Phil Graves believes in science, not magic. His extremely lucrative career as an alchemist is not magical, it is merely the understanding of how bonds lock and unlock. He’s confident there’s an algorithm that will predict when he will transform into a werewolf, and his blood will unlock the secrets of the moon’s relationship to his species. These things we learn about the family patriarch in the opening pages of The Family Graves, vol. 1 by Timothy Bach and Brian Atkins.
The eponymous Graves family follows the script of a stereotypical family: a teenage daughter fighting with her mom to wear what she wants, a brother and sister using specially honed skills to annoy each other, and Mom making dinner for Dad to eat when he gets home from work. However, Mom can turn into a Gorgon, daughter Nori is a siren with mind control powers, son Lum is a telepathic merman/fish-boy, and baby Gordo is a zombie. When Phil brings home a Mirror of Tepish, he dresses the family up in matching suits before dinner (as you do), and launches them through the mirror into a prehistoric realm. Upon their return (escape) from the realm, Phil lapses into his lupine state, one that his children don’t much care for. As the story progresses, a villain emerges, and the family must (of course) work together to defeat him, while Phil must (of course) learn how to control his werewolf side.
Bach blends horror, science fiction, and superheroes into one story, an admirable feat. I found the emphasis the main character Phil places on science over magic to be at odds with the setting and characters of the story. Science does not explain a shape-shifting Gorgon wife, as far as I’m aware. But such details are not the point of the story. Bach spends half of his time studying the family dynamics—can the siblings get along, can they learn to love their lupine father, can father and grandfather be reconciled? The other half he spends on the primary plot: the battle against the chronal vampire (does he eat time instead of blood?) who seeks immortality by destroying the space-time continuum. It’s a bit ambitious to cover this much ground, but it more or less works out. I admit I am still wondering how the zombie baby fits into all of this. (Did he come out a zombie or later become one? If he became one, can he ever grow up? Does he have a power besides saying “Brainssss”?)
Illustrator Brian Atkins manages the blend of genres well. Lum, the merboy, was a favorite of mine. I especially enjoyed his teenage wasteland fishbowl of a room. I was also impressed with how Atkins handled Phil fighting the transitional stages of becoming a werewolf, blending the man and beast. Atkins draws both the humans and the monsters artfully, and captures the motion and energy of dueling superhumans easily. If anything, there might sometimes be too much detail or action on one page, but every panel piece seems drawn with care and passion.
The title is for all ages, and will be especially attractive to readers who enjoy B movie monsters. I was reminded a bit of Runaways with the mix of super powers, family conflict, and upper middle class wealth, and of course of The Incredibles. It is appropriate for most ages, though younger readers may be overwhelmed by the amount of text on each page. I would recommend purchasing this book if your library has an ample comics budget. If your budget is tight, you might wait to see if the series further develops before investing. I’d be in for another volume, especially if the zombie baby pulls his weight.
The Family Graves, vol. 1: Fiercely Family
By Timothy Bach
Art by Brian Atkins
ISBN: available from publisher
Source Point Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: E