Graphic Novel Weekly 1/31/19: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror


Reading Time: 6 minutes

Welcome back to Graphic Novel Weekly, a column that will bring you exciting graphic novel content each week. This week, I am looking at five science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles:

  • Justice League: No Justice
  • Atomic Empire
  • Undead Messiah, Volume 1
  • Sword Princess Amaltea, Volume 1
  • Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch

Stop back every Thursday for your weekly fill up! Next week, I’ll take a look at four new slice of life titles. Now let’s take a look at this week’s haul!

Justice League: No Justice

Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Joshua Williamson
Artists: Francis Manapul, Marcus To, Riley Rossmo, and Jorge Jimenez
Colorists: Hi-Fi and Alejandro Sanchez
Publisher: DC Comics
Physical Copy: $16.99
Digital Copy: $12.99

DC Comics went big with their Batman-centric event, Dark Nights: Metal. In many ways, Metal was the end of a chapter of the DC Universe that began with DC Universe: Rebirth. The next chapter of the universe-wide saga kicked off with Justice League: No Justice. How does it stack up?

The Source Wall at the edge of the universe is cracked following the final battle with the alternate Batmen of the Dark Multiverse. This has unleashed four enormous titans representing the four key elements of the universe: Entropy, Mystery, Wonder, and Knowledge. These titans set out to determine which worlds most represent those elements, so that they can consume them like a team of Galactuses. So Brainiac assembles four teams of heroes and villains to combat them. All life on multiple worlds hangs in the balance.

Now, I’ll be honest. I thought Metal dragged on a bit. I partly blamed that on all the one-shots that and tie-ins that were tangential to the plot but still relevant if you wanted a fuller understanding of what was going on, so I was willing to go into No Justice with an open mind. Unfortunately, No Justice was not full of the wonder that made DC Universe: Rebirth such a hit.

Truly, much of this story didn’t make sense. There is no real reason for the Galactus Quartet, nor was the solution to the conflict particularly sensical. It felt like DC wanted to reset the status quo and rushed out a hackneyed plot to go from point a to point b. In this, No Justice succeeded, but it did so at the cost of being an engaging story.

If you are a storyline completist, pick this up. Otherwise, consider moving on to the titles that followed this event. I, for one, am hopeful that the new Justice League Odyssey title will be worth a read.

Atomic Empire

Writer: Thierry Smolderen
Artist: Alexandre Clérisse
Translator: Edward Gauvin
Publisher: IDW
Physical Copy: $24.99
Digital Copy: $12.99

Are you interested in an ode to ‘50s science fiction, replete with ray guns and blasters? How about ‘60s era science fiction, with evil psychologists and scary hypnotism? What would you say if we mixed that all together with a heaping helping of literary LSD?

Paul is just a regular guy working a government job who may have schizophrenia. The only problem is that it seems like his delusions of telepathically speaking to a man over 100,000 years in the future might be true. When word gets out, a master hypnotist known for creating startling breakthroughs in a wide variety of industries following special weekend retreats decides to use this knowledge for his own gain.

This is a story that starts out all over the place, bouncing around in time more than Slaughterhouse Five. Unlike Vonnegut’s novel, however, it is a fair bit confusing at first. I found myself lost among the variable settings and interactions. That said, the further I got into Atomic Empire, the more I liked it. The pieces began to come together. Things got really weird and bizarre as only retro-futuristic science fiction viewed through a cracked prism can.

In the end, I found myself loving Atomic Empire. It takes some patience, especially early on. But the reward is a fascinating trip down a very odd path. Fans of off-beat retro science fiction should take note.

Undead Messiah, Volume 1

Writer: Gin Zarbo
Artist: Gin Zarbo
Translator: Kenneth Shinabery
Publisher: TOKYOPOP
Physical Copy: $10.99
Digital Copy: $6.99

Can a video game nerd and his best friend stop a zombie apocalypse? It looks bleak, but I bet they are going to have some fun on the way!

Tim is obsessed with video games, especially ones that involve massive slaughter of zombies. M-Kay, his best friend, is mostly confused about how she has romantic feelings for someone who is obsessed with murdering the digital undead. Tim tends to live in his fantasies a little too much, which gets him into trouble, until it turns out that zombies really are attacking his city. Tim and M-Kay set out to save babies stuck in a zombie infested maternity ward, and things go downhill from there.

