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August 8, 2004 Edition

Hellblazer: Rake at the Gates of Hell, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

John Constantine has made some enemies while trying to help people out and his worst one - who happens to be Satan himself - has decided it’s time to settle the score. This novel is actually the continuation of the plotline first introduced in the graphic novel Preacher. As Constantine moves through the world he tries to help those he knows and encounters with their problems, in the end though generally causing the problems to go from bad to worse. At the same time, Satan breaks the trinity of power that stabilizes Hell and decides it is the perfect time to settle up with Constantine. This graphic novel is rife with a kind of primitive fatalism and morbid philosophy. Still the unusual world it presents makes for an interesting read, using the constant problems of humanity to throw the events of Constantine’s life into sharp relief. Very violent and bloody, includes scenes of torture and some sexual references.

A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories, by Will Eisner.

Eisner presents a collection of four stories from the 1930’s Jewish tenements of New York City. These include tales of marriage, death, and greed. However, even the hardest characters have something sympathetic about them, a sense of people caught up in events beyond their control. The stories focus on the realistic portrayal of life during this time and dispense with the black and white morality usually encountered in comics of the time (originally published in 1978). There are no real heroes and no real bad guys, rather, regular people making it to the best (or worst) of their ability. This is primarily for a more mature audience due to the adult situations presented in the narrative.

The Path: Crisis of Faith, by Marz, Sears, Pennington, and Atiyeh

The Path contains the prequel and chapters 1-5 of this continuing series of stories. This is a graphic novel in the best tradition of Japanese samurai movies and tales. Reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s work, the virtues of honor and loyalty are tested and tried in an alternate world where battle rages between the empires of Nayado (Japan) and Shinacea (China). As the tide of battle turns all is changed in a moment of divine intervention that sets up the plot for the rest of the series. This graphic novel wrestles with the death of faith and what causes the spirit to carry on while combining the best of the historical milieu with the realm of eastern myth. Primarily for older readers, this work contains graphic depictions of violence.

Bone: Ghost Circles #7, by Jeff Smith

This is the 7th installment in the popular Bone series. The three Bone cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone) having been run out of Boneville are engaged in a series of adventures and are torn between helping their new friends and trying to find a way back home to Boneville. During their wanderings through a mysterious valley filled with strange and wonderful creatures, including the evil “Rat Creatures,” the Bone cousins have been joined by Thorn and Gran’ma Ben. This unlikely group is now faced with an arduous journey to the ancient capitol of Atheia, all the while trying to avoid the deadly and mysterious Ghost Circles that seemed to have filled the valley in the wake of a deadly volcanic eruption. The cause of the eruption was the awakening of an evil being known as the Locust whose minions relentlessly track the party. See what happens as this group of unlikely heroes struggles along in this wonderful fun adventure suitable for all ages. And lest anyone fear, the library has all the preceding Bone adventures as well (They’re popular enough that this was the only one I could get my hands on to write this review!)

Three Hundred (300), by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

This is the engrossing story of the events leading up to, and including, the epic battle at Thermopolyae. In this account of one of the most famous battles of all time, wherein the Spartans, with just 300 men, held off the assembled hordes of Persia, the reality of both war and glory are exposed. The bloodiness, the futility, the glory are all explored. Most importantly however, the minds and culture of the Spartans are brought forth in such a vibrant and real way that one can’t help but be drawn in to the story. Despite the seemingly simplistic storyline many seemingly trivial events conspire to give this small moment in time the feel of a great epic. The art also draws one in and lends added weight to the grittiness and hardness of this group of men. As per the main storyline, violence abounds, but most readers should be comfortable with this re-telling of the classic story of the Spartans.

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