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This diamond indicates those titles included in the Top Ten Core List

 

Preacher: Gone to Texas
ISBN: 1563892618
By Garth Ennis
Art by Steve Dillon
DC Comics (Vertigo), 1996

Ah, Preacher. Itís a comic to make the censorsí heads explode: profanity (heaps), violence (extra-gory), sex (various flavors), blasphemy (but of course!), and other sins too numerous to mention. As its many fans will attest, Preacher also features intelligent writing, deft characterization, and an intriguing view of Heaven and Hell. The series works because its human characters have an essential sweetness; despite appearances, they all want to do the right thing. The Preacher in question is Jesse Custer, a minister whose faith has been eroded by the petty evil of his flock. His companions on the journey heís about to begin are Tulip, an ex-girlfriend with a dark past, and Cassidy, a foul-mouthed Irishman with a mysterious aversion to sunlight. Jesse and his unlikely allies are on a mission to find God, who left Heaven on a trip a while back and never returned. How does Jesse know this? Heís just had his belief in a higher power restored in a dramatic way. While Godís AWOL, bickering factions in Heaven have allowed an awesomely powerful being escape. Genesis, the child of forbidden love between an angel and a demon, wants to bond with a human soul. Guess who it chose? Now Jesseís got various forces of Heaven, Hell, and Earth chasing him. If Jesse ever finds God, God will have some explaining to do...

Gone to Texas introduces a host of interesting characters and subplots. Iím looking forward to reading further volumes; while the first book got my attention, it didnít have time to develop all its intriguing ideas to their full potential. Like Transmetropolitan, Preacher pushes the boundaries of comics. Both titles appeal to teens and adults, and both will raise eyebrows.

review by jen

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Sandman
by Neil Gaiman
DC Comics 1987-1996

Yes, finally, at long last, we have reviewed the illustrious Sandman series (which also means I finally read it, and good God, why did I wait so long?). So, click here my friends to see the whole series, volumes one to ten, as well as the most recent installment, Endless Nights. Read more...

If you like, you can skip to individual volumes:

Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (I)
Sandman: The Doll's House (II)
Sandman: Dream Country (III)
Sandman: Season of Mists (IV)
Sandman: A Game of You (V)
Sandman: Fables and Reflections (VI)
Sandman: Brief Lives (VII)
Sandman: World's End (VIII)
Sandman: The Kindly Ones (IX)
Sandman: The Wake (X)
Sandman: Endless Nights (XI)

reviews by petra

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The First: Two Houses Divided
ISBN: 1931484147
by Barbara Kesel
Art by Bart Sears, Andy Smith, Micahel Atiyeh, Dave Lanphear, Andrea Di Vito, Lary Stucker, and Paul Mounts
CrossGen 2001

Somehow, a god in gleaming skintight gold pants and massive white go-go boots does not necessarily inspire fear or reverence in me. For a long while, I steered clear of The First, as a series, as it took me quite a while to get past the style -- here were characters who were almost ridiculous caricatures of humans, with massive muscles, teeny waists, and costumes that give even Elektra's costume a run for its money in the body-parts-about-to-pop-out department. This was the kind of comic that made me rant about the representation of women in comics (though, I was forced to admit, the men were equally, ahem, displayed in The First). Then I read it. And poof, my objections began to melt away. Remember the Greek Gods? They were an arrogant, selfish, petty lot, and thus we have some great stories of betrayal, love, war, and magic. The First follow in that tradition, being the powers hovering just above the CrossGen universe, immortal and ridiculously beautiful exaggerations of humans, and as with Zeus et. al., petty, vindictive, territorial, and passionate. Suddenly, the wacked out costumes and elaborate anatomy made sense, and the story -- well, the story is one to rival the myths. Though the First have long accepted manipulation of the lower peoples as their right as gods, they have just discovered that not only may they not be as all-powerful, or alone, as they believe, but they can also be killed. Long ago divided into two halves by a cruel but powerful leader, the two houses of the First struggle with their own loyalties and politics in order to reestablish their rightful place in universe. Sides are beginning to form, and some take this newfound weakness as a sign to start breaking down long-held rules. Although occasionally difficult to follow in terms of who's on what side, the complexity and high drama of this tale make it a whole lot of fun. And hey, there's a god in go-go boots. Hee.

