Serial Villain, Sherwin Tjia, 360 pages, Conundrum Press, conundrumpress.com, $17
Sherwin Tjia’s Serial Villain is a curious cross between a short fiction collection and a graphic novel, albeit more the former than the latter. Through 11 knife-sharp micro-narratives, Tjia uses hardboiled aesthetics to spin stories of time travel, sexual betrayal, chainsaw- wielding murderers and the revenge fantasies of ghosts.
In “The Trouble With Hitler,” a young man sends his friend back in time to pre-Nazi Germany to kill Hitler as a baby. An unfortunately gullible private investigator is compromised in “Stalking Fetish.” And in “The Nethers,” the longest tale in the collection, the ghost of a young woman haunts the rapist who murdered her, relentlessly tormenting the man to prevent him from ever killing again.
Tjia’s stories are fun, but lack emotional arcs of any sort, often feeling like point-for-point outlines of larger, more detailed stories than fully fleshed-out narratives in their own right. His characters are noir clichés crammed into scenarios that often dip into science fiction or supernatural conceits.
Despite their lack of emotional depth, the stories in Serial Villain work as snack-sized bits of pure entertainment punctuated by occasional illustrations. The artwork is clean and well drawn, serving to accentuate certain story beats instead of illustrating them wholesale. Some stories are certainly stronger than others — “The Trouble With Hitler” and the rather on-the-nose Bond parody “For Love or Money” are terrific fun, while “Lie Among Wolves,” “Bada BOOM,” and “The Long Way Home” rely too much on the gradual reveal of a long con or series of long cons, or a quick and inexplicable character revelation that somehow changes everything. However, taken as a whole, Serial Villain is a lot of fun. (Andrew Wilmot)