Putin’s Russia: The Rise of a Dictator
By Darryl Cunningham
Drawn & Quarterly, 164 pages $29.95
Graphic novels don’t get more timely than this. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, here’s a frankly disturbing guide to how Vladimir Putin’s career began, and it draws a clear path from the Cold War KGB to the current regime.
This heart-rending narrative presents, in a stark, factual style, mass killings, atrocities and shady dealings that will be familiar to anyone who follows the news. Meanwhile, it shows Russia’s super-rich becoming even richer by legal acquisitions of state-owned assets … unless they offend the wrong person, and the state comes for them.
English cartoonist Cunningham threads the journalism into a compelling, horrifying narrative that constantly links back to Putin and his inner circle. It reads like an old-style spy novel but it’s simple news reporting.
This book will keep you reading to the end, and keep you up at night, but not necessarily in a good way.
Reckless: The Ghost In You
By Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips
Image Comics, 144 pages, $24.99
Want to read the best comic books available? Look at the Brubaker/Phillips dream team — wonderfully, they have a new book out now.
In the Reckless series of noirish books set in the 1980s Hollywood, Ethan solves people’s problems. It’s kind of like investigating, but more like troubleshooting. He’s had assistant Anna along for the last three books (they’re self-contained so you can enjoy this one on its own) and this time she’s leading the way into an infamous murder house which, it’s claimed, is haunted.
The list of successful Brubaker/Phillips collaborations is long. Check out “Criminal,” for example, or “Fatale.” With “Reckless,” however, they may have peaked. These little hardbacks are endlessly rewarding, with their emotional, violent, exciting stories. If you like crime stories, get this.
Siegfried: Dragon Slayer
By Mark Allard-Will and Jasmine Redford
Renegade Arts Entertainment, 144 pages, $24.99
A graphic novel and a coffee are often paired, but this unexpected little treasure goes a step further. Welcome to your first coffee-painted graphic novel.
This gorgeous book, from the ever-entertaining Canmore, Alta., publisher Renegade, is based on Norse mythology’s Völsunga Saga, an inspiration for Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Sure enough, there’s a young questing hero, a gold ring and dragon sitting on a hoard, but a great deal more.
The best part, though, is that caffeinated art. Redford uses the challenging medium of staining her pages with coffee — like an ink wash, which she also uses on some pages — to gain tone and atmosphere in a shadowy, ancient world, and adds character with a kinetic illustrative style influenced by the long-running comic “Elfquest.” It’s really cool.
Books like this show the value of independent comics. They’re full of nice surprises.
The Montague Twins: The Devil’s Music
By Nathan Page and Drew Shannon
Penguin Random House, 320 pages, $23.99
There are satisfying depths in the newest book to feature the Montague Twins, the second in a YA series owing much to “The Hardy Boys.”
Teen detectives aren’t rare in YA graphic novels but the Montagues — thoughtful Pete and brash Al — are well-realized characters, with layers that emerge as adventures unfold. Alongside stepsister Charlie and the supporting cast of teachers and townsfolk, the twins investigate small-town mysteries against a background of magic and danger.
It’s joyful stuff from Canadian creators Page and Shannon, who in Book One, “The Witch’s Hand,” gave us scares and conspiracy alongside surprisingly frank storytelling of the coming-of-age type. This time, in “The Devil’s Music,” the kids have their own band, a new, dark mystery to handle, and more to say about themselves. I’m here for it.
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