Comic Reviews: Off the Beaten Path

Our review theme today is Off the Beaten Path as we examine a quintet of quirky graphic novels acquired through the good folks at Sequential Swap.

Last Exit Before Toll (from Oni Press) Charles Pierce is a businessman who runs away from home without meaning to and maybe finds the life he might have had. There's no message here, and no real conclusion either, but Neal Schaffer's story is more about mood than moral, and Christopher Mitens linework (along with Dawn Pietrusko's grey tones) provides a somber escape from reality.

Colere Noir (DC/Humanoids) Two women are caught in the crossfire of a supermarket holdup. Their tragedy begins a crusade to revenge the loss of their loved ones. But the deeper they delve into the mystery of the masked gunmen, the more difficult their quest becomes. Colere Noir is a French black and white import via DC's now discontinued Humanoids line. Phillipe Marcele delivers a well-paced story (although I was a little disappointed in the conclusion) with compelling characters; and Thierry Smolderen's grey tones perfectly reflect the murky morality. It's unfortunate that DC's attempt to introduce more European fiction into the States sputtered so quickly.
Zoot Suite (Fantagraphics) Brothers Andrew and Roger Langridge deliver kafka-esque comedy comics as a pair of friends search for a lost car. The strong black and white art complements the comedic timing. It's not laugh out loud funny, but it is quite clever. I wasn't expecting to like this one, but it really grew on me.

Lazarus Jack (Dark Horse) Mark Ricketts tells the tale of an aged, formerly-famous escape artist who gets the chance to reclaim his lost family. Horacio Domingues provides a sexy and lighthearted artwork that is fun to look at. As a story of loss and redemption, it almost works. But unfortunately, the plot is all over the map, including time travel, reverse aging, evil wizards, demons, and of course, escapes. I didn't hate the book, in fact I wanted to like it, but it never really decided what it wanted to be; and by doing everything, it kind of missed the mark.
Birth of a Nation (Crown) In a close presidential race, the "winner" is elected without the input of East St. Louis' black vote. As a result, the people of the city take action and secede from the Union. Funny and in-your-face, Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin's story addresses frankly, if not quite believably, the disenfranchisement of black voters. The situation is fictional, but you'll recognize all the players in Kyle Baker's inimitable drawings. While the narrative is a bit over the top, it does make you pine for the days when people actually took on corruption in their government.