April 26, 2012


Teen Boat! By Dave Roman and John Green. Clarion. $14.99.

The Griff. By Christopher Moore and Ian Carson, with Jennyson Rosero. William Morrow. $22.99.

      There are limits to how far the “graphic” in “graphic novel” can carry a story.  It really helps if there is a story worth carrying.  Teen Boat! is ridiculous fun that essentially has no story at all.  The title character is a boy named, well, Teen Boat; he has that name because he is a teenager who can change himself into a small yacht.  OK, there’s the story; pretty much all of it.  Teen Boat has a fairly typical ordinary-comic-character appearance, with bland features and just a bit of angularity to his body – sort of like an older Flat Stanley, but not quite as flat.  There is no “origin” story here, no explanatory material of any kind; and in fact, Teen Boat soon turns out to be only one among several teens with transformative powers.  The powers are used…well, unlike comic books, in which supernatural powers are used to battle evildoers or become evildoers, Teen Boat’s are used only for being a teenager.  That means getting bullied by the local football jock, having a crush on the wrong girl while missing out on the right one who has been available all along, getting detention, being tricked into helping not-so-nice schoolmates because of a strong desire to be accepted, going on field trips, and so forth.  True, not everything here is typical teen stuff in the manner of Archie comics – there is one sequence in which Teen Boat and classmates are accosted by pirates, albeit ones who wear eyepatches purely for effect, sport temporary rather than permanent tattoos, and say “arrr” whenever the “ar” sound appears in any word whatsoever; and there is a bit of a mystery about the school’s principal, who keeps turning up where he shouldn’t and is clearly not the appropriate authority figure he is supposed to be.  But these are minor matters.  Teen Boat! really is fun to read despite the utter predictability of its plot, and by the time the pirates have escaped prison and launched (yes, launched) a well-funded search aimed at revenge upon TeenBoat, readers will likely be looking forward to the sequel.  Actually, though, the most interesting part of the book is the six-page “how this book was created” section at the end – a primer for making a graphic novel.

      Jennyson Rosero’s art for The Griff is at a much higher level than the art of Teen Boat!  And the book has a much more serious, if equally formulaic, plot: Earth is invaded by aliens who kill almost everyone, leaving a plucky band of intrepid survivors to fight the evildoers from outer space and begin the task of repopulating the world.  OK, got it.  Novelist Christopher Moore and screenwriter Ian Corson are capable of much better than this, and have shown how good they are repeatedly, so it is only fair to cut them some slack for this divertissement.  The title (which is both singular and plural) refers to the murderous invading aliens, which resemble mythological griffins and are given their name by a reporter just before he becomes Griff food.  The pacing of the book is highly cinematic, presumably thanks to Corson, a director as well as a writer.  The best character by far, and indeed the only one with much character, is Goth game-goddess Mo, who gets turned on by weaponry and has courage to live for (literally) as well as a body to die for (figuratively); Mo closely tracks strong female characters in Moore’s books and is presumably his creation, or at least primarily his.  Too bad none of the three guys in the book is worthy of her, although of course this sort of plot means she has to end up with one of them (and since there is only one other major female character, she has to end up with another of them, and the third man, who is older and less buff than the other two, has to be conveniently eliminated after proving his heroism).  The extremely standard plot has Earth’s defenses overwhelmed and destroyed because they are designed against invaders of metal, while the Griff are “meat.”  There are, very typically for this sort of tale, two tracks to the story, one starting in New York and the other in Florida, over which the alien spaceship hovers until it mysteriously crashes; the New York contingent travels south, fighting the good fight all the way, eventually joining up with the Florida survivors.  A few elements of the plot are offbeat and amusing: for example, the most soldier-like character turns out to be only a military hobbyist who worked at a department-store makeup counter before the Griff attacked.  But the lack of explanation of pretty much everything is irritating: exactly what, for instance, called the Griff to Earth in the first place, and how did they appear almost instantaneously, and why did they have to wait to be signaled to show up?  Also, the very ending of the work is simply ludicrous: six months after the main events, neither woman is pregnant (the highly detailed end-of-story picture of Mo makes her non-pregnancy abundantly clear), and Steve, the guy with whom Mo has hooked up, is still wearing the same Band-Aid he had on six months earlier, in the same place.  The very last scene is impossible to figure out: either it is the traditional “dawn of a new hope” conclusion or the equally traditional “another signal to vicious aliens to come take over what’s left of Earth” ending.  The Griff, though, is absolutely gorgeous to look at even when its plot is at its most incoherent.  Moore and Corson are the heavyweights here, but this would have been a very lightweight book indeed without Rosero’s superb work.

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