One of the objects that I obsessed over was the audiobook version of the movie Willow, formatted onto one of those “turn the page when you hear the chimes” cassette tapes. This, it turned out, was a vastly superior way to consume the story of what is a (sorry to say) pretty lousy film, because it allowed me to fill in all manner of imagined characters, locations, and most of all explanations for everyone’s bizarre choices. It also may be responsible for my complicated feelings about pigs.
I like when a story invites the audience’s imagination to participate, like we’re all co-conspirators around a campfire, but then there are those stories that ask a bit too much — the ones that don’t quite meet you halfway. As an audiobook, Willow provides just enough for a give and take; but as a film, it presents too much confusion to enjoy, essentially dumping a collage into the viewer’s lap as though demanding, “I don’t know, YOU figure it out.”
This week’s comics vary in their handling of this approach, with one book about Mexican wrestling that gives you everything you need to have the time of your life; a superhero introduction that benefits from some outside reading; and a truly magnificent setup that then leaves all character development to the reader. Which book you pick up first will tell me everything I need to know in order to judge you.
Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to pick out this week’s top books! And also to whoever made the BANANAS choice to hire Shakespearean actor Michael Hordern to read that Willow audiobook, a ridiculously lavish choice that deeply enriched my childhood.
LA MANO DEL DESTINO
Just an absolute masterpiece. A collection of comics published over the last ten years, La Mano del Destino dives into mid-century luchadores, with a floridly colored tale of a grizzled wrestler out for revenge. Our hero is Ernesto el General, a man devoted to honor and honesty in the ring, which of course means that he’s doomed to suffer at the hands of conniving heels who will stop at nothing to exploit the system and ruin this pure-hearted hero. Just when all seems lost, a mysterious promoter offers to help him recover his lost dignity by fighting his way through every enemy who wronged him until he can destroy the organized crime boss who holds lucha libre in his thrall. Ugh! It’s so good I can’t even stand it, and just wait until you flip to the back and see the extensive documentation, pinups, and general love letters to Mexican wrestling. What is clearly a labor of love for its creator will become an object of worship for readers.
Writer and artist: J. Gonzo.
Rating: 🤼🤼🤼🤼🤼 (5/5)
WONDER GIRL #1
I’m skeptical of books with prerequisites, which is why I seldom recommend superhero stories with lore dating back to before any of us were born. But Wonder Girl promises to be different: She’s a newly-created character, following in the footsteps of previous DC heroes but with a backstory that’s almost entirely unexplored. What we do know about Wonder Girl is intriguing; she’s an Amazon with a connection to the actual Amazon, born in Brazil, raised in the far-off land of Idaho with no knowledge of her preternatural heritage, Yara Flor is headed back to South America for what she thinks is a “rediscover your roots” tour of Brazil. But as roots usually do, hers twist in unexpected directions and extend far deeper than the surface suggests. Yara’s arrival as a tourist is closely watched by forces both good and evil, and it’s not long before danger comes looking. The book is infused with wonderful characters, and Yara is a pleasure to spend time with — rich and complex, drawn with great affection (and sartorial panache!), I can wait to see her heroism blossom. But ohhh, the book just can’t resist throwing in some references to the larger DC universe, and I can’t begrudge that too much — it’s what the longtime fans want, after all. But it sure does create a barrier for newcomers. I like the book, and I might like it even more if it didn’t require that the reader perform their own cross-referencing.
Writer and artist: Joëlle Jones.
Rating: 🦸♀️🦸♀️🦸♀️🦸♀️ (4/5)
RANGERS OF THE DIVIDE
I want to tell you a story about the wild divide between nations, where adventure and intrigue lurk behind every corner and a band of fascinating dragon-riding cadets are humanity’s last best hope of holding back annihilation. Oh GEEZ do I want to tell you that story, which is promised in the opening pages of Rangers of the Divide. A vast wild frontier full of strange creatures! An outpost where plucky young humans learn to ride dragons! Explorations deep into the unknown! If only the action and characters were as rollicking as that premise. Problem number one is the flighty POV, which jerks the reader from the gruff internal monologue of the outpost commander to a sort of hovering third-person above the young cadets, none of whom seem to have any compelling interests in life. And speaking of the cadets, I’m sure each one is quite unique, but by the end of Issue #1 I couldn’t tell you what makes any particular one different from another, a problem exacerbated by their identical uniforms and profiles. Still, the world of the book is quite lovely, and readers whose imaginations are captured by a team of teen adventurers riding dragon-beasts will likely be captivated. (As I was!) Just prepare your imagination to work overtime to fill in the missing details of our characters’ motivations.
Writer and artist: Megan Huang.
Rating: 🐲🐲🐲 (3/5)