Nothing like comics to distract you from the harsh reality of the world. Here's some of the graphic novels I've read in the last few weeks.
Castle Waiting Volume One and Castle Waiting: The Curse of Brambly Hedge, by Linda Medley (Olio Press). I'd flipped through one of these volumes at the store before and shrugged and put it back. It seemed a bit amateurish to me. Also, for whatever erroneous reason, I felt the series was too redolent of John DeChancie's Castle Perilous series. Well, I got these books from a friend recently, and I was wrong about everything. I'm a convert to Medley's work. This series has nothing in common with DeChancie's novels; if anything, it's close to Bill Willingham's Fables, but with less of a dark, Vertigo feel. Furthermore, the art is decidedly not amateurish. Medley is a terrific artist with a sure, fine hand, and she definitely knows how to tell and pace a story. These GNs are billed as "Young Adult," but as with all great youth fiction (do kids even read Alice in Wonderland?), an adult can enjoy it without the least sense of superiority.
Annihilation Book One and Annihilation Book Two (various creators, Marvel). A lot of comics bloggers love this series, and it was on a lot of the year-end best of lists, so I got these books. I think the twenty-year-old me might have enjoyed the hell out of it (even while sniffing, "It's not as good as Sandman"), but the me that's on the near side of forty thought there were too many explosions and fight scenes and not enough human drama. I'm not saying it's childish, exactly, and I certainly enjoy my share of guilty nerd pleasures, but my tastes nowadays run more toward Sean McKeever's The Waiting Place than space opera. Though it was well-written for the most part, and I'm awed by some of the detail in the art, I wouldn't call it one of the best series of the year by a long shot.
Blue Beetle: Shellshocked and Blue Beetle: Road Trip, by John Rodgers, Keith Giffen, and Cully Hamner (DC). Another series that comic bloggers raved about. This time, I'm fully on board. Here in the story of Jaime Reyes, outcast teen turned unlikely and reluctant hero, is the human drams that the loud, perhaps overly-busy Annihilation lacks. I read on the Intertubes somewhere that these two slim GNs are from before the series "got very good," but I think it's already terrific.
White Death, by Rob Morrison and Charlie Adlard (AiT/PlanetLar). This is a WWI drama, focusing on the Italian resistance to Austrian attacks in the Dolomites. The white death of the title is the deliberate causing of avalanches using artillery. Morrison was inspired to write this book when he heard about the avalanche strategy, which he calls "even more obscene" than the course of normal warfare. Maybe it's just me, but I don't find it any more horrifying than shooting artillery directly at people, or any other way of killing or maiming people in war. So perhaps I was never in the mindset to properly get into Morrison's tale. Adlard's unusual art --- charcoal on grey paper --- is terrific, but I didn't think that this book had anything to say about WWI that hasn't been said thousands of times in other media. ...Well, maybe that's too harsh. If Garth Ennis' name were on the cover and not a word inside was changed, a lot more people would probably seek out and praise it. It's a good, solid war story, with a chilling ending (no pun intended).