Reviewed: '99 Days,' 'Uncouth Sleuth,' 'Cyclops,' 'Anne Steelyard'

Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

'99 Days,' 'Cyclops' fail to ignite

 

Aug. 30, 2011 -- Maybe it’s the heat, but several graphic novels in August simply didn’t wow me.

 

* 99 Days ($19.99), by Matteo Casali and Kristian Donaldson, is the latest in DC/Vertigo’s crime-slash-mystery line of graphic novels. Set in L.A., the title refers to the length of time two detectives investigate machete murders in a gang war, as well as the length of the time one of the detectives was a child soldier – using a machete – in the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda. Will the machete murders bring the detective’s secret horror to the surface? Well, yeah.

 

I shouldn’t be snarky, because there are some good bits. There’s convincing sexual tension between detective Antoine Davis and his partner, happily-married Valeria Torres; the scenes of the Rwandan civil war are appropriately horrifying; and Donaldson’s artwork is pleasant and serviceable. But the clichéd gangsta dialogue seems lifted from bad TV shows, and the premise – flashbacks to Rwanda genocide from the perspective of a traumatized survivor – reminds me of a much better graphic novel, Jean-Phillipe Stassen’s Deogratias.

 

* Uncouth Sleuth ($12.99), by Charles Fulp and Craig Rousseau, is a parody of private eye and Indiana Jones movies, starring “Harry Johnson” in “The Case of the Crabbes.” Get it? See, the clients are named Crabbe, and Harry Johnson is a euphemism for … oh, you got it.

 

That sort of humor is pretty much the book’s raison d’etre; Sleuth involves lots of double entendres and half-dressed women (drawn cartoonishly zaftig, like Jessica Rabbit, but without any actual nudity). Points are awarded for being completely up front about this: There’s no pretension to high art, and the naughty jokes and puns are delivered with adolescent zest.

 

I’m not anywhere near adolescence, so I’m not the target audience. But for those who enjoy MAD magazine kind of humor, this is well done MAD magazine kind of humor.

 

* Cyclops Volume One ($19.95) collects the first 110 pages of Archaia’s ongoing series about a near future where wars are run by corporations to knock off competitors, who make a profit by selling broadcast rights to the combat. The battles are filmed by cameras mounted on the soldiers’ helmets (giving rise to the nickname “Cyclops”), and successful soldiers are paid and treated like pro athletes.

 

Gee, what could go wrong? I mean, corporations never do anything illegal or unethical, do they? And mercenaries are the cream of humanity, right? Cyclops follows one such mercenary, who for some reason has a conscience, and you can see where this is going with one eye or two.

 

Not that we get there. Volume One is mostly set up. And while the art is in the excellent Franco-Belgian style, I have to say the coloring on my copy was so overdone and dark as to be muddy.

 

Still, Cyclops is by Matz and Luc Jacamon, the team that produces the excellent The Killer. That earns them extra time from this critic to show me what they’ve got.

 

* Anne Steelyard: The Garden of Emptiness, Act III: A Thousand Waters ($14.95) is the third and last in a series set in the Middle East before World War I. Written by best-selling author Barbara Hambly (Blood Maidens) and drawn by experienced comics artist Ron Randall, it stars an English woman who refuses to marry the man her father selects, and instead embarks on a mission to find a lost of city in Arabia, in order to make a reputation, in order to get a position at a university, in order to achieve the freedom denied her gender in the Britain of the time.  The first volume was pretty straight up two-fisted archeology stuff, with pre-Nazi (but still evil) Germans, noble Arab bedouins, stuffy English and untrustworthy Turks. But the second – which I somehow missed – added supernatural elements from Arabic mythology, some of which Anne learns how to use.

 

My wife read this book, and promptly declared it “stupid.” (My wife is an extremely pithy reviewer.) So, there’s that. But while I generally dislike political anachronisms in period pieces (in this case a feminist before feminism existed), I found Anne’s determination to be admirable, all the moreso because Hambly takes pains to show how difficult her path is. More men help her than is likely, but she pays a price – especially in the romance department, which certainly makes sense.

 

It’s not Shakespeare, but I found Act III a satisfying finish to a mildly entertaining story.

 

Art above:

1. 99 Days explores the life of an L.A. detective who was both participant and survivor of the Rwandan Civil War. Courtesy DC Entertainment Inc.


2. Uncouth Sleuth is a parody of Indiana Jones and Sam Spade that leans heavily on double entendre. Courtesy Fulp Fiction


3. Cyclops posits a future where corporations wage war, and their mercenaries are celebrities. Courtesy Archaia


4. Anne Steelyard is an English heroine in the Mideast before World War I. Courtesy Penny-Farthing Press

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.


 

 

 

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