review by robin

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The First: Magnificent Tension
ISBN: 1931484171
by Barbara Kesel
Art by Bart Sears, Andy Smith, Michael Atiyeh (and others...)
CrossGen Comics, 2002

I love The First! You may recall from her review of The First: Two Houses Divided that Robin has reservations about The Firstís, ahem, idealistic take on anatomy. In other words, the characters have muscles and breasts out the wazoo. Somehow, this never bothered me. The gods and goddesses known as the First look like superheroes crossed with soap-opera characters on steroids. For them, unnatural beauty is a fact of life. Fortunately, theyíve also been endowed with humor, pathos, and, yes, humanity by the incomparable writing of Barbara Kesel.

The First: Magnificent Tension continues the deliciously complex plot begun in Two Houses Divided. Ingra, the tempestuous leader of House Sinister, is marshalling support for her plan to take over House Dexter. Meanwhile, her daughter Persha struggles to re-unite the two houses. House Dexter has its own troubles in the form of Seahn; the young god grows ever more ruthless, even seeking an alliance with Ingra as he plots to overthrow House Dexterís older generation of leaders. The fate of the First lies with those who straddle the divide between the houses: Persha, whose desire for unity brings her closer to the ideals of House Dexter; Seahn, whose lust for power leads him to House Sinister. To further complicate matters, each young rebel has an advisor with a hidden agenda.

I havenít even mentioned the third and most fascinating thread of this intricate plot: that of Gannish and his lonely search for answers to the mysteries of his universe. Thereís so much going on in this book! If youíre a fan of the CrossGen universe, read Magnificent Tension right away; youíll find tantalizing clues to the larger forces at work. If youíre just entering this marvelous world, donít worry; The First is a series well worth reading on its own. Librarians: recommend this to your fantasy fans and anyone who loves a good court intrigue.

review by Jen

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The First: Sinister Motives
ISBN: 1931484392
by Barbara Kesel
Art by art by Andrea DiVito, Rob Hunter, Rob Schwager
CrossGen Comics 2003

In an interview at the back of Sinister Motives, Barbara Kesel describes the CrossGen universe as a Buckmister Sphere: "a round shape built of interlocking triangles." The individual titles (The First, Meridian, Scion, Sojourn, Mystic, and many others) are points on the sphere where readers access the stories, but each story is connected to the others to form one marvelously complex world. Of all the CrossGen titles, The First seems to intersect most with the other tales. Since the First consider themselves the gods of the universe, they're prone to popping up in other stories whenever they feel like it. Little by little, forces from those other worlds are beginning to affect their own. Each volume of the series reveals another hint of powers older and ber than the First, and with each new hint it becomes clear that The First may hold the key to all the mysteries of the GrossGen universe. Readers may find themselves rushing off to consult other series in the hopes of guessing what CrossGen has in store.

If you're reading The First on its own, you'll still find plenty to chew on in Sinister Motives. The arrogant Seahn brings the conflict in House Dexter to a head, challenging Pyrem for its leadership. As the battle shifts to House Sinister, Seahn's true nature is revealed. Meanwhile, Persha finds the object of her quest (who's hiding out in another story!) and a lot more questions for her trouble. If Altwaal won't help her, can she reunite the two houses herself? Guided by the mysterious Enson and Wyture, Seahn and Persha both have the potential to revolutionize the First. Whose vision will succeed? And what will happen when the two instigators meet? The questions raised in Sinister Motives will leave readers itching for the next volume. Kesel has created a web of characters and subplots intricate enough to challenge the cleverest fantasy fans.

review by Jen

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Loveless: Volume 1
by Yun Kouga
ISBN: 1598162217
Tokyopop, 2006

To be perfectly clear: Loveless is not an easy manga to understand. Within the first volume alone readers will encounter murder, loneliness, willing sacrifices, inherited responsibility, physical abuse, crushes, and virtual battlefields. The characters are close-mouthed and reluctant to reveal their secrets, even to the reader, so first-time manga readers should prepare themselves to feel a bit lost. But what a fascinating world to be lost in!

