I have had two memorable VHS-related experiences on long bus trips. The first was on a ride from New York to Boston, on which the only available tape to watch was the movie Twister. The first half of the film was entertaining enough, but the second half had been taped over by someone’s home movie of a walk through a neighborhood decorated with Christmas lights, and to this day I don’t know if Helen Hunt ever managed to track down that cow.
The second was on a trip from Boston to New Haven. That time, the movie was AI, starring Haley Joel Osment as an uncanny robot child. Though the tape was intact, I couldn't watch the second half because I found the entire experience far too disturbing. A child that is not a child, adrift without a family, humans exposed as callous inhumane monsters — I could feel the panic attack coming on and scrambled for headphones to block the movie out. I was going through an awful several-months-long breakup at the time, and a story about the revoking of love was too distressing to watch.
But maybe it’s time for me to revisit that story, twenty-something years later, because I can’t process how much I enjoyed the similarly unsettling storyline of a new paperback out this week. When Made in Korea released its first issue last year, it was the only time I’d ever given a book a rating of six-out-of-five. Now I’m issuing the same rating for a collection of the first few issues.
MADE IN KOREA VOLUME #1
This collection of the first several issues of Made in Korea is the best comic book I’ve read in the last decade. Sometime in the next century, humans are gradually transitioning away from having children the traditional way, and raising robotic “proxies” instead. A couple in Texas obtains a proxy of their own and they name her Jesse, but she comes with something unexpected — a hidden cache of code in her brain, stashed there by a Korean programmer gone rogue. Jesse develops rapidly amidst her new family, exhibiting uncanny curiosity, intelligence, and strength. She’s also intrigued by — and unable to fully understand — social relationships with peers, a quality that two sinister classmates see as an opportunity to exploit. The Korean coder who unwittingly gave Jessie her identity wants to locate her; her Texan adoptive parents want only to love her; and Jesse wants to understand who she is and where she belongs. As these forces come into violent conflict, a question hangs over Jessie: Who created you? Was it the people responsible for your body? The people you see each day? Was it you yourself? Or was it a collaboration of all those parties, each of us an accidental conglomerated partnership with strangers? A globe-spanning adventure, family drama, and coming-of-age story that literally stopped my breath at multiple points, this first volume is an urgent read, with a cliffhanger that elicits an out-loud gasp.
Rating: 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖 (6/5)
Writer: Jeremy Holt. Artist: George Schall. Lettering: Adam Wollet.
OWLY: A TIME TO BE BRAVE
Every elementary school class should have a collection of Owly books, particularly this fourth installment in the series. A group of forest animal-friends read a scary fairy tale together, but one of them finds it difficult to shake his fears about a dragon character in the book. Later, during a casual ballgame, an opossum wanders by, triggering unhappy memories of the fictional dragon. Tension creeps into the usually-idyllic life of the animals, and they must confront the fears that prevent them from having fun. Lovely adorable art and minimal dialogue make this book a true joy for readers of all age levels, and the pictogram-style communication will be particularly welcome for those learning to read for the first time or picking up English as a second language. Like the best episodes of Fraggle Rock, there’s a gentle lesson behind the cute creatures: This book is a tribute to kindness, and the bravery that it requires.
Rating: 🦉🦉🦉🦉🦉 (5/5)
Writer & illustrator: Andy Runton
CRUEL SUMMER VOLUME #1
This is a paperback release of a collection that came out in hardcover a few months ago, and it’s probably the smartest, saddest crime noir I’ve ever read. In the summer of 1988, a loose community of thugs plans the ultimate heist. But unlike so many crime fables, the criminals here are not cool, or swaggering, or in any way aspirational. They’re miserable losers, pathetically chasing cash from one holdup and brawl to the next, and the more depressing note is that one of them has a teenage son who seems to perceive some allure in his father’s dead end life — or maybe it just seems inevitable to him. An expertly twisted story that loops around on itself, the best moments come in terrible choices that are at first mysterious and then illuminated by a shift in the story’s point of view. For our antiheroes, life is a Rube Goldberg machine of violence that cannot be stopped once the marble starts to fall down the chute. All we can do is stand back and watch, dread rising on every bloody page.
Rating: 📿📿📿📿 (4/5)
Writer: Ed Brubaker. Art: Jacob Phillips, Sean Phillips.
ALSO: THE SAGA SAGA RESUMES, LOVE IN SPACE, and A GORGEOUS JOURNEY FROM SPAIN
The superheroes are busy this week — there’s issue-ones for Wolverine, Batman and Robin, Mary Jane and Black Cat, and Peacemaker. You may also be wondering why there’s a Christmas special with Batman and Catwoman, a month after Christmas, and the explanation to that is, like the explanation for so many confusing situations these days, supply chain problems. The big news this week is that the wonderful Saga series has a new installment, or at least it would if any of them had been delivered this week — every shop in town either seems to be missing that box from their shipment or instantly sold out. Supply chain issues! Oh well. Consider picking up the new Mister Miracle, a sweet sci-fi love story; or All my Friends, a nice middle-grade Hope Larson book about friendship and music. Also of interest is Illustrating Spain in the US, a gorgeous hardcover exploration of the Spanish diaspora.