Benny and Penny in Lights Out!

By Geoffrey Hayes
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is a publisher that specializes in a synthesis of children’s books and comics. These books use the structure of both mediums to form beautiful graphic novels aimed at children of different ages that not only serve as gateways to comics, but also are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. With three new books being released by Toon Books, today’s “Quick Takes” reviews focus on the latest publications from Toon.

Geoffrey Hayes’s Benny and Penny books are some of my favorites in the publishing line, so a new installment from Hayes was bound to tickle my fancy. Benny and Penny in Lights Out! does just that, as the brother-and-sister duo get ready for bed, tell each other scary stories, and sneak out a window into the dark to try and find Benny’s missing pirate hat. What’s great about Benny and Penny in Lights Out! (and the Benny and Penny books in general) is that despite the verbal sparring that the duo occasionally have, there’s a certain level of affection that’s always present between the two. Penny clearly looks up to her big brother, and Benny himself has a protective side that will surface as need be.

I also appreciated that for all of Benny’s bluster, it’s Penny who can kick up the bravery when it needs to be present; she might be the little sister but she’s not afraid to be the tough one when need be. Add in some beautiful art from Hayes, with soft gentle shading that draws you into the page, and you’re hooked. I love the big two-page spread of Penny outside at night by herself, and Hayes plays with light and shadow quite effectively for a book set in the dark hours. Aimed at first and second graders, Benny and Penny in Lights Out! is a book that parents will enjoy reading by themselves as much as they will with their children. I might be about to enter my 40s, but I’ll cheerfully keep collecting all the Benny and Penny books for my own bookshelves.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

By Frank Viva
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is a publisher that specializes in a synthesis of children’s books and comics. These books use the structure of both mediums to form beautiful graphic novels aimed at children of different ages that not only serve as gateways to comics, but also are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. With three new books being released by Toon Books, today’s “Quick Takes” reviews focus on the latest publications from Toon.

I’d never heard of Frank Viva before A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse, but now that I’ve seen his art I won’t forget him. Viva’s art looks almost like pieces of construction paper meticulously cut out and glued together onto the page; big, beautiful shapes with colors that are soothing yet noticeable. (In fact, the book was constructed through Adobe Illustrator, which is only sad in that I’d love to have originals on my wall from Viva.) Viva tackles all sorts of images here, from orca and penguins to icebergs and waves. The Antarctic region comes across as a beautiful and soothing place thanks to Viva, and for that alone you’ll want to look at A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse.

Fortunately the storytelling is strong here, too. Aimed at very young readers, Viva uses patterns and repetition to keep the attention of the little kids, but fortunately he also keeps it from becoming annoying to adults. Whenever Mouse offers up ideas, Viva divides the landscape-oriented pages into four spots so that parents can point to each and say the item being illustrated there; it’s an effective way to teach kids about both mundane and out-of-the-ordinary things. A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse is enchanting, and hopefully it’s not the first trip that Viva is taking Mouse, his explorer friend, or us. I’m a Viva fan now, and once you look at this book, you’ll be too.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

Hawkeye #2

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by David Aja
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

Five years ago, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, and David Aja teamed up to produce a revival of The Immortal Iron Fist. The series didn’t last too long, but it was a lot of fun, and it introduced Fraction and Aja to Marvel’s readers and well as them to each other. Now, Fraction and Aja have reunited for a new ongoing series starring Hawkeye of Avengers fame. And two issues into Hawkeye? All I can think is how much better Fraction and Aja have gotten since Iron Fist, and they were already good back then.

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Thief of Thieves #8

Story by Robert Kirkman
Written by James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

Thief of Thieves, for those coming in late, is Robert Kirkman’s new ongoing series that follows master thief Redmond. The series has a series of co-authors attached to it but plotted overall by Kirkman and drawn by Shawn Martinbrough, similar to how a television’s writer’s room works. Thief of Thieves #1-7, the first storyline, was scripted by Nick Spencer and now it’s James Asmus’s turn in the hot seat for the second storyline. And so far? It’s not a bad start.

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Complete Peanuts: 1985-1986

By Charles M. Schulz
340 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics Books

No one ever seems to agree for certain when Peanuts went from its glory years to the moment where it just wasn’t quite as good. And while I’m far behind on my Complete Peanuts reading, I decided to try jumping ahead a bit in the sequence and to give the brand-new Complete Peanuts Vol. 18: 1985-1986 to try and get a feel for what the mid-’80s era of the strip was like in comparison to the greatness of the ’70s.