Due to his own inability to remember farther than two years past, twelve-year-old Ritsuka is a blank slate. His unstable mother insists he's not her son and repeatedly attacks him. His only protector, his older brother Seimei, was murdered and his body left to be discovered in Ritsuka's old classroom. Ritsuka, damaged and afraid to connect with anyone, retreats into coldness. Enter Soubi, a college student who claims to be an old friend of Seimei's, tempting Ritsuka with clues to finding Seimei's murderer and the first person Ritsuka wants to talk to. Soubi was not, however, only Seimei's companion but also his weapon in magical battles fought in pairs designated by secret, matching names. Seimei was one half of the pair Beloved, acting as the sacrifice or the player who withstands the physical damage of any attack. Soubi was Beloved's fighter unit, a human weapon trained, almost brainwashed, to fight by turning spoken words into weapon spells. Now Seimei has left Soubi to Ritsuka as his inheritance-- Ritsuka must become the sacrifice, and use this relationship to investigate the underground world that hides Seimei's killer.

Loveless is the kind of manga that startles a reader with just how close it treads to taboo lines without ever crossing over into true transgression. Ritsuka develops a powerful crush on Soubi, and the conditioned Soubi returns the affection as much as he can within his orders. The relationship between sacrifice and warcraft adds a whole other level of conditioned loyalty, and it is never clear whether Soubi is still acting according to the dead Seimei's orders or of his own accord.

Yun Kouga's art is breathtaking; fluid, dark, and full of slicing edges to show the beauty and the damage in sharp relief. This title is definitely most suitable for older teen readers, given the variety of dark subjects and the suspense-ratcheting unwillingness to explain too much, but once you start the series, you'll be dying for the next volume.

Review by robin

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Sparks: An Urban Fairytale
ISBN: 0943151627
by Lawrence Marvit
Slave Labor Graphics 2002

This may be a story you think you've heard before: a princess, a knight, magic, and perils overcome by true love. You'd be wrong. In this version, the princess is a car mechanic, the knight a sweet and melancholy mechanical product of her loneliness, and the perils are the far more common dangers of prejudice, violence, low self-esteem, and the cruelty of expectations, both the world's and the ones we put on ourselves. Jo, our princess, is a stick of a girl with little more than genius mechanical know-how and a sweet nature to get her through the world. Sometimes that's enough, especially on the night she creates, with a Frankensteinian addition of lightning, a metal knight built entirely from spare car parts. Most of the time, though, the glares of "real" girls Jo desperately wants to be, the bellowing of a drunken father, the silence of valium-addled of a mother, and the stream of disappointments in her social life affect Jo more than she'd like to admit. Her one source of comfort is the unlikely knight: he learns to speak through flashcards, dubs himself Galahad, and carries Jo across the night rooftops far away from her troubles. In teaching Galahad about the world, Jo begins to see a way out of her life, as well as the problems she must face before she can be what she dreams. The artwork in this tale is fluid and simple -- utterly perfect for the story presented. Too much detail might have made Galahad unbelievable, but the calligraphic lines of Marvit's work make every line a soulful look or a shimmer of movement. Love, loss, and a wandering path to independence weave through Sparks -- it is not a tale I will soon forget. Great for older teens and adults.

review by robin

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Amnesia
ISBN: 1561632961
by John Malloy
NBM Publishing, Inc 2001

I have a rather b tendency toward considering rambling, esoteric questions about the nature of reality-- just ask my friends. Some of my favorite stories, graphic novels or otherwise, are those that twist reality that little bit and ask ďwhat ifÖĒ In the unique Amnesia, first time graphic novel author John Malloy had created a reality and dreamscape so intertwined that the distinctions the two are both unnecessary and troublesome. Chloe seeks an interview with filmmaker Ike Reuben, but both are already connected by a string of dreams and realities that neither is completely aware of. The disjointed storytelling makes for a tough read at times, and the meaning depends almost entirely on the readerís interpretation. The artwork veers far from the usual comic art, using recycled photographs and line art together, the artist battering and warping those images into frames almost as tenuous as the story. Although not for everyone, I, for one, am curious what this author will create next.

review by robin

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Until the Full Moon (Volume 1)
ISBN: 1932480889
by Sanami Matoh
Broccoli Books, 2004

