Short & Sweet: Sandman, Lucy the Octopus, Ghouls, and Ghosts!

Sandman: Overture #5Sandman: Overture

Neil Gaiman (writer), J.H. Williams III (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer)
May 27, 2015

Sandman: Overture was announced with much fanfare, not only because it was another return by Neil Gaiman to his most famous comic creation, but also because it was Gaiman’s first serialized Sandman comic since the original series ended in 1996. Now reading the penultimate issue, I wonder if serializing Overture was a mistake. It’s a stunning comic, to be sure, but after several delays and an increasingly murky plot, I feel that Overture will be best read in one sitting, the collected edition cracked open over the reader’s lap like Destiny’s massive tome. If there was ever a DC book that should be published directly as an Absolute Edition, it’s this.

It’s the end of creation, and Dream of the Endless is trapped in a black hole. Things look pretty dire for the King of Dreams (is anything more dire than a black hole?) but Dream still has time for a long-overdue family reunion. A previous issue of Overture introduced Dream’s father, Time, and here we meet his mother—Night. Dream’s mother doesn’t disappoint, and it’s easy to see why this cosmic Mommie Dearest had a brood as dysfunctional as the Endless. While it’s good to see that Gaiman still has some new secrets of the Endless to reveal after all these years, I find myself more enthralled in J. H. Williams’ mesmerizing artwork. This is an astoundingly beautiful comic, part Alphonse Mucha painting, part psychedelic 1960s band poster. Sandman: Overture remains one of the most beautiful comics of the year—but maybe wait for the collected edition.

— Kayleigh Hearn

Akame ga Kill!Akame ga Kill! Vol. 1

Takahiro (writer); Tetsuya Tashiro (artist); Christine Dashiell (translation); James Dashiell (lettering)
Yen Press, April 2015

Back in April, I reviewed volume 1 of Akame ga Kill!, in which we met Tatsumi, our hopeful hero, and the gorgeous assassins of Night Raid. Volume 2 finds our hero (unsurprisingly) fighting more battles against truly awful but super powerful enemies. Tatsumi learns that in order to survive in this kill-or-be-killed world, he’ll need to get a whole lot stronger. More than just that, though: he’ll need to acquire and figure out how to use a Teigu, one of forty-eight legendary weapons created by his kingdom’s first emperor one thousand years ago. That’s right! Every member of Night Raid has one of the Teigu. They take different forms, from armor to wire to giant scissors. Ordinary opponents are no match for assassins wielding Teigu. The down side is that if they run into an opponent who also has a Teigu, someone is guaranteed to die in the battle.

This volume actually doesn’t spend much time with Tatsumi. Instead, pleasantly, it focuses more on some of the other members of Night Raid. In between—and during—battles, the story tells more about Akame, Sheele, and Leone: what their powers are, and some of what drew them to Night Raid. New, more permanent (that is to say, they don’t die immediately) enemies are also introduced. All in all, the story’s starting to pick up. The running themes of alienation and comradery continue, as does that of injustice. As you might expect from an assassination-themed manga, Akame ga Kill! spends a lot of time exploring scenarios in which violence is the only viable response to injustice.

But not, like, on a deep level. The series is really about sexy sexy battles, and if that’s what you want, you’ll find no shortage of them in volume 2.

–Amanda Vail


Tokyo GhoulTokyo Ghoul Vols. 1 and 2

Sui Ishida (mangaka); Joe Yamazaki (translation); Vanessa Satone (lettering); Joel Enos (editor)
VIZ Media, LLC
Vol 1: June 16, 2015 (Digital Edition already available)
Vol 2: August 18, 2015 (Digital Edition already available)

Ken Kaneki, a freshman literature student, is thrilled when he meets a beautiful girl who shares his love of books. And she likes him, too! …or, at least, she likes his taste. Kaneki’s date turns out to be a ghoul who feasts on human flesh, and only a freak accident saves him from becoming her next meal. When an unconscious Kaneki is rushed into emergency surgery to survive the accident, he ends up receiving organs from his attacker. He wakes up to find that he’s become half-ghoul himself, complete with a black-and-red eye and a new diet that is decidedly not vegetarian.