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It Girl and the Atomics #1-2

Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Mike Norton
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

I remember buying the very first issue of Michael Allred’s Madman back in the early ’90s, with its blue-and-black duo-tone scheme and flip-a-mation dance in the lower-right-hand corner. Over the years I read most of the incarnations of the title, although it was around the time that the Atomics got their own series that I fell away from the series for a while. I find that a little ironic because it’s one of the Atomics that takes center stage in It Girl and the Atomics, a new series from Jamie S. Rich and Mike Norton. And while I’ve read very little about the Atomics, what I do know about the various Madman comics makes me feel strongly that this is a worthy successor.

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Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse

Written by Nate Cosby
Art by Chris Eliopoulos
Additional stories by Roger Langridge, Brian Clevenger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, and Mike Maihack
96 pages, color
Published by Archaia

There are books that sneak up on you, and I’d put Cow Boy: A Boy and His Horse in that category. On its surface it looks like a cute kid’s book, with a 10-year old boy dressed up like a cowboy holding what looks like a toy gun. I challenge you to read this book, though, and not find yourself utterly captivated. Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos have created a graphic novel that slowly but surely pulls you in, turning what at first appears to be a one-note joke into a deeply-affecting story about the bonds of family.

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Bloodshot #1

Written by Duane Swierczynski
Pencils by Manuel Garcia with Arturo Lozzi
Inks by Stefano Gaudiano
32 pages, color
Published by Valiant Entertainment

Bloodshot was one of the books at Valiant that I rapidly decided wasn’t for me; feeling very much like a standard shoot-em-up series, there was never quite the hook needed to make it stand out in my eyes. I was a little surprised, then, for it to be one of the first properties to come back from the new Valiant Entertainment. (Although at least it wasn’t the nondescript H.A.R.D. Corps, perhaps the one Valiant series that no one is clamoring to see revived.) Now that I’ve read Bloodshot #1, though? Well, credit to where it’s due, this version definitely seems more interesting.

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Batman: Earth One

Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Gary Frank
Inks by Jonathan Sibal
144 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

It’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re supposed to laugh at a comic or not, and that’s the uneasy feeling I got when reading Batman: Earth One. DC’s "Earth One" series of graphic novels recasts their characters into the modern day, tweaking and changing the origins as necessary. (Not to be confused, of course, with Marvel since unveiling their "Season One" line that does the exact same thing.) Of course, with DC since re-launching their entire main line of comics, I couldn’t help but wonder if Batman: Earth One was even necessary. Reading this graphic novel, with its uneven tone and wholesale changes to the character, I’m still not sure.

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Revival #1

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

There are an awful lot of zombies these days; between comics, television shows, book, and movies, there’s a certain saturation to the market that’s hard to ignore. I think what ended up working for me with Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s new series Revival is that it appears to have started with that same germ of an idea, but taken it in a quite different direction. Seeley’s giving us the small city of Wausau, Wisconson where the dead are coming back, but with its quarantinedby the CDC/enthralled by religious fringe groups/debated on the airwaves status, we know almost instantly that Revival is going for a slightly different take. We follow officer Dana Cypress in Revival, a police officer who’s about to be assigned to dealing as the law enforcement liaison between the CDC and the locals. Through her eyes we get our first direct glimpse at just what the "revivals" are like, and how they differ greatly from actual zombies.

It helps that Seeley and Norton quickly establish a creepy mood in Revival #1; the strange being in the woods that groans and slides among the trees, the image of Martha standing on the bridge looking at the cold waters below, even the strange opening scene of the fleeing, stumbling zorse (a horse/zebra hybrid). Norton’s been juggling multiple projects lately (Battlepug, Revival, It Girl) but you’d never know it based on the art here. It’s clean and attractive, and the storytelling is quite strong, something that’s a must in order for him and Seeley to build up the tension as the issue progresses. By the time we hit the issue’s climax, new questions are being opened about the nature of the "revivals" and the set-up is strong enough to want to see what will happen next. This is a good first issue; if you check it out for yourself, I suspect you’ll be quickly hooked. I know I am.