U.S. manga readers know Sanami Matoh as the author of FAKE, an endearing (and, for shonen ai, fairly realistic) romantic drama about two (male) police officers who fall in love. Until the Full Moon, the second of her works to become available in English, is something else entirely. Fans of FAKE will recognize the author's fondess for flamboyant hairstyles, outfits, and love at first sight, but Until the Full Moon takes place in a very different world. This is a world populated by vampires and werewolves, who trace their ancestry back to fairy tales and legends. David Vincent, a notorious player, is the son of a prominent vampire family. As a child, he was inseperable from his friend Marlo- son of a vampire father and a werewolf mother. He hasn't seen Marlo for ten years when Marlo's family arrives to pay the Vincent's a visit. They've come with a problem for Dr. Arnet Vincent, a famous doctor in the vampire clan. It seems that Marlo has inherited an unusual trait from his mother's werewolf clan: on full moon nights, instead of becoming a wolf, Marlo becomes a woman. Anxious to protect their child, Marlo's parents want to arrange a marriage between her- when she is a her- and David. Marlo protests, but, as her father remarks, "I'm not going to let 100 or 200 year old kids go decide what's best!" David, on the other hand, is intrigued- he's had feelings for Marlo since they were teens. As the two try to make sense of their situation, Marlo's female self begins to return David's love. Is Marlo prepared to accept that love as a man?

Despite the somewhat unbelievable premise of Marlo and David's sudden engagement, Until the Full Moon shares FAKE's essential sweetness. David's love for Marlo knows no gender divisions, and Marlo's gender transformations are handled with sensitivity and humor. The story moves so quickly, however, that it's a bit hard to believe in the intensity of David's feelings. The couple have declared their love by the end of the volume, but their personalities have yet to be fully established. The publisher has rated Volume 1 for ages 16 and up. While Marlo and David are sometimes a straight couple and sometimes not, depictions of sensuality are fairly mild throughout. Until the Full Moon is not necessarily a must-have for manga collections, but it is an oddly endearing tale of love and acceptance.

review by jen

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slop: alalectaPromethea: Volume 1
by Alan Moore
ISBN: 1-56389-667-2
America's Best Comics, 1999

"If she did not exist, we would have to invent her."

Imagine a strange, futuristic version of our world. Instead of Hello Kitty, the most popular figure for t-shirts and billboards is a weeping gorilla, the mayor of New York has multiple personalities, and a group of superheroes known as the Five Swell Guys serve as a protective back up to the city's police forces. Amidst all of this is Sophie Bangs a college student that just wants to finish her term paper on the literary figure Promethea. But isn't that always how these things begin?

Promethea is intense, cracked out, and awesome all at the same time. Created by the fabulous and more than mildly eccentric Alan Moore, this is the story of how Sophie goes from researching Promethea to being another in a long line of individuals that have become her.

Picture something that vibes a little similar to The Invisibles only with even more mysticism, philosophy, feminism, kabbalah, tarot, reincarnation and significantly less appearances of the Marquis de Sade. Volume 1 follows Sophie as she discovers Promethea's existence, deals with the inevitable attacks upon her person, and attempts to get used to slipping in and out of the human universe and into a realm known as the Immateria.

You might think this sounds a bit like every hero-journey you've read already, but it isn't. Trust me. I'm not even sure how to explain the multiple layers of symbolism, magic, art, religion, philosophy, and plain old wackiness packed into this comic, not to mention the larger story to come. The plot is held together loosely at best, but the incredible art and overall richness to the story carries you through it.

Promethea the comic is beautiful to look at. The artwork is filled with references to art and history from around the world, each page is filled with detail-packed images, and the page and panel layouts are creative and inventive. Reminiscent of comics like The Adventures of Little Nemo, the artists manage to strike a perfect balance between simple fun, richness of detail, and plain old good drawing to keep your eyes interested. Volume 1 doesn't push the adult content barriers much, but there is some nudity and sexual content to come. For the most part it's moderately artistic and somewhat restrained, but those of a younger age range should consider themselves warned.