Tokyo Ghoul starts off strong, inviting readers into a world steeped in realism despite the genre.  These chapters chronicle Kaneki’s becoming a ghoul, discovering that he has a healing factor but can no longer consume regular food, and learning the hard way about ghoul turf wars and the CCG—human investigators who use specialized weapons to hunt down ghouls. In a refreshing change of pace from protagonists bent on revenge or glory, Kaneki is gentle-hearted, seeking a way to return to a peaceful life versus raging against either ghouls or CCG investigators. Kindness is the core of his character, which only sets him up further for, as he himself puts it, “tragedy.”

Aside from a few panels of early volume weirdness, the art style is a good fit for psychological horror, playing with light and shadows and the uncanny valley. In particular, food, teeth, and hunger are all in focus. Kaneki’s status as a literature student permeates his narrative, with references to Franz Kafka, Dazai Osamu, and Hermann Hesse. Philosophy also plays a role, as the series is already bringing into question what qualifies as a “monster” in its world. Kaneki encounters enemy ghouls but also friendly ones who offer guidance and a safe haven in the form of a coffee shop; likewise, members of the CCG are shown to be both just and ruthless. Readers are put in the perspective of the one cast member who is part of both the human and ghoul world, neither side definitively good or evil.

Beyond action and excitement, Tokyo Ghoul weaves a wide range of emotions into its story and shows its intellectual side not only in dialogue but in quiet moments. No matter how many words appear on each page, every panel has meaning to impart.

–Paige Sammartino


Lucy the OctopusLucy the Octopus

Richy K. Chandler (cartoonist)
Updates every Wednesday

Lucy is not popular or beautiful, but she is an octopus.

Though she is the unloved middle child of a five-kid family, the victim of continuous bullying at school, and a social outcast who actually negates the coolness of anyone who talks to her, Lucy’s life isn’t all bad. Her pet pufferfish Puffy loves her (and Puffy Puff snacks), and her passion for music can bring her out of the worst funk (or make it funky instead). She even plays lead guitar for the rock band Lamington Fuzz…so long as she hides her uncool identity behind a watermelon mask.

Richy K. Chandler’s webcomic charms with its bright colors and witty dialogue. The four-panel layout of Sunday funnies makes Lucy the Octopus feel both new and nostalgic. It parodies the cool-uncool divide of high school cafeterias, though I would like to see a bit more development from the former. Sandra, whose coolness was sapped by talking to Lucy in public, obsesses over regaining her popularity and only occasionally remembers that Lucy is her real friend; Kate, the queen bee who eventually recognizes Lucy’s awesomeness, has since been in a coma, which is played for laughs.

Lucy the Octopus gets away with audacious humor through a cast of colorful octopi, but it also brings attention to the issue of bullying in school and at home. Lucy’s deadpan reactions to most of her misfortune keep the tone light even as Chandler makes it clear what behavior is right and wrong. This approach makes Lucy that much easier to relate to, and a character that readers will cheer for as she slowly but surely realizes how cool she really is.

-Paige Sammartino


Afterlife with Archie #8Afterlife with Archie #8

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist)
Archie Comics
May 6, 2015

It’s always weird to run across a Christmas story out of season, and Afterlife With Archie has been weird in and of itself from the first issue. This one gets even weirder by pausing the zombie action in favor of a ghost story. The few surviving Riverdale kids, Archie’s mom, Veronica’s dad, and the Lodge family butler Smithers have all holed up in what was a once-palatial hotel. But Christmas is one of those times where the walls thin between the living and the dead, so Archie gets a visit from his best friend, Jughead. As a ghost, he’s the same sweet, food loving kid with a cynical streak to hide his kindness, even though his body is still walking around undead with a hunger for flesh. Archie’s mother tells a ghost story as well, implying that Riverdale had a blessing laid on it by the witches who were Sabrina’s ancestors, but that it came with the terrible price of a child’s life. That blessing has turned around into a curse, it would appear—due to a default on paying that terrible price, perhaps. As if those shocks weren’t enough, the creepy Blossom twins have been no more since the previous issue, and it’s strongly implied why.

This comic is as heartrending as its predecessors. Read the whole series—with the lights on, a box of Kleenex, and something comforting nearby.

–Jamie Kingston

Kayleigh Hearn

Kayleigh Hearn

Still waiting for her Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters acceptance letter. Bylines also at Deadshirt, Ms-En-Scene, The MNT, PanelxPanel, and Talk Film Society.