Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tales of Artichokes and Hell's Kitchen

What do artichokes and Hell's Kitchen have in common? Nothing really, beyond the fact that they were the subjects of two separate graphic novels I devoured recently. Now that it's summer I've found plenty of time to read a couple of the GN's I've been anticipating, so this weekend I settled down on my porch with Megan Kelso's newest graphic novel Artichoke Tales, and the classic superhero origin story by Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr. , Daredevil: The Man Without Fear.

A graphic novel about civil war, inter-family strife, hewing to traditions and breaking from them, and love gained and love lost, Kelso's Artichoke Tales isn't the epic tale I expected (which was an assumption born from reading the back-cover summary which described it as a "family saga") but rather a succinct tale that's masterfully told. It's not a complaint when I say that--Kelso's at her best when telling a short tale, and this book feels like three closely-entwined short tales rather than a family saga. After all, it's only at the books half-point that we realize the mother of Brigitte, and near the end when introduced to another character as her father. Kelso's artwork is brilliant (as always), and the use of green lines is a nice touch, giving the art a lightness that it deserves to match the storytelling.

Diving into the world of Miller's Daredevil: The Man Without Fear came as a sucker-punch out of the blue--the dirty streets of Hell's Kitchen and Matt Murdock's life on the edge was a stark contrast to the subtle and lush world of Artichoke Tales. If only all the superheroes could have such a talent as Frank Miller re-writing their origin story, with a fantastic artist like John Romita, Jr. working alongside. This story is classic Miller, and you can easily see hints of his more gritty Sin City series simmering underneath the story of a hard-luck kid brought up blind in Hell's Kitchen. The only thread of the tale that could have used a little more fleshing out would be Kingpin; his empire of crime brings about the main point of conflict but the actual character seems a bit one-dimensional. Otherwise not much to complain about here: a strong origin story with a ton of noir.

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