Review by Katie

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Artesia: Artesia Afield
ISBN: 1932386009
By Mark Smylie
Archaia Studios Press 2003

Artesiaís world lies somewhere between ancient Rome, ancient Greece and medieval Byzantium. Artesia was born and raised to be a courtesan in the royal household, but when war came she became a battle commander. Artesia Afield is classic fantasy material done extremely well. I have read more than my fair share of bad fantasy novels, and finding fantasy executed with this level of skill is very rare. Mark Smylie has created a rich historical, political and religious background for his novel. Artesia is a real character, and she makes her choices with awareness of what they will cost herself and others. She uses all the weapons she possesses, from wily seductions to force of arms, to acheive her goals (it's the seductions as well as the appearances of goddesses and spirits, all displaying a good bit of bare flesh, that push this volume firmly into the older teen and adult category). Working with watercolors Mark Smylie paints a rich picture of Artesiaís world. The precision and detail that he puts into the images in combination with the lush colors creates a vibrant whole. My only quibble with the book is that for inexplicable reasons Artesia consistently goes into battle in a chainmail thong, which just seems impractical, but that really is a minor quibble in what otherwise is a well written and beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

review by petra

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Ruse: Enter the Detective
ISBN: 1931484198
by Mark Waid
Art by Butch Guice
CrossGen 2002

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I love period mysteries of all sorts, but nothing quite beats the acid tone and deliciously complex mind games of Holmesian cases. Ruse beautifully plays with the Holmes mythology, featuring a razor sharp but emotionally distant detective, Simon Archard, and his beautiful and equally witty partner, Emma Bishop. Note that Ruse avoids one of the major problems with Holmesí world: the lack of admirable women. Set in Partington, on the planet Arcadia, a world very much like Victorian England, with slight differences Ė the magic here is real, gargoyles swarm the city rather like pigeons. Fighting equally wonderful villains, from the bewitchingly seductive Miranda Cross (Archardís Moriarty, perhaps?) to Archard's devious ex-partner, Ruse is replete with worddplay, action, magic, and, of course, feats of deduction Holmes would, if not embrace, acknowledge with an eloquent eyebrow.

review by robin

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Fables: Legends in Exile
ISBN: 1563899426
By Bill Willingham
Art by Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, and Mark Buckingham
DC Comics (Vertigo) 2003

Itís a familiar story: a Manhattan party girl has gone missing, and her apartment is stained with blood. A hard-boiled detective must sort out the clues. But in this case, the girl is Rose Red (Snow Whiteís sister), the detective is the Big Bad Wolf, and the Manhattan they live in is known as Fabletown: a secret city that exists alongside the "mundane" one we know. Once upon a time, the fairy-tale characters we knew and loved lived in their own storybook worlds. Then the Adversary came, conquering their lands and destroying our most beloved fantasies. The survivors now live side by side with human beings, their magical natures hidden. Princesses and witches, wolves and pigs coexist (mostly) in peace. When Rose Red disappears, everyone becomes a suspect. The killer could be Roseís boyfriend Jack (a known thief from his beanstalk days), Bluebeard, who wanted to add Rose to his collection of wives, or even the lovely Snow White herself. The investigation plays out against a fascinating picture of fairy-tale characters making their way in the modern world. Willinghamís Fabletown and its inhabitants are funny, touching, and totally true to life; to say more would be to spoil the fun of finding out what becomes of them as they try to live happily ever after. Fractured fairy-tale and fantasy fans will love Fables. Librarians should keep in mind, however, that itís published by Vertigo; there are a few panels of adult content. You just canít trust a Prince Charming...

review by Jen

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Fables: Animal Farm
ISBN: 140120077X
by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha
DC Comics (Vertigo) 2003

In the first volume of this Eisner-nominated series, we learned that our beloved fairy-tale characters had been driven from their magical lands by the Adversary and forced to take refuge in the mundane world- Manhattan, to be exact. Those who can pass for human (like quarreling sisters Snow White and Rose Red) live in the city. Those who cannot- the Three Little Pigs, Reynard the Fox, and many others- live hidden from mortal eyes on a huge farm in upstate New York. While the Fable government tries to make life as pleasant as possible at the Farm, a revolution is brewing- a revolution that should look familiar to fans of George Orwell. Egged on by Goldilocks and her violent, revolutionary rhetoric, the Three Little Pigs are plotting a coup. Why should the human-looking Fables control their destinies? And when will the Fables rise up to take back their lands?