First things first: this isn’t The Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic is grim, gritty, and takes the reality of zombies very seriously. Undead Messiah is none of those things, which leaves it feeling like a breath of fresh air. The beginning of this first volume admittedly had me concerned, as it seemed a little too much on the goofy side, and I wasn’t feeling invested. However, by the second chapter the story had found its stride, and was balancing zombie violence and humor deftly. The characters are engaging and fun, and the plot allows them to get into unbelievable situations that fit the overall theme of the title. A character pulling strings in the background adds an element of continuity to the title that has me excited for the second volume.

Undead Messiah, Volume 1 is zombies through the filter of Shonen Jump, and is better off for it. Grab this for a fun, entertaining read.

Sword Princess Amaltea, Volume 1

Writer: Natalia Batista
Artist: Natalia Batista
Publisher: TOKYOPOP
Physical Copy: $10.99
Digital Copy: $6.99

Placing women in a position of power in high fantasy comics is beginning to appear more (finally…), with titles like Princeless and Rat Queens coming immediately to mind. With fantasy tales being pretty common, what does a story like Sword Princess Amaltea have to offer? How does it use its focus on gender economy to tell its tale?

Princess Amaltea the difficult medieval-world curse of being born second. Within her mother’s queendom, her sister is in line to ascend to the throne. Thus, Amaltea is dispatched to rescue a prince and marry him, obtaining more territory that would be integrated into her mother’s queendom.

If that sounds like the beginnings of a serious fantasy saga, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sword Princess Amaltea is a comedy first, an action fantasy second. I found myself having a hard time getting through the first section of this first volume, as the dial was turned to 10 on goofy slapstick manga humor, which is not my generally comedy niche. However, when Sword Princess Amaltea finds its legs, it becomes a very enjoyable story. It maintains its lightness through, but introduces more elements of high fantasy and action and situate the story within its genre. By the end, I found myself really excited for the second volume.

Does Sword Princess Amaltea do much with its flipping of stereotypical gender roles in high fantasy epics? Not really. Characters were of the opposite sex of that depicted in prototypical fantasy, but otherwise it is an exact duplicate of the stories it seems to intend to analyze. It doesn’t explore the implications of a matriarchal system, or how these inverted gender roles would change the setting, as they don’t change the setting at all.

Sword Princess Amaltea, Volume 1 does not revolutionize the fantasy genre, nor does it make a dramatic stand on gender in fiction. What it does do is present a lighthearted rendition of a stereotypical high fantasy manga story, with the gender roles inversed. And in a lot of ways, that is enough. It is a title that accepts the inversed gender roles without comment, normalizing them in a fashion, while also creating a title one could hand to middle school readers that increases representation of women in diverse roles. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch

Writer: Aaron Dempski-Bowden
Artist: Tazio Bettin
Colorist: Kevin Enhart
Publisher: Titan Comics
Physical Copy: $16.99
Digital Copy: $11.99

I used to read a lot of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 novels, but I fell off the bandwagon a few years ago. When I saw this title pop up, thought, I was intrigued. That intrigue went even higher when I saw Aaron Dembski-Bowden was writing it, as he has written some stellar Warhammer 40,000 novels.

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch follows a Deathwatch Kill Team, with members pulled from a number of different space marine Chapter Houses. Basically, the Kill Team is a special forces unit that is sent in to deal with alien threats. When they are sent to clear out an infestation on a colony world, the last thing they were planning on was for an ork ship to crash onto the planet with a full invasion force. Now, they need to risk everything to get a message back to their superiors, so they can plan a counterstrike.

Deathwatch isn’t a bad comic. The story is 98% action, 2% side story that seems to tie into a larger, overarching plot from a main comic series that I’m not familiar with. The action is fast-paced and gory, with plenty of dismemberment. The art does a particularly good job of depicting the gritty setting and intense action of the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

Unfortunately, Deathwatch also is a pretty good example of why I stopped reading Warhammer 40,000 fiction. It sacrifices character development and plot for action. It does action very well, but it is still a one-dimensional piece. I had hoped for more out of this title, but overall it was pretty flat.

If you are a huge Warhammer 40,000 fan or are looking for an all-action title, Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch will scratch that itch. But if you are hoping for anything more, it might leave you feeling a bit let down.

Luke Forney and/or GeekDad received copies of each of the graphic novels included in this list for review purposes.

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