The best episodes of the 1990s Disney show Gargoyles stem from the Avalon storyline, in which a handful of the characters drift away on a boat into a mysterious fog, wandering from one world myth to another over the course of multiple episodes. The whole thing is a super-bizarre change in the show’s focus — it would be like if halfway through a season of The Walking Dead one of the characters announced a vacation and then suddenly the rest of the show was about him and the wacky staff of a hotel in Barbados.
Anyway, what I love about the Avalon storyline is that it dispenses with what had, at that point, become an insanely convoluted (and good, but convoluted) storyline in Manhattan involving the Illuminati, mutants, evil robots, and most of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Instead of a complicated ongoing X-Files-style mythology, we can just enjoy some very economically told one-offs, each based upon ancient myths from real-world cultures around the world.
It’s a pleasure to see Archaia following in those footsteps with new issues of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller books, launching a new anthology series this week with a focus on trickster myths. The first installment of The Storyteller series is just one of several excellent books coming out this week. You may also wish to feast your gaze on a new Superman anthology if you like heroes; a new kaiju book from Image if you hate heroes; and a delightful book about a young girl who uncovers an environmental conspiracy if you love daring heroines. (Thanks to Phoenix for helping to pick out a few highlights.)
A marvelous retelling of the Anansi storyline that is “all ages” in the best sense of the phrase, appropriate for kids and a thrill for adults. Originating in Akan folklore, Anansi is a tricky spider god who schemes to steal the world’s stories from his father, Nyame, god of the sky. It’s a relief to see that the Storyteller series tackle myths besides the European and Greek tales that the original show adhered to; though I do find myself a bit — hmmm — uneasy, let’s say, about the authors framing the entire story around a white character. Setting that aspect aside, though (if one can), it’s an excellent depiction of a creation story, as Anansi schemes to obtain Nyame’s stories and is then undone by his own over-confidence. It’s a pleasure to see Anansi’s clever trickiness become his undoing, to see his covetousness rebuked, and for all parties involved to note the difference between hoarding knowledge and cultivating wisdom. Future Tricksters installments will feature Yoruba myths, a sneaky fox, and a non-Marvel Loki; I’m looking forward to all of them. (And! Collectors! Get those Peach Momoko variant covers while you can!)
This one’s mostly for fans, I suspect — lovers of Superman’s whole vibe will enjoy this anthology of meditations on who the character is and why he’s so enduring. Introduced in 1938, I can’t say that there are any dimensions of Superman that have not been explored at this point (but who knows — I was ready to write off Captain America in the same way until I saw Josh Trujillo’s upcoming innovative take). Red and Blue consists of six short stories by a mix of artists and authors, each focusing on a different incident in the hero’s life, and each using a limited palette to focus the reader’s attention. In most cases I don’t know what that artistic limitation adds; it felt a bit like an art-school exercise until I reached a story that was specifically about color. The stories themselves are a pleasure, though: There’s a meditation on forgiveness when Clark meets a former abuser, two different takes on hero worship and self-determination, and an excellent story about childhood compassion. Because Superman is basically a god, the best tales are not the ones in which he has to punch his way out of trouble, but the ones in which he faces a difficult moral choice. All six of the stories in this anthology know what makes Superman stories so super.
Great men are not so great. In Ultramega #1, we’re introduced to a world beset by a plague that turns normal people into giant monsters, and a solution that’s just as bad: Other normal people are made into monster-fighting giants. Do they rise to the occasion and become heroes? Haha, no, of course not — there’s no such thing as heroes here, just exhausted depressed men who are unable to measure up to unattainable expectations, and an exhausted, depressed populace with misplaced faith. The book follows Jason, a hapless and middle-aged monster fighter who is tired; battling terrible creatures has taken an enormous toll on his personal life and on his relationship with his family. He knows it’s only a matter of time before the only thing he has left — defending Earth — crumbles as well. Ultramega is the story of humans pushed to their limits, and then further, and further, and further, like little toys being stressed to see how much it takes to break them. This release coincides with two new Ultraman comics (Trials of Ultraman and Rise of Ultraman) so the timing is chef’s-kiss.
ALSO: FABULOUS FANTASY, FASHION, AND FRIENDSHIP
A few more books worth a look this week: I love everything about the look of Gert and the Sacred Stones, a 12+ book about a young orphan defending her village against ferocious monsters and learning how to rise above the violence around her. The Leak is a marvelous tale that’s sort of young-Erin-Brockovich: A youthful journalist uncovers an environmental catastrophe and faces tough choices about telling hard truths. The Bequest is an intensely ‘80s-styled tale of fantasy heroes in our world, with villains who seem inspired by the MAGA crowd and are a bit too real for my tastes. Also quite real: Image has a new trade paperback translation of The Fall, which concerns the collapse of civilization in the wake of a pandemic.
For something a bit more relaxing, take a look at Tokyo Fashion, which is exactly what it sounds like — fashion advice for dressing up in Tokyo. (The advice for women is approximately 95% of the book; advice for men is relegated to just a handful of pages.) I heartily enjoyed Martian Ghost Centaur, about a bunch of teens who must save their small-town tourist trap. And then there’s My Last Summer With Cass, a gentle graphic novel about the value of nurturing friendships so that they thrive; and The Incredible Nelly Bly, a wonderful illustrated biography of a real-life pioneering journalist and feminist heroine.