Comic Reviews: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward & Gettysburg: The Graphic History

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The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

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The parents of Charles Dexter Ward are very worried.  You see, the Wards have tried very hard to hide that they are the descendents of an evil New England necromancer from hundreds of years ago, and Charles has found out about the family’s little secret.  And what’s more, his appearance bears more than a passing resemblance to that ancestor Joseph Curwen, now since long dead and feels a connection urging him forward to learn more of how his ancestor achieved his power over the dead.  Unfortunately for his family the further Charles digs the stranger he acts prompting the family to call on their family physician, Dr Marinus Bicknell Willett to find out the cause of his strange behavior. 

Years pass and Dr Willett continues his pursuit of the truth as Charles continues his descent into madness until the young man is finally incarcerated in a mental hospital.  Dr Willett finally puts the pieces together and learns the horrible truth and enters the institution for a final confrontation with Charles.  Dr Willett is the last person to see Charles before the young man vanishes from a room whose window is 60 feet from the ground and no one has left by the door.  The question you must be asking is what is the secret that is uncovered?  If I told you that I would ruin the joy for you of watching the mystery unfold before you like a Russian matryoshka doll.  I will say that Lovecraft plays completely fair and the clues are all there for you to figure it out.

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H.P. Lovecraft.  I love H.P. Lovecraft.  The man could write scary like nobody’s business; of course when you look like Batboy I guess your life choices are somewhat limited to horror writer or sideshow freak.  Even his name sounds dark and ominous.  Lovecraft is adored by legions of fantasy and horror readers everywhere but his reputation outside this somewhat small group is dim to say the least.  Attempts to adapt his works into movies, TV, or even comics have met with almost across-the-board miserable failure.  And while most adaptations in comic form have failed miserably the just released The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, adapted and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard is a giant step in the right direction.

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When you read a Lovecraft story the atmosphere is what strikes at you the most.  The feeling of dread and dangerous forces gathering just beyond your ability to fully comprehend them literally drips from every page of a Lovecraft story and Culbard’s style captures that perfectly.  If you are a big fan of Guy Davis’s art style and his work on B.P.R.D. or The Marquis you will absolutely love the art.  And matching his art is the story itself.  The original story was told mainly through written letters and found documents and while there is plenty of that to be found here Culbard doesn’t rely on that solely and I think that this version actually in a lot of respects is a more fluid read than the original source material.  This book is an easy recommendation for fans of Lovecraft or horror comics in general.  I have waited a long time to read a Lovecraft comic done right and Culbard has given it to me.

Gettysburg: The Graphic History

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In an attempt to force Northern lawmakers to consider a compromise with The South General Lee marched his troops from war-torn Northern Virginiaand began his second Northern campaign.  What would follow would result in the largest single loss of American lives ever in US history.  The losses inflicted from this battle would weaken the Southern army to such a state that it would never fully recover and insure the eventual Northern win.  In a war filled with bloody battles Gettysburg casts a long shadow.  Grab anyone off the street and ask them to name a Civil War battle and I bet 9/10 times you’ll get Gettysburg as the answer.  July 1, 2013 will mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg and just in time is a new book written and illustrated by Wayne Vansant called Gettysburg: The Graphic History.

Vansant does a great job of making the almost overwhelming complexities of the battle itself easy to follow.  You know who the major players are, where they fought, at what time they fought, the outcome, and how each small skirmish fits into the complex whole of the battle itself.  At no time was I confused about what was going on or why it was happening.  This is the perfect book for any 8th grade American history class to have as an introduction to this battle or the Civil War in general.  In fact, I would say this book does a better job of explain everything than any text book out there and I’ll even say it’s better than most of the “scholarly” books as well.

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However, I did have a few problems that I wish Vansant would address for any future books he does. His style of story-telling is just too much like the comics of the 1940’s.  At the top of a panel he will describe what you are looking at in the panel.  And every now and then he’ll throw in a few word balloons.  The art form has come a long way in 70 years.  While this is perfectly fine for a historical retelling I would have preferred if he had gone the extra little bit and told the story from a character’s point of view, engross me in the conflict; give me someone to root for.   I understand that is a personal preference and may not be what the author intended and if his entire goal was a straight retelling of the conflict and not as an actual story then he did a wonderful job.  I was hoping for more though.  What a great back drop this could have made for a real story of brothers fighting or better yet, tell the story from Lee’s point of view.  With that said, if you have any interest in the Civil War at all this is a great place to start.