May 31, 2007


Miki Falls 1: Spring. By Mark Crilley. HarperCollins. $7.99.

Warriors: The Lost Warrior. Created by Erin Hunter. Written by Dan Jolley. Art by James L. Barry. Tokyopop/HarperCollins. $6.99.

28 Days Later: The Aftermath. By Steve Niles. Illustrated by Dennis Calero, Diego Olmos and Nat Jones. Fox Atomic/HarperCollins. $17.99.

      Graphic novels are getting serious (sometimes), complex (sometimes), and far more interesting (most of the time). Many are tackling more-adult themes than in the past and – thanks to the influence of Japanese manga – doing so with drawings that go far beyond comic-strip style.

      Mark Crilley, who splits his time between Japan and the U.S., is heavily influenced by manga, as he has shown in his Akiko series for preteens – which started as comics and became novels. His new Miki Falls tetralogy is aimed at older readers, ages 12 and up, and seems – on the basis of its first part, Spring – to be willing to look at some fairly substantial questions about life and love while still being entertaining. Miki is a high-school senior who, in Spring, meets a new and mysterious student named Hiro and finds herself developing an insatiable curiosity about him…and other feelings for him as well. In the first part of the book, Crilley does a fine job – both in words and in interestingly framed and shaded drawings – of developing Miki’s personality and carrying readers along with the mystery of Hiro, who is strange, withdrawn and apparently frightened in some unexplainable way. Miki’s success at pulling somewhat closer to Hiro is well paced – but when Hiro abruptly rejects her and she begins following him (stalking him, actually), the book starts to lose its way a bit. The solution to the mystery behind Hiro’s comings and goings, when Miki uncovers it, is just plain silly, but Crilley asks readers to accept it at face value as the reality elements of the book take off into fantasyland. The transition is rather abrupt; whether readers accept it will depend on the extent to which they have fallen under Miki’s spell – and on what Crilley does with the upcoming second Miki Falls book, Summer.

      The Warriors trilogy is for younger readers and is more straightforward in both narrative and illustration. Based on Erin Hunter’s series about cats and their clans, this first book of a manga version focuses on Graystripe: how he comes unwillingly to live among “twolegs”; how he loses parts of his warrior nature and becomes more like a “kittypet”; and how he discovers his abilities again, and gains a helper named Millie whom he trains in warrior ways. Some of the forced perspective here is effective, and the human-like expressions of the cats are well-matched to their feline motions. But the story has none of the depth of top-rate graphic novels, and little of the sensitivity of Hunter’s original books – as readers will discover from a six-page excerpt printed at the back.

      28 Days Later: The Aftermath is neither original (like Miki Falls) nor based on prior novels (like Warriors). Its origin is in the film 28 Days Later and its recently released sequel, 28 Weeks Later. The first of these films is a zombie-horror movie with several differences from the genre norm: it is less about gore-filled violence (though it certainly has some) than it is about what it means to be human, and what unintended consequences even the best impulses can have. In the film, it is an animal-rights group’s attempt to free chimpanzees from being used as experimental subjects that unleashes a deadly virus called Rage, which turns its victims into the ultimate expression of anger and vicious violence. Uninfected characters respond with anger and violence of their own – which sometimes helps them survive and sometimes dooms them. 28 Days Later: The Aftermath fills in some of the holes in the first movie and in the times immediately after it takes place. It is considerably more violent, in some ways, than the movie itself, with all three contributing artists milking every scene of intense gore for maximum effect. The blood-red cover by Tim Bradstreet, showing London in flames, is itself effectively frightening. The three stories are intense – but will be largely incoherent for anyone who has not seen the film (and perhaps somewhat repetitious for those who have seen it). This book is an example of graphic novels reaching well beyond preteen and teenage readers to try to connect with young adults. It’s a fanzine of sorts: designed for a pre-selected audience only.

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