Somehow I missed The Promised Neverland, a 20-book manga that began in 2016 and is now a much-loved anime series. The story is about a seemingly-idyllic orphanage that, our hero-children discover, is actually a human-meat farm for demons. An unpleasant subject, but that’s part of the appeal—as is the stunning art, which is orders of magnitude more gorgeous than one might expect for such a hideous conceit.
I mention this because a marvelous new collection of art from the series came out this summer (The Promised Neverland: Art Book World) and while it’s not where a reader should start the series, it’s a lush, lovely gift to fans, and flipping through its pages was all the nudge I needed to seek out the first issue of the series and catch up.
Also worthy of your attention is Once and Future, which is wrapping up soon; an incredible modern-day adaptation of Arthurian stories with an eldritch twist, it’s one of the best comic series of recent years. And take a look at Space Trash, a thrilling graphic novel about a group of young women attending school on the moon who stumble across a secret that could change the course of humanity.
Thanks as always to Phoenix Comics for pointing out the best new releases—this week we’ve got two very different books about how fossil fuels are killing us all, and the start of an action-mystery series that paced so fast I may have gotten motion sickness.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
Fans of Kate Beaton’s wonderful humorous comics (Hark! A Vagrant, King Baby, The Princess and the Pony, among others) are in for a very different experience in this heavy autobiographical graphic novel. It’s a highly memorable memoir of her time just out of college when, saddled with debt, she took on various jobs in remote oil-drilling areas of Canada.
Surrounded by the wilderness, toxic chemicals, and terrible (and sometimes violent) men, her experience was even more awful than one might imagine; the retelling of it comes with a mix of mundane day-to-day life (filling equipment requisitions, glimpsing a fox near the dumpsters, watching safety videos) and truly soul-crushing sexism—and worse. “The oil sands defy any easy characterization,” Beaton writes in an afterword, but having read the memoir, easy characterizations like “torturous” come to mind, or “poison for the environment and the soul.”
At 430 pages, the story wanders at a slow, detailed pace, taking its time with low-stakes slices of life punctuated by startling moments of misery. Some of the characters are able to endure their experiences, others do not, and those who emerge on the other side are laced with battle scars—not all immediately apparent.
Rating: 🦆🦆🦆🦆 (4/5)
Written and illustrated by Kate Beaton.
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly.
Antioch Issue #1
Press materials for this series note that it’s about “a king from a lost continent” and backmatter reveals that it’s a continuation of the Frontiersman series, two clues that may help the reader orient themselves in what is an otherwise incomprehensible collage of dialogue and images.
I am unable to convey the subject of this book, as it is entirely elusive: There seems to be a motley crew of aliens (???) dedicated to saving Earth by destroying one of humanity’s most deadly endeavors, the fossil fuel industry. Other creatures agree with their intent but not their tactics, and combat of some type ensues, though it’s difficult to say exactly who’s winning at any moment due to the odd choice to draw multiple versions of individual characters within the same panel. Are there three of those guys, or is there just one of them drawn several times? Hard to say.
Meanwhile, someone is in prison with a gang of… monsters? Mutants? Who knows. I kept backing up and re-reading to try to make sense of it all, or checking to make sure that I hadn’t skipped one or two pages. Maybe it's more clear if you’ve read the creators’ other works, or if you enjoy puzzling over opaque texts like you’re assembling a document you retrieved from a shredder. No thank you.
Rating: ❓ (1/5)
Writer: Patrick Kindlon. Art: Marco Ferrari. Lettering: Jim Campbell. Alt cover: Jeff Stokely. Editor: James Hepplewhite. Production Design: Erika Schnatz.
Last Line Issue #1
The other day I was walking a large dog and threw a ball for him, forgetting that his leash was still looped around my wrist. When he charged off, he dragged me to the ground and I tumbled several feet across a grassy field behind him. That’s the experience of reading this breakneck mystery about a subway driver named Sally Hazzard who witnesses a man getting pushed onto the tracks, only to soon discover a strange coverup of the victim’s death.
Powerful shadowy forces conspire to hide the facts of the murder, but Sally’s determined to get to the bottom of them as quickly as possible, and so she does, charging across the pages to make unexpected allies, supernatural discoveries, and powerful deadly enemies with the frantic speed of a Micro Machines commercial.
An amount of plot that would be sufficient for the first 150 pages of a novel is crammed into this first issue’s 24 pages, and while I appreciate that it doesn’t waste the reader’s time, sometimes there’s a bewildering quickness to plot beats that deserve a little more time to settle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to go fast; but I’d prefer to do it without falling over and scraping my knees.
Rating: 🚇🚇🚇🚇 (4/5)
Writer: Richard Dinnick. Artist: Jose Holder. Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick. Letterer: Dave Sharpe. Alt covers: Andy Clarke, Jose Villarrubia, Das Pastoras. Logo design: Matt Krotzer. Backmatter design: Charles Prtichett. Editor: Mike Marts.