Animal Farm is even better than its predecessor, Legends in Exile. Willingham continues to develop his concept of a fairy-tale Diaspora, exploring the Fablesí politics, history, and relationships, while telling one heck of a tale. Fables is literate, funny, and surprising. Like Legends in Exile, Animal Farm is appropriate for older teens; the story necessitates some depiction of violence and the characters use a few bad words. I highly recommend both volumes of Fables for teen or adult library collections. Like the best fairy tales, it continues to amaze me.

review by jen

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Witchblade: Origins
ISBN: 1887279652
By Christina Z. Wohl
Art by Michael Turner
Image Comics 2001

As a relative newbie to the comics world, one of the prejudices Iíve had to shake off is the idea the women are consistently presented as eye-candy and little more. You know, skin-tight outfits, provocative poses, few lines. So you can imagine I was a little, well, put off by my first glimpse of tough NYPD detective Sara Pezzini Ė dolled up in a skin-tight red mini dress and drawn with impossible proportions. My mouth twitched and Iím sure I ended up with a bit of a scowl on my face. Nonetheless, I decided to keep going and see just how stereotypical this buxom lass would be.

Iím glad I did. Sara, on top of being a sexy thing, is smart, b, capable, independent, and, always my favorite, snide. Sara has been chosen by the mythical Witchblade, a legendary weapon of extraordinary power that chooses its female wielder for better or for worse. As the Witchblade exerts its control, Sara loses her beloved partner, is stuck with a rookie to replace him, and is suddenly being courted by the one man who holds the key to the Witchblade, the dangerously attractive Kenneth Irons. One visual decision that evens the score is that the men in the book, from nemesis Kenneth Irons to potential brother in arms Ian Nottingham, are drawn with equally impossible proportions and beauty. The artwork and colors are jewel-like, vivid with light and sharp lines. The plot is satisfyingly complicated, emotional, and happily, edged with a no-nonsense humor that is too often lacking in fantasy tales of destiny. If youíre looking for a heroine with muscles, brains and beauty, look no further.

On a side note, yes, this title and its sequels are the inspiration for the TNT TV show, now cancelled, Witchblade. I enjoyed the show a lot, but as with most adaptations, the graphic novels follow a different plot and creative idea, so check them out.

review by robin

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From Eroica With Love: Volume 2
by Aoike Yasuko
ISBN: 1-4012-0520-8
CMX, 2005

In life, one needs the help of friends. Major Klaus Heinz Von Dem Eberbach AKA "Iron Klaus" has a slew of agents at his disposal, all named after letters of the alphabet to make his life easier. Earl Dorian Red Gloria AKA "Eroica" has James, his very stingy accountant, who also happens to be madly in love with him. These are the main players in From Eroica With Love, a classic shonen ai comic originally written in the late 1970s. In my review of From Eroica With Love volume 1 I was amused to finally be reading a comic I've heard about so often over the years, but a little unsure where the story was taking me. Volume 2 is where I finally started to understand the sheer addictiveness of this incredibly strange and wacky comic.

In volume 2 all the ridiculous hijinks continue. This time we've got jade statues, Russian spies, and international criminal and government conferences being held next door to each other. Klaus and Eroica inevitably meet, Klaus is as annoyed by Eroica as always, and Eroica hits on him as much as ever. Somehow, in the midst of all this, we also manage to have a plot dealing with shipping deals, terrorist plots, and secret microfilms. That's where needing the help of friends (and enemies) really comes into play.

From Eroica With Love is light, amusing, fast paced fluff. There still isn't a whiff of actual sexual content for readers to worry about, but there is a constant presence of homosexuality which some readers may not be comfortable reading about.

Actually, that theme probably bears a bit more discussion. Many of the characters within the story are gay and in every case either extremely flamboyant, effeminate, or both. These depictions probably had a much more painful bite to them when this was first published in 1976, but within the context of 2006 the over-the-top characters in their wild 70's clothes don't offend so much as serve to make the story all the more absurd and humorous. These are stereotypes that are so big, so ridiculous, and so removed from today's reality, that most modern readers wouldn't be able to give them legitimacy. It also helps that the expressions of homophobia within the comic are all made by characters that are just as over the top and during moments that are just as ridiculous, thus assuring that the no one in the comic has the credibility to really argue or prove something to the reader with these stereotypes. All of this is my very long-winded way of saying that ultimately From Eroica With Love seems to me to be fun and harmless, not offensive or cruel. This is a charged issue though and your mileage, as well as the opinions you hold going into this, may vary.

Review by Katie

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