranging from a 2013 adaptation of Don Quixote to this new SelfMadeHero release (distributed in NA via Abrams), a 160-page b&w softcover concerning what strikes me (from the solicitation) as a sort of YA literature dystopia, in which young people have no parents and a limited lifespan, and a young man sets off to discover some important things. Samples; $19.95.
Colonial Comics: New England 1620-1750: Don't know the slightest damn thing about this themed anthology from Fulcrum Publishing, nor am I familiar with most of the contributors, but I'm pretty down with local history comics, and it's always worthwhile to flip through work by occasional or new cartoonists pursuing avenues of personal interest. The editors are Jason Rodriguez, A. David Lewis & J. L. Bell, and the length is 256 pages. Official site; $25.95.
Son of the Gun: BUT GETTING BACK TO EUROPE - this is one of Humanoids' reissues of an earlier translation, specifically a 1995-99 Alejandro Jodorowsky/Georges Bess western/crime/spiritual quest series that first saw English release in four volumes back in '01-'02, and then had a two-book release in '04-'05, and now manifests as a single 224-page hardcover, 7.9" x 10.8". I personally prefer Jodorowsky's more straight-on cowboy genre exercises with François Boucq (i.e. Bouncer), but this is maybe closer to what a lot of people think when they hear "Jodorowsky"; $34.95.
Magic Wind Vol. 5: Long Knife (&) The Third Testament Vol. 1 (of 4): The Lion Awakes: Less expensive Euro options here. The former is Epicenter's 100-page newest from the Italian supernatural western series, written by Gianfranco Manfredi with art by Giuseppe Barbati & Bruno Ramella. The latter is from Titan, the 1997 debut album from a Scotland-set adventure series from creators Xavier Dorison (also of Humanoids' Sanctum and Cinebook' Long John Silver) and Alex Alice; $12.99. (Wind), $9.99 (Testament).
Witchcraft Works Vol. 1: The new manga release from Vertical, a magical girlfriend/secret powers-type thing from Ryū Mizunagi - quite popular, and the beneficiary of an anime adaptation from earlier this year; $12.95.
Monster: The Perfect Edition Vol. 2 (&) Sunny Vol. 4: More manga here, both from VIZ, both from two big guys. Naoki Urasawa fronts the latest of this re-translated, improved edition of his career-redefining suspense series, while Taiyō Matsumoto brings more from his superior slice-of-life narrative; $19.99 (Monster), $22.99 (Sunny).
The Multiversity: The Just: Being the newest among writer Grant Morrison's current set of alternate universe superhero comics, this one set in a world where superheroes are all celebrities. As I am old, I do recall this being the general premise of seemingly every second Joe Casey and/or Peter Milligan-scripted superhero comic from the first half of the '00s -- to say nothing of the first few issues of the ongoing Mark Millar/Frank Quitely series Jupiter's Legacy -- so I'm just gonna take this as Morrison throwing his hat into a specific subgeneric arena. Art by Ben Oliver, who worked on probably the best issue of Morrison's Action Comics run (#0). Preview; $4.99.
Ronin Deluxe Edition: You all know this is Frank Miller's best comic, right? I mean, as a writer/artist - I do prefer Elektra: Assassin on the whole, but there's a lot to be said for this ultra-dense, movie-resistant future shock concerning the many textures of a hellish city-spore, maybe the one Miller work comparable to early '80s peers like American Flagg! in terms of design-driven world-building, although I've always thought it a metaphor for self-improvement through foreign inspiration: quite self-consciously so, as the series is also maybe the first 'major' American comics work to draw significant influence from manga, specifically the popular '70s swordsman serials of Kazuo Koike and the late Gōseki Kojima. Anyway, this is a 7.5" x 11.2" hardcover, 336 pages with what I'll presume are the same supplemental features from the way-oversized 2008 Absolute edition; $29.99.
Princess Mononoke: The First Story (&) The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy Book One (of Three): Lovely art showcases from two of Japan's most prominent. VIZ is behind Princess Mononoke, which apparently marries creator Hayao Miyazaki's watercolor illustrations to a 1980 treatment of the story that ultimately became the 1997 Studio Ghibli film. Regardless of what you make of Miyazaki as a filmmaker -- and I prefer his lower-key, more everyday-surreal works to the epic fantasy mode typified by Princess Mononoke -- he is undoubtedly a super-skilled visualist, as potent alone as with a huge studio behind him. Sky, meanwhile, comes from Dark Horse, which looks to have basically plucked one of three books out of a 2013 slipcased set - it's a 112-page, 10 5/8" x 11 5/8" hardcover collecting Yoshitaka Amano's concept art for the first three games in the Final Fantasy series of console RPGs. Woozy elegance all the way. Amano preview; $34.99 (Mononoke), $29.99 (Sky).
Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition: Finally, because nothing screams Xmas like grocery stores putting out the holiday trappings and publishers putting out gigantic gift boxes, here comes Drawn and Quarterly with an 8.5" x 12.2" slipcased hardcover compiling the entirety of creator Tove Jansson's involvement with the Moomin newspaper comic strip in the '50s & '60s, 448 pages in total. Samples; $69.95.