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I’ll never be able to recreate the range of emotions that must’ve wandered across my face when I opened a package a few days ago to find a graphic novel entitled Mr. Colostomy. The title alone produced waves of dismay, but that’s nothing compared to the annoyance produced by actually reading the thing.

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I consider “having something to say” to be the bare minimum requirement of a comic book, or really any creative work. That’s not to say that an assortment of random expressions can’t be art, or worthwhile for a creator to enjoy making; just that those types of projects usually have an audience of one, unless they’re screensavers or an ASMR video meant to be ignored. Anyway, read on for my hatchet job on Mr. Colostomy.

Happily, there are some very successful books out this week, particularly in the form of graphic novel collections and paperbacks — add them to your spring-break or summer reading list now. (Also out this week is a coloring book full of horrific black-and-white Junji Ito body horror, a fine thing to carry around and color in if you want to give the impression of being a dangerous murderer.)

Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to sort through the releases, and for knowing my tastes well enough to not even bother recommending Mr. Colostomy to me.

STILLWATER: THE ESCAPE ONE SHOT

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An excellent entry into the Stillwater series, this anthology brings together a handful of grim tales about people who tried to escape a town where nobody dies and nobody is allowed to leave. This world has been fleshed out fairly thoroughly in two volumes that are already out in paperback collections; but impressively, you don’t have to have read them to follow along with these bite-sized adventures. Framed around a series of campfire stories, the first short tale reflects on a husband left behind; the second is about a gay youth longing to escape the cycle of small-town nothingness; and the third provides just a glimmer of optimism — but don’t count on that feeling to last long. These tales are brutal and grim, but if that’s your cup of blood consider this an invitation to read up on the back-issues. The final arc of the series is expected later this year.

Rating: 👁️👁️👁️👁️ (4/5)

Creator and writer: Chip Zdarsky. Creator and artists: Ramón K. Perez. Colorist: Spicer. Anthology authors: Jason Loo, Andrew Wheeler, Ethan Young. Anthology artist: Soo Lee. Anthology colorist: Dee Cunniffe. Letterer: Rus Wooton. Editor: Jon Moisan. Logo and design: Andres Juarez.

SLUMBER ISSUE #1

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What I wouldn’t give for a few more establishing shots in this otherwise well-crafted new series about a mysterious malevolent force that invades the dreams of innocent people and forces them to kill. A tough-as-nails assassin struggles to keep that evil force at bay, hired to enter sleepers’ minds and hunt down the source of their nightmares; but where can she turn to tackle her own unpleasant dreams? That’s a difficult question to answer, because it’s hard to know where ANYTHING is happening in the back half of this book. The story warps, mid-page, to new locations and times, some of which may or may not be dreams — it’s hard to tell. As a mechanism for disorienting the reader, this is effective. But as the time-space jumps add up, it becomes exponentially more taxing to keep track of theories about where the events take place, when they take place, and even if they’re really taking place. Fortunately, some particularly strong characters manage to hold the action together by its seams, especially the bitter dream hunter who swaggers around with a noir-hero snarl but clearly hides some raw wounds deep down where she thinks no one can see. An intriguing heroine who just needs to plant a few additional signposts to help us follow her through neon carnage.

Rating: 🐰🐰🐰🐰 (4/5)

Writer: Tyler Burton Smith. Illustrator: Vanessa Cardinali. Colorist: Simon Robins. Letterer and designer: Steve Wands. Cover: Nathan Fox. Editor: Heather Antos. Additional edits: Chris Stevens.

MR. COLOSTOMY

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At last, a book that answers the question “what if we didn’t try very hard?” Random images and text, drawn sequentially without any clear plan or effort at revision, present a disconnected non-narrative about a horse who wanders a city, some missing children, and a stone gargoyle — not unlike peering over the shoulder of a bored student in algebra class, doodling in their notebook; or like combing through a scrap heap in the hope that there might be hidden gems. It’s no accident that the book is without any particular meaning: According to the press materials, which are funnier than anything I could ever intentionally write, the author creates via “parapraxis — meaning with no forethought or pencilling.” That’s not exactly what “parapraxis” means, or how “penciling” is spelled, but instead of dwelling on that let’s instead note that the promo materials also describe the author’s previous artwork as including “an olfactory performance” and “choreographed noise dance.” Are both of those just … a dance where he farted a lot? I ask because that sounds about as edifying an experience as this book. “This comic honours the mistake as the desired or hidden expression of the unconscious,” reads the description, perhaps spelling “honors” that way as an example of such a mistake. Okay, but whose unconscious are we meant to be expressing here? The author’s? Whoever’s it is, the scrap heap seems to have been pretty thoroughly picked-over before we arrived.

Rating: 🐎 (1/5)

By Matthew Thurber.

ALSO: A HORROR COLORING BOOK, RABBIT SWORDSMAN, and A BUTT

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Also out this week is a fascinating Junji Ito coloring book — it seems taboo to add color to Ito’s inimitable black-and-white body-horror imagery, but let’s throw caution to the wind. Among the intriguing new paperbacks out this week is Adora and the Distance, about a young woman fighting evil in a fantasy realm; Better Angels tells the inspired-by-history story of America’s first lady detective; a whole bunch of Usagi Yojimbo issues are reprinted this week, if you like funny animal stories; and Masters of the Universe: Revelation is gathered in a nice collection — I didn’t love the first issue but after watching the Netflix series the story’s grown on me. DC’s new World’s Finest series places Batman alongside Superman… again. There’s also a new Nightwing from Marvel, a hero who, for whatever reason, is known for his beautiful ass.

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