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Graphic novels worthy of great love

By Jake Sexton | La Mesa Reads

Late July brings Comic-Con to the San Diego region; and with it, a ready excuse to talk about one of my great loveås: comics and graphic novels. Many adults immediately think of “Archie,” “Garfield,” or “Peanuts,” but the titles I discuss below aren’t suitable for kids. Like any novel, they touch on humans’ dark obsessions, motivations, and emotions.

This year ushered in several intense crime comics with supernatural elements. “Kill or Be Killed” is the latest by the noir dream team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. After a failed suicide attempt, disenchanted twenty-something Dylan finds himself alive and hearing voices from a shadow in the darkness. The shadow claims to be a demon who saved Dylan’s life, and Dylan must repay the debt by killing someone once a month. Uncertain of his own sanity, Dylan decides he must chance it, and begins a secret second life as a surprisingly effective vigilante. Everything goes well for him … for a while …

“The Black Monday Murders” by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker fuses traditional organized crime stories with horror. It explains the world as one controlled by a small handful of families, whose strength comes from centuries of occult dealings with dark gods. The plot begins when one of these secretive financial titans is murdered and the police begin opening the door on this underground society. The investigating cop is armed with some understanding of these dark forces, but is quickly in over his head.

The ironically titled “Happy!” by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson tells the tale of Nick Sax, a police detective fallen from grace, who now is a sleazy, drunken hit man. After a job goes wrong, he ends up in the hospital … and is awakened by a miniature blue talking flying horse that only he can see. While Nick’s goal is to flee from the gangsters who want his head, Happy the Horse implores him to save a little girl in town whose time is running out. Is Nick crazy? Is Happy a hallucination? Are imaginary friends real, and if so, why would one put its faith in such a degenerate human being?

Ron Wimberly’s “Prince of Cats” took me by surprise. It tells the story of a secondary character from “Romeo and Juliet” — Juliet’s aggressive cousin Tybalt. But instead of Renaissance-era Italy, the tragic tale is set in 1980s Brooklyn. Picture sword-fighting NYC teens, decked out as though they were auditioning for a Prince video. The artwork is stylish and vibrant, and the dialogue is extremely impressive. Instead of simply inserting Shakespeare’s lines, or re-writing those lines in modern language, Wimberly writes new dialogue in iambic pentameter that mimics Shakespeare’s flowery text, with swearing and hip-hop slang sprinkled in.

To end on a silly note, I’ll mention “Scooby Apocalypse” by Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Howard Porter. In an inexplicable departure, DC Comics takes the groovy teen detectives of “Scooby-Doo” and sets them in a post-apocalyptic Earth filled with monsters. But to my surprise, it works. Brainy Velma suspects nefarious schemes from her superiors at a shadowy tech conglomerate, so she calls in reality TV stars/journalists Fred and Daphne. They cross paths with hipster Shaggy, a company dog trainer who works with the genetically engineered SmartDogs, like Scooby. They are thrown together just as the corporate mad scientists realize their plan by releasing a virus that turns people into monsters. Scoob and the gang are no longer revealing Old Man Higgins in a monster mask — they are fighting to survive a world of vampires, zombies and more.

It’s not too late to join the library’s Summer Reading Challenge. People of all ages can get prizes for reading books, attend fun and educational programs, enter art contests, and more. Details are at sdcl.org/src.

—Jake Sexton is a librarian at the La Mesa branch of the San Diego County Library. Call the library at 619-469-2151; visit in person at 8074 Allison Ave.; or get information online at sdcl.